Monday, August 4, 2014

Easy Rawlins Is Back From the Dead

Reviewed by James L. Thane
Four out of five stars

At the end of his last outing, 2007's Blonde Faith, Easy Rawlins went flying off a cliff in his car, presumably plunging to his death on the rocks below. Happily, that proved not to be the case. After everyone else had given up hope, Easy's best friend, Raymond, "Mouse" Alexander, comes struggling back up to the highway, bearing Easy's broken body on his shoulders. Easy remains in a semi-coma for some time, and when he finally awakens, he's really not sure whether he's dead or alive.

As one might imagine, after being so badly injured and after being in bed for so long, Easy is weak as a kitten and still in a lot of pain. Nonetheless, Mouse persuades Easy to rise from his sickbed, against the advice of everyone else, and go searching for a missing boy, Evander Noon, whom Mouse refers to as "Little Green." The relationship between Mouse and Little Green is more than a little mysterious, but Easy agrees to take on the job.

Given that he can hardly walk more than a few steps at a time, it would appear that Easy has his work cut out for him. Fortunately, a witchy woman named Mama Jo fixes him up with several vials of a "medicine" she calls Gator's Blood. One shot in the morning will restore Easy's strength for an entire day and so he's good to go.

Little Green was last seen headed for the Sunset Strip and so that's where Easy begins his investigation. It's 1967, the dawn of a new age in America. Hippies are everywhere; free love and the smell of good dope are in the air, and Easy isn't sure what to make of it all. Of course it's also shortly after the infamous Watts Riots and Easy is still well aware of his tenuous place as a black man in a white society, where many, including a lot of cops, are not yet ready to recognize him as an equal citizen.

Inevitably, the disappearance of Little Green will turn into a much larger and more sinister affair. The case itself is only marginally interesting, but as is always the case in these books, the real pleasure lies in watching Easy navigate his way through the larger world around him. Mosley writes brilliantly and, through his protagonist, has a great deal to say about the culture and society of the Sixties. It's great to have Easy and his surrounding cast finally back again.

Securing A Piece Of Nature

The National Parks: America's Best IdeaThe National Parks: America's Best Idea by Dayton Duncan
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The glories of nature versus the all mighty dollar, this is the story of America. This is story of The National Parks: America's Best Idea.

Having just read a book by John Muir, the savior of Yosemite, and having an ingrained love of nature, I was naturally driven towards The National Parks. I've always wanted to see them for myself, but lately I've developed a desire to know their history. I was thrilled to find this book in audio format at my local library.

This book exists in conjunction with Ken Burns' 2009 documentary. In fact Burns narrates the bulk of this audiobook. While not possessing the most commanding of voices, Burns is nonetheless effective. He makes documentaries on subjects that have great meaning to him and in turn he conveys his love to his viewers, and in this case, his readers.

That the U.S. was the first nation to preserve land as national parks is a point of pride. It's heartening to hear of humans doing the right thing for the good of our planet. It's disheartening to hear of the many humans willing to pave over all of nature in order to make a fast buck in the moment without regard to others or the future. The battle, who waged it and how it was won or lost gives the reader a greater appreciation for the struggle.

Each park has an Interesting story. The book starts off with Yosemite and John Muir, the Scotsman who was so instrumental in kicking off the preservation moment in America.

It then moves on to Yellowstone...






The Everglades...




The Grand Canyon...


The Grand Canyon did not immediately become a National Park at first opportunity. Arizonans didn't want it. Some of them wanted to profit from the Canyon via mining, grazing, and putting up their own houses and hotels on the rim to leech off the rise in tourism as roads and rail plowed their way right up to the edge of the precipice.

That is the story of so many of our national parks. Today we sometimes take them for granted, forgetting that their existence was at one recent time very much so in the balance. The National Parks is an excellent reminder of the struggle for preservation and a great way to verbally experience the parks vicariously.

Trees! Glorious Trees!

My First Summer in the SierraMy First Summer in the Sierra by John Muir
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Why would I read this? For one, it takes place in my hood. Two, it's by John Muir, the famous Scottish/American naturalist and founder of the Sierra Club, which saved national treasures like Yosemite and the Sequoia National Park.

Without Muir this might no longer exist as it does to this day...


If it weren't for Muir these living trees, some of which have been here longer than the pyramids, may have been cut down...


To look at a map of the United States, one would get the impression that moving west a traveler would encounter the Rocky Mountains and then nothing but lowlands stretching out to the Pacific. But no, there are more mountains to be passed once you hit California and they are no joke. Just ask the Donner Party. Muir's task was to enter this rugged country to oversee a herd of sheep sent into the mountains to forage during the blistering Summers suffered upon the San Joaquin Valley floor. My First Summer in the Sierra is his recounting of this life-altering experience.

One thing is obvious almost from the beginning. John Muir was a good writer. His elegant use of language was apt for the grandeur of his subject. And the sheer joy he felt in being there is so evident in his effusive language.

The second thing that became apparent about Muir is that he was smart. His writing portraits a clear head and a clearly intelligent mind. One gets the impression that he would've excelled at whatever vocation he chose.

The Nobly-Bearded John Muir

He was a man of science who believed in God and believed he was best communed with through nature. No need to cut down the trees to make cathedrals when the cathedrals are already built and have been standing for hundreds, even thousands of years.

My First Summer in the Sierra will likely invest within you a strong desire to see all he is describing. I felt as if I could've gone on and on reading his accounts forever. However, it's probably for the best that this is short. It's mostly just straight up description - like watching a well-shot nature documentary - very beautiful description indeed, but pretty much plotless. The only tension is in whether or not the sheep will survive and a few encounters with friend and foe. Just the same, readers should be thankful there's any tension at all, this isn't a novel after all.

This is an ode to the glories this world has been providing its inhabitants long before we arrived. And long may it last.