Current Reading I

For as long as I can remember, I’ve kept several books going at one time on my reading list.  Actually, it’s not really a list, it’s more like a pile or several piles stacked here and there around my house.  At any given time, there might be three or four stacked on the back of my toilet.  Several on my night stand, a handful in my briefcase, and a few even on the kitchen counter.  Here’s what I seem to have going right now:

  • Five Minds for the Future by Howard Gardner (2008).  His five minds are the disciplined mind, the synthesizing mind, the creating mind, the respectful mind, and the ethical mind.
  • The Winter Harvest Handbook: Year-Round Vegetable Production Using Deep-Organic Techniques and Unheated Greenhouses by Eliot Coleman (2009). Along with his wife, Barbara Damrosch, Coleman is one of the most widely-respected gurus on organic food production in the United States.
  • The Man Who Walked Through Time by Colin Fletcher (1967). I first read this book as a teenager. I lost my old copy but finally ordered a new one from Amazon.  It’s a first hand account of Fletcher’s hike through the length of the Grand Canyon in 1963.  He was the first on record to have done so. My interest in his experience was recently renewed when I decided to finally, after years of thinking about it, hike in the Grand Canyon from the South Rim to the North Rim.  It’s a 24 mile hike–down over 5,000 feet and up again to more than 6,000 feet. All in one long day.  I’m going to do it in September 2010.  Now I have to train for it.
  • The Revolution of Hope: Toward a Humanized Technology by Erich Fromm (1968).  Like Fletcher’s book, I read this one when I was in high school. I ran across it again the other day and it peeked my interest. Fromm was one of the great psychologists and sociologists of the twentieth century.  A German Jew, Fromm fled to the United States after the Nazis came to power in 1933.  He would later explain the appeal the Nazis had for ordinary Germans by asserting that they were “escaping freedom” and seeking the security of authoritarian government.
  • The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield (2002).  Pressfield is a fairly well-known novelist and this book is understandably aimed at other creative writers.  But he also addresses other creative pursuits including business management and science: any discipline in fact that relies on the ability of the mind to make something new.  For him, Resistance (spelled with a capital R) is the great bug-a-boo, the enemy.  It is the quite natural response to the unknown, the self-destructive or at least the self-inhibiting part of the human mind that prefers the safe status quo to the potentially dangerous innovation.  Getting past or around Resistance is what the War of Art is about.
  • Backyard Livestock: Raising Good, Natural Food for Your Family by Steven Thomas and George P. Looby, DVM (2007).  A great how-to book for beginning . . . beginning what? I guess in my case beginning raisers of chickens, pigs, and sheep. There’s a chapter on rabbits, an excellent and tasty meat which provides the best conversion factor of feed-to-meat: almost a one-to-one ratio pound for pound (cattle, on the other hand, are more like fifteen to one–fifteen pounds of grain to every pound of meat produced).  The trouble is that while I can imagine myself off-ing and butchering a chicken, and can’t with bunnies.  That’s okay.  I like chicken (and their eggs).
  • The Sibling Society by Robert Bly (1996).  Bly is one of the most prolific of the current crop of American poets, but he has written a great deal of commentary and social criticism.  The essential point of Sibling Society is that modern culture has metaphorically “murdered” its parents and ancestors–done away with so many essential traditions–that the once hated paternalistic society has given way to a society of nothing but “siblings” such that there are few adults left at all.  Hence, he argues, the great fear of aging and of “growing up,” along with the refusal on the part of too many to ever grow up and take responsibility seriously.  Okay, just another old conservative, you say.  But Bly is not otherwise politically conservative, and he certainly is no apologist for the capitalist status quo.  This makes his critique of American culture and society something other than a cranky rant. I’ll let you know more as I read through the book.
  • Shop Savvy: Tips, Techniques & Jigs for Woodworkers & Metalworkers by Roy Moungovan.  I’m always fascinated by other people’s work spaces: their work kitchens or studios or workshops or even their offices as long a real work takes place there.  “Work” is the important word here, at least for me.  I define work more broadly than some, and I never take it to be a bad thing.  On the contrary, it’s a wonderful thing, even when it’s tedious and seemingly unfulfilling (as parts of it almost always are).  For me, work can be for money or not, it may be part of formal “employment,” but it could also be among those things that are commonly taken to be mere “hobbies,” a word I’ve come to despise.  If asked what my “work” is, when I’m in either a playful or sour mood, I’ll say I’m a writer and a cook and a father and a gardener and a computer programmer and a (model) railroader and an electronics engineer and a photographer and a theologian and an architect and an explorer and a carpenter and an auto mechanic and a fisherman and a musician and a politician and a botanist.  Oh, and I’m also a history professor.  All those things are my work, even if I’m only employed as a professor.  Well, in this context, then, Roy Moungovan’s Shop Savvy stands out as a frequent “go-to” book to renew my connection with those parts of my work I wish I could get to more often, but find some satisfaction in reading and looking at pictures about instead (often on the toilet when I can’t really do anything else.).
  • Selections from Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman (1961).  I am not a big reader of poetry.  I have my favorite poets: William Wordsworth, Robinson Jeffers, Dylan Thomas, and Wendell Berry.  I know I should like Whitman because he is such a major figure in the development of a literature that is genuinely American, but I’ve never really warmed to him.  What I have read I sometimes found self-indulgent or even juvenile in its self-reflecting (not self-reflective) narcissism.  His stuff also sometimes has that modern “stream of consciousness” feel that I don’t like at all (no, I won’t read Joyce).  But, Whitman is Whitman–a great American poet, celebrated now also as a gay (that is, homosexual) poet, and I should read more of him.  So, perhaps twenty years ago I bought this book on the remainder table at the University of Oregon Bookstore.  It cost less than a dollar, and for that price was irresistible.   It was into its third decade as an unread book on my shelf when it caught my eye and I saved it from a fate worse than shredding.  So, I’ll let you know.  I’ll probably even pain you with quotable passages.
  • Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming of the Dark Age by Maggie Jackson.  I saw Jackson talk about this book on C-SPAN over the weekend, so I ran out and bought it.  From its title alone, you would be fair to lump this in with other books about future dystopias, such as Hedges, Empire of Illusion, that I’ve reviewed on this blog. I’m just old and cranky enough to pay attention to this kind of declension writing.  While it is true that every generation has decried the loss of values and the devaluing of all that was holy in the past, and that has claimed authoritatively that the World was on its way to Hell, it may also be true that every generation was right, and that the World gets closer to Hell each generation.  It could also be true that past generations were merely crying wolf, but that now the lambs are actually in danger of being ravaged. Huh? I don’t know yet. I’ve just started the book.