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Authors: Edward Abbey

The Best of Edward Abbey

The Best of Edward Abbey

Edward Abbey

The Best of Edward Abbey

Edited by Edward Abbey
with his own illustrations

Copyright

The Best of Edward Abbey
Copyright © 1984 by Edward Abbey
Cover art to the electronic edition copyright © 2011 by RosettaBooks, LLC

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

Electronic edition published 2011 by RosettaBooks LLC, New York.
ISBN e-Pub edition: 9780795317453

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

Acknowledgments for previously published material included in the first edition:

The selection from
Jonathan Troy
first appeared in
Jonathan Troy
, Dodd, Mead, 1954.

The selection from
The Brave Cowboy
first appeared in
The Brave Cowboy
, Dodd, Mead, 1956.

The selection from
Fire on the Mountain
first appeared in
Fire on the Mountain
, Dial Press, 1962.

The selection from
Black Sun
first appeared in
Black Sun
, Simon & Schuster, 1971.

The selection from
The Monkey Wrench Gang
first appeared in
The Monkey Wrench Gang
, Avon Books, 1976.

The selection from
Good News
first appeared in
Good News
, E. P. Dutton, Inc., 1980.

“Cowboys,” “The Moon-Eyed Horse,” “Havasu,” “The Dead Man at Grandview Point,” and “Bedrock and Paradox” first appeared in
Desert Solitaire
, McGraw-Hill, 1968.

“The Great American Desert,” “Death Valley,” “Manhattan Twilight, Hoboken Night,” and “Telluride Blues—A Hatchet Job” first appeared in
The Journey Home
, E. P. Dutton, Inc., 1977.

“Anna Creek,” “The Outback,” “A Desert Isle,” “Sierra Madre,” “Down There in the Rocks,” “Science with a Human Face,” “In Defense of the Redneck,” “Fire Lookout,” and “The Sorrows of Travel” first appeared in
Abbey’s Road
, E. P. Dutton, Inc., 1979.

“Down the River with Henry Thoreau,” “Watching the Birds: The Windhover,” “Of Protest,” “My Friend Debris,” and “Floating” first appeared in
Down the River
, E. P. Dutton, Inc., 1982.

Selection from
Appalachian Wilderness
first appeared in
Appalachian Wilderness
, E. P. Dutton, Inc., 1973.

The publisher gratefully acknowledges permission to reprint additional selections from the following copyrighted sources:

“Bonnie’s Return” from
Hay duke Lives!
by Edward Abbey. Copyright © 1989 by The Estate of Edward Abbey. By permission of Little, Brown and Company, Inc.

“Down to the Sea of Cortez” in
Beyond the Wall: Essays from the Outside
by Edward Abbey. Copyright © 1971, 1976, 1977, 1979, 1984, by Edward Abbey. Reprinted by permission of Henry Holt and Company, LLC.

Pages 437 to 440 in
The Fool’s Progress: An Honest Novel by
Edward Abbey. Copyright © 1988, 1990 by Edward Abbey. Reprinted by permission of Henry Holt and Company, LLC.

Three poems from
Earth Apples: Collected Poems
by Edward Abbey. Copyright © 1994 by Clarke C. Abbey. Excerpts from
Confessions of a Barbarian: Selections from the Journals of Edward Abbey
. Copyright © 1994 by Clarke Abbey. Reprinted by permission of Clarke Abbey and Don Congdon Associates, Inc.

Contents

The Author’s Preface to His Own Book

From
Jonathan Troy
(1954)

From
The Brave Cowboy
(1956)

From
Fire on the Mountain
(1962)

From
Desert Solitaire
(1968)

Cowboys

The Moon-Eyed Horse

Havasu

The Dead Man at Grandview Point

Bedrock and Paradox

From
Appalachian Wilderness
(1970)

Appalachia

From
Black Sun
(1971)

From
The Monkey Wrench Gang
(1975)

Seldom Seen at Home

From
The Journey Home
(1977)

The Great American Desert

Death Valley

Manhattan Twilight, Hoboken Night

Telluride Blues—A Hatchet Job

From
Abbey’s Road
(1979)

Anna Creek

The Outback

A Desert Isle

Sierra Madre

Down There in the Rocks

Science with a Human Face

In Defense of the Redneck

Fire Lookout

The Sorrows of Travel

From
Good News
(1980)

From
Down the River
(1982)

Down the River with Henry Thoreau

Watching the Birds: The Windhover

Of Protest

My Friend Debris

Floating

From
The Rites of Spring
(novel in progress)

From
Beyond the Wall:
Essays from the Outside
(1984)

Down to the Sea of Cortez

From
The Fool’s Progress: An Honest Novel
(1989)

To the Mississippi

From
Hayduke Lives!
(1990)

Bonnie’s Return

From
Earth Apples:
The Poetry of Edward Abbey
(1994)

Flash Flood

Down the River

A Sonnet for Everett Ruess

From
Confessions of a Barbarian
(1994)

Selections from the Journals

The Author’s Preface
to His Own Book

T
he
Reader
as literary object has two useful functions: it can serve as a convenient one-volume introduction to a writer’s work for those not previously acquainted with it, leading to deeper intimacies; or the
Reader
may suffice to confirm one’s doubts and suspended contempt, thus sparing the critic the bother of looking further. I trust that my book will satisfy the expectations of both types of
Reader
readers.

In compiling this one-man show I have endeavored, as an author naturally does, to present what I think is both the best and the most representative of my writing—so far. The emphasis falls on the latter term. Most of my writing has been in the field of the novel, explorations in certain aspects of the human comedy, especially the traditional conflict between our instinctive urge toward fraternity, community, and freedom, and the opposing demands of discipline and the state. The human versus human institutions—a conflict as old as the development of agriculture, urbanism, militarism, and hierarchy. That theme, like a scarlet thread, runs through everything I have written, binding it together into whatever unity it may have. Seeking to develop this theme in dramatic form, the best and most deeply felt of my writing flows toward fiction, toward the creation of symbolic structures, the telling and retelling (always trying to get it right) of one of our oldest stories.

Excerpts from novels, however, make poor material for an anthology. At least in the kind of fiction I have been writing, few of my excerpts or chapters make much sense in isolation; none
have the independent coherence of a good short story. Nevertheless, I chose to insert in this
Reader
one episode from each of my novels, not to please or amuse, but in hope of tickling enough interest to lure the potential reader into the ambuscade of the originals. But these episodes are brief and there are only seven of them.

The bulk of the book consists of chapters from four collections of informal, personal (sometimes highly personal) accounts of travel, ideas, people, nature, places, adventures—
Desert Solitaire, The Journey Home, Abbey’s Road
, and
Down the River
. I like to call such writing personal history. Most of the selections qualify, I think, as essays, another adequately vast, vague, and self-defining label. We know that in this world there are actually only two kinds of books: (1) good books, and (2) the others. But books require finer labels so that librarians, in a culture built on the babble of numbers and words, may not go clinically insane.

My first book
(Troy)
was published in 1954. According to the calendar on the wall, I am writing these words in the year 1984. Thirty years in the book-writing business—appalling! For so prolonged an effort my output has been small, about a dozen volumes worthy of the title “book” plus the texts for four or five scenic-photography coffee-table compendiums, which I do not count as legitimate books and which in any case nobody reads. (One of those things, if you attached legs to it, would do as a coffee-table in itself.) Of the eleven or twelve legitimate books only one,
The Monkey Wrench Gang
, goes beyond 300 pages. Hardly enough to gain my union card.

Where have the years gone? Why, into the usual vices of the romantic realist: into sloth and melancholy, each feeding upon and reinforcing the other, into love and marriage and the begetting of children, into the strenuous maneuvers of earning a living without living to earn, into travel and play and music and drink and talk and laughter, into saving the world—but saving the world was only a hobby. Into watching cloud formations float across our planetary skies. But mostly into sloth and melancholy and I don’t regret a moment of it.

If I had stayed in Hoboken when I had the chance, holed up in the urban hive while acid rain pattered on the roof and drug-crazed killers stalked the alleyways, I would now be the Dostoyevsky of Hudson County, New Jersey. Two of my American heroes are Nelson Algren and Dr. William Carlos Williams. But I left after one year.

Nothing can be more fatuous than a writer writing about his own writing and the serious reader is advised to skip what follows; I intend to go on probing this same vein for several pages more. It may be of interest to other essayists and novelists. I know that
I
like to read such stuff, up to a point, if there is one.

Despite the meagre production (so far), I have been able to earn my keep at writing for nearly fifteen years. I know that it’s vulgar and offensive to talk about money—most authors would far prefer to describe their latest sadomasochistic daydreams—but the grim truth is that I have been well rewarded for my plodding work at the typewriter, with an average income in the period referred to of about 20,000 dollars per year. A handsome sum, more than sufficient for a comfortable life in the country. After centuries of dogged striving at least one member of the Abbey clan (Allegheny Mountain branch) has succeeded in climbing to the uppermost rungs of the lower class.

How did this come about?

Not through institutional assistance. My books are never reviewed in
Time
or
Newsweek
or
New York
or
The New Yorker
or the
New York Review
or
Esquire
or
Harper’s
or
Atlantic
or
Village Voice
or
National Review
or
Partisan Review
or
Commentary
or
TV Guide
or
Ms
. or
Mother Jones
or
Rolling Stone
or
Ladies’ Home Journal
or
Vogue
or
Sewanee Review
or
The Wall Street Journal
. Each of my books, each defenseless child, has been met with a sublime, monumental, crashing silence—a freezing silence. (Some did receive friendly notices in the Sunday
New York Times
and other regional newspapers.)

When not ignored, my books are greeted with what I must recognize as a coolness verging on outright frigidity, particularly by the doctrinaire buzzsaws of chickenshit liberalism: “The author
of this book,” said one reviewer about
The Monkey Wrench Gang
, “should be neutered and locked away forever.” A Miss “S. C.,” reviewing
Abbey’s Road
for
The New Republic
, attacked me as “smug” and “graceless” because of a careless remark I let drop about Annie Dillard’s theological nature writing; the reviewer was so infuriated by that slip that she even ridiculed the publisher’s jacket copy. In the moldy, angst-ridden pages of
The Nation
one Denise Drabelle, identified as an “environmental lawyer,” whatever that is, described the author of
Down the River
as “puerile, arrogant, xenophobic and dopey.” Why? Because I had foolishly confessed, in a casual aside, to sharing in the popular belief that mass immigration from the Latin South (or from any other source) is not a good thing for the working people and material well-being of the United States. And one more critic, in a survey of Western American writers for the
New York Times Magazine
, called me a “smirking pessimist,” apparently in response to my novel
Good News
, in which I foresee the collapse of our military-industrial civilization. I could cite other examples but this is enough to indicate the general tenor of the resistance.

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Beat the Drums Slowly by Adrian Goldsworthy
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