Thursday, October 25, 2012

Books for Writers: "Apocalyptic Planet"

I've long been fan of big real(or at least realistic)-life adventure stories. As a kid I read Thor Heyerdahl's "Kon Tiki" at least seven times and devoured books by Farley Mowat, Jack London and Mark Twain. I read about sea voyages and shipwrecks, desert crossings and awkward portages, glacier ascents and trips into the bowels of the earth. It was the next best thing to being there, and as close as I could get from my home in rural Maine.
Somewhere along the way, partly awakened by the Reagan administration, I became aware of how transitory these places and adventures were, how using the wild often means using it up, and that mankind has the power to kick the crap out of the planet without the self-control not to. I transitioned from adventure and exploration tales to studying the apocalypse through "Alas, Babylon," "On the Beach," "No Truce with Kings," "Shadow on the Hearth" ...

Craig Childs' new book, "Apocalyptic Planet: Field Guide to the Everending Earth," provides grist for both of my mental mills, reminding me that, yes, we're destroying our ecosystem in multiple ways, while showing me that the author had a hellishly awesome time finding out about them. The book is terrifying in some respects (who knew that corn was coming to get us, too?) and reassuring in others (our world may be ending, but there are others that won't -- and still more that won't get going until we're dead and fossilized.)
The book is at its best when it has characters, when Childs can show the danger of his situations through the people around him: his mom, his step dad, the photographer who walked into a volcano and into the driest place on earth with him, the poor son of a bitch Childs conned into wandering with him into corn purgatory. The slowest bit is likely the first slog through the desert, as I suppose a slog through the desert would be, but the book picks up quickly after that and never slows again.
Childs' narrative is informative and clear, detailed, color-filled and poetic. But "Apocalyptic Planet" is a book that begs for pictures and maps, and I hope publishers find a way to bring them to us soon (An enhanced-digital version? A glossy coffee-table edition? I'd happily buy either.)
It's interesting -- considering that our culture of couches, obesity, CNN bullet points and easy listening is slowly destroying both our environment and minds -- that a single book can remind us that the world is very much alive and that many adventures remain.

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