Read Edward Abbey.
“Pardon me, thou bleeding piece of earth, that I am meek and gentle with these butchers.” - William Shakespeare, from Julius Caesar
The Monkey Wrench Gang, by Edward Abbey (pictured) is a book that I love and often recommend, but always with caveats. The same with its sequel, Hayduke Lives!, from which the above epigraph is taken (pg. 8, Back Bay Books). “They’re really great,” I’ll say, “but, you know… not for everyone.”
And I’m not alone: even the introduction to my edition of The Monkey Wrench Gang contains the contextually bizarre admission that “no one claimed [this is] a fictional masterwork — it isn’t.” Instead, it’s one of those books you read when you were younger and your opinions were more… uncompromising; a cult classic. Nothing to take too seriously.
But I’ve been reading a lot of Edward Abbey lately —
— and am starting to really question the distancing language that (in my experience) always seems to come with his books. The entirety of The Monkey Wrench Gang reads a little like the Banana Breakfast scene in Gravity’s Rainbow, so I’m not convinced it’s comprehensively not a literary masterwork (a comment so comically unecessary it brings to mind this scene from The Royal Tenenbaums). And his non-fiction’s even better.
Abbey’s dangerous, though… which is both why I love him and where I think my recommendation apprehension kicks in. Radical environmental action — it’s not for everyone. And unlike Mark Antony in the Julius Caesar quotation above, Abbey’s neither meek nor gentle when it comes to his conservationist convictions. In fact, “gleefully abrasive” might be a better descriptor, especially in his more ecstatic fantasies of eco-revenge; his dam explosions and billboard burnings.
But more and more, the world seems like it could use some radical environmental action, so I’ve decided to be similarly unapologetic this Earth Day:
Read Edward Abbey.
If you read them five or more years ago, read them again.
A few other fantastic books you should read this Earth Day: