Saturday, January 02, 2010

Winter Book List

I've been a lousy library patron ever since my birthday in September. It's a weekend ritual to walk a few blocks down to Columbia's fine, fine Daniel Boone Regional Library (home to a killer jazz cd collection and great wingchairs) and spend a while there looking for reading and listening material. But this year I received a healthy stack of fascinating books for my birthday, and I'm only now having to return to the library for literature purposes.

Admittedly, I received a few books that I couldn't finish reading (too disturbing, too sad, nightmare-inciting books). Of the smattering of birthday books and library books I've read since leaf fall, I can't quite rank them from best to worst because they all have great merit and value. Hooray for having well-read book-recommending friends!

Bottomfeeder, Taras Grescoe. Should be required reading for anyone and everyone who likes to eat fish. This book is a harrowing and comprehensive study of the modern fisheries and basically explains why we should learn to eat lower on the food chain. With everyone in the world touting the benefits of eating fish--and with burgeoning affluent class in China--fish populations are doomed. Farming fish and shrimp isn't sustainable and the product is toxic, loaded with chemicals and antibiotics. Very disturbing.
Zeitoun, David Eggers. From the founder of McSweeney's (who provides my friends in New Orleans with clever reading material every few months), Zeitoun is one of several books about Katrina I've received in recent years. Abdulrahman Zeitoun, owner of a fine house painting business in New Orleans, stayed in the city through the storm. Like most people who stayed, he thought Katrina was like the other storms--Hurricanes Georges, Frances, even Andrew--cause for alarm but it wouldn't cause too much trouble, maybe a power outage and wind damage. He stayed in the city to keep watch over his properties, over clients' homes (including many in my neighborhood). Zeitoun and many others survived the storm, but disaster set in when the levees broke.

Like every other book or essay written by David Eggers, the writing is engaging and well organized. He captured the character of Zeitoun and his business, one made of random souls looking for work, many times unreliable sorts but overall great workers. Zeitoun and his crews always did exceptional work. [In 2004, Zeitoun's painters came to my house and spent several weeks there chipping away at layers and layers of paint, then experimenting with sealants to protect my ancient, crumbling building. During that time, my balcony door stayed open as it always did and we became very familiar with one of the Jamaican painters who would gently tap on the door asking over and over and over if he could use the phone. "Hey mon, do you have any phone?" I guess the guy didn't have a phone and was always looking for a ride or something I couldn't provide besides the lemonade I offered]. I was able to read the book until the levees broke and Zeitoun comments (repeatedly) about all of the dogs barking wildly throughout the city--dogs trapped in houses, on roofs, tied to porches. It's still too soon, I guess, and Zeitoun is resting next to another book about the storm I can't read, One Dead in Attic by Chris Rose. Actually, I don't think I'll ever be able to deal with literature concerning dogs left behind during Katrina. It's too sad and too close.

I finally received my own copy of Jane Gooddall's In the Shadow of Man. I've read it several times, entranced by Hugo van Lawick's beautiful photographs of a young Jane with her chimpanzees and the story of a young biologist setting out into a world unknown to the rest of us. A breathtaking book that covers her early years in the jungle learning about the subject of her life's most important work. The latest edition comes with a nice introduction by Stephen Jay Gould.

I've never liked Theodore Roosevelt's imperialist policies, for what it's worth. Barring that, his contribution to the cause of conservation and land protection in light of increasing industrialization is landmark. The talented, fine writer Douglas Brinkley recently published an all-encompassing tome about Roosevelt and his work towards environmental protection. The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America is, like every other book written by Brinkley, well-researched, well-written, and a thorough account of the topic at hand. It's exhaustive, interesting, and very long.

Adrienne Mayor recently published an engaging book on Mithradates, a lesser known though highly significant enemy of Rome. She employs archaeological evidence and textual tradition to detail the life of the Hellenistic king. The Poison King: The Life and Legend of Mithradates, Rome's Deadliest Enemy, is a great biography of a remarkably evil man. He's up there with Tiberius, perhaps verging on the title of sociopath.

Everything is Illuminated spurred me to read everything Jonathan Safran Foer produces. His latest, published in November, 2009, concerns the horrors of industrial animal agriculture and philosophical discussions regarding vegetarianism. His book Eating Animals, the author explains, "is not a case for vegetarianism," but it sort of is. Granted, it's easy for me to plow through a book detailing the disgusting world of caged chickens and seafood "bycatch" because it merely adds more credence to my own vegetarianism. Unfortunately, I doubt that my omnivore friend who eats everything from raccoon to sandhill cranes (why?) will have the patience for this fascinating book. Of course, Foer recognizes that some omnivores are as rabid as some vegetarians about their eating practices and beliefs and allows voices from both sides equal billing. Foer is forthright in this book. My friend who eats everything and anything that moves would likely want punch the author for teaching him about the workings of industrial food production; he wouldn't want to touch chicken salad ever again. A good read. Disturbing, but worth the effort. I read it in one sitting.


Jim said...

AV: I won't comment on your book list, but I found your blog today and I want to thank you for this wonderful blog, esp. your incredible photos. It is nice to share, even if though "the wire", the beauty of the Ozarks. I you have not already read it, I am sure you would appreciate ... Schoolcraft's 1818-9 journal of his tour of the Missouri Ozarks... at that link a PDF can be found of the originally published version (1821). I happened on to it as I'm a direct descendant one of his guides for part of the trip. I hope you enjoy and safe travels!

Allison Vaughn said...

WOW! I read Schoolcraft when I first moved here, and fell in love with your woodlands. A relative of one of his guides! Do you have his journals? I'm still a nut for survey records and wish we had good notes for every acre of the Ozarks. I came across AW Morrison's notes for part of the country I love, and he actually said that the glades were "remarkable and lovely." In the GLO notes! Pretty neat. Just for what it's worth, Missouri's best botanist, Justin Thomas, recently became a father, and his child's name is Eli Schoolcraft Thomas. We all love Schoolcraft. Thanks for reading. I hope I keep your interest....

Jim said...

As a surveyor, the duty of retracing original GLO monuments and lines puts you in a position to read the notes and walk in the very same steps of the narrator to a scene of primitive, virgin Ozark wilderness. It was certainly bitter sweet when I was promoted to an office gig. You should make a visit to a MO Society of Prof. Surveyors conference, they almost always have GLO dedicated program or two or a visit to the MDNR State Land Survey HQ in Rolla.
On Schoolcraft, that is neat about your botanist friend, it certainly has a ring. We only have sporadic artifacts of our family's time on the White River (1818-present). They didn't read or write (as documented by Schoolcraft). My father owns the land at the site described in the journal or across the river from it. I happen to be rereading it now, as I have not since I was a kid. I am a slow reader with little free time, I am trying to keep up with day for day (his trip was this time of year).
I happened on to your blog planning some spring trips. A another engineer and I were thinking of retracing Schoolcraft, if maybe in parts (all at once would be awesome though). I think it would be neat with the leaves off. We were also thinking about having a BBQ at 200 years, or some sort of get together (serious question, are BBQ's offensive to vegetarians? If so, I don't mean to offend. It would likely depend on your catalyst for becoming a vegetarian).

Where are you from originally? I was very fortunate to be raised in the Nat'l Forest. It was very quiet and peaceful... well it makes Rolla seem like a big city! I look forward to more stories from your office in the woods, there is nothing like it. What do you for the state anyway?

Allison Vaughn said...

One of my ancestors was one of the leaders of the Dunbar-Hunter Expedition sent out to map North Louisiana through the Ouachitas in the early 1800s. His journals were published a few years ago, and I have other descendents who settled in the Crowley's Ridge area who show up in GLO notes. I live by those things. I particularly like AW Morrison's (1845) from the Niangua area (calls the glades "remarkable") and I like Jenifer Sprigg's notes from southeast Missouri. Sprigg apparently kept a journal that described the land before the earthquakes, but no one knows where it is.
I actually work in JC, but my fieldwork takes place throughout the western Ozarks (note the absence of St. Francois Mountains country references). I hail from Louisiana where topography ranges from 6 ft. below sea level to 2 above. I adore your Ozarks, and I'd be honored to go to a BBQ; I always carry my own food into the field because I'm a freak about my health--and I run daily, so I have to eat the right amount of greens and beans to keep me going. I think the secretary at the Surveyor's Office in Rolla knows me by name considering how often I call ordering notes...