The Revenant takes place in Montana in the 1800s, but most of it could’ve happened any time since the last Ice Age, in any cold part of the earth.
There’s the snow. The wind. The trees. The slow shaggy meaty animals and the quick fierce ones that bring them down.
Men in heavy furs trudge across this landscape. They carry spears and bows. They know the trick of making fire. They catch fish with their hands in the cold river. When a storm blows through, they cut the trees and build shelter.
…if you want to be a good writer. Or just an interesting person
Each of these books will teach you new ways of thinking about things you’ll face — or are now facing — in your twenties. If you’ve already read some of them back in high school, read them again now that you’re older and wiser. They will tell you new things. As you approach the end of your twenties in particular, these books are signposts that will point your way through the woods. Oh yeah, you know the woods I’m talking about. You’re right in the thick of it.
All right, enough intro. Let’s talk about great books. These are in no particular order, because ranking your favorite books is stupid.
Even in Star Wars, we need dark places on the map.
One particular moment in the original Star Wars trilogy has always connected with me more than all others.
It’s that moment in the first act of A New Hope when Luke walks out behind his aunt’s and uncle’s farmhouse and watches the twin suns setting over the desert. That haunting minor-key theme swells in the background, and you see Luke as you won’t ever see him again: as a regular dude just like you and me, looking off into the infinite without the slightest real idea of what’s out there, thinking: “Bring me that horizon.”
Why is the human mind so eager to explore the darkness? What do we hope to learn there?
I. Paradoxes of the heart
Have you ever watched a movie that was so scary you couldn’t look away?
For as long as I can remember — and probably longer — I’ve been intrigued by monsters. At preschool age, I had what my parents called an “overactive imagination,” and a long series of nightmares from which I woke screaming convinced them to ban me from watching TV shows — even cartoons — involving monsters or horror of any kind.
I drove by the Assyrian carvings on the towers of Hollywood & Highland today, Louisiana rap music blasting from my speakers, and I felt a feeling that I’ve felt many times before, but one whose manifold nuances and raw emotional impact I’ve never been able to convey clearly to anyone — not other rap aficionados; not best friends; not even girlfriends or family members — because the progression from ancient Mesopotamia to modern gang culture isn’t exactly an obvious, linear one.
But to me, the emotional and instinctual substrates of the ancient Near East and modern ghetto culture are so tightly bound up with one another as to be mutually inextricable. Let me try to explain why.
I’ve had a phobia of heights for as long as I can remember. Not just a nervousness, but a muscle-clenching, gut-freezing full-body paralysis that stopped me as firmly as a brick wall any time I stepped near the edge of a canyon or a twentieth-floor balcony.
And today, I went cliff-diving for the first time in my life. And I loved it.
Anthropological studies all over the globe have confirmed that in the most primitive cultures, numbers as abstract entities have no meaning at all. In other words, you can talk about one tree, two bananas or three goats, but the words “one,” “two” and “three” are just adjectival modifiers, used in the exact same way we use modifiers like “large” and “round.”
Ask a person in one of these cultures to draw a representation of the concept of “three,” and this person will draw you three trees or three goats: The number exists strictly as at attribute of the thing described. Asking the person to “just draw a three” sounds as nonsensical to them as a request to “just draw a round.” The person can draw a round shape, but has no way to represent the abstract quality of roundness without reference to some object, real or imagined, that is round.
The word “abyss” may be one of the oldest words still in use. We can trace its roots with certainty back to the ancient Greek “abyssos,” and possibly back to the Sumerian “abzu,” which would make this word, at the very least, 6,000 years old.
In all those millennia, its meaning has changed very little.
And our desire to plunge into it remains as strong as ever.