I’ve always liked to read. Both of my parents modeled this behavior in our house. The TV would go on only for specific shows, and usually only at night.
Fiction was my favorite for decades. Since leaving school and the workplace, non-fiction has been creeping up, though. It started with true crime and has blossomed from there.
So it should come as no surprise that my heroes are writers.
A few books have rocked my world. They have changed my thinking and my life.
The most unlikely book in this category is “Clan of the Cave Bear” by Jean Auel. This book is not great literature. It stands, still, as the best book in the series about an orphan named Ayla, who lived in the last Ice Age. The series sparked an interest in the Paleolithic that has endured for years.
As a result of this well researched novel, I’ve read many non-fiction books about the Paleolithic and spent quite a bit of time wondering about Neanderthals, the caves these people left behind, and marveling that our schools have made this period of history so incredibly boring.
We even have been in a few of the painted caves.
The Dordogne region in France has quite a few of the caves still open to the public. And, surprise surprise, the area looks so much like Kentucky, it’s astonishing.
Another writer that has had a huge impact on me is David Simon. He’s written two books and the best television show ever. The Wire forced me to think long and hard about the drug war, the nature of the State, politics, and the nature of organizations. Further non-fiction reading has totally convinced me that the drug war and institutionalized racism are one and the same. Once you accept that the government lies about drugs, it’s a short step to looking for other government lies. And, there really isn’t any end to that search. For someone who came of age in the Watergate era, you’d think I wouldn’t have to relearn this lesson, but you would be wrong.
This is kind of peculiar, but I’ve gone out of my way to meet the non-fiction writers. I’ve met both David Simon and another of my world rockers, Derrick Jensen. If I’m going to allow people to influence me so deeply, then I need to take their measure. I’ve looked into their eyes, listened to their words, watched them interact with others and concluded that I can trust them to tell me the truth.
I stumbled onto Jensen via “Endgame”. He’s a prolific writer; “Endgame” isn’t his first and he’s written more since. But “Endgame” brought the environmental crisis home. Now I’m scared shitless of climate change and overshoot and carrying capacity and I didn’t even understand that those terms existed until I read Derrick Jensen. He didn’t invent them, of course, but he writes in such an utterly idiosyncratic, muscular and unflinchingly personal manner that his books make me wonder if I’m going insane. Okay, that doesn’t sound attractive, I know. But you gotta admit, it’s powerful.
Other books, other writers that I’m grateful for include Anne Lamott’s “bird by bird” (I try to re-read it at least once a year) and Gloria Steinem’s “Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions”; spending time with her was one of the highlights of my life so far.
Then there are the guys (and why is that?) that go deep into particular subjects. Thank you, Glenn Greenwald, Matt Taibi, Jeremy Scahill, and Chris Hedges. It must be so deeply depressing to do what they do, day in and day out, so that so few of us will be enlightened. They write with historical background, with humor, with verve and love and with deep, abiding anger to bring the truth to those who would hear it.