Tuesday, September 09, 2008

What Are You Reading?

One of my favorite questions is "What are you reading?" I find reading to be a sacred experience so it's a question that reaches for the heart of a person. A few weeks ago the question was turned back on me so here's a list of the books that I've read recently.

After waiting for a year the local used book store got in a copy of Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future by Bill McKibben. This book was both encouraging and frustrating at the same time. It caused me to want to read Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations as well as some history about Smith.

A surprising accidental find was An No Birds Sang by Farley Mowat. This was my first experience with Canadian author Mowat. The book is an autobiographical account of his experiences as an officer during the Italian campaign of Word War II. Near the end of the book is the sentence that explains the title: "I was staring down a vertiginous tunnel where all was black and bloody and the great wind of ultimate desolation howled and hungered. I was alone....relentlessly alone in a world I never knew....and no birds sang."

At the height of death and destruction, darkness and danger, Mowat suddenly ends the book as he stands on the battlefield. What the heck? A small two or three page afterword was the clincher. Mowat explained that his editor told him he couldn't end the book like that. Farley responded by writing a few words to the effect of "what do you care that I went to another Italian town and that I worked in another military position, that I was discharged and returned home to Canada?" Mowat's intention had been not to write about himself but to paint the horror of war. By suddenly ending the book at the most horrific moment he left the reader with a nightmare. The book was published in 2003. Hmmm?

The afterword sparked my interest in Mowat. I found and read A Farley Mowat Reader: "With Selections from Born Naked, The Dog Who Wouldn't Be, Owls in the Family, The Boat Who Wouldn't Float and Many Others."

My father-in-law gave me a copy of I Wish I'd Been There: Twenty Historians Bring to Life Dramatic Events That Changed America. The compilation was edited by Byron Hollinshead. This book grabbed my attention. The articles included the following:

  • The Salem Witchcraft Trials
  • The Corrupt Bargain
  • The Amistad Trial
  • John Brown at Harper's Ferry
  • La Follette Speaks Against the War - 1917
  • Trying John Scopes
  • Lyndon Johnson Confronts George Wallace
  • Lost-found Nation: The Last Meeting Between Elijah Muhammad and W. D. Fard
I had history in high school and college but didn't find it particularly enjoyable. After becoming an adult I found myself gravitating toward history. This book explained things that I vaguely remembered but didn't fully understand. It told of events about which I'd never heard and added details that were surprising.

I didn't know that the trial of John Scopes for teaching evolution was a staged trial. The ACLU placed a press release in a Chattanooga newspaper seeking a teacher to test the Butler Act in court. A business man in Dayton, Tennessee talked with a group in a drug store about the economic benefit to the town if the trial were held there. The group approached a young teach, John Scopes, and asked for his permission to be arrested and tried. He agreed. Business boomed in Dayton's restaurants and hotels for a short time and Hollywood had the material for a movie.

Sometimes an author slips in a sentence that is peripheral to the story but is one which brings my reading to a stop to think. In Chief Joseph Surrenders which chronicled the flight and capture of the Nez Pierce I discovered this diamond: "This Joseph seemed disgusted and also suffused with the bitterness to which disappointed men of intelligence are prone." Bitterness to which disappointed men of intelligence are prone? Hmmm?

A Time of War: Remembering Guadalcanal, A Battle Without Maps by Willam H. Whyte, Jr. was published posthumously. This is a small book that seems unfinished. Perhaps if Whyte had lived longer he might have added more details. Still, it was an enjoyable peek into his life and experiences. The unexpected find in the book was references to his book The Organization Man which was published in 1956. It appears Whyte foresaw American decline and decay. This book might be worth reading.

I've begun but haven't finished The Great Turning by David C. Korten. A co-worker loaned me the book. It began well but I've bogged down. It's not grabbing my attention as it did in the first chapters. I'm taking a break and will return to it and possibly finish it.

I'm currently reading The Back Road to Crazy - Stories from the Field. This is a book of 38 stories edited by Jennie Bove.

The first story, Bit by Mark W. Moffett, was a real downer. "Other scientists have been known to cut off their hands at such a moment. Joe sat down to join the rest of us for breakfast at a long wooden school table, joking about his thick skin. It was seven o'clock in the morning . . ." One of a group of field biologists doing research in Myanmar is bitten by a krait, "a cousin of the cobra and much more deadly." After the death of this biologist the next two stories are humorous. I'm enjoying this book.

Waiting in the wings is a small, fat paperback with print too small for aging eyes. Guadalcanal by Edwin P. Hoyt. I've read other books by Hoyt and saw this on a shelf at a local used book store. The cost was only $1.50 so it's a safe bet for a cold winter night when I'm not sleepy and out of reading material.

You've probably noticed that I don't read fiction. Sometimes I read poetry but generally prefer non-fiction.

That's what I've been reading.


Blogger Anvilcloud said...

If you recall the film, Never Cry Wolf, Mowat was the author of the book.

9/09/2008 05:49:00 AM  
Blogger Buffalo said...

Fiction, some poetry, and a dab of philosophy now and again, but not as often as when I was young.

9/09/2008 11:02:00 AM  
Blogger anonymous julie said...

About the bitterness - I like it. Not the bitterness, but the expression. But to become bitter, one must also lose hope, I think.

It's something to consider further, but wanted to put the thought out there.

9/09/2008 03:48:00 PM  
Blogger Alex Pendragon said...

About the bitterness.....without it, we indeed go silently into that dark night.......the masses that are all excited about Palin could never be bitter for they are not CAPABLE of being bitter by virtue of knowing WHY. I don't know, but perhaps the salve of ignorance will make it kinder to those who enable our destruction, while those of us who CAN see it coming must despair for knowing how we will all fall from grace.

9/09/2008 06:47:00 PM  
Blogger Paul said...

Julie, the thing that caught my attention was the intelligence factor. Are more intelligent persons more like to become bitter? Does gender play a part as in "intelligent men"?

Your mention of hope triggered some thoughts. Bitterness may be related to a loss of hope but I tend to think loss of hope would lead to despair, anger or acceptance depending on the person and the situation. I tend to think betrayal leads to bitterness. Could it be that bitterness is related to a violation of a person's deeply held values?

9/09/2008 09:03:00 PM  

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