Book Club

Cadillac Desert by Marc Reisner

“‘Our forefathers would have built these projects!’ they say. ‘They had vision!’ That’s pure nonsense. It wasn’t the vision and principles of our forefathers that made this country great. It was the huge unused bonanza they found here. One wave of immigrants after another could occupy new land, new land, new land. There was topsoil, water-there was gold, silver, and iron ore lying right on top of the earth. We picked our way through a ripe orchard and made it bare…we’re going to pretend that things are as they always were. ‘Let’s just go out and find some money and build a dam and we’ll all be rich and better off.’ We’ve been so busy spending money and reaping the fruits that we’re blind to the fact there there are no more fruits. By trying to make things better, we’re making them worse and worse.”
– Glen Saunders, in Cadillac Desert

Quod me nutrit me destruit.

What nourishes me destroys me.

This is a tattoo Angelina Jolie has. I’ve always be fascinated with it, with the saying and the way it boils a truth to such diametric simplicity. It’s our fatal flaw. It’s the Shakespearian tragedy in each of us.

It’s like a river. Water is essential for life and to survive we must have access to water. Lakes and oceans are nice, but the source of this water and the transmission of this water is through our rivers.

Rivers provide drinking water, irrigation, recreation, and a source of optimism. Then, they turn on you. They dry up and take away their optimism. Then, they overflow, wiping away everything they helped build.

It’s the ebb and flow of nature. Ice ages and global warming. Decades of drought and decades of rain. And there’s human beings, trying to scratch out an existence on a planet that’s always been out of our control. Our fatal flaw, our nourishment turned destruction, is our egos.

We want to control nature and bend it to our will. This is probably why we’ve survived as a species so long. The opposable thumb is pretty great, but it would be useless without an ego to back it up.

Whether or not global warming is caused by humans, or by the cyclical nature of life is impossible to say for sure. The fact remains that there is plenty of evidence that human beings are destroying the earth.

Cadillac Desert is a fascinating survey of the damage wrought on the western United States by the egos of politicians wishing to control nature and bend nature to the political whims and desires of those in charge. It’s a story of corruption, greed, egotism, and idiocy. In other words, a quintessentially American story. (It’s also a pretty good argument for Libertarianism if you happen to dislike powerful governments with the ability to get that corrupt and greedy.)

We can protest environmentally detrimental projects. We can change our system of government and vote out leaders who seek to destroy us. We can do a million different things, but there’s an inevitability to environmental destruction.

As long as we have a planet to live on, the egos of human beings will pluck and pull and twist and wring it dry of every life giving thing it has, until there is nothing left.

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Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

This is a modern book by a modern writer and I should have known it would make me cringe before I even picked it up. The modern style is tedious. The writers all write with the same voice about characters with the same problems, but most grating of all is all the adjectives. The writers try to set themselves apart by out-adjectiving each other. If they can come up with the best, wittiest, most unusual, punniest adjectives readers will gasp in delight at their turn of phrase and the author will be praised for their insight.

This book is full of too cute adjectives and too cute observations, that only a modern writer could think up, that no real person would ever think unless they were trying to be a too cute modern adjective writer. It’s not about the story or the plot or the character development. We don’t write novels anymore, we write collections of adjectives.

Gone Girl is certainly a collection of adjectives. The writing is consciously cute. The cuteness saturates the funness of the book, degrades it, making it too cute to really love.

I criticize the writing style, and yet, it was a book I could not put down. And it was fun when I could relax and ignore the cuteness. It was put together well and sucked you in, and you probably can’t find a better fun read.

I started out loving this book and its look at a disintegrated marriage. It started to wear on me though. I’m fascinated by relationships and marriages and the challenges of a long term relationship. I’m addicted to articles in magazines like the Atlantic and Elle that think and tackle these questions. I’m also annoyed by how quickly an honest look at the way human beings interact with each other devolves into a treatise on Upper Class 1st World Problems.

Using the recession as a backdrop to a failing marriage is a tad obvious, but it works the way it was set up. However, most of us didn’t lose trust funds and jobs we held just for fun, so it all starts to sound like rich people whining. The characters all have too much money, they’re too ridiculously good looking, they’re too smart, they’re too craftily described. Guys, life is full of 1st World Problems for a character in a modern novel. Charles Dickens, this is not!

But it was a fun read when you want to lose yourself in a 1st World Problem kind of world.

Book Club: Dirty Sexy Politics by Meghan McCain

“Being a Republican is not a lifestyle choice…And it shouldn’t be controversial to be like me – a straight, pro-life Christian who is utterly determined to pass gay marriage in this country, who believes in a strong national defense, is worried about climate change, continues to support the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and who thinks government is best when it is efficient and accountable and stays out of people’s lives and business.”

It’s New Years Day and I woke up long before my alcohol addled body had enough sleep. I figured I’d read a few chapters than nap my hangover away.

I never got to that nap because I couldn’t stop reading. And thinking. As if my head didn’t already hurt from last night’s champagne indulgence!

I thought about reading Barry Goldwater’s book “The Conscience of a Conservative” a few years ago. Having grown up in liberal household that watched news commentary on CNN, I’d always gotten the impression that conservatives simply hated everyone who wasn’t rich, white, straight, male, and didn’t attend churches run by TV preachers.

Considering the state of the Republican Party since I started paying attention during the Clinton Administration, I can hardly be blamed for thinking that.

Goldwater’s book was the first time I had been presented a conservative agenda that didn’t vilify people. It was calm and reasoned and it made sense. I disagreed with much of it, but it made sense. Even weirder than that, some parts of it made so much sense to me that they replaced my previously liberal ideas.

That book was life and thought changing. It thoroughly changed the way I thought about and approached political problems. I can’t help but (naively, I’m afraid) think that if both sides of every vitriolic debate could just understand where the other side was coming from we’d be much more efficient at solving problems.

Understanding isn’t the same thing as agreeing, but how can you even begin to effectively compromise and get things done if you don’t try to understand?

This is why I like Meghan McCain. I’m not really sure when she came onto my radar, but I’ve followed her on Twitter for a while now and I absolutely adore her.

She wants to change the Republican party. Like Goldwater, she has a true conservative ideology that makes sense to those of us who may not agree with everything she thinks. She wants to change the Republican party, but I think people who think like her and approach problems with logic, reason, and humanity can change politics.

It was utterly fascinating to relive the 2008 campaign from a viewpoint different from the one I cared about. And reading about the insights into her family was a good reminder that what you see with people in the spotlight is rarely what they are. After reading about her relationship with her father, I felt an overwhelming need to talk to my Dad. It reminded me of us.

As I finished the book I thought about Election Night 2008. I was overwhelmed by the historicalness of Barak Obama’s election. I truly believed in everything he stood for. And while his presidency has been less than his supporters wanted or expected, on that night I felt all the hope in the world that things could be okay.

That night I also watched John McCain’s concession speech. I remember seeing him look so defeated and sad. He’d given so much running for President twice. I remember my heart breaking for him.

I’ve had trouble with my political alliances because anything right of center doesn’t seem to allow for feeling something towards people. Which puts me in the position of voting for Democrats because they at least pretend to care. I believe in a smaller national government. I believe the government needs to get out of our lives as much as possible. Oddly enough, the political ideology I most agree with is Libertarianism. The problem is, I’ve got a heart that won’t stop bleeding and I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

The feeling that Meghan McCain had of not having a place in the Republican Party, and the feeling I have of not having a place in politics, we can’t be the only ones to feel this way. If the last election has shown us anything, it’s that people want something to believe in.

It sure would be fantastic if politicians and parties would realize that.