In his forward to The Charles Bowden Reader, noted author and poet Jim Harrison observes “You don’t simply read Bowden, you become a Bowden addict, and the addiction is not always pleasant.” Harrison couldn’t be more correct, for while he is without question one of the finest living prose stylists, what Bowden has to say often shatters our comfortable as well as comforting illusions and forces us to look more carefully and honestly at the world around us in order to perceive how it truly is (or as Harrison so well puts it “Read him at your own risk. You have nothing to lose but your worthless convictions about how things are”). Bowden’s words don’t just reach the reader at a superficial level, they burrow deep, going past the rational intellect and right down into the marrow of one’s bones. As Bowden told Brooke Gladstone during an interview on WNYC’s On the Media regarding his recent book Dreamland: The Way Out of Juarez, “My dream is to invite a reader into a room and pour a nice cup of tea and then nail the damn door shut.” It is a dream that he has unquestionably realized, not only in such recent works as Dreamland but throughout his entire body of work going back to his first widely read book; Inferno, Exodus/Exodo, and Trinity. Wrapping together such superficially disparate topics as vagrant migratory birds, human senses, the biological carrying capacity of the planet, the social, economic, and psychological ramifications of human migrations, and a host of other subjects, rather than as conventional writing, these works might perhaps be more effectively understood as the literary equivalent of quantum mechanics. That is, by a close examination of the very small or otherwise unnoticed in correlation with the extraordinarily large and nearly beyond comprehension, the very core of the structural underpinnings of our world are able to be more effectively contemplated. Definitions and boundaries fail. Things function differently than previously assumed. Light can be both particle and wave simultaneously, and at the same time neither of these at all. (While such a declaration may seem hyperbolic, the reader is challenged, after reading these passages, to argue that it is not so.)
In Bowden’s writings, understanding is of the highest importance. Not a cynic or a pessimist (as some have mistakenly labeled him), Bowden is, to borrow one of his own metaphors from another included essay, a traveler. However the lands to which he travels are often not found on any conventional map. They are the uncharted, often dangerous physical, psychological, and emotional regions known to only a few and visited by still fewer. Yet unlike some others who have ventured into these realms before, Bowden regularly returns to convey what he has discovered on his journeys to those of us who are willing to muster the courage to listen. Bowden himself summed up this point best, as well as perhaps his central philosophy of life, in the included Esquire article “The Bone Garden of Desire,” “I don’t trust the answers or the people who give me the answers. I believe in dirt and bone and flowers and fresh pasta and salsa cruda and red wine. I don’t believe in white wine; I insist on color.” So should we all.
Title: The Charles Bowden Reader
Author: Charles Bowden, edited by Erin Almeranti and Mary Marth Miles, forward by Jim Harrison
Publisher: University of Texas Press
Date of Publication: September 2010
ISBN (clothbound): 978-0-292-72322-1
ISBN (paperback): 978-0-292-72198-2
In accordance with Federal Trade Commission 16 CFR Part 255, it is disclosed that the copy of the book read in order to produce this review was provided gratis to the reviewer by the publisher.