I promised myself that I would make a point to read Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction, and I’m happy to say that I did. Coming off the final chapter, the perceptions I’m left with are mixed. I’m not sure why I find myself unsatisfied. It’s rather like the anticipation one has upon entering a posh restaurant in hopes of that one great meal, then wondering why the bill is so high for what was actually served up.
I’m certainly not trained to present a critique of a truly remarkable book that was well received by the readership, written by someone who can run circles around my own pen with her little finger (that’s not supposed to make sense). It’s probably best to say that the book was unable to fulfill my expectations and leave it at that. It’s not the professional writer’s problem to figure out why the amateur reader feels let down. You can’t please all of us bookworms all the time.
I can say that I found mostly everything I thought I would within the voluminous pages; but the way in which the facts are arranged and presented are perhaps too sweeping for a nosy mind that only wants to know what’s in one or two garbage heaps at a time, not the whole landfill. I can only focus on one or two aspects of the local environment at any given time. With Kolbert’s panoramas too grand and vast in number, and with no chance for me to really chew on any one aspect of Climate Change, I might rightfully count myself as among those who perhaps feel just a bit overwhelmed.
In short, it was too much too fast for me, and probably because I’m not a casual reader when it comes to the Big CC. Needing to know a lot about every little component of our current grand mess means that I might have done better with less historical fact. Kolbert provides volumes about an awful lot in a colorful fashion that suggests a story incessantly unfolding. To quench my thirst, I was being offered a drink from a fire hose, and really no way to turn the damned thing off. To learn about Natural History, I was being shown the Smithsonian, but only if I was willing to run through all the hallways without stopping, unable to study the intricate textures of any one exhibit slowly, carefully, earnestly.
This was an effort I dove into at first, then found myself paddling back to shallower waters, time and again. The book took me close to a month to get through. I’ve digested books twice as thick in half the time. Something was wrong…reading about a planet that’s being overrun by a homicidal maniac, i.e., me…well it gets somewhat tedious, no matter how good the writing.
By the time Kolbert was finished with me, I found myself having forgotten much of what she told me. Being whisked away to other places and times, and with numerous personalities also becoming part of any given narrative, I was hoping toward the closing chapters for the voyage to simply end. I wanted to catch an earlier flight home from my vacation destination. Eventually I finished the book, of course, and the conclusions I had to draw, inevitably, is that we have decisively entered truly terrible and frightening territory (having read plenty above and beyond Kolbert’s book, I can also safely conclude that we haven’t a clue as to where our ship is heading next).
The Sixth Extinction could almost have been written as a work of fiction, with prose that is beautiful and flowing, bringing the dire news that these homo sapien characters are bringing about so much awful consequence to their own home, they’re threatening to set ablaze the only house they have. The message is palatable, though still a bitter feast, and with a longing from the reader that Kolbert might bring just a bit more moral indignation to her pen.
But the dark news is delivered without any trace of judgment or outrage, as though to say that this is how things are, this is how we got here, and there’s no good reason for passing sentence on any person, place, or thing. There’s plenty of blame to go around, yes, just no equitable way to dole out the punishment, so why even try. I suppose I have to agree.
All I could do was breathe as I sat through the very disagreeable chapter in which she describes how humanity systematically burned and bludgeoned and brought to extinction the Great Auk, a bird that probably numbered in the millions before we learned how easy the feathered lumbering beast was to exploit. Somehow, all these years, the fact that this large predecessor of the modern day penguin coexisted side by side with us for centuries before we managed to completely drive it off the planet had thoroughly escaped my knowledge.
But there is a point to be made in this post other than the ones I’m stating about one book among countless others conveying in delicate language what can only be characterized as devastating to the nth degree. Some say our goose might very well be cooked already (Guy McPherson certainly thinks so, and he’s got a pretty large and well-informed brain, too). The point to be made is that I don’t find purpose in what I’m doing on this blog, anymore. My own approach must now change. I’m recently married, I’m in between homes, I’m commuting too many miles and eating up too much of the precious time I have left to me doing things I truly don’t care to do any longer.
So, the blog is changing, and this will be self-evident as the next posts unfold. In the meantime, I thank Kolbert for the gift of enlightenment with regard to an event of which I think most of the general populace is entirely unaware—the first, and last, mass extinction event we’ll ever witness as a species is happening right now under our very noses, with most of us blind to both the destruction, and the cause—us.
“Right now, in the amazing moment that to us counts as the present, we are deciding, without quite meaning to, which evolutionary pathways will remain open and which will forever be closed. No other creature has ever managed this, and it will, unfortunately, be our most enduring legacy. The Sixth Extinction will continue to determine the course of life long after everything people have written and painted and built has been ground into dust and giant rats have—or have not—inherited the earth.”
Sincere thanks for stopping by!