Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A Few Books That Mattered

After reading about the resurging popularity of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, I got to wondering about books that influenced my life. I'm not just talking good reads here; there are too many for that. I'm talking books that impacted the way I thought about the world and/or how I lived my life. As good reads go, To Kill a Mockingbird is probably my favorite; still, it didn't profoundly influence or impact me one way or the other. These books did:

Atlas Shrugged
I didn't really know what this book was about when I started it; I just wanted to know who John Galt was. Now I know, and even though I haven't finished it yet (700-some pages down, only 300-400 more to go), I don't think I'll be able to look at our society quite the same again.

Cadillac Desert
This book altered how I thought about the availability of water and the existence of cities in the Southwest and southern California. I once told Ida that Las Vegas was "against everything I stood for," and it still is, thanks, in part, to this book.

God's Dog: A Celebration of the North American Coyote
The photo of a dead coyote pup burned out of the den has haunted me since I read this book as a teenager.

Monkey Wrench Gang
A band of eco-warriors fighting to save the desert. Today they are called eco-terrorists, and I still support them. A spiked tree is a living tree.

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH
Anyone not read this in elementary school? This fictional tale of rats escaping from a life of certain death for the sake of human science was the foundation for my life-long support for ending animal experimentation.

On the Road
In the fall of 1991, I randomly picked On the Road from my roommate's shelf, laid back in a hammock, and embarked on an amazing adventure, both in the novel and in real life. Dharma Bums, Big Sur, and The Subterraneans followed, but by the time I started Desolation Angels, I'd moved past that life. But what a life it had been!

The Razor's Edge
Larry turned his back on the material and found happiness and inner peace. Only Thoreau's dictate to "Simplify! Simplify! Simplify!" has had a stronger influence on my life.

The Religions of Man
If more people took time to learn something - ANYTHING - about other religions they might actually see that the similarities out-number the differences.

Robert Kennedy and His Times
RFK had his flaws, but more than any politician before or since, he tried to do the right thing, not the expedient or political or prudent thing, but the right thing. I try hard to do the right thing, but I also know that the right thing to do is not always the best thing to do. Still, I try.

They Marched Into Sunlight
Changed how I imagined war, the soldiers who fight it, and what it really means to protest.

Honorable Mention:
Absalom! Absalom!
Fast Food Nation

Friday, August 6, 2010

Turning Over a New Leaf

There are a lot of things in this world that make me angry. For brevity's sake, let me just group them into very broad categories: inconveniences, disrespect, and idiocy. Pretty much all that makes my blood boil can be assigned under one of those categories, and it seems not a day goes by when I don't find myself mentally -and sometimes verbally- railing against my fellow man. It's true that I'm well on my way to being a grumpy old man. I'm okay with that, though, being old and grumpy, and I look forward to the day when some punk kid calls me the same while I hurl profanities at him for not picking up where his dog left off on my lawn.

It has come to my attention, however, that I am not quite old yet, chronologically or mentally. In fact, I'm quite a young 41, and if it weren't for my graying and balding and bad back most folks would take me for, oh, 39 or 40. I do have a bad attitude for only being 41, though. Over the years I've let those things that make me angry make me angrier and more bitter and, well, I'm really too young to be chasing kids off my lawn, shaking my fist at people texting while driving, reporting covenant violations or watching FOX News (in truth, I've only done one of those - can you guess which one?!).

It's time I try and re-focus my attention to those things in life that are life-affirming, like knowing that for every dirtbag that tries to kill his dog with a hammer, there are many people who would like to do the same to him if given the chance; that for every parent that abuses their child, there are thousands of social workers trying against huge odds to give kids a better life; that for every jacka** who thinks herself too important to get in line like everybody else, there are little kids shhhhing people in movie theaters; that for every U.S. citizen who is too lazy to vote, there are people in this world who risk losing life and limb in order to have a voice; for all the religious bigots spreading hate and fear, there are people of deep faith and kindness reaching out; for every ignorant Glenn Beck there's an intelligent Jon Stewart somewhere; and for every 40-something who has just about lost faith in humanity, there's someone else out there who hasn't. Man, I hate that last group of people...but I think I'll try and be more like them.