Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The HoG25: The Best 25 Writers of the Past 25 Years

While the rough focus of this blog has always been the rivalry between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Denver Broncos, the purpose of this blog is to entertain, via our hilarious, occasionally inconsistent ability to smith words. Naturally, that makes this installment of The HoG25 an important one. For that reason, we haven't ranked them as we have in others; we've simply included the order in which they were drafted. We ask, then, that you consider coming back if you find yourself without time to read everything we've compiled. Normally, we try to treat those of you that suffer from IADD (Internet Attention Deficit Disorder) and include bright pictures, clever links, and entertaining StubTubes. What you have here is words, and many of them.

So far in this series we've covered NFL quarterbacks, American cinema, baseball hitters, readin' books, starting pitchers, television shows, wide receivers. Here's to hoping you enjoy reading this post as much as we've enjoyed assembling it.

25: Tina Fey

Now, the fact that Tina Fey made this list might seem incongruous, seeing as she's notable more for being a television personality and actress than for her years as head writer for "Saturday Night Live," but we at the HoG don't live in your little box of a world. We're past the veil, through the looking glass, unafraid of the cliche.

Fact is, Fey is as sharp as anyone working in her medium. Her years with SNL saw the show slowly raise its figurative comedy-head about the muck of mediocrity, blink and look around for the first time since Chris Farley and Adam Sandler were hawking Schmidt's Gay ("If you like to drink beer, and you're gay, try Schmidt's Gay"). She's sharp, unfraid of sacred cows and, well, kinda hot in those glasses.

Wait, wait, that's sexist. What I meant to say was: her nimble touch with dialogue, alongside her gift for textured characterization, combine to elevate her work a plane above that of the mass media hoi polloi. Her current efforts on 30 Rock are emblematic of some of the best writing in modern television. Also, the glasses. Rowr.

24: Dave Krieger

The reasonable sports columnist is a rare thing, like a Faberge Egg or a post-matrimonial blowjob. Normally, your local newspaper/website/blog/streetcorner opinionator is either a lazy, fact-averse blowhard (Woody Paige, Bill Plaschke) or a self-important contrarian (Mark Kiszla, Jason Whitlock). Dave Krieger stands out by simply being competent.

That's it. He's no great stylist, no modern Grantland Rice, just a capable journalist who knows how to craft a well-written, well-organized column. It's unbelievable, really, how hard that is to find--perhaps because journalism instructors tend to steer their more talented students away from sportswriting (which sounds like a myth but totally isn't), perhaps because the industry itself is diluted, with more and more high school benchwarmers deciding they want to be Rick Reilly when they grow up. I dunno.

One thing that Krieger has going for him is that he spent years on a beat, specifically the Nuggets'. Beat writing is a different animal altogether, one that rewards hard work and shies away from bloviation. Whereas a dude like Paige, who's been writing a column since the '40s, has no memory of what it was like to get a few quotes and bang out a game story on deadline, Krieger still has that workmanlike attitude, and it shows through in his stuff. We're lucky to have him in Denver, even if he did make a big show of indignation about the closing of the Rocky when he knew he had a job waiting for him at the Post.

Hey, I never said he wasn't an asshole.

23: Tom Marshall

When I think of great pleasures in life, things like accomplishments, memories, sports, sex, writing, and music come to mind. The only thing that could top any of those single items is to marry a pair together. Given that I’m likely never going to bust a nut while watching the Chiefs celebrate a Super Bowl championship, the focus of this entry is the marriage of writing and music. It’s one thing to hear a fantastic instrumental, and another to read or listen to a great piece of writing. On the rare occasions when a truly great piece of music is created with original, profound lyrics, the result is a magnificent wonder, and that’s the best way to describe Tom Marshall.

Marshall has, for some 25 years, been the primary lyricist for the band Phish. He’s penned the words for upwards of 100 tunes for the foursome, and has, from time to time, been compared to Robert Hunter and the role that the poet played -- “China/Rider,” “Dark Star,” “Friend of the Devil,” “Help/Slipknot/Franklin’s,” and “Terrapin Station” just to name a few -- for The Grateful Dead. If you’re not a fan of either of these two bands, then hopefully, in your own archives of musical favorites, some of your top acts have had an external member that has contributed to the vault in a fashion similar to the way Marshall has for Phish. There are nearly 100 tracks from which I could sample, but here are some song-excerpt samples of what I’m talking about:

• "The Squirming Coil," from 1990’s Lawn Boy

“I’d like to lick the coil some day,
Like Icarus, who had to pay,
With melting wax and feathers brown,
He tasted it on his way down.”

• “Chalkdust Torture,” from 1992’s A Picture of Nectar

“But who can unlearn all the facts that I've learned
As I sat in their chairs and my synapses burned
And the torture of chalk dust collects on my tongue
Thoughts follow my vision and dance in the sun
All my vasoconstrictors they come slowly undone
Can't this wait till I’m old?
Can't I live while I'm young?”

• “Silent in the Morning,” from 1993’s Rift

“The target that I shoot for seems to move with every breath.
I tighten all my arteries and make one last request.
Divine creation hears me, and he squashes me with fear.
I think that this exact thing happened to me just last year.”

• “Lifeboy,” from 1994’s Hoist

“And when the line is breaking,
And when I'm near the end.
When all the time spent leading,
I've been following instead.
When all my thoughts and memories are
Left hanging by a thread.”

• “Character Zero,” from 1996’s Billy Breathes

“I was taught a month ago
To bide my time and take it slow.
But then I learned just yesterday
To rush and never waste the day.
Well I'm convinced the whole day long
That all I learn is always wrong.
And things are true that I forget
But no one taught that to me yet.”

• “Wading in the Velvet Sea,” from 1998’s The Story of the Ghost

“I took a moment from my day
And wrapped it up in things you say,
Mailed it off to your address.
You’ll get it pretty soon unless
The packaging begins to break
And all the points I’ve tried to make
Toss the thoughts into a bin,
Time leaks out my life leaks in.
You won’t find moments in a box,
And someone else will set your clocks.”

• “Dirt,” from 2000’s Farmhouse

“I'd like to live beneath the dirt.
A tiny space to move and breathe
Is all that I would ever need.

I wanna live beneath the dirt,
Where I'd be free from push and shove
Like all those swarming up above.

Beneath their heels I'll spend my time.
I'll wriggle in the earth and dew,
And sometimes I will think of you.

And if you ever think of me
Kneel down and kiss the earth,
And show me what this thought is worth.”

• “Twenty Years Later,” from 2009’s Joy

“I can hold my breath for a minute or so.
Five days without food is as long as I'll go.
I didn't sleep once for four days and three nights.
I once didn't stop for seven red lights.
I jumped into water that's fifty degrees.
I've rowed in a kayak in thirty foot seas.
I've stayed in the woods for a week with a knife.
A flint, when I lost it, nearly cost me my life
Twenty years later, I'm still upside down.”

Removed from context and stripped of music, they don’t hold similar value to the foreign ear, but for those familiar, and maybe even for some who are not, they are epic lines.

22: Cheryl & Bill Jamison

Old No. 7:
I wouldn't normally label cookbook authors as great writers, even if they produce excellent cookbooks. No one is truly original when regurgitating recipes, everything's borrowed and handed down and tweaked. It's like an extension of American folklore, or knock-knock jokes.

The Jamisons, a married couple, are an exception for me. That's because they unlocked more secrets to barbecue in one book -- Smoke & Spice -- than I'd figured out in a lifetime of looking.

I love me some barbecue, but the places I've lived in my life made it extremely difficult to satisfy that jones. As much as I bag on Kansas City and its football team, the denizens of that town are blessed with the finest barbecue in all the land. I've been to Memphis, and I've been to Alabama and North Carolina, and I've spent a ton of time in my dad's home state of Texas. No one does the smoked meast like KC.

I long ago quit looking for well-made ribs and brisket in Colorado and tried to 'cue up my own. After flailing about and wasting a lot of time and a lot of good pork, I finally stumbled across the work of the Jamisons. I now own a half-dozen of their cookbooks, and their attention to Southwestern cuisine is exceptional. But Smoke & Spice is mandatory for the shelf of any chef who takes his barbecue seriously.

A quick confession: I cheat regularly to make my barbecue. It's true. I do pulled pork in a crockpot, and I make ribs in the oven, and I liberally use Liquid Smoke to artificially add smoked flavor. When I have the time and the right wood to properly smoke my flesh, it's an immensely satisfying experience. But rarely do I have an entire day to tend to a fire, and the proper hardwoods are difficult to come by in my neck of the, uh, forest.

Scrub oak and mesquite? No thanks. The Jamison's recipes for rubs, glazes and handmade sauces, however, never fail to make the cut. And their way of demystifying normally impenetrable secret processes with clarity and wit just plain work. If I was in al-Qaeda, I'd look for a handbook on bomb manufacture written by Cheryl and Bill Jamison.

21: Mark Kurlansky

I've written about Mark Kurlansky before, in our HoG 25 installment on books. Funny how these things go together. So no need to revisit it, beyond saying, again, that he's probably my favorite nonfiction writer working today.

Now, you say, look. We all know you don't read fiction. Why not just say 'writer'? Oh...OK, maybe you didn't really say that. Maybe I was just employing a tired device to move this blurb along from points A to B. Haaa, guilty as charged. And fuck off. But, to answer theoretical you and your nonexistent question, no, I probably don't need the qualifier, but it's hard-wired in me. I like thinking about things in ways that are easily divisible: fiction/nonfiction, conservative/progressive, Raiders/Broncos. Intellectual complexity is for PhDs and total fags.

So, Kurlansky. The guy's got a gift for taking odd, marginal subjects, like the history of salt, and crafting expansive, informative tomes. He also loves basques, and food writing. He, like the best craftsmen in his genre, doesn't contemplate his own literary navel; he didn't write a book about Mark Kurlansky and salt, he just wrote the book about fucking salt. Did I mention he likes the Basques? Evidently some anti-Basque types think he's as bad as Hitler, which is odd and yet somehow totally rad. Mark Kurlansky, OG.

20: Robert Stewart

It was completely and utterly inevitable that we would get through any and all of these categories without our fair share of homer picks, and selecting Robert Stewart is most definitely of that variety for me in this round. Stewart is a poet, a professor, the Editor-in-Chief of New Letters magazine, and a lover of crisp, concise written language.

When one returns to the educational setting years after college, and one is already well on one’s way into the fourth decade of one’s life, one is some blend of hungry for knowledge, and somewhat convinced that one already has a significant portion of said knowledge stored in the mental files. It is when one learns how to fine-tune, accept and understand the need for constant improvement, and continuously strive to perfect that one truly grasps the value of education.

I’m not going to use this space to talk about Stewart’s poetry. I’m not going to include excerpts from his editor’s notes from volumes of Letters. And I’m certainly not going to suppose that my words here, or in any other HoG post are a direct reflection of tutelage under Stewart. I will, however, note that my writing, at least in my opinion, improved tremendously after working extensively with him. His instruction helped me eliminate pieces of “useless clutter” –- one of his favorite phrases. It helped me refrain from using cliché and euphemism. It showed me the importance of direction, and of course, editing. Writing, as it’s been said, is the easy part. It’s the editing that’s the hard work.

Having been lucky enough to, for many years now, read the writings of my colleagues, a craftsman like Stewart was nothing shy of a graceful blessing, an opportunity every writer should seek and cherish.

19: Michael Schur

Old No. 7:
I'm nominating Michael Schur here, even though his current project is awful. Have you seen "Parks and Recreation"? Don't.

No, Schur makes this list on the strength of his work writing for "The Office," and his run on "Saturday Night Live". And let's not forget his powerhouse performance in the blogosphere posting for the late Fire Joe Morgan, under the nom de plume Ken Tremendous.

Schur is proof that people educated at Harvard are simply smarter than you and I. Every time I wonder why my writing career has gone nowhere, and I spend my time making Mike Cox jokes in the House of Georges, I remember: state school. Three of them, actually. My educational arc closely followed that of noted intellectual Sarah Palin.

Does this mean I'm a moron? Not hardly. I am, in fact, incredibly brilliant and awesome, as you by now know. But I'd be more brillianter and awesomer had I not slacked in high school and been accepted into Harvard. If I had challenged myself instead of ditching class and getting baked all the time. I'd be able to remember stuff, and say things that were actually funny once in a while. But instead I proudly matriculated at The Fort Lewis College with Banky and Cecil, and then we started a blog where we praise the genius of guys that went to Harvard.

18: David Quammen

David Quammen is far from a household name (but then, we could say that about a fair number of the writers we're discussing, here. If you want the chalk, go back to school, bitches). In fact, unless you read Outside magazine regularly over the past two decades, you've likely never even heard of him. And since Outside is now nothing but a celebrity-centric gear-pusher of a publication, his column has vanished from its pages.

Which is just as well. His literate, nimble take on science and nature writing wouldn't fit well next to a breathless piece on Harrison Ford's Five Favorite Greek Islands. Quammen is, as he wrote in the re-issue of his classic 1985 collection Natural Acts, no scientist -- he's a chronicler of scientists, a layman with some base understanding who wants a more complete view of the inner workings of the natural world. His turn of phrase is applause-worthy -- one of my favorite lines: "Biology offers great potential for vulgar amusement" -- and I always pick up a new word or two from his stuff. Anything to boost my Scrabble game.

More, though, his style is empathic and human. Science writing can be clinical and harsh; Quammen's work doesn't merely state facts like a field report, it attempts to put them in some sort of worldly context. He has a soft spot for rebels and weirdos -- take his piece "The Megatransect," about a headstrong outsider of a botanist walking across equatorial Africa -- and is naturally, effortlessly funny. David Quammen may not be well-known, no, but in his arena there simply isn't anyone better.

17: Kevin Smith

I know a guy that would fashion himself a film critic. He’s a guy that says Kevin Smith movies are stupid. They are all the same and the overlap of cast is dumb and uninventive. I couldn’t disagree more. That said, when I refer to Kevin Smith the screenwriter, I’m mostly talking about “Clerks,” “Mallrats,” and “Chasing Amy.” I enjoyed “Dogma.” “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back” wasn’t horrible, and I didn’t see “Clerks II” or “Zack and Gerg Miri Make a Porno.” It is the first three that I’d like to discuss, and by “discuss” I mean sort of briefly cover.

This is what makes Smith’s writing brilliant, and no, I’m not afraid to call it that: To take nuggets in the form of profound, direct statements on life, and ensconce them in leaves of hilarity, pelt them with things about life that you personally like might be the exact reason that good writing needs to exist for human beings. We all have experiences, visions, thoughts, and opinions. How we express those things while still doing the more-or-less mundane things we do every day is what defines us. I like that there are stoners in these films. I love the fact that Jay is lewd and bold. I cherish the fact that hockey plays a part in these flicks, especially in the United States, where it’s largely treated like the country’s molesting step-brother.

The audacity to repeatedly use similar cast members, and even reference those characters and some of their anecdotes in other movies is genius. Good authors sometimes do that and when we’re reading, we love it. If a Hollywood writer does it, why is it different? Anyway, there’s also a good amount about relationships and sex, which goes well with the hysterical profanities. Nooooge…

16: Nate Silver

Old No. 7:
I always like people who can excel in more than one field. Like Ted Williams, who was a Hall of Fame outfielder, an ace fighter pilot in two wars, a celebrated angler, and credible spokesman for the cryogenics industry. Or Deion Sanders--he was great on the gridiron, pretty good on the diamond and All-Pro in the arena of marketing hot-dog cooking devices.

If you're at all interested in the field of baseball sabermetrics, you know Nate Silver. He invented PECOTA, the formula for predicting the statistical output of ballplayers, while working for Baseball Prospectus (this also made possible the creation of former Royal Bill Pecota's omnipotent character in The Dugout). He's part of a pack of guys who were legitimized by Bill James and have taken an old game into modern times through mathematical analysis. Unlike most of his egghead counterparts, however, Silver's prose is sharp and concise.

Silver is also a political junkie, and for a while he posted his breakdowns of elections and polls on the Daily Kos under the pseudonym Poblano. When he realized that the same good-old-boy's network and folksy tradition existed in both politics and baseball, he started FiveThirtyEight.com, the Interwebs' most detailed location for projecting the outcome of electoral races and public issues. Silver can see right through the huckster condescension of James Carville as quickly as he does with Tracy Ringolsby. This stuff is not magic, it's math, and getting the information to the people with minimal subjective filtration is what our connected era is all about.

15: Tim Cahill

Tim Cahill is another Outside magazine vet, except that, unlike David Quammen, he's still there. Possibly because he was one of the founding editors (thanks, Wikipedia!), but also, I expect, because they pay him a lot of money. At least, I'd hope so, because Tim Cahill is a funny, engaging MFer.

I'd be at a loss if you asked me to describe any one thing he's written, even though I've read metric tonnes of his stuff over the years. His work is a kind of witty gonzo adventure travelogue without beginning or end; his various books (Jaguars Ripped My Flesh, A Wolverine is Eating My Leg, Pecked to Death By Ducks, among many others) the natural outgrowths of his "Out There" column in the mag. Unlike some travel writers, coff coff Paul Theroux coff, Cahill never comes across as a smug outsider gallivanting through the lives of the less fortunate. Nope, he's always deep in the mix, doing shit like setting the world speed record for driving the length of the American continents, from Tierra del Fuego to Prudhoe Bay. When he talks about a wolvering eating his leg, he ain't speaking metaphorically.

I also learned, in the course of my Cahillian researches, that he was friends with Boz Skaggs and Steve Miller in college. The things you can find on the internet...

14: Oliver Stone

I’m completely underqualified to write about this guy. Not because he’s some untouchable Mecca, but I’m just not high-brow enough with the movie business to take on a dude whose body of work is so serious. But, he wrote down the bones for some important films and I felt like we should give him a nod. You may be wondering why a guy like this, one mostly thought of as a director, has been included in a category devoted to writers. If it makes you feel any better, I’m wondering the same.

Seriously though, there is a series of cinematic pieces in which Stone was heavily involved, and in varying degrees. I can assure you that the concept of taking an idea, putting it on paper with pen, and moving forward with it in one direction or another, is just what Stone did. Those films are “Platoon,” “Born of the Fourth of July,” “JFK,” and “Natural Born Killers.”

The first two, are of course about war. War in Vietnam to be specific. In all of the history we learned in grade school, middle school/junior high, high school, and college, war is a pretty darn predominant subject. We learned about the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, both World Wars, Vietnam, and if you’re lucky, the Korean War. Assuming you’re roughly the same age as my colleagues and I, textbooks and articles taught you the strategery of war, the reasons for why wars started, what the end results were, and how a particular war affected human existence long afterwards. Casualties are mentioned. Numbers are crunched and conveyed. Outcomes are described.

I posit, though, that nothing, barring some type of replicated, vertual-reality simulation, will ever convey what war was actually like, or what a soldier’s life was like afterwards. Starting in the ‘70s, screenwriters and filmmakers began seriously tackling war as a topic. That theme exploded in the ‘80s and ‘90s, and is popular still today, what with all of the wars in which the Bush family has engaged. Tackling something as serious, intense, and graphic as the Vietnam War, though, in the fashion that Stone did, is worthy of endless applause, fantastic end products of what originated as script.

And because I don’t want to labor the same points with “JFK” and “Killers": I will never presume that the death of one man has been or was more important than the masses of lives lost in any war or all wars combined, but for nearly 35 years, I’ve been told over and over again that the assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy quote/unquote changed this country forever. And I’ll leave it at that, as it’s a nice segue into “Killers,” which I’m not going to touch on either, since I can just mention one word and that will suffice: murder. I don’t know what the purpose of life on this planet is. God and I ain’t tight enough yet for him to’ve shared that with me, but I do know that, aside from being a hermaphrodite or something really odd like that, there’s one thing that separates humans into two categories, and it’s not gender. It’s killing.

The world of film is a massive creature, one we relish and covet. But it goes without saying that most, if not all cinematic endeavors begin with a writer, and Stone, for his talents, screenwriting contributions, and projects, gets a mark of phenomenal in all the above categories.

13: Bill Simmons

Old No. 7:
One of my favorite aspects of this series is picking someone who's universally reviled and crafting a logical, objective, reasoned argument as to why they're great-- in spite of the fact that everyone hates them. My sections on Barry Bonds, Michael Irvin and Pol Pot are among my favorite entries in the Hog25.

So now I'm tasked with celebrating Bill Simmons, known to ESPN.com visitors as The Sports Guy. This one's gonna be tougher than most, since Simmons is abrasive, cocky, ubiquitous and biased as a mama bear. He's also a founding father -- the Godfather, if you will -- of this thing we call "sports blogging." And since I play the role of sports blogger from time to time, with very little polish or class, I think it's only right to recognize the contributions Simmons has made to the science.

Just know that I'm no apologist for Simmons. I know that the quality of his writing has gone downhill in recent years, and that it wasn't exactly Pulitzer-caliber to begin with. I know that he's sporadic when compared to his once-prodigious output. I know that he leans on a few tired themes and beats them to death. These are all legitimate complaints. The loudest beef I hear on Simmons is that he's not objective, and I think that's a silly thing to be hung up on. His whole thing is that he's obsessive about his teams, his Boston clubs. That's his gig. It's no different than what we do here writing about our teams. The red flag comes up when that biased opinion appears on a supposedly neutral national outlet like ESPN, instead of a hopelessly homerized shill site like the House of Georges.

I ask you this: is that Bill Simmons' problem, or is that ESPN's? The Worldwide Leader employs hundreds of writers, they could easily hire the New York and Chicago and Denver and Kansas City versions of Bill Simmons in order to provide Fox News-style "fairness" and "balance." Or they could just issue an edict that their writers will play it straight and not favor one team over another. They do neither, and there's a damn good reason for that: Bill Simmons is good at what he does.

He draws ungodly amounts of traffic, and while a lot of that is surely haters looking for another reason to hate, you don't regularly read somebody who stinks. I have completely stopped looking at what emerges from the typewriter of Woody Paige, he's terrible. Yet I still take in my weekly dose of Peter King, because for all of his flaws King continues to cover a subject I love with a fair amount of skill.

Beyond that, Simmons is genuinely funny from time to time. I don't mean Dane Cook funny, I mean actually funny. Comedic writing is a gift possessed by only a few. Combine that wit with an encyclopedic memory for games, teams, and the oddball freaks that make sports so enjoyable, and you get a writer whose whole is greater than the sum of his parts.

12: Gary Smith

Sports Illustrated has counted among its scribes some of the best sportswriters in recent memory -- titans like Roy Blount Jr., Leigh Montville, Frank DeFord and Joe Posnanski. And, yes, Gary Smith.

Smith's kind of an acquired taste, admittedly. If you don't like digression, interminable set-ups and lots of second-person perspective, you probably won't really like his stuff; if you do, you'll probably think of him as the second coming of Faulkner, another writer whom you've gotta kinda want to read. His strength is in the long-form profile, in exhaustive examination -- he's not a guy who throws out memorable zingers, ala Rick Reilly, but then, once you finish reading one of Smith's pieces, you don't feel the need to break an empty bottle of Old Granddad over his head. So maybe not the best comparison.

Whatever, he's indisputably one of the best sports journalists of the previous 25 years. His piece on Mike Veeck, the prodigal son of the legendary baseball huckster, is one of the best such works I've ever read. For that alone I'll forgive him for being named as an influence by Scoop Jackson.

11: Gary Snyder

When the Iron Triangle was making these selections, I struggled with the idea of having two poets on my draft board. Being a fiction guy, I still don’t like the idea, but these two fellas were too important to leave off. And before we get any further into this entry, let’s get it out of the way: If reading Gary Snyder, liking Gary Snyder, and drafting Gary Snyder all make me a hippie, then fuck it: I’m a hippie. Snyder has been an important literary figure for a long time. Decades, even. He hasn’t been remarkably well-read, and it’s plausible that his heyday was long before our little niche here -– 1974 Pulitzer for Turtle Island –- but I don’t care.

What Gary Snyder stood for then has translated, transcended, and transplanted into today, a time on planet Earth when awareness of the planet is more important than it’s ever been. So who is this dude? Initially, he was considered a beat. If you’ve ever been into the beats and read Kerouac, you’ll recognize the name Japhy Ryder, the character based on Snyder in Kerouac’s (in my opinion) best novel The Dharma Bums. If you’ve never read any Snyder, but you’ve read that book, you might have a sense for what kind of mind Snyder has. Now, in terms of the times in which he’s been writing, I break into two parts: the first being an establishing of an awareness of one’s role with the planet; the second being growing that relationship into a proactive one.

I’m not gonna get all earthy and shit on you here, but I do have a simple philosophy on the matter of sustainability: Do what you will, do what you must. I don’t care what it is, but you’d better be doing something to minimize your planetary impact. Even if all you ever do is recycle, we’re good. But you can’t just consume and contribute to landfill space and energy spending. The other, and initial thing that got me into Snyder was a eastern thought. I’m embarrassed to admit it, but it wasn’t until I was a junior in college that the concept and I first ran into each other. I say I’m embarrassed for this reason: American culture, for all of its strengths and greatnesses is just that: an embarrassment. We, argue it as you might, are so wrapped up in individual success and Westernizing any and every thing possible, that we scarcely stop for two minutes to learn about what’s going on, rather what’s been going on on the other side of the globe for the last 2000 years. And I don’t mean current events or child labor or watching “Slumdog Millionaire.” I’m talking about taking a minute to figure out who those people are, what they stand for, what they covet. Something that distorts that Chinese-are-good-at-math-and-gymnastics/Japanese-take-rots-of-photos mentality. I’m talking philosophy, religion, belief, culture.

It was Snyder’s interest, slightly intertwined with his efforts to get Kerouac into the same, in eastern thought that really grabbed me by the balls (Editor’s Note: See that, women? I can say “balls” whenever I damn well please. I can mean it to refer to courage, the weather, or my actual testicles. You, on the other hand, disgrace yourselves and your gender every time you say that word when not referring to a piece of sports equipment, tightly packed snow, or a hard piece of gum.) and alerted me to the vastness of otherworldliness.

Anyway. The Practice of the Wild, A Place in Space, Mountains and Rivers Without Ends. Pick one. Read one. Catch my drift and dig it. You won’t regret it. I'll leave you with a few Snyder quotes.

"All that we did was human,
stupid, easily forgiven,
Not quite right."

"Find your place on the planet.
Dig in, and take responsibility from there."

"All this new stuff goes on top
turn it over, turn it over
wait and water down
from the dark bottom
turn it inside out
let it spread through
Sift down even.
Watch it sprout.

A mind like compost.”

"There are those who love to get dirty
and fix things.
They drink coffee at dawn,
beer after work,

And those who stay clean,
just appreciate things,
At breakfast they have milk
and juice at night.

There are those who do both,
they drink tea."

And there you have it, folks. Come on back by in the morning for the Top 10. We'll have coffee and doughnuts.