Allison Kilkenny: Unreported

Blow Me — At Least Once Per Page

Posted in Uncategorized by allisonkilkenny on April 20, 2008

The thrill of moment-by-moment intoxication is the best way I can describe reading a mind-blowing book. The intense focus it begs of my attention makes everything else in the world disappear, as though I’m a single camera angled in trance-like fixation. This is the good stuff, people; I’m a junkie for the swirl of revolutionary thought. Making me see the world anew is the very definition of romance; but I’m a tough-to-please romantic heart. I require grand detail, the ambush of the (oddly hidden) obvious connections between everything, and new-minted tools for utterly deconstructing and fantastically reconstructing myself and others. That’s what it takes to win my love. That’s what it takes for my mind to contract in focused ecstasy. That’s what gets a book on my lover list.

There are precious few books that have truly revolutionized how I understand the world. The ones that do, however, I love forever and read over and over again. They’re the books that tie everything else together. I LOVE finding connections between things. They’re gorgeous and they’re absolutely everywhere. The most recent book to rock my world is called When They Severed Earth From Sky: How the Human Mind Shapes Myth. It was written by a husband and wife team, one a professor of linguistics and archeology at Occidental College (Elizabeth Wayland Barber) and the other a Research Associate with the Fowler Museum of Cultural History (Paul T. Barber). The massive and convincing homework they’ve done researching world myth reveals how giants, vampires, dwarves, gods, dragons, ghosts, cattle-mutilating aliens, all manner of monsters, Excalibur, the “World” Flood, a Golden Age, a Ruler of the Heavens, all supernatural spectacle and unearthly mystery … all of these have their origin in properties of human psychology and linguistics reinterpreting major historical events, un-understandable nature, and ancient astronomy. (For those of you enamored on math, the chapter on the origin of counting and numerical patterns as they relate to astronomy is sure to be a delight.)

Additionally, because the writers treat Biblical myth (several from the Old Testament and at least one from the New Testament) the same as every other myth, well … Let’s just say this level of controversy makes Dan Brown look like a candidate for Pope. In fact, I hope the Religious Right soon starts up a protest against the Barbers — they deserve a boost in sales. When the ideas presented in this book become widely known, there is going to be global hissy fit by fundamentalists, and then (I dearly hope) their permanent disappearance from relevance will make way for a world of common sense and love to prevail. (Don’t offer to sell me any rose-tinted glasses; I manufacture my own. ;-D)

We are all so lucky that a team of such passionate scholarship undertook this research and has presented it so well. I glow with delight and enthusiasm for this tremendously valuable publication. I only hope that they will further expand their research, applying their method to every myth, every legend, every nursery rhyme they can get their hands on. We have so much to learn about our own past. This is the most fascinating and enlightening book I’ve ever read on mythology … period.

And now, the list! Below are my all-time favorite non-fiction books. Several of them will be getting full book reviews later on because they investigate issues of timely importance. Many of these I picked up due to recommendations from friends and I’m always looking for the next great read. And so, fellow reader, I wonder …

If you could compel everyone in the world to read one specific non-fiction book, which book would it be and why?

Ecstasy-Inducing Non-fiction!

Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things
by William McDonough and Michael Braungart

— Redesigning everything we make so that waste does not exist.

Hardcore Zen: Punk Rock, Monster Movies, & the Truth about Reality
by Brad Warner

— Some may find his attitude obnoxious or arrogant; I find his attitude refreshing. For me, it is both more challenging and more fun than softer philosophies. In fact, this is my favorite book on Zen.

A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam
by Karen Armstrong

— The evolution of how “the divine” or “God” has been defined throughout recorded history. She’s also written a book about fundamentalism (which is NOT a hearkening back to older styles of faith) called The Battle for God, but I haven’t read that one yet.

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion
by Robert B. Cialdini

— Psychology and Advertising

Language In Thought and Action
by S. I. Hayakawa

— Psychology and Human Language

Maps of the Imagination: The Writer as Cartographer
by Peter Turchi

— Creative writing as creatively mapping oneself and one’s world. This book is a delight, both in writing style and for the many beautiful, enlightening “maps” scattered throughout.

Sin and Syntax: How to Craft Wickedly Effective Prose
by Constance Hale

— A grammar book to scoff at all other grammar books. The writing is entertaining and the advice is sound. If you’re interested in writing better, this is a good read.

The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements
by Eric Hoffer

— Psychology, Charismatic Leaders, and Vulnerability to Propaganda

(This book deserves a caveat: His writing is occasionally sexist and frequently ethnocentric, if not outright racist. Also, he needs to cite his examples much better. The core ideas presented, though, are so provocative and important that it would be terrible to leave it off this list. I really wish someone would remake this book with better organization, fully developed and cited examples, and the biases excised.)

When They Severed Earth From Sky: How the Human Mind Shapes Myth
by Elizabeth Wayland Barber and Paul T. Barber

— Psychology, Myth, Memory, and Language

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