during the last two days, I crossed the Atlantic twice in a boat made of papyrus reeds. I had already read Thor Heyerdahl's first work, the one whichduring the last two days, I crossed the Atlantic twice in a boat made of papyrus reeds. I had already read Thor Heyerdahl's first work, the one which made him famous, regarding his Kon-Tiki voyage from Peru to Polynesia. However, I don't remember being effected by that book as I was by this one. Whether that is due to the slightly difference subject matter treated, the change in the author's style, or more likely a change in my own attitude, I do not know. While the book is, like Kon-Tiki, primarily about sailing an ancient boat across a huge, angry ocean, it starts with about 100 pages of Thor traveling all around the world learning about reed boats and finding the things he needs to build one.
I guess right now I just want to be an adventurer like him. Perhaps an academic career is one of the only ways to see some parts of the world? Antarctica and all those remote tribes that still live closely and harmoniously with the Earth aren't places you go as a tourist. Maybe I'll need to find some scientific pathway that will get me to the poles, and do Anthropology fieldwork in college. The Peace Corps sounds kind of attractive, except that it's part of the US Government. Something similar, anyway. There was a Peace Corps dude in the book who just drove around the Sahara alone in a jeep drilling wells in Arab towns to keep them from going to war against their repressive Christian post-colonial government (in Chad).
I thought The Ra Expeditions would be a scientific and a bit drier change of pace from Phantastes, to keep from using up all my magical fun books right away, but I was wrong; at least at the beginning, it is practically the same book in a lot of ways, except that it takes place in the real world. That of course only makes it more fantastical, though. I recommend this to you if you like Anthropology and adventures. Not necessarily something you need to rip yourself away from "Important College Work" or "Important Highschool Work" for, though. ...more
I first learned of Opal's diary from John Cartan's 20 Stranger and More Wonderful Books. I heard nothing more of it after that intriguing descriptionI first learned of Opal's diary from John Cartan's 20 Stranger and More Wonderful Books. I heard nothing more of it after that intriguing description and some Goodreads reviews. From all that, I somehow gathered that the book was about a strange, mystical witch-girl, on the order of Arthur Machen's White People. However, Opal's story is nothing of the kind, and in truth bears no relation whatsoever to the occult.
Opal was nothing less than a precociously literate, precociously sensitive and observant little girl. She was a child prodigy. The value and interest of her diary is the way she was able to communicate her Connection with the subtle feelings and goings-on of her natural Community. She was a nature writer of the highest order already at 6 years old. Her understanding of what's going on around her is a bit fuzzy often - she believes in fairies (a "Santa Claus" game with a kind neighbor) and souls - but her connection with everything on a spiritual and emotional level is rarely found in adult works. This is why Opal's book is not only fascinating on a literary level but crucial on a personal level. With her writing, Opal was trying to share the depth with which she empathized with the community she lived in.
Opal's story is extremely interesting on a literary level, as well. Her story is monumentally tragic, and everything about her seems too literary to be true. From her prodigious childhood, her superhuman efforts spreading her message to the children of Oregon, to her travails against the publishing industry and her developing mental illness throughout. Benjamin Hoff's introduction gives a good sense of the shape of this story, and it really does feel as though he's outlining a Hesse bildungsroman. I want everyone I love to read this book, and I feel as though it is one of the few really life-changing, magical books I've read. ...more
I find it kind of surprising and disappointing that so many of the reviewers here have rated the book so poorly, and more importantly that they have dI find it kind of surprising and disappointing that so many of the reviewers here have rated the book so poorly, and more importantly that they have done so not only for purely legitimate reasons (that they think Perkins is a poor writer; I disagree, but if they think so, they ought to rate accordingly) but because they accuse him of being a "conspiracy theorist." Perkins attempts to dispel this notion at every turn:
"Some would blame our current problems on an organized conspiracy. I wish it were so simple. Members of a conspiracy can be rooted out and brought to justice. This system, however, is fueled by something far more dangerous than conspiracy. It is driven not by a small band of men but by a concept that has become accepted as gospel: the idea that all economic growth benefits humankind and that the greater the growth, the more widespread the benefits. This belief also has a corollary: that those people who excel at stoking the fires of economic growth should be exalted and rewarded, while those born at the fringes are available for exploitation."
And this is why Perkins' book is important: it explains, in terms more unwavering and far-reaching than any author I've encountered (including Chomsky) the way the world works. (This is another problem some reviewers cite: that he overstates the extent the forces he cites really affect things.) Perkins explains that the Neo-liberal economics that justify globalization bear the same relation to the way economics really work that US government propaganda bears to the real reasons they are in Iraq (reasons Perkins reveals perhaps more clearly than anyone I've read, again including Chomsky). Perkins rehearses overtly many of the reasons and methods corporations use to increase their profits. These usually include exerting their influence on the government to earn or create contracts that funnel tax money into their own pockets - for example, foreign aid, or military spending.
The aspect treated in Perkins' book is US (and not only US, of course) foreign policy as it is used to open and maintain markets in third-world countries, markets that allow corporations to strip the land of its wealth without losing profits to fairly treating the locals or worrying about the local environment. To this end, the US government and its associates in the World Bank and IMF spend billions of dollars supporting friendly dictators and ousting or destabilizing and discrediting defiant governments (in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, Guatemala, Panama, Haiti, Colombia, etc).
Defiant governments of course are not always ideal themselves - though sometimes good exposes over emphasize a good guy-bad guy dynamic, it is really only about profits. As long as a foreign government lets corporations make money, they will be tolerated. No matter how brutal they are. If they try to defy the corporations, no matter whether for the end of increasing the quality of life of their citizens or for their own gain (Chavez vs. Iraq), they will be opposed, discredited, undermined, or deposed by the US government.
In Perkins' account, corporations are not evil. They merely do whatever they need to maximize profits. And of course, that rarely includes fairly compensating workers or spending millions to reduce environmental impact. It often includes lobbying the government to reduce taxes and impose protectionist policies, spend more money on weapons, look the other way on environmental offenses, forge devastating "free trade" agreements with countries with cheap labor markets, and, when necessary, invade a country to maintain access to natural resources.
Read Confessions if you are interested to understand what is really going on in the world and why, if you want to know why foreign aid doesn't seem to accomplish anything. Read it if you want to know the truth.
P.S. Confessions is particularly relevant today, as it will show you the true dynamics of Haiti's situation. The governments providing aid are by no means altruistic, and they have profits, rather than the good of the Haitian people at heart. This is why aid efforts will ultimately result in Haiti's failure to recover from the earthquake and a slide into even more abject poverty. ...more
Novella's urban farming adventures are charming, and she describes them with enthusiasm and wit. Her experience is inspirational and reinforces both tNovella's urban farming adventures are charming, and she describes them with enthusiasm and wit. Her experience is inspirational and reinforces both the importance and felicitous ease of small-scale, local agriculture. However, while Novella is quite articulate and draws on a wide range of references, she offers very few significant ideas and ruminations, and provides little information. Thus, though I enjoyed reading her book, and found it to justify the short time it asked, I wouldn't necessarily recommend it to anyone. ...more
Dillard uses her natural history observations around Tinker Creek and readings in entomology, philosophy, and theology to construct a drama of conflicDillard uses her natural history observations around Tinker Creek and readings in entomology, philosophy, and theology to construct a drama of conflicting feelings about Life - in the biological sense. The result is some of the most sympathetic, meaningful spiritual writing I've ever found. It is truly deep, truly Magical, and thus does everything possible to make you aware of your deep Connections to the stumbling web of Life: its mysterious beginning, its colorful history, its evolution, its intricacies, its fecundities, its strivings and back-stabbings and above all its miraculous creation of Us, the reader.
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek sets out the same spiritual ideas in abstract that I responded so forcefully to when Barry Lopez applies them to particular subject matter (in Arctic Dreams particularly). It is a post-superstitious religious drama that unfolds a struggle between reactions to life and in the course of said unfolding makes us aware of the amazing thing we are privy to and the intimate, miraculous view we have of it....more
I bought this book this morning at the Pea-Pickin' Flea Market in St. Croix Falls, WI, to complement "Nickle and Dimed" in my two-for-a-dollar set. EmI bought this book this morning at the Pea-Pickin' Flea Market in St. Croix Falls, WI, to complement "Nickle and Dimed" in my two-for-a-dollar set. Emily Houser, another summer volunteer at Community Homestead, recommended it, saying she'd bought it for her mother once.
It is a book made of a journal by a painter. It's very artsy and pseudo-philosophical in its tone, and left me feeling very pseudo-philosophical and artsy myself. The pictures are all very nice, the author is quite intellectual and usually pretty perceptive and appreciative, and there are lots of quirky things (even if they are stereotypically quirky and artsy, like collections of arbitrary sets of objects). There is also a lot of European stuff, especially Russian stuff. Lots of reproduced portraits of Russian people.
My copy of the book had some interesting marginalia from a previous owner.
It was a very nice afternoon read, and took under an hour. It is nothing particularly substantial, but is that always the point? (a question the author loves to ask). ...more
Turnbull's memoir of his time living among the BaMbuti pygmies of the Congo. Not an ethnography or academic work in any sense, it is instead an earnesTurnbull's memoir of his time living among the BaMbuti pygmies of the Congo. Not an ethnography or academic work in any sense, it is instead an earnest account that humanizes the BaMbuti and sells their delightfully cheerful worldview and lifestyle. The BaMbuti live in the forest, depend on it and their souls are nourished by it.
I read the book incidentally; it was one of the most appealing in the Friends of the Richland Public Library store during the time I was unable to get a library card. I wouldn't have chosen to read it otherwise, but I'm glad I did. It served as a very nice illustration, above all, of the indigenous land ethic and oral-culture mode of perception advocated in David Abram's The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World. The pygmies know nothing but the forest and the small clearings made by the villagers at the edges of the forest. Their psychological intimacy with the forest is made quite clear when Turnbull takes Kenge out of it, into the mountains. He struggles a long time with the treelessness of the plains and the mountains, is baffled by snow, etc, but ultimately comes to this realization, which is quite nice:
"I was wrong. This is a good place, though I don't like it; it must be good, because there are so many animals. There is no noise of fighting. It is good because the sky is clear and the ground is clean. It is good because I feel good; I feel as though I and the whole world were sleeping and dreaming. Why do people always make so much noise? . . . If only there were more trees. . . ."
It's of some interest to note that the pygmies don't have any kind of central authority system at all. Problems just sort of work themselves out because people soon tire of fighting, and in general there's nothing very serious to motivate those fights to last long. Incidentally, Turnbull constantly describes the pygmies as foraging for mushrooms, more than roots or berries or other such things. That's pretty cool.
Ultimately, it would have been cooler if Turnbull had focused on some interesting aspects of the pygmies' cultural knowledge of the forest, but it was still nice to just sense this intimacy grounding the pygmies' character and actions....more
I read Ishmael Beah's memoir because of my trip to Sierra Leone in winter, 2011. It is a simple story, about his experience as a victim of the war, flI read Ishmael Beah's memoir because of my trip to Sierra Leone in winter, 2011. It is a simple story, about his experience as a victim of the war, fleeing from his home, losing his family, and finally being taken in and enlisted by the Army to fight the rebels. Eventually he is taken to Freetown for rehabilitation from being a child soldier through some UN-Catholic relief program and experiences the trials of reintigration into normal society. Perhaps due to his experiences performing rap and Shakespeare monologues in his village and school, he becomes a decent public speaker and is chosen to visit New York for a conference on children's issues. There he meets a professional storyteller, a woman who later adopts him after he flees the war once it finally reaches Freetown. It's obvious that it is her profession and influence that got Ishmael to write this book, and she probably helped to shape it and edit it substantially.
As a memoir, there's not a whole lot to the book other than that story. If you want to get some vague idea of what it's like to experience that, read it. It's not a particularly *good* way to jump into a child soldier's head, but it's a start, giving me a way to conceptualize how someone can go from refugee to blood-thirsty murderer to rehabilitated Western citizen without any fundamental disjunction in self-perception. I can't really criticize Beah for it, but A Long Way Gone is not a psychological book, and it's not a sociological book. It doesn't explore themes or try very hard to communicate the subjectivity of Beah's experiences. It's just a sympathetic, personal narrative of a very unique and unfortunate experience....more
Saitoti's autobiography is a breezy afternoon read, and it has an endearing naive and earnest tone. It is often marFirst read August 7, 2012. 4 stars.
Saitoti's autobiography is a breezy afternoon read, and it has an endearing naive and earnest tone. It is often marketed as an introductory reading to Maasai life in Tanzania, something people ought to read before they come (was rec'd by both the handbook for my study abroad program and the Lonely Planet Guide). However, I'd question its utility for that purpose. Having read it both before and after my firsthand experience with Maasai, I can't see I got much out of it either time.
Tepilit's experiences are idiosyncratic, and while they may give some sense of what it is like to grow up Maasai, they focus more on exceptional events in his life and things that would be remarkable to a Western observer, rather than things that help you grasp Maasai life in any way. Much of the interest in the book comes from him experiencing novelty - novel cultures and novel ecosystems (ie, oh a car what's that?; oh the ocean what's that?). None of that sheds any real light on how the Maasai live.
Nor is there any deeper or more elucidatory explanation of Maasai culture and economics that would be interesting in comparative/historical perspective. Just about the only relevant point of comparison with my experiences concerned education. Tepilit's generation considered Maasai who went to get educated to be abandoning their proud cultural heritage, gathering useless and arcane skills and getting brainwashed into worshiping strange gods and willingly working for others in return for money. Maasai in our study area were almost universally of the opinion that education, as much of it for as many of their children as possible, was the best path to "development" and prosperity. But the end of the book makes it clear that he saw this trend, and its main issue: education in Tanzania is terrifically sub-par, so the good faith efforts of parents and students in the name of education go largely to waste due to inadequate resources and lax teaching....more
My friend Will read "Down the River" to me and Sam while sitting on a tire, at sunset, on the beach at Nungwi in Zanzibar. I read the first 2/3 of itMy friend Will read "Down the River" to me and Sam while sitting on a tire, at sunset, on the beach at Nungwi in Zanzibar. I read the first 2/3 of it on that same beach, but had to leave the book with Will before I could finish, and he never passed it off to me in Dar as he'd promised (to be fair, he was hospitalized with an infected leg bite).
I'm glad I was interrupted reading this book and had to come back to it later. I have a somewhat better judgment of it this time around (I started over from the beginning).
Abbey premises his book on the concept of seeing nature as it really is, bared of anthropomorphic interpretations and scientific categories. But this is a facade, an exaggeration. He has a healthy self-awareness of the inevitability of these things. He always notes his romanticizations and his anthropomorphisizings, which are consistent, interesting, and appropriate. Confusing his often cantankerous atheism, canyons are compared to cathedrals, side canyons denoted the home of gods (unself-consciously referencing Muir and company).
His interpretation of the relationship between civilization and wilderness wouldn't please Derrick Jensen, and it is one point on which his analysis is admittedly weak. He continually echoes Thoreau, that wilderness is a crucial counterpart of civilization, an escape valve and a psychological necessity. While he does consider the idea that his exploration of the canyon is essentially a form of tourism different only in attitude, degree, and insulation from the Industrial Tourism he abhors, (it suffers no less from the mythic removal of humans from wilderness that Cronon decried in his classic essay) he ultimately concludes that this is just the way it should be; he's disgusted by the way civilized do their wilderness seeking, not that they think they need to do it at all. For him wilderness is still a distinct entity to be preserved and experienced, not merely and entirely "home." He actually makes a rather strange series of distinctions between civilization and culture, which end up being things he considers noble and cool, compared to things that he dislikes and scorns.
This concern is problematic if the book is seen primarily as a manifesto in radical environmentalism; it is less so if interpreted as a crystallization of Abbey's unique wisdom and charming personality. Many of his points are well-taken in spite of this underlying flaw: his observation that decreasing the effort required to reach a natural wonder diminishes the value it provides, and that these sort of cyborg enhancements to the human environment - buildings, generators, flashlights, cars - substantially alter the experienced world, as David Abram so brilliantly pointed out.
He's also not at all anti-science, and his consistent and detailed use of scientific names and phenomena to describe the land belies the sense of defiance he shows to the industrial and technological products of science. This is explained when he asserts that science, in his interpretation, is nothing particular or new to industry, but rather an intrinsic human habit of observation and exploration. His scientific knowledge is impressively broad, from birds to plants to minerals to geomorphology. His writing is a strange mix of cantankerous curmudgeonery and deeply eloquent poetry, very much steeped in philosophy (he cites Plato and Heraclitus, Kant and Hegel).
In fact there is a deceptive face throughout the book: Abbey puts on a persona of a rough, tough, frontier working-man/hyperbolically ideological radical, such that it's somehow consistently surprising to see how wise and eloquent his thoughts are, how reasonable his demands. Whereas the bits about blowing up dams might make you think he's an extremist, his policy recommendations for the national park vehicle management are not particularly radical (though they are politically impossible).
The way he interacts with animals throughout belies this persona in a predictable way. He even goes so far as to say, straight up, that he'd rather kill a man than a snake (though I doubt him on this point. . . ). His notion of respect for the members of his natural community is simple and genuine, and makes no pretensions to conceal or magnify the hardship and bloodshed to be found there, of necessity.
Abbey's brilliance as a writer is found in the larger set-up of the book. He creates a wonderful mix of politics, nature anecdotes and descriptions, philosophical musings, character tales and local history, and personal stories. I wondered, for instance, why he chose to include the story of the horse Moon-eye, or the time when he and Viviano herded cattle, or Mr. Graham's deadly con. But these stories fill out the book and complete its presentation of a whole human place - therein subtly acknowledging that this place can be at once wilderness and "home."...more
Picked this up because I knew Byatt's name as someone literate people with discerning taste appreciated, and here was a short book with a fun twist. IPicked this up because I knew Byatt's name as someone literate people with discerning taste appreciated, and here was a short book with a fun twist. It turns out it's just a very slightly dressed up retelling of the Norse myths themselves. Those are great and it made me nostalgic for Age of Mythology and appreciate how wonderful they are for their own right. But it also made me wish the book had stepped up a little more in fulfilling its promise in expanding the stories and doing some cool things with them. :s...more