A part-time buffoon and ersatz scholar specializing in BS, pedantry, schmaltz and cultural coprophagia.
I'm a little embarrassed to say I hadn't paid attention to much of Matthessen's work before he died. I had Shadow Country on my shelf and every intention of getting to it soon, but didn't realize he had this whole other nonfiction output. I read the Snow Leopard after I read his obit three weeks ago and discovered he was the only person (?) to win the National Book Award for BOTH fiction and nonfiction. OK, so, maybe it was time to throw off my veil of ignorance and start reading some Matthiessen. I figured 'The Snow Leopard' was a good place to start.
I loved it. Part travel writing, part nature writing, part spiritual journey, this book has it all. It is beautifully written, and seems to float the reader up and down the mountains. At its heart Matthiessen is traveling with his field biologist friend George Schaller (GS) into the remote mountains of Nepal to study the Blue Sheep and hopefully see the elusive snow leopard (and hell, maybe a Yeti). Matthiessen was also on a spiritual journey after the loss of his wife to find the Lama of Shey and to find a path through the difficulties associated with the impermanence and suffering of life. His journey is a melting into the now, a search for the present, and an acceptance of finding and not finding the thing(s) you think you seek.
My only disappointment is that it was abridged. I ended up solving my - I want to listen to this read by Matthiessen/I HATE abridged books - dilemma by actually reading and listening to the book at the same time. I would pause once I figured where an abridgment was, pause the audio, read to where the audio picked back up and start reading/listening again. It was kinda a pain in my butt, but you got to climb the mountain you've got in front of you, not the mountain you WANT in front of you. Anyway, the only thing that would have made it better would have been if they had pushed it further into an unabridged version. Oh well, can't change it now. Other than that, his voice was awesome. He sounds like Leonard Nemoy after a box of cigars: a rich, deep and interesting reader of his own fantastic book.
There are parts of this book, and parts of this type of book I really enjoy. But at the exact same time, this whole genre of book (see: Ken Wilber and his oeuvre, especially A Brief History of Everything) really grinds and irritates.* Don't get me wrong, I love Greek philosophy and Zen Buddhism as much as the next guy (or gal) on Goodreads/Audible/Amazon. No serious. ON my FB page, I think I put my religion down as: γνῶσις-Mðrmon; 禪-Mormon. I'm all about the search for Truth. I want to pick and prune it where ever it grows (East or West). But these pop-Philosophy/pop-Zen/grand theory of everything books seem to promise way more than they ever deliver.
I DO get, however, how some people love it. I see it. I can feel it. It is seductive as hell for sure. And -- AND -- a part of me buys into a part of it. I just can't follow Pirsig all the way up or down his mountain.
Anyway, I'm not sorry I listened to t, just like after finishing a Malcolm Gladwell bestseller doesn't leave me with any sorrow either. I just feel like I've been given a light mental laxitive. Everything moves easy, and nothing is too damaging. I just don't really want to double down and read Lila. The Pirsig motorcycle is garaged. The seventies are over. I want a different sort of quality I guess.
* given that statement, I'm not sure why I'm not as critical of Matthiessen's The Snow Leopard. Perhaps it was the writing. Perhaps it was less pop. But ye Gads, the mid-to-late 70s was a bumper crop for Zen Buddhist books in the US
Let me just throw in here now that Fox skeptics need not worry, while this book was written by a Muslim, it wasn't written by that d@mn lion from Narnia.
The book's good points: compelling, well-written, and challenged a lot of well traveled myth-making by Christianity, Islam, etc., about the life and acts of Jesus of Nazareth. The bad points: there wasn't much NEW history here. The book was written to challenge, but not support. It isn't as much a biography of Jesus as a history of early Christianity, an examination of Jerusalem around the time of Jesus, a longish academic piece on Jewish Zealotry, and a examination of some of the other major players that might have reflected (James) or tilted (Paul) our view of who Jesus was. This isn't groundbreaking history about Jesus, and a rehash of ideas of other Early Christian historians that have been kicked around for the last 50 years.
The challenge a historian faces with writing a biography of Jesus is there are only a couple real facts you can hang your reputation on: Jesus lived. Jesus died on a cross. The rest is hearsay, myth, reflections, faith, hope and stories. All you have left to do, as a historian, is: examine the space around the hole. Look at the times, the place. Use templates of similar men to approximate what Jesus was like. Examine other figures who have more of a historical footprint (Paul, Peter, Pilate, etc), and then enter triumphantly into FOX News and overthrow the tables of the producers and drive out the lamb-like anchors. Fox New prefect Rogerios Aīlātos now washes his hands of Aslan of Tehran (and now California).