Some non-fiction books

Non-fiction and poetry has been pretty much all I’ve been able to handle in the past few weeks.

1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus

This was an interesting book to read. I read in eagerly, in great huge chunks, usually first thing in the morning with my English breakfast tea with honey.

One of the main reasons why I found this book so fascinating was that it was like a peek into an entirely different world, into a discipline radically outside pretty everything I’ve studied throughout my life. It made me finally understand the appeal of Indiana Jones, of the classic anthropologist-adventurer archtype. It made me want to put on a hat and go tromping off through ruins in Bolivia, Peru, the Amazon.

I’ve never really thought of Peru and Bolivia and Mexico as the Americas equivalent to Egypt and Iraq, one of the main ideas that Mann proposes. My favorite section is Part III, in which he discusses how indigenous populations actively shaped and formed their environments. The part about the Amazon is especially fascinating; unfortunately it also feels like the shortest section. It is trippy to imagine civilizations of thousands plus people living in the jungle, shaping the environment as though it were a giant garden!

I also found this book exceedingly comforting, in the sense that it made me feel like whatever we think we know definitively as History or Truth or as The Story Of How Things Came To Be–things are never as reassuring or as set into stone as we would like them to be. The ground is constantly shifting under our feet; our stories, views and understanding of the world are constantly in flux. I guess the key is to see this as a good thing, rather than bad. Who knows what other mind-blowing historical discoveries and scientific revelations await us in the near future? Maybe quantum physics will end up completely flipping the social sciences on their head…

This book makes me want to read Guns, Germs and Steel and Collapse by Jared Diamond, both long-time placeholders on my “huhhhh why haven’t you read this by now?” list.

Killing Pablo

I really wanna see the movie version of this starring Javier Bardem (creepy serial killer from No Country For Old Men) as Escobar. How perfect would that be?

That being said, I thought this book would be a lot more entertaining than it actually was. There were just… a lot of names. I wish it had more photos, and maybe a timeline, like Walking Ghosts. I also thought it was interesting that the book focused more on the extent of the American military intervention in the Pablo Escobar manhunt, as opposed to what Pablo Escobar was actually DOING while all this intense searching for him was going on. I guess that’s really my problem rather than the book’s, if I expected it to be something it’s obviously not.  But I wanted to hear more stories like the one my sister told me, about how Escobar would disguise himself as a bus driver, with all his bodyguards as his passengers, and he would barrel through the dirty Medellin streets without making any stops. This book still left me wondering: how did he manage to flee them for so long?! Did he really just move from one rural finca to the next? Actually, this isn’t that hard to believe–I gotta say that there’s one thing about Colombia–there’s a lot of places for someone to hide, if they don’t want to be found. 

I first wanted to read this after my sister told me lots of amusing anecdotes from it when she read it, such as this classic story that proves what makes the American military the greatest in the world:

“An [American] soldier accompanying the assault force suggested that the force drop down on the ground and crawl.
‘In the dirt?’ asked a Colombian officer, insulted by the suggestions. ‘My guys don’t crawl in the dirt and mud.’
The occupants of the target house fled well before the raiding party arrived….they had fled in such a haste that they hadn’t had time to completely burn documents, so they had urinated and defecated on them. When the [American] began fishing papers out of the mess, the Colonel himself had objected.
‘I can’t believe you’d do that,’ he said. ‘That’s human waste!’
‘Where I come from we also low-crawl and get our uniforms dirty,’ the American said.”

LOL. I’ll have to read Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Notes on a Kidnapping next, if I can make it in time to pick it up from my Holds shelf at the Sellwood library. My sister has also compiled an excellent reading list of cocaine and drug war books she needs to read for her job that I will probably steal from. I agree with her that not majoring in Latin American Studies or Spanish (Reed’s closest equivalent) was a Major College Fail. Oh, well.

Zeitoun

Wow, what a great piece of non-fiction. This was absolutely gripping to read–I plummeted straight through, mostly in the bathtub with a glass of wine, lit scented candles and my stick of incense (I’ve been really into comforting little rituals lately).

This book made me think that Eggers had a background as a journalist, though my sister insisted that this is not so (just checked wikipedia; apparently he attended college with the intention of majoring in journalism but never finished–SCORE!). Man, this book made me PISSED about Katrina and (on a somewhat unrelated note) the current immigration debacle taking place in Arizona. PEOPLE! DO NOT LET YOUR STATE GOVERNMENT TURN INTO A POLICE STATE. God… just not even going to go there right now.

I’ll have to read What is the What by Eggers, finally finally finally, a book I’ve started two times but have never been able to get through. I’ll also like to check out more books from the Voice of Witness series: they have editions on prisons, immigration, Sudan and Katrina (in which Zeitoun’s story was first published).

Yeah, non-fiction is a good read. Sometimes, you just have to escape out of your head.

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2 Comments

Filed under non-fiction

2 responses to “Some non-fiction books

  1. Wait, so “Killing Pablo” gets a thumb down because of not enough amusing anecdotes?

    • julikins

      Well, I was reading it when I was somewhat depressed, so faulting it for not being amusing is probably more my problem than the book’s…

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