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Posts Tagged ‘books’

I have been reading an outstanding novel, Ordinary Wolves by Seth Kanter, for about the past month. Ordinarily I get through books more quickly, but with the holidays came an influx of visitors, late nights, and busy days that cut into my normal reading time.

Sometimes, when I struggle to get through a book it is a reflection on my connection to the story, or more accurately lack thereof. In this instance, in addition to being waylaid by the holidays, I fear the opposite. I have identified with Cutuk, the main character of the story, and find myself fearful of what discoveries may lay ahead for Cutuk, and what insight they may offer into my own internal struggles.

So, yesterday I put Ordinary Wolves away for a while, leaving Cutuk at his home in bush Alaska, where he has just returned to from the Anchorage metropolis.

Instead I turn to a book where I hope to find less emotional consequence and more intellectual, possibly surreal, challenge and entertainment; 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl by Daniel Pinchbeck.

I came across this book by accident, at some point I either received via e-mail or saw a review of it. The basic premise is that humanity is advancing for a period of transition, a crucible, through which we will emerge in a new and improved state. Evolution, if you will.

I can’t argue with the thought of a new world order, or a sense it is upon us. But my usual approach is more pragmatic, more about protecting our environment, building green buildings and fostering the growth of sustainable communities. 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl takes a more metaphysical approach, looking at humanity’s coming challenges from a mythical and consciousness standpoint, approaching the question perpendicularly to my usual approach.

In short, in contrast to and to dissolve my emotional attachment to the Ordinary Wolves’ characters, I’m going to stand my thinking on its head for a while.

To my wife’s chagrin, I quite often do the same with movies. Perhaps it’s a male trait, but I generally avoid movies that threaten any type of emotional connection. I like movies, and sometimes books, like Lord of the Rings. There is a good story, likable characters, entertaining, but nothing that I can identify with too strongly or that will touch my heart too deeply. I mean, I have hairy feet, but not that hairy. And I wear shoes. I don’t have pointy ears, no sword, and no magic ring- though certain people would say that my wedding ring has a way of making me disappear. (A recent movie that touched me and continues to have me thinking is The Motorcycle Diaries, but any discussion of that movie here would be a digression that even I can’t bear.)

Cutuk, on the other hand, is someone I can identify with. And do.

Enter Quetzalcoatl. Even though Daniel Pinchbeck’s (from here on referred to as Daniel) memoir is a trip through reality (his), it promises to be an intellectual, and possibly spiritual, journey. As I begin his book, I don’t see the same connection developing as I have with Cutuk’s fictional character.

However, there do appear to be some interesting comparisons.

Daniel grew up in New York, the son of artist parents, Cutuk in bush Alaska, I in rural Wyoming and South Dakota.

Daniel’s world consisted of concrete and steel, and people, always people. I imagine the backgrounds sounds of his childhood as the hum of traffic, the buzz of crowds, and the jolt of construction equipment mixed with the unmistakable smells of the city- exhaust, refuse, street side coffee shops and bakeries.

The setting for Cutuk’s youth is rural, remote bush Alaska in an isolated sod structure that served as his home. The only reliable companions were the sled dogs, the voles and shrews that inhabited the house with them, his Dad, brother and sister, and last but not least the wilderness and all that it encompasses. Sounds include the birds, flittering around the willows by their home, the crack and popping of the ice on the river, breaking up after the long winter, and the howl of dogs waiting for food. Cutuk’s fictional smells would be of early morning coffee, caribou stew on the stove, the must and mildew of the soil, the crisp freshness of an approaching snow storm, the blood of a fresh kill.

I grew up somewhere in between, though likely closer to Cutuk than Daniel. There were people, though not many. We spent our time on our farm or at my grandparents, where going to town meant a 30-45 minute drive to a town of a few thousand people at most. My most reliable companions were my two brothers, my horse and other pets.

I remember the smells of my mother’s cooking, the blood of a freshly killed deer, and the sweet, musky odor of a freshly broken open bale of hay. I remember the whistle and rumble of the train where it passed by our farm, the wind- which never completely goes away on the high eastern slope of the continental divide, and the echoing thunder across the Wyoming high desert plains- followed by the smell of freshly washed sage.

People remained distant in our day to day existence, an oddity that remains with me to this day. There was always home, and the banks of the Big Horn River safe from their imposition, and the accepting nuzzle of a horse’s soft nose, the understanding in their deep, brown eyes. People weren’t nearly so accepting.

Cutuk regularly got beat up by Eskimo children when visiting the village, Daniel got mugged by poor kids from the nearby projects, I got pushed around by the town kids when I started school in town and again when we moved near the reservation in South Dakota, where a white kid needed to learn their place or face the consequences.

Daniel learned to live in a world of people, an artificial creation. Cutuk has just returned to the wilderness leaving people behind (my breaking away point in the story). I’m still learning to balance tolerance for people (I think the clinical name for such an affliction might be social anxiety), even learning to enjoy them, with my desire to follow Cutuk’s tracks into the uninhabited wilderness.

Each of us, fictional Cutuk, urban Daniel, and me, all see impending doom in mankind’s arrogant and continuous destruction of the natural world.

And we three seem to share a disdain for the religion of our time, the worship of material things (and thus money). To Cutuk money had little to no value, it won’t buy you survival in the wilderness nor meaning in your life. Daniel’s epiphany about money and the artificial construct that gives it meaning came about under the influence of hallucinogens. I didn’t need a hallucinogen.

In fact, maybe a hallucinogen would have the opposite effect on me, a couple mushrooms or a tab of LSD and this modern world might all make sense. No thanks, I fear for my sanity enough already, and I never liked rainbows anyways.

The reality is Daniel, Cutuk, and me are all searching for a common thing, the meaning of life. An endless search perhaps, where the only certain thing is that the search will not end until the answer finds us. The answer, of course, being death.

This all brings me back to Ordinary Wolves and my unwillingness to finish the book, at least right now. I fear for Cutuk, and what he might discover in the final chapters of the book, and with him what I might uncover about myself.

And so, like many Alaskans this time of year, I’ll take a break from the cold and dark, not by going to Mexico as so many do, but by letting my mind wander the mysticism and prophecies of their ancient god, Quetzalcoatl.

Then I’ll return to Alaska, to winter, and to returning daylight, to travel with Cutuk to the conclusion of his journey, and perhaps one of my own.

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Janie, my wife, and I have a running battle about my refusal to buy used books. She buys used books to read; shares used books; and even sells her new and used books to the used book store. She has no problem being intimate with these books, using them for her own pleasure than passing them on like a, like a, well I really don’t know. Maybe a used car. Or toothbrush.

But, to be blunt, she doesn’t mind her books being promiscuous.

I, on the other hand, like my books unblemished. I don’t want any dog-eared corners (unless I made them), no notes in the margins (unless I wrote them), coffee stains throughout (unless I spilled it) and definitely no broken backs (unless I broke them, of course). And those are just the cosmetic concerns.

When it comes right down to it, I struggle with the thought of reading a book someone else has had a relationship with. I develop a relationship with the book (even I if don’t like it) that is intimate and very personal.

Which may be one reason why my wife and I never read the same books, as documented in Book Wars. I just can’t handle cozying up to a book that has slept with my wife.

An intuitive mind might suggest that I like my books to be virgins, untouched and unblemished by any previous relationships.

They would probably be right. (Interpret that, Dr. Freud.)

Oh sure, I know books from the bookstore are not untouched. But a little experimentation is ok. A peak at the inside of a book jacket, a little stroke down the spine, maybe even a peek at the first chapter is the equivalent of a little innocent teenage necking. (Remember, I’m talking about books.) It should be expected but not condoned. And it sure is a lot different than going all the way with someone.

I mean, can you imagine curling up in bed with a book that has been around.

I can, and it’s not pretty.

Don’t you worry about BTD’s (book transmitted diseases)? I mean, BTD’s have to exist; there is a disease for sharing anything else. Combs have head lice, beds have bed bugs, food can transmit the flu, computers have viruses, jocks have jock itch, shoes have athlete’s foot, and mosquitos have West Nile, Malaria, and who know what else. (Note: we share mosquitoes in Alaska, even though there are plenty to go around.)

Come on, where are the public service announcements on BTD’s. We could be on the verge of an epidemic!

And it gets worse.

The other day I was browsing the web and came across an article on www.bookcrossing.com. Now, I knew this sort of thing existed, but I didn’t expect to find it right out in the open. This is the equivalent of a swinger’s club for books.

If you don’t know, people (perverts, I say) leave these books out in public places for strangers to pick up, then post where they left them on the web so that the johns can find the book. They track where they have been by a sticker in the front cover.

These people are the equivalent of pimps. Book pimps.

And when the Centers for Disease Control finally start tracking BTD’s, all they’ll have to do is look up bookcrossing.com to trace where those books have been to find the source of the disease. Disgusting.

So, next time you think about visiting the used book store, or see a book left unsuspecting on a park bench, think about this blog, and BTD’s, and go get yourself a virgin, book that is.

And if you know me, and see me, don’t mention this article, my face goes beet red at any mention of anything sexual- which this article is definitely not. It is all about books.

And Janie, keep those used books on your side of the bed, I don’t want any BTD’s getting into my harem, ahem, I mean stack, of virgins, ack, I mean, new books.

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Book Wars

My wife and I have a book fetish- we love books. Correspondingly we love to read. We surround ourselves with books. Our bedroom, in part because I’ve not put up any bookshelves, has stacks of books on the floor next to the bed, on the bedside tables, the desk. Books we’ve read; books we may never read but were intrigued by, and books we plan to read but haven’t got to yet (we try to isolate the latter, they breed like rabbits). There are few empty shelves, spaces not yet stacked with books, more due to budget limitations than to lack of effort on our part.

 

I would guess, in the number of books we have, that there isn’t one that both my wife and I have read (excluding Go Dog Go, Horton Hears a Who, and a slew of other juvenile varieties). We both recommend books to each other, but out of spite, or independence, we never read a book recommended by the other. It has become an unwritten rule in our house. I’ve come to wonder what this means about our relationship, if anything, and what it would mean if it were to change.

 

It could be a tug-o-war of wills- we are both incredibly stubborn people, and not in the least more than a little passive-aggressive.

 

Which of us will break first? Will I read one of her recommendations, or will she read one of mine? And will that offer of reconciliation begin a series of rhetorical readings, giving us literary experiences to discuss and share. Will it make us grow closer, more in tune with each other’s thoughts and experiences, or drive us apart, exposing that we aren’t as alike as we like to think we are. Maybe we aren’t on the same page after all.

 

Financially it would prove fruitful, we could each expand our library of unread material by approximately half…., bookstores be damned. Our bank account would flourish and we could buy some shelves to stack those books on.

 

It could be a difference in tastes. Is that allowed? Maybe we like different things, and books are that one item we don’t really have to compromise on- like the color of the living room, or vacation with her family or mine, or God-forbid a Disney cruise.

 

Perhaps a kind of Freudian logic can explain our book conflict. Each book we read could be an illicit affair, a relationship private and protected from the spouse we share practically everything with. Reading the other’s book choices might be like walking into your bedroom, only to discover your spouse with a lover, somebody fulfilling those desires you can’t yourself.

 

Thank god she doesn’t read romances, or they might find me, balancing on a stack of books, with a rope in one hand and a book of knots in the other.

 

Then again…..

 

Honey, get the checkbook; we’re going to Gulliver’s (book store in Fairbanks).

 

 

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