Bookmonger: Lopez offers his views on writing, beauty, activisim and authenticity

FOR THE BELLINGHAM HERALDSeptember 30, 2013 

Here in the Pacific Northwest, we consider Barry Lopez one of our own, although he was born in New York, spent his childhood in Southern California and his teen years back in New York City, and attended Notre Dame University in the Midwest.

While he has indeed settled in Oregon, Lopez also has researched and written about people and places and ideas from the North Pole to the South Pole, with visits to Namibia, the Galápagos Islands and myriad other places in between.

His deep interests in other ways of life have made him a certifiable global citizen, and that is reflected in "Conversations with Barry Lopez: Walking the Path of Imagination," a book just published by University of Oklahoma Press.

In conversations conducted by William Tydeman, a colleague of his at Texas Tech University in Lubbock (yes, for the last decade Lopez has made time to serve as a Visiting Distinguished Scholar there), Lopez discusses not only his thoughts on the writing life, but also on the natural world, activism, the relationships between people and the land they live on, and the tensions at play between individuals and the communities (towns, nations, religions) in which they reside or with which they identify.

It is clear that Lopez is both comfortable with Tydeman and also invigorated by his line of inquiry. As the interviewer, Tydeman does a good of posing questions and then stepping out of the way. With passion and acuity of mind, Lopez wrestles with ideas and cites the inspirations that have come to him from a mix of sources - cartoons, philosopher Alfred North Whitehead, and the world views of indigenous peoples, to name just a few.

He talks about the relationship between writer and reader and about relationships between writers and others in the publishing industry. He offers his thoughts on storytelling and on literary imagination. He talks about the importance of doing meaningful and dignified work, and worries about the conversion and commodification of writing into mere entertainment or rhetoric at a time when we really need story as "the elevating and healing event.... [t]he life-sustaining magic...."

Lopez also advocates for the importance of making time to appreciate the beauty of the world, despite the many distractions and ills of present-day life.

These conversations were recorded between 2002 and 2007, and that's the one disappointment with this book - as thoughtful as Lopez's perspectives were a decade ago, how has his thinking evolved since then?

We might extrapolate from this comment he makes on counter-terrorism measures: "The amount of energy that goes into the defeat of an enemy is energy that would be better spent in doing something that makes the enemy irrelevant. That's what the movement toward civil society is all about."

Lopez believes in working for common cause on a local level to develop "a world of beautiful localities," and he thinks writers' energy should be spent in devoting themselves to the elucidation of these matters.

These deep "Conversations" offer a provocative read.

Barbara Lloyd McMichael writes a weekly column focusing on the books, authors and publishers of the Pacific Northwest. Contact her at bkmonger@nwlink.com

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