Saturday, March 27, 2010

A mountain man's stance on a flat earth

I was browsing my personal book-backstock, tucked away on backroom bookshelf, the other day. I was pulling out selections that sparked a mood or memory, then cracking them open at random pages to see what highlighted passages I might encounter, to see what spark of insight or creativity the aphorical wisdom therein might ignite.

I like to think of it as the I Ching of the second-rate writer.

Anyway, at one point I withdrew a paperback-version of a classic of Western nature writing, parted its pages reverently at a point I left it to greater powers to select ... and all the pages spilled out like leaves in windgust.

Was that some kind of ... sign??

Actually, no. It was cheap-shit Chinese book binding. But the event did extract a memory ...

I was teaching a course on Western Environmental Literature, and put this book on my reading lest, knowing the students would be surprised, engaged, and challenged by its story and messages.

And in keeping with my own message and theme of the course -- stand by your land -- I instructed the campus bookstore to order the book from a small, West-based publishing house.

Books came. Assignments made. Books purchased. Reading began.

Then the pages fell out of the damn things. Every damn copy of the damn things.

Was that some kind of sign? I doubt it. But the page facing up when own copy imploded displayed the information that this here edition of this classic of Western nature writing was printed in China.

I sensed the surge of money digitally passing out of the region and over the ocean ...

I felt the weight the many heavy cartons of books returning on that ocean encased in an enormous steel hull driven by kilo-barrels of oil ...

Email to publisher ensued, wherein I described the ... glitch, let's call it, in the bookbinding. They responded with, essentially, we know -- it was a bad batch of books. I replied, expressing my ... surprise, let's say, that they would still choose to ship an order -- especially an order for a college class -- knowing the books were doomed to vomit their insides.

And, I appended the hypothesis that even if the students didn't deserve such shitty-ass books, maybe the publishing house did, getting what it deserved for having their classics of Western nature writing printed in China.

Something like that. I'm sure I was quintessentially professorial through it all.

Anyway, my cyber-sparring oppenent seemed to absorb my digital jabs well enough -- except that last one. A terse retort snapped into my inbox:

"Well, it's a flat earth now." 

End of conversation.

An a most unsatisfying end to that conversation, that was. But, I'm here to report that, as I gathered up the fully re-shuffled fallen pages from that former textbook the other day, it still achieved its mystical, magical insight-sparking goal. Because I now have response to that flat-earth defense:

I, myself, like my earth with topography. With moutains and valleys and lakes and rivers and canyons. And with mountain towns and desert hamlets and riverside cities. And I like the variety of cultures that are shaped by those varieted topographies, a diversity reflecting the individual landscapes that hold and support the folks who choose to live there.

And I, myself, choose to work for and support that topography.

So, thanks for the insight!

Epilogue: That company based in the West but helping flatten the earth did later make recompense by sending myself and my class much more expensive and nicer hardcover copies of the book to replace the crap they'd shipped the first time.

I guess they make better books in Hong Kong.

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