Archive for the ‘Alan Weisman’ Category

A Library Without Us

August 9th, 2009

Oh boy. I’ve totally blown it. That’s pretty much what I think while I’m reading The World Without Us. Whether it be the car I drive, or how I handle refuse, or what I’m NOT doing about all that plastic in the ocean, I feel like I’m not too friendly with Mother Earth. But at the same time, she’s probably laughing a little at those who haven’t realize it’s too late, “oh, the naiveté”, she says. Homo sapiens were destined for extinction from the beginning. I’ve always thought so, but only in the biblical-armaggedon sense. Now I feel the same way, but for more practical “real-world” reasons, as in, The Earth Will Always Win. There will always be freeze-thaw, there will always be a warming and an icing over, and starting over again, as countless civilizations before us have experienced. Think of it in millions of years, which is difficult, almost impossible actually, but it makes it easier to grasp. We are done for. This isn’t fatalism. It’s evolution.

So why am I all the sudden very conscious of my carbon footprint? I know eventually I’ll be in the ground, an ice age will begin, and my remains will be pulverized over hundreds of thousands of years into bonemeal to be used for whatever bonemeal is used for. Most likely as unnoticed fertilizer for our descendant’s cornfield a million years from now. Like most things in nature, the earth and myself including, there is a constant breaking down and renewal. Not that I have any choice, but that’s fine by me and not in the least bit depressing. As corn or whatever grows through my fine-powdered remains, will the farmers, or the food be any different because I put pizza crusts in one trash bin and cardboard in another a million years earlier?

I have no idea what the (very) long implications of sorting out recycling are. What I do know, is that I see the impact it has now, in my time. And I’ve been impressed to do something about it, whether I ever see the return or not. EVEN if it makes a difference or not.

It’s much like the time when I realized that although my one small presidential vote is largely mathematically insignificant, not voting is wasting the lives that provided the opportunity to do so, and honoring sacrifices is reason enough to do something that sometimes feels pointless.

Ok, so I lost myself a little and somewhere there is a tie-in to recycling, I promise. Bottom-line is that although it may appear insignificant when people think about it a million years from now, deep down I feel like it’s my duty to ignore that and do what’s best for the earth, right now.

So, then, what can I do? Well I started using a Kindle again. I won’t go into whether this is environmentally better or not simply because I don’t know. Paper comes from trees, thus the more books, the more forests get hewn down. But then, paper is biodegradable and plastic is not. In a thousand years my books will be indistinguishable from soil, and my plastic Kindle will still be sitting there. I could go on and on, which I may, at a future date.

My problem is now all these books that I’ve accumulated over the years. They just sit there. Nobody reads them but me, and 95% of the books that make up my library never get read again. They collect dust while they wait for their journey to the landfill. A landfill will eventually be their home regardless of pretty much anything I do, but what can I do with them in the meantime?

Note To Self: Must think about this.

Book #33 tomorrow, week #33 started today. Not too shabby.

Alan Weisman, Book Thoughts, The World WIthout Us ,

Reading is great, reading with purpose is infinitely greater.

July 29th, 2009

Last night I discovered myself thinking, “Only 20 books left to choose”. This is after I purchased book #32, The World Without Us, by Alan Weisman. After a recent shift in thinking, described here, I realized that I need to spend more time in the selection of literature, and less time counting down the pages, the books. With this new focus on quality and not necessarily quantity (although this is a numbers goal), I have renewed energy and more determination to not only read books as an attempt at loftier pursuits, but also to consider that this alone is not enough. Reading is great. Reading with purpose is infinitely greater.

I have been mistaking goals for purpose. Does a runner set a marathon goal for the sake of the marathon? Does the autobiographer set a publication goal for the sake of publication? I would argue that they do not. I would argue that the training, whether it be running or writing, is the reward. To train for a marathon you need progress, and progress is the point of the goal. For goals to matter, one has to care about not just getting from A to Z, but you have to want the B through Y. Without that, what’s the point of Z?

The point of my goal isn’t just to read. My goal is to progress as a person by reading important and influential books that were intended to create this progression in society. Is there a loftier goal among writers than that to teach? Looking back on the year so far, I noticed that I haven’t been doing that. I only have 20 books left. They need to count, so to speak.

I’ve been asked several times this year how I choose my books. I don’t really have an answer. A book will catch my eye, or be mentioned in another book, or recommended by someone whose judgement I trust. But there never was a plan, and I’ve made poor choices. With the last 20 books will come a plan of sorts. I’ve already began collecting titles that I feel are important, including:

  • Man’s Search For Meaning
  • Pilgrim At Tinker Creek
  • Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand
  • The Education of Henry James
  • The Double Helix
  • The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays
  • The Economy of Cities

The list is getting long, longer than what I’ve listed above, and will be tapered down, but there is a plan. Only 20 books left. ONLY 20.

This site has helped with something I hadn’t planned on, accountability. It may be a false accountability, I don’t know. But I do feel accountable and have felt accountable since January. I made a statement on this website about my intentions for 2009 and I felt tied to that. At times it hasn’t been the easiest thing to do, this reading. At times it felt like the most natural thing in the world to do. And, at times, it feels like something I’ll never stop doing. This is now habit. And if it takes 21 days to break a habit, well 21 days without reading is unlikely. I see myself in January, 2010, blogging “Let’s do it again!”. But other times, not a chance.

But I feel an odd sense of someone looking over my shoulder when I choose my books now. Someone over my shoulder analyzing my choices and someone in my head always asking THE question, “Is This Book IMPORTANT?”. Several times I’ll notice a book, a seemingly really interesting book, but then decide it isn’t important, it’s a book for now, not a book for always.

Am I taking this too seriously? Am I analyzing this to death? Possibly. Probably. Even my father, after my spewing thoughts of importance and accountability at him, suggested a Dean Koontz, in jest, something easy and entertaining. My mother, a 12-page children’s book by John Lithgow. I countered with Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim At Tinkers Creek, at which point her eyes widened and she hurried off, returning with a well-worn and heavily annotated copy of the Pulitzer Prize winning masterpiece. They worry over my all-or-nothing approach to things, but they also understand the excitement of not just achieving difficult goals, but also understand the sensation of being pleasantly lost in a sea of words.

With all this in mind, I start The World Without Us, and finding the answer to the question posed in the introductory chapter:

Is it possible that, instead of heaving a huge biological sigh of relief, the world without us would miss us?

I’m curious, as well.

Alan Weisman, The World WIthout Us ,