Weekend Reading

The weekend, with alternating sun and drenching cool rain, has spun spring into high gear. Fortunately, the winter’s hard freezes seem to have put a dent in the slug population, or my hostas have the jump on the things, I can’t tell which. It’s nice not to have them blasted by slug-trails as soon as they sprout this year. The apple trees are in bloom, the cherries are exuberant, and even the hail has been moderate. Of course, the squirrels dug up most of my favas, so I have to replant those to get some nitrogen-fixing into the soil, but after the winter I kind of don’t blame the little furry fuckers.

They’ve grown amazingly fat now. And they’ve taken to showing up on the deck during our dinner hour, which makes me frantically check to make sure everyone’s wearing shoes. The kids laugh at me, but I don’t find it very funny.

I read Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Last American Man this weekend. I thought it would feed Roadtrip Z, and my writing partner was reading it for her own purposes, so I picked it up from the library.

It’s been a long time since I hate-read a book, and this one I had to get furious over to finish. Not because of the author–Gilbert has serviceable prose, and does her best to present the subject fairly and honestly. I do wish she would have read The National Uncanny before spouting off about the “frontier”, though. (To be honest, I think The National Uncanny should be required reading for every American.)

No, what pissed me off to no end was the massive, entitled selfishness of her subject Eustace Conway. It’s similar to how I felt reading Krakauer’s Into the Wild–here are white boys from comfortable if not wealthy homes, leaving a trail of broken promises and people behind while they go off “into the wilderness” and, as if that’s not enough, have the sheer unmitigated gall to look down their noses at other people’s embrace of modernity. These jackasses keep being treated as if they’re somehow special, and it irks me to no end. Selfishness on this scale, while de rigueur for mediocre white men, is always irritating. I’ll use just one example here: Eustace Conway’s TED talk. Not only is it billed as him living a “deeper life” somehow, since he shits in the woods, but you’d have read Gilbert’s book to know that the horse trips he talks about were taken with other people–his brother and a female friend in the first case, and Conway’s then-girlfriend for the buggy ride. He completely discounts the work of others that make his little Davy Crockett dreams possible.

…yeah, you can tell what I thought of all of that. Massive, blinding privilege is all over this guy, and yet he gets kudos for being somehow “natural.” How many indigenous speakers could have used some of the PR air his blowhard self took up? Imagine, if he was a minority, how differently several parts of his story would have played out.

My fury, it has many parts. Suffice to say I finished the book, read some news articles about Conway’s legal troubles, and rolled my eyes so hard it probably caused a few of the neighbors to think there was spring thunder. To be stringently fair, my feelings about camping may have influenced me somewhat. Thousands of years we’ve spent as a species, getting away from being naked in the woods with no toilet paper, and some idiots think they want to go back.

Anyway, I’m on Sydenham’s The Girondins, after finishing Mathiez’s After Robespierre and a newer edition of Bruun’s Saint-Just: Apostle of the Terror. There really are no good in-depth biographies of Saint-Just, at least, in English. Part of that is probably that Robespierre eclipsed him, and another part is probably the paucity of documentary evidence. I have to say Tanith Lee’s The Gods are Thirsty has the best portrait of Saint-Just around, and it’s a novel, he’s only a secondary character.

The weekend encompassed much else, of course, including the washer acting up. Now that the coffee’s sunk in, I’m going to go prop it up and take a whack at fixing what I think the problem might be. Wish me luck, and if that doesn’t work, let’s hope the home warranty covers washers.

Over and out.