There were bestsellers before The Joy of Cooking and The DaVinci Code.  In fact, America’s first bestseller was published in 1682 and was written by a woman.

The bestseller in question was not a romance novel or a how-to get married after 40 kind of affair.  It was an honest-to-goodness account of being taken captive by the Narragansett Indians and being sold to the Wampanoag Indians in order to fund the Native side of King Philip’s War.

The captivity narrative tells of Mrs. Rowlandson eating tree bark broth (delicious!), traveling all over western Massachusetts, and naming her ransom price.  Pretty ballsy if you ask me.


I was one of those kids in high school who was assigned to read Moby Dick. It was AP English, and all 15 of us were bored silly, except for this one kid, whom I’ll call Scott (his real name). Scott, like our crazed junior-year English teacher, had palpable enthusiam for the longest book I’d ever tried to read. I can’t believe he was that into the mating habits of whales, but there it is.

The rest of us groaned and shared the Cliff Notes. My history teacher at the time, one of the coolest intellectuals I’d ever met, told us we were, in this case as in so many others, too young to enjoy such a fine piece of work. He told us to reread it in ten years. I vowed NEVER to do such a thing.

Ten years later I am enrolled in my first graduate class in English literature. It’s a summer class – we meet eight hours a week, and we proceed to read 1500 pages of Melville: Typee, Bartleby, The Confidence Man (my favorite), Benito Cereno, his poetry, a few other short stories, and of course, Moby Dick.

We read Moby Dick in ten days. The first day of class our prof warned: “If you’re working full-time you will not be able to keep up with this class.” True dat.

I probably skipped about 50 pages of Moby Dick this go around. A 400 percent increase from the first time. Yes, it’s long. Yes, Melville is fastidious. Yes, it’s a dude, sailing-quest tale. But the narrator is jovial, the characters are Dickensian in their characterness, and the story is a familiar one. Plus, it’s one of the first ethnographic approaches to literature. How cool is that?

Eight years after the second reading, I downloaded Moby Dick. There it is, on my First Generation iPod Nano, taking up up a whole heckuva lotta space. But it’s brilliantly narrated and one of the beauties behind Moby Dick (SPOILER ALERT) is that everyone knows the ending (mass destruction and death), but it’s still a good story. And each chapter, much like Sherwood Anderson’s Winesberg, Ohio is a vignette These vignettes can be appreciated in any order.

So when I’m out walking I’ll go from Nelly to Tim McGraw to Elvis Costello to Moby Dick. One chapter at a time, in no particular order.

Most who have read or studied Melville know that he himself was aboard a whaling ship and did some first-rate research for his masterpiece while on that ship.

For GreatHistory.com last week, I wrote about another whaler’s adventures in the 1840’s: this time a woman by the name of Martha Smith Brewer Brown.


WARNING! SPOILER ALERT. IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE MOVIE AND YOU INTEND TO, DO NOT READ ON.

A couple of weeks ago a friend lent me the book, and I read it in a single evening. The book is like a diet–there are some excellent guidelines to be followed, but a strict regimen according to the gospel of authors Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo will do nothing but make you crazy.

The underlying message of the book and the movie is a good one: if a guy is into you he will show it, usually by calling. If a guy never calls you, he’s just not that into you, regardless of how much fun you have together or how great the emails are. Even if he’s not a phone person, he will call. There’s good advice in them thar hills.

The movie starts out with a young girl on the playground wanting to know why a boy is mistreating her. A young mother assures her daughter: “It’s because he likes you.” And that my friends, is where the confusion originates: we are conditioned, as women, to view mistreatment at a very young age as a sign of interest. This premise works for anyone under twelve but does anyone really believe such behavior spills over into adulthood?

Then the movie scans the world, showing that women in all cultures, of all ages, are busy making excuses for why their men aren’t showing them more affection: he’s busy, he forgot what hut I live in, yada yada yada. Any female who has been on the dating scene more than a minute has done this because the truth–that he may just not like you–hurts.

The movie, for the most part, follows the travails of a cute but somewhat pathetic Ginnifer Goodwin, who plays a convincing phone watcher and stalker. After a so-so date, Goodwin obsesses about the guy who doesn’t call her for a second date. She tells herself all kinds of lies to convince herself that he is going to call. When he doesn’t, she shows up at his favorite watering hole.

I have done this, although not recently. I have obsessed over a guy, checked my non-existent phone messages, analyzed the situation to death with my girlfriends, and done the ever-popular drive-by just to see if, ya know, he’s like, there. Goodwin does a great job demonstrating that erratic, insane behavior can emanate from a perfectly sane person. In fact, she sure makes the rest of us feel good.

The movie gets hilarious as Goodwin overassumes the interest level of different guys. The movie also, at times, feels like a horror flick: I found myself putting my hands over my face and shaking my head at Goodwin’s pathetic fumblings around the dating world.

Justin Long plays the mouthpiece of author Greg Behrendt. He befriends Goodwin early on in the movie and dispenses the cold hard truth about whether or not the guys she meets are into her. Best part of the movie.

The problem is that Long is a player, and gives us a bird’s eye view of how players think and act. The movie (more than the book) assumes that all guys are self-assured go-getters who know exactly what they want and will act accordingly. Rubbish. Men can be just as insecure as women.

And alas, Hollywood just couldn’t stop the cliche train. Long the player falls for Goodwin the good girl; the guy who said he never wanted to get married proposes; and the single girl goes off to India to find herself.

The last ten minutes of the movie nullify the first two hours. Tis a shame.

My number one problem with an otherwise good, thought-provoking movie, is that there are no happy single people in it. Everyone who is single is out looking for love in all the wrong places. No one is content, just living his or her life. Sex and the City suffered from this same character flaw.

Maybe content single people don’t make for good stories. I’d like to think otherwise.


Readers-

I’ve been looking over my last few posts and have noticed something–they’re all rants. I don’t want you to get the wrong idea–that I’m only capable of a few rants here and there and that my ability to rant is confined to a few topics.

One more rant here–this time about the future of nature and nature writing. The rant was originally written for a graduate level nature writing class I’m taking, and well, I just decided to let loose. The textbook for the class is Frank Stewart’s A Natural History of Nature Writing and my response is in response to the secondary appearance of McKibben in the last chapter–who was ringing the death knell for nature and nature writing.

I’m kinda proud of this post, actually:

SPOILER ALERT--THIS POST CONTAINS ADULT LANGUAGE

Tree Museum Ahead: Entrance Fee $10

Because we are of the Earth, we have a subconscious, primordial drive to
preserve that which we were born into.  McKibben is a bit idealistic in
his assessment that before the Industrial Revolution people lived as
noble savages at one with nature. Methinks the medievalist serfs did
some agri-damage, although I have no proof. I’m pretty sure the Vikings
also did some slashing and burning, and Iceland seems to have recovered.

That being said, has the Industrial Revolution sped up the process of
degradation? You betcha. Is it irreversible? Doubt it. I doubt that we
can do that much harm to Mother Earth. In fact, I doubt that we can do
as much harm as a massive volcanic eruption, ice age, or smattering of
earth-crashing comets can.  Sixty-five million years ago, anybody?
Does this mean we should gather up all our extra plutonium and dump it
into the water supply of Gotham City or commence paving what’s left of
the rainforests? Heck no. We are the natural stewards of the Earth; we
are working to preserve it. But we’ve got to stop playing Chicken Little
because no one listens to a crazy cock.

According to McKibben, nature has to be wild and free to be nature. Does
that mean the lily pond outside my front door is not nature because it
was built by hand? Is it my imagination or does it sound just like a
babbling brook? Or do I need to go $800 away to the waterfalls of Hawaii
to truly experience nature? Fuck you very much. Please don’t tell me how
and where to enjoy my nature.

Apparently parks are good enough for most people. A little bit of
greenery here and there is good enough for the soul. We call them open
space here in Colorado, and these parks are crowded on the weekends,
which, McKibben will be glad to hear me say, takes away from an
otherwise pristine experience: too many people crowding up my nature
hike makes me surly, for sure. But enough of us surly bastards will do
something about it. What do I do? I go enjoy that same park on a
Wednesday morning, come back completely refreshed and rejuvenated, and
commence to spread the Gospel about how the less spoiled nature is, the
less the human element is present in nature, the better off we all are.
“Nature’s better than Xanax,” I tell them. My friends look at my
permanently furrowed brow, which seems to have softened, and believe me.
At least for a minute.

In fact, the “psychic and spiritual” part of nature will actually become
more meaningful because there will be less of it (p.219). Maybe, in
2059, we’ll all have to meditate on the single bonsai tree under the
glass globe in the center of town. With all due respect to Miss
Mitchell, that bonsai tree will have as much, if not more, effect on us
than the Grand Canyon because it’s all we’ve got. Talented nature
writers might be able to write about the bonsai’s simplicity and
spirituality in a way that would turn Thoreau’s thumb green with envy.
Why not ring the bell of hope instead of listening for the clang of doom
and gloom?

Maybe the landscape architects, the ones who know the extent to which
the re-greening of America has on the American psyche, will be our
spade-wielding saviors. Until then I’m going to enjoy the local parks
during the week.

How do we save nature? Enjoy it, one afternoon, one hammock nap, one ski
run, one wave, or one peony-planting at a time. Then, tell your friends
and family how awesome it was, and if you’re so inclined, write about it.

Oh yeah, and recycle.