Barry Lopez, Desert Notes

So large and passionate his readership, so influential his books, I expected to like Barry Lopez. God save me, though, I don't -- at least, not yet.

Stephen Trimble writes approvingly that "Lopez speaks and writes about our sacred relationships with the earth with such seriousness and depth that he has become the most respected voice of ethical conscience in the chorus of naturalist writers." That "has become" keeps me from tugging on my hair a bit, since all I've read is Desert Notes, and I just didn't see an object large enough to cast the shadow it does. It's not the least bit unethical, and he does seem highly respected, and indeed the book does have some very good bits, but ... I don't see it. I don't.

The back cover of the old Signet edition I picked up compares Lopez to Don Juan, in the Carlos Castaneda books, and of course Don Juan is generally accepted to have been fictional. I'm not for a moment suggesting that Lopez is having us on, or doing anything but writing seriously, but as a rural-born Canadian who grew up amid camping AND logging, his (or maybe his characters?) modes of approaching nature ... bother me. I'll keep reading him, if only to see why the reputation kept growing, but gosh, this book really annoyed me.

While I was reading, it was all I could do not to gripe openly about what felt like such early-70s cliches: hallucinations masquerading as intellectual analysis, escapist mysticism, outdoor nudity (both genders, only one seeming sexy and unnecessary -- you guess which one).... Oh, wait, no -- I did gripe openly while I was reading.


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