Monday, March 2, 2015

Who Reads Ebooks? Well This Guy. And Lots of Books I Wouldn't Read Otherwise

Funny things happen when you start reading ebooks.

You read a lot of books you wouldn’t pick up ordinarily, for starters.

The latest ebook rabbit hole I’ve fallen down started with Washington Irving. I wanted to read his take of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, shortly after I got this song from the Disney animation of that tale stuck in my head.

I read the story. Then I decided I wanted to read more Washington Irving.

Now for the past two weeks I’ve been reading Irving’s The Adventures of Captain Bonneville. It’s a book I’ve been aware of for years, but never picked up to read because I didn’t have a copy readily available (and remember my physical book reading habits include reading mostly books I can buy at the local thrift stores I haunt). But when I picked up the collection that had Sleepy Hollow in it, I picked up a few more free ebooks from Amazon while I was there, including Captain Bonneville.

Why read Captain Bonneville?

I live in a county named for him, for one. And he spent time exploring this part of Idaho (and all around the Pacific Northwest) when the only ones there were the natives. Where better to go for a glimpse of what the place was like? And in particular I’m fascinated with his descriptions of the lava fields in the Arco desert, the place where I work and where I enjoy hiking just due to the strangeness of the terrain. So says Bonneville/Irving:

Here, however, occur some of the striking phenomena of this wild and sublime region. The great lower plain which extends to the feet of these mountains is broken up near their bases into crests, and ridges resembling the surges of the ocean breaking on a rocky shore.

In a line with the mountains the plain is gashed with numerous and dangerous chasms, from four to ten feet wide, and of great depth. Captain Bonneville attempted to sound some of these openings, but without any satisfactory result. A stone dropped into one of them reverberated against the sides for apparently a very great depth, and, by its sound, indicated the same kind of substance with the surface, as long as the strokes could be heard. The horse, instinctively sagacious in avoiding danger, shrinks back in alarm from the least of these chasms, pricking up his ears, snorting and pawing, until permitted to turn away.

We have been told by a person well acquainted with the country that it is sometimes necessary to travel fifty and sixty miles to get round one of these tremendous ravines. Considerable streams, like that of Godin's River, that run with a bold, free current, lose themselves in this plain; some of them end in swamps, others suddenly disappear, finding, no doubt, subterranean outlets.

Opposite to these chasms Snake River makes two desperate leaps over precipices, at a short distance from each other; one twenty, the other forty feet in height.

The volcanic plain in question forms an area of about sixty miles in diameter, where nothing meets the eye but a desolate and awful waste; where no grass grows nor water runs, and where nothing is to be seen but lava. Ranges of mountains skirt this plain, and, in Captain Bonneville's opinion, were formerly connected, until rent asunder by some convulsion of nature. Far to the east the Three Tetons lift their heads sublimely, and dominate this wide sea of lava -- one of the most striking features of a wilderness where everything seems on a scale of stern and simple grandeur.

Aside from this description of one of my favorite places to hike, I enjoy reading the book because of its odd narrative nature. Typical of the time, it’s told in third person (today anyone worth their salt who paid for such an explorer’s maps and journals would certainly use the first person). Irving does quote the captain occasionally. I’d be curious to see the original source documents, just to see if Irving was too concerned with abridging the journals or if Bonneville merely only made a few jottings of each step of the journey. Given Irving’s ear in his other tales, I’m convinced without much other evidence that it’s the latter. Probably roaming the plains and mountains doesn’t give one a lot of time for writing. Much is the pity.

If there’s one thing this book could use is a map. There are plenty of “antique” maps out there, including some drawn by Bonneville himself, but I need one that shows this journey. It’s very convoluted, and in some cases reveals my ignorance of regional geography. Having a map on which to follow his voyages would be helpful. Can’t tell you how many times I referred to Tolkein’s map of Middle Earth the first few times I went through The Fellowship of the Ring.

So there are two reasons I’m reading this book: One, for the Hey I Live Here aspect, and the other is I’m looking for inspiration as I revise The Hermit of Iapetus, my own book of virgin exploration and misery and woe and imaginary miniature-cow-riding squirrels. That’s the next project once Doleful Creatures is finished.

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