-by Terry Link
What are the chances, that someone else on the planet is simultaneously reading David Gessner’s Quiet Desperation, Savage Delight: Sheltering with Thoreau in the Age of Crisis and Kelly Denton-Borhaug’s And Then Your Soul Is Gone: Moral Injury and U.S. War-Culture? Slim to none I would wager.
The why is unclear, but the how was a trip, pre-heart-attack a couple of weeks ago, past the new book shelf. Gessner’s book had acclimations by others I admire – Scott Russell Sanders and Allison Hawthorn Deming. So let’s try it I thought. Denton-Borhaug’s tome’s title is what stirred my interest, perhaps enhanced by recollection of a book similarly found and read last year by Aussie philosopher Ned Dobos on Ethics, Security, and the War Machine: The True Cost of War. The recent invasion of Ukraine and its expansive media coverage (unlike Yemen war) has us hopefully thinking about the folly and ravages of war in a clearer light.
I’d actually be surprised if more than a few hundred people worldwide are currently reading EITHER of these books. Why me? Why am I not sodden with compelling interest in the NCAA basketball tournaments, or upcoming Academy Awards, or even …? I admit to often feeling like a freak, misplaced in time and space, perhaps from another planet or dimension. What is the magnetic force that pulls me towards these authors, these books, these ideas? And they are each compelling.
Reading Gessner is simply delightful. One of those books I don’t want to end (300 pages read), 75 pages left as of this morning. It’s as if you are sitting with a friend on his front porch sharing a beer or two and talking about the world you share. No pretentions, just honest frank conversation and thinking out loud together. He weaves his rereading of Thoreau with living through the current pandemic and his own journey with nature, writing and living in our times. I suspected Ellen would relish his writing as well, and sure enough, she picks it up when I set it down. He’s become a voice we both want to hear more of.
Denton-Borhaug’s work is a deep dive that I’ve only skimmed the surface of thus far. You’d have to want to submerge yourself not only in questions of ethics, but also of psychology, sociology, and ultimately political issues. She is not a newcomer to wrestling with these issues. And she probes deep into not just the individual impacts but, perhaps most importantly, into the social and cultural violence that nurtures the violence and war obsessions of our culture. She doesn’t pull these thoughts out of thin air. With some 500 references that support the 225 pages of text she has poured herself into the subject. Assuming I complete this in the next few weeks, the real question is what will I do with it. I suspect, it may nudge me to remain, if not re-energize my efforts, however seemingly futile, to abolish war. To turn away from the questions she raises seems a dereliction of duty.
Two more titles got added to the pile yesterday as once again I skimmed the new books at the MSU Library. Toby Ord’s The Precipice: Existential Risk and the Future of Humanity and Lily Baum Pollans’ Resisting Garbage: The Politics of Waste Management in American Cities. Too soon to try and discern much from them. Although, I had seen a positive reference to Ord’s book in something recently read. Interesting that the 250 pages of text have 130 pages of notes, which should make for a literal ‘page-turner’. Pollan's title wrestles with my deep involvement in waste reduction. Hoping I learn something useful from both.