Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Fire Season by Philip Connors

Raining today. Not a day for fire. I'm spending a soggy day in the Napa Valley, waiting at the library, before heading into work.

For the first time in my life that I'm aware of, the Internet got me to purchase something through a pop up ad. Fire Season intrigued me...so I ordered it from Amazon and had a look at it.

The New York Times loved the book. I ripped through the thing in two nights. I found much in common with the author Philip Connors. He was raised in Minnesota. He went to work for a couple years at the Wall Street Journal. He gave all that up to marry a girl and move to New Mexico to become a Fire Lookout. Idyllic.

I couldn't help but like the writer. Although I wasn't as impressed with his sense of "voice" as the New York Times review, and I wished the book was a bit more detailed regarding the ecology of fire in the west (although many think the book is too tedious on these points)---I found the book to be highly readable. Entertaining. Inspiring.

Almost all nature books since Thoreau organize themselves by a time-line. From Krutch's "The Desert Year" to Abbey's "Desert Solitaire" to Muir's "First Summer in the Sierra Nevada" to Jack Turner's "Teewinot". A well worn tradition, easily mined; makes sense. Fire Season does the same.

However, there is too much hype around this book. The list of writers on the back cover who praise it make me wonder if they actually read it. But perhaps that is too harsh. Fact is, we need more books like this. More books that encourage people to get outside; live a dream; say good bye to city life in order to experience the extraordinary ordinariness of a season outside the city limits.

The writer borrows frequently from Abbey. From Thoreau. From Leopold. From Muir. From the environmental commons---and I do not fault the writer for that. We all should borrow from these guys because they teach us HOW to live. They don't report: they experience!

And so I give the book a solid endorsement, not so much because the book is exemplary in its style or writing (nobody could make text sing like Abbey). I endorse the book in what it does: brings the reader into the wilderness if only for a season.

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