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    1. On Edward Abbey's Desert Solitaire and other works

      I recently finished reading Edward Abbey's Desert Solitaire, and prior to that I read his novel The Monkey Wrench Gang. I was left feeling quite differently than what I was expecting to feel. I'm...

      I recently finished reading Edward Abbey's Desert Solitaire, and prior to that I read his novel The Monkey Wrench Gang. I was left feeling quite differently than what I was expecting to feel. I'm an outdoorsman, a conservationist and an activist. I spent a good portion of my time last year on The Colorado Plateau, much of it in the places Edward Abbey has been and discusses frequently in his work. There is a distinct emotional connection I feel to this land, so my mental conflictions are especially notable. I recently wrote a friend a letter, much of it including my thoughts on Abbey thus far, and I felt posting the relevant excerpt here would be a good conversation starter. Let me know what you think!

      "I just finished Abbey's Desert Solitaire, while I enjoyed many aspects of the work, it also left me feeling conflicted. I wholeheartedly concur with many (but not all) of his views on conservation. He challenged my views in some positive aspects as well, his disdain for the automobile in national parks, for example. Other views of his I cannot ignore or absolve him of. His views on traditional family values (read: misogyny) are quite apparent in The Monkey Wrench Gang and seep into this work as well. Furthermore, his views on indigenous peoples are outdated, even for his time. His incessant diatribe on the blights that impact Native Americans and other indigenous populations, blaming their own attitudes (victim blaming, if you will), while simultaneously railing against the federal government and The Bureau of Indian Affairs is at best hypocritical (while also patently racist).

      Edward Abbey's actions also do not reflect his writing. The man continually rants about the ongoing destruction of this Earth, he blames everybody (The National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, Forest Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, the modern consumer, tourists, oil and gas corporations, mining companies, logging businesses and wannabe outdoorsmen) but himself. He went so far as to work for the NPS, while admitting their culpability in their own decimation. During his time there he constantly capitulated to the tourists, the modern consumers in their iron contraptions. Some federal employees I've met have set out to change their respective agencies from within, but what did Abbey do? He left. He saw a problem, railed against it, and left.

      So I ask: Why didn't he do more? It has been suggested that Ed had engaged in some less-than-peaceful activities, "eco-terrorism" they call it. I personally don't believe it, I believe that any actions taken were never near the magnitude of the happenings of The Monkey Wrench Gang. Ed's books were his personal fantasies, which while not a guide, a reference point. He prefaces Desert Solitaire, describing it as an elegy. Almost as if he is passing an extinguished torch on to our time. It is frustrating and demoralizing to say the least. While grateful to read his words and as much as I concur with his notions, I disagree with hits actions (or lack thereof). I finish this book left feeling angry."

      4 votes
    2. Book Recommendation: Anti-Social by Andrew Marantz

      I just finished Andrew Marantz's Anti-Social: Online Extremists, Techno-Utopians, and the Hijacking of the American Conversation, and I think it's a book that would interest a lot of the people on...

      I just finished Andrew Marantz's Anti-Social: Online Extremists, Techno-Utopians, and the Hijacking of the American Conversation, and I think it's a book that would interest a lot of the people on this site. Marantz is a journalist for the New Yorker who embedded himself with alt-right influencers and social media companies. This book is a compilation of all of those stories; part memoir, part retelling, part observation, part commentary.

      Despite its title, the book is not a one-dimensional hit piece. I actually strongly dislike the title as I feel it's a bit too barbed for a book that's rooted in extensive, thoughtful contemplation. The author is honest, open-minded, and critical. I hate the word "balanced" for all of the baggage it brings to the table, but it really feels like the best word to use, especially as an antonym for "unbalanced". He deftly handles a lot of different subjects here. He doesn't shy away from giving criticism where its due, but he's also not quick to judge, trying to understand the broader picture first before casting any judgments about it.

      I mention it here because I think it has a lot of relevance to Tildes as a site, as well as the type of people that have congregated here. It covers a lot of ground of direct interest to Tildes: the role of social media platforms to police speech and ideology; how the structure of social media creates influence; how bad faith actors can manipulate systems; how noxious ideologies continue to appeal and propagate. I also know that Tildes trends toward the left, and as someone far on that side myself, I appreciated this book for giving me what I feel was a fair and thoughtful window into the lives of certain high-profile people on the right. It's easy to think of them as a monolith, but I was surprised by the differences between all of his various character portraits. Marantz never loses the individual humanity of his subjects, even when some of them are abjectly abhorrent people.

      I should mention that the book is very US-centric, as that was where he focused his journalistic efforts. As such, readers outside the US might not appreciate it as much, but I still think a lot of what he shares is relevant no matter where you are located since we all share space together online.

      6 votes
    3. Book Review - Turn Of Mind by Alice LaPlante

      Turn of Mind is a mystery. It's for the most part written in journal format. Interestingly it's a journal that sits in the house of a person with Alzheimer's disease. Jennifer White was an...

      Turn of Mind is a mystery. It's for the most part written in journal format. Interestingly it's a journal that sits in the house of a person with Alzheimer's disease.

      Jennifer White was an orthopedic surgeon in Chicago. Once brilliant, Dr. White is now in the later stages of the disease and the journal is written in by family members and housekeepers to help her remember who she was and who she is. A fractured portrait emerges of a cold and strong minded woman who has had a full life that she remembers in bits and pieces. Amidst the pages is mention of a neighbor, Amanda, who has been murdered. Slowly things come together for the reader while Dr. White's disease progresses into confusion.

      Yet she still has moments of lucidity, remembering the details of her profession, where she was considered one of the best and most respected hand surgeons in the country. Her deterioration is something she's at times very aware of, and it is this that makes the book so powerful.

      The narrative often lapses into Jennifer's past memories of both her parents and her children. This adds authenticity to her mental condition but also made me impatient for what seemed to be more important details. As Jennifer is interviewed by police officers and pulled into interaction with her grown son and daughter, we can begin to understand the horror of this disease, especially regarding how hard it is to trust people who may be trying to manipulate the sufferer for their own purposes.

      I'd put this near the top of my list for books enjoyed in 2019. It brings to mind The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time by Mark Haddon, narrated by an Aspberger's spectrum person. Turn of Mind is a hard book to read, but it's even harder to put down once you get into it.

      4 votes