Another one from Ward and Brownlee. A “sequel”, they call it, to Rare Earth. I’m going to have to make these extinction books their own category. “How to Ruin a Perfectly Good Day” should be its name.
Earth is a middle-aged woman, run ragged by her hundreds of children, asshole of a husband, and the fact that she’s taken up smoking. Humans are the cigarettes. I haven’t decided who the asshole husband is in my version of Ward and Brownlee’s analogy. They don’t provide one, but I’m sure there must be. There usually is. Could it be the Sun? It’s the one dying in the first place and apparently will get all grumpy about it and take it out on Earth. The Moon? That doesn’t seem right. The Moon has been quite the little helper/worker bee for the Earth since it first settled into orbit. Can’t hardly use it in the role of abusive jerk.
This book uses phrases like “silicate-carbonate geochemical cycle,” which sounds like a good band name. And again, like Rare Earth, it points out all of the chance occurrences and lucky breaks that made conditions just right for life. If CO2 levels hadn’t dropped as significantly as they had, then no oxygen-breathing large animals. But this drop in CO2 wasn’t due just to the rise of vascular land plants and their insatiable appetite for the stuff. That wasn’t enough. It took a geological event. If the Indian tectonic plate hadn’t just happened to collide with Asia 100 million years ago, then the Himalayas never would have been created. No weathering of all that exposed rock means no “silicate-carbonate geochemical cycle” to make more limestone, which got rid of even more massive amounts of CO2.
But no more of this cool, interesting, “let’s create as much life as we possibly can” process. Now Earth is dying. The Cambrian Explosion was it. That was the heyday. Humans showed up just in time and developed just enough intelligence to use and abuse all of those years of carbon fuels and trees and animals.
And what’s so funny is that Ward and Brownlee get a bit indignant about humans screwing everything up worse than it already is.
It’s for a book club. The Radicals book club, I believe it’s called. I don’t know why it’s called that, except to possibly distinguish it from the other non-Radicals book club that the friend who invited me to join also has. (Wow. Was something dangling in that sentence or is it just me? OK. Honestly. Something’s really dangling in that sentence, because I’m certainly not. Dangling, that is. Sheesh. Never mind.)
June and The Anthologist will be my first time in a book club, and I don’t know that much about it. Will I be expected to have brilliant insights because I have an English degree? Can I just sit and listen my first time? Will I have to remember everything I learned about Wordsworth? Because I really wasn’t that good at Wordsworth. Ezra Pound and H.D. were more my style. There’s so much going on in those poems that even with my weak poetry skills I can find the symbolism.
But as I’m reading the book, I’m finding that I’m enjoying it so much that I don’t care any more. I don’t think it will matter because I’m pretty sure I’ll enjoy talking about it. He’s just so funny. Paul, that is. Nicholson Baker could be funny as well. I’m sure he must be since his character has a decent sense of humor. I’ve just never met him, of course, and by now I feel like I’ve met Paul. He’s also genuine. But I like when he’s trying too hard and comes across as a teensy bit annoying. He catches himself and backpedals a little, so it makes him charming.
And all the poems he’s talking about? Naturally, I have to go find them and read them. (Sinead O’Connor singing “She Moved Through the Fair” not so much. Doesn’t everybody know that? Ha!) And that’s not such a bad thing.
Side note: One of the reviews on Amazon says this is a very bad, naughty book because it’s not a good way to learn poetry. It made me laugh so hard. I certainly would have liked to have had this book in all of my poetry classes. Scansions and what not would have been so much simpler.
So my new favorite thing? Poem Hunter. Any reference will find the poem you’re looking for and bring it to you. Printer-friendly versions and lists of favorites and daily emails, oh my! Yet another thing I can spend part of my morning doing. Reading poetry! But from what I understand so far of The Anthologist, this is a very good thing.
Although it’s going to take me forever to get through this 250 page book if I continue on this way.
Once again, Literary Arts has impressed me by improving one of my favorite programs that they offer. If you haven’t tried Delve, you really should. I’ve only done one of the seminars (Virginia Woolf’s The Waves a few years ago), but it was amazing and I really need to do another.
It made me nervous at first because it smacked so much of college. They bring in smarty-pants professors and pick sometimes challenging books (Hello! The Waves?!). But it’s not like that at all. First of all, everyone really wants to be there, so they’re all excited and geeking out over the book (not sullen and hungover from the rugby party the night before). Second, the professor is actually referred to as a “guide.” It becomes less of a classroom and more of a really, really good book club. There definitely are no stupid questions. And no wrong answers.
Well… There are sometimes wrong answers. But no panic about writing a paper. Bonus!
And the improvement? Now you can go out drinking at a bar while discussing the book! Brilliant! Delve Over Drinks is offering two options this season. William Makepeace Thackeray’s Vanity Fair and one over graphic novels. Can you imagine? A mild-mannered business man and a soccer mom have a couple of glasses of wine and get into over whether or not Becky was genuinely calling the shots or just a female struggling to make her way in a man’s world. Proactive or reactive? Red or white?
I can’t get enough of them, it seems.
The Humans Who Went Extinct is all about how Homo sapiens weren’t really super-smart, badass warriors who simply emerged from Africa one day and took Europe by storm, wiping out all the Neanderthals with a casual sort of indifference and establishing themselves as highest on the food chain.
Not that I viewed Homo sapiens like that anyway. I have read Clan of the Cave Bear, after all. (Local writer reference! Woo hoo!) But that seems to be the general sort of idea. That’s the impression I have from learning this stuff in school. The Neanderthals were an inferior form of man, and therefore did not survive. (Especially depressing was that “Shiny Happy People” by REM was playing while reading this part of it. Massive irony there, somehow.)
The book is amazing. A bit dry in places, but still fascinating. I just really want more maps. I love his description of the river that became a lake that became the Mediterranean Sea. I just want to see what it looked like and my imagination fails me sometimes. Sad but true.
It’s just another example of how we really exist simply because of sheer luck and evolutionary whimsy. I’m resigned to it now. My confidence as a higher creature of thought and intellect is completely shot. I’ve got the evolutionary ego equivalence of a sea slug. And they could probably survive through a nuclear holocaust, too. Bastards.