Thursday, September 5, 2013

Reading Me (or References)

The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read.

This quotation has been attributed to Mark Twain (yet appears nowhere in his writing), and I suppose I’d hold it near and dear to my heart but for one thing: why is it we’re always looking for an advantage over others? The advantage sought should be over our former selves.

And so it is, with this last point in mind, I now refer to references referred to...

Throughout this trip and throughout this recording of this trip I have made repeated references to prominent authors and other notable human beings. These are the folks whose work and inner workings I examine closely, the folks whose thoughts and ideas and ideals have patterned much of my life. (I like big books and I cannot lie.) I’ve listed them here mostly for future personal reference, in the event my mind goes missing sooner than anticipated and I find myself in need of something captivating to read--or in the case of video links, something enjoyable to watch. To a lesser extent I have also listed them for your potential enlightenment. I must, however, sound a warning: read them at your own peril. They could change your life! Or they might simply alter or augment your present line of thinking, which could be good enough.

If, on the other hand, they do nothing for you, or you choose not to read them, well then, that’s your decision--unenlightened and uneducated though it may be.

I’ve attempted to list these sources in order of personal importance and/or personal enjoyment, but I find them all to hold at least some merit. (Some of my fondest thru-hike memories are of rainy days stuck inside a tent, stuck inside a good book.) I haven’t included publishers or dates published since that crap really doesn’t matter.


The Internet (slogan: Bringing the Worst Out of Humanity). Citing the Internet is perhaps disingenuous in that it is the sources within I should divulge, but that takes much time, work and space. I suppose I can whittle it down some by specifying Google. For its many evils* Google is an absolute asset. It is the Global Brain--where we go to share or access information. (*Evils? Sure, why not?! Google impairs memory. But just as well. Life leads to death and in death, what is there to remember?)

Abbey, Edward. The alpha to my omega. All works but primarily Desert Solitaire and his nonfiction stuff. Solitaire is sacred shit so read it thoroughly and frequently. Take notes, dog-ear pages, underline, highlight, then reread as necessary. No other book has had an effect on my life like this one; I am fortunate to own a signed copy. (Signed by me, that is.)

OMG! He still reads PAPER!
Thoreau, Henry David. Walden. But you already knew this. Hank’s ornamental prose can be difficult to decipher for we modern plebeians. And its effect, well...see footnote below.

Carlin, George. Preface in Brain Droppings, posted in the entry below. Like Carlin, I am a personal optimist but a considerable (and somewhat inconsiderate) skeptic of humanity. See also various videos of his online (e.g., Save the Planet).

London, Jack. The Call of the Wild. Within each of us a primordial beast lays in wait.

Twain, Mark. Roughing It and others. All Twain should be required reading in school (and life is school), as far as I be concerned.

Ryback, Eric. The High Adventure of Eric Ryback. Besides War and Peace and a few other children’s tomes, this was the first book my adolescent ADD brain ever managed to get through, cover to cover. It would at first alter my dreams, and then my reality.

Krakauer, Jon. Into the Wild. Another book that skewed my life’s trajectory. The movie’s actually pretty good too, nearly all things considered.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. Any and all. Fried Rich is hard, hard reading, but all too important. Even Hitler was inspired by the guy, so he can’t be that bad.

Ruess, Everett. Journals, et al. In 1934, at age 20, Ruess vanished while hiking through Utah’s desert. He was soon presumed dead and is now almost assuredly so. Thankfully, his writing lives on.

Mowat, Farley. Never Cry Wolf and A Whale for the Killing. A wordsmith of the highest order, but yet severely under appreciated, except maybe in his homeland.

McManus, Patrick. A Fine and Pleasant Misery and others. One of the funniest thought jockeys I’ve ever read, period.

Fletcher, Colin. The Man Who Walked Through Time, The Complete Walker and others. Fletcher was another huge inspiration to my pimply adolescent mind, and he wasn’t all that huge.

Proenneke, Dick. One Man’s Wilderness. Upon retirement at 51, Proenneke migrated to a then-remote part of Alaska, infringed upon his very own Leave No Trace ethic by erecting a log cabin (with non-motorized hand tools), and lived there for three decades, alone and completely content. A simple man, a simple read, simply inspiring.

Leopold, Aldo. A Sand County Almanac. A true “nature book” (Gack!), but there are countless pearls of wisdom within. Perhaps best “read” via audio.

Emerson, Ralph Waldo. Nature. Akin to his neighbor Thoreau, Waldo wrote heavy-handedly; one must really want to read his work (or be forced to in college). Still, I deem it vital.

Bryson, Bill. A Walk in the Woods. Bryson may be a weak “thru-hiker,” but he’s a strong writer. I suggest reading everything you can of his; it won’t enlighten, but it’ll have you laugh out loud. And, with the exception of orgasm, laughing is life’s best part.

Miller, David. AWOL’s AT Guidebook. Really the only AT guidebook worth getting. I passed my copy onto a thru-hike hopeful, but you didn’t read that here.

Matthiessen, Peter. The Snow Leopard. Not exactly a top-ten book of mine (terse, dated, dry and altogether too “Hey, look, another well-to-do American who’s traveled to impoverished places and found enlightenment”), but so well-constructed it’s tough to discredit.

Austin, Mary. The Land of Little Rain. A cute little book written in 1903 and still in print.

Louv, Richard. The Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder. The title says it all. We children of the world are fucked, no thanks to our parents.

L’Amour, Louis. Various works. All mindless reading, which, trust me, is a good thing during a thru-hike.

Kaczynski, John ‘Ted.’ Manifesto (titled ‘Industrial Society and its Future’). No, seriously.

Concerning this final reference, I suspect I could draw some flack by citing Kaczynski (aka The Unibomber), but I shall never apologize for doing so. Here are the headings within his Manifesto...

        The psychology of modern leftism
        Feelings of inferiority
        The power process
        Surrogate activities
        Sources of social problems
        Disruption of the power process in modern society
        How some people adjust
        The motives of scientists
        The nature of freedom
        Some principles of history
        Industrial-technological society cannot be reformed
        Restriction of freedom is unavoidable in industrial society
        The ‘bad’ parts of technology cannot be separated from the ‘good’ parts
        Technology is a more powerful social force than the aspiration for freedom
        Simpler social problems have proved intractable
        Revolution is easier than reform
        Control of human behavior
        Human race at a crossroads
        Human suffering
        The future
        Two kinds of technology
        The danger of leftism

All serious subject matter, I’m afraid. But it may be the shit we should take seriously.


I fear I may have dropped some here through the memory hole--i.e., Muir, Whitman, Dillard--since I am absent-minded, careless and disorganized. (Actually, make that unorganized; disorganized suggests some semblance of order.) But I have never had much of a memory gland; the above authors are those I do remember.

I further fear I cannot refer to or recommend most the other shit I read--or tried to read--during this hike, not without a criminal conscience. I am quite critical. This is especially the case with various online Appalachian Trail journals, though there is one masterpiece that stands out amongst them: Then the Hail Came, written by George Steffanos during his thru-hike back in 1983. In reading his, I am thankful some hikers keep journals and take the time, and the risk of criticism, to make them public. Equally so, I am thankful most hikers aren’t journal keepers. They inflict little harm this way, and little harm comes their way.

Ultimately, we’re fortunate we’re free to read what we want--most us hominids, anyway. But truth be told, I envy the animals, who’ve got even better things to do.

"Foot"note: It is clear the effect that Thoreau, Abbey and others have had on humankind has been naught. The all-mighty dollar--"growth"--squashes all in its path. Wild Nature once mattered, but not to domesticated man.

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