Jessica's Reviews > Desert Solitaire

Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey
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Nov 15, 2014

did not like it
bookshelves: did-not-finish, non-fiction, outdoor
Read from December 31, 2013 to January 02, 2014

This one was a real bummer for me. I was first advised to read this book when I was 16, on one of my first backpacking trips, by a teacher/trip leader. Pretty sure I should have read it back then, when I might have gotten swept up in the semi-lyrical descriptions of nature and Abbey’s adventures... and when I was also so sleep-deprived at boarding school that I might have overlooked the uglier elements of his writing and personality.

I was extra disappointed, because I decided to try a new tactic this year with my to-read books in GoodReads – sorting by average rating, and trying to read them in order of how well-rated they are by everyone else on this site. Rather than going with my own random whims, I’ll read whatever everyone else thinks is the best. I still think this will be a good strategy!

But I was wildly disappointed in the short portions of this book I read. And sad, frankly, to like it so little. Right in the author’s introduction (from April 1967), Abbey clarifies that basically, he’s a big douchebag. He puts forward his thesis that nature is ruined if you can drive right up to it, you can’t really appreciate it unless you hike really far and work for it, and all the visitors in National Parks totally invalidate any enjoyment you might think you feel when you visit them. I mean… and this was in 1967!

I was fortunate enough to visit Arches in summer 2012, and completely loved it. Full of people, yes – but how lovely that all those people get to see somewhere so wonderful, rather than sitting on their couches watching TV. I love the National Parks, and I love that the large number of visitors they get enables them to employ so many people. I love park ranger nature programs, which are only worth putting on when you have a decent size audience. Love it all. And I completely hate this kind of elitist woodsman idealism, that says other people’s experiences don’t really count unless they really get into the backcountry – which largely invalidates anything that old people, little kids, and others with limited mobility are able to do. It’s just pompous BS.

As is his description! This is apparently the first big piece of non-fiction Abbey published? It shows. My husband super loved the flowery descriptions of every damn plant and sunset and snake and sunrise and steaming cup of coffee. I found it tedious and dragging.

But it was the hypocrisy and sexism that made me give up on it. You don’t even have to read very far in! I only made it to page 27. In the snake chapter, he says he’d never kill one, “it would be like murder”. Meanwhile a few pages back, he had bacon sizzling on the stove, and I understand from other reviews that later in the book, he kills a rabbit with his bare hands just to see if he can do it. Hypocrisy, and offensive to this vegetarian.

And then the specific sentence that made me put it down was about the cliffrose plant, “loveliest of all, gay and sweet as a pretty girl”. I recognize this is pretty mild as things go, but I was already becoming very disappointed with the book. And I just… People who respect women do not talk about them exclusively in terms of looks and charm. It pisses me off when a man says a flower reminds him of women, because it’s pretty. I understand that many male authors have been sexist. Sometimes I can read through it, this time I can’t.

Oh, and based on other comments on this site, I went and read the chapter about the dead hiker too. Disgusting. His complete lack of respect for another human’s suffering, and the cold jokes he and his buddies made and he reported about here… how can so many people like and respect Edward Abbey?! I don’t get it.

It was too many off-putting things in one package. I give up. I’m sort of sorry I didn’t read it when I was 16 and might have ignored a lot of this stuff (and still tended to think that adults were much smarter than me, and trusted what they said), but also glad I didn’t waste my time with it then. There are other things written about the natural world and National Parks that are not by sexist, racist, hypocritical, unfeeling, pompous, elitist jerks. Read those instead.
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Reading Progress

12/31/2013 marked as: currently-reading
01/09/2014 marked as: read

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