Wednesday, June 13, 2007

It's not my fault. Blame the boys at Querencia.

Steve started it. Reid followed. Then Matt. Last night, I gave in to peer pressure and gathered reading material from my office couch, nightstand, dashboard, and office floor. But then I've always been vulnerable to corrosive influences.

I'm revisiting Marc Reisner's Cadillac Desert in preparation for my entry into the Texas Water Wars. Actually, I'm already skirmishing, as some of you may know. My article on proposed Marvin Nichols Reservoir will appear in the July issue of Texas Parks & Wildlife. Much has happened since I wrote the piece. In fact, I'm beginning to gather material for a book proposal on coming water conflicts in Texas and on the Southern Plains. I'm way behind on my blogging; I'll try to catch up in the coming weeks.
Even if you wrote off Susan Sontag after "9.11.01," her New Yorker "Talk of the Town" piece, you might want to reconsider and at least try At the Same Time, her posthumously published collection of essays and speeches. She'd been shaping several of these pieces for publication in book form shortly before her death in 2004. If "9.11.01" seems reflexive and ill-considered - by her own admission, she "dashed it off," while still in the throes of grief and shock - her later essays are far more thoughtful. I hope to post a more thorough review within the next couple of weeks. In the meantime, here's what she had to say about the importance of reading:
"A writer is first of all a reader. It is from reading that I derive the standards by which I measure my own work and according to which I fall lamentably short. It is from reading , even before writing, that I became part of a community - the community of literature - which includes more dead than living writers."
I just started This Common Ground: Seasons on an Organic Farm by Scott Chaskey, a poet and farmer. You have to admire a man inspired to verse by compost. As a vegetable gardener battling a mild case of blossom-end rot in two of my tomato plants, I'm especially looking forward to the chapter entitled "The Wolf's Peach."
I need no excuse for reading dog books, but for once, I have a one handy. Photographer Wyman Meinzer and I are doing a coffee table book on working dogs. I'm writing a series of short essays, about 20,000 words total, and captions to go with Wyman's photos. We're not restricting ourselves to "working dogs," as defined by the AKC. We consider any dog that does useful work a working dog. So far, we've covered, search and rescue dogs, assistance dogs, scent hounds, herding dogs, curs and feists, terriers, customs dogs, bomb and drug sniffers, sporting dogs, police dogs...I'm sure I'm forgetting some. We hope to finish by late summer. The book should be out Fall 2008. Anyone know hunters in Texas with coursing dogs? Steve? Matt?
The Ben Lilly Legend by J. Frank Dobie: No one can write responsibly about Texas big game hounds without some knowledge of legendary hunter and houndsman Ben Lilly. Emphasis on legendary. Here's Ben Lilly on Ben Lilly:
"My reputation is bigger than I am. It's like my shadow when I stand in front of the sun in late evening."
One ought to keep in mind that J. Frank Dobie was a folklorist.
Lost History of the Canine Race by Mary Elizabeth Thurston, A History of Dogs in the Early Americas by Marion Schwartz, Dog's Best Friend by Mark Derr, and A Dog's History of North America by Mark Derr. All very readable and worth the time.
Marion Schwartz irritated me slightly by saying that while she might consider owning a Siberian husky or Carolina dog, she would never choose a greyhound, mastiff, wolfhound or any descendant of the dogs the Spanish put to horrible use against Indians - as if greyhounds are at fault because their 15th Century ancestors were bred, trained, and handled by sadists.
To my complete satisfaction, Mark Derr lets loose on the AKC and the Fancy in Dog's Best Friend. He also defends hunting with dogs and rural cultures that preserve working traits. I don't quite buy his training philosophy, however. Perhaps it works for him. In A Dog's History of North America, his description of Spanish misuse of dogs is far more thorough and appalling than Schwartz's.
Lost History of the Canine Race contains good art and photos, including a couple of shots of New Guinea Singing Dogs and an irresistible photo of a dingo puppy.
The single issue of The New York Review of Books represents the vast pile of unread periodicals on my office floor. I can't remember when I've been so far behind. On the upside, I'm behind because I've been working my way through a bunch of magazine assignments.
Last night, I made some headway into the current issue of the The Atlantic Monthly. Interesting article on writer Harlan Coben, who routinely commands seven-figure advances. Like most best-selling writers, he does one thing very well. He writes thrillers and not much else. I don't see any seven-figure advances in my future. (See bird hunting book, two historical novels, ranch book, dog book...)
By 10:30, I didn't quite feel up to James Fallows' long article on why China's rise is good for us. I'll need to gather some energy for that one.


Rebecca K. O'Connor said...

I just read Cadillac Desert a couple of months ago. I occasionally freelance for a trade zine that reports on water rights issues and had been reading microfiche on an old Imperial Valley newspaper that covered the whole Salton Sea fiasco and got completely sucked in... so a Prof. suggested it. Crazy reading! It found a permanent place on my shelf.

Matt Mullenix said...

Henry there's plenty of blame to go around. Don't waste it all on us!

Sighthounds in Texas: a good friend in Amarillo might be able to set you up. Drop me a line and I'll pass his name along.

Loved your bookstack post!

Henry Chappell said...

Rebecca, I was most struck by how ruthless big city leaders were in securing water to ensure the continued growth of their cities. That sort of thing is going on right now in Texas.

Matt, thanks a million. I'll follow up today.

Rebecca K. O'Connor said...

Indeed. It drove me to rent China Town and watch it again... :-)

Steve Bodio said...

Well, you have put a dog book and garden book on my wish list! (I quoted the author of the dog one in my latest dog post).

Does that idiot woman think today's mastiffs etc bear blood guilt for their (probably non) ancestors' sins??

Latest NYRB has a good review by Tim Flannery of Pollan and McKibben.

Henry Chappell said...

That's the great thing about book lists - they're always growing and you never catch up.

I suspect you're right about modern sighthounds and mastiffs being mostly unrelated to the dogs the Spanish unleashed on Indians. Much has been written about the terrible Cuban Blood Hound - a dog that probably existed - but nobody I've read seems to know what it was. A common guess is a greyhound/mastiff mix, but I have trouble picturing that.