Hitting a few books -- ones that hit back

"running after antelope"
By Scott Carrier
Counterpoint Press, 130 pages, $22

Scott Carrier could have stepped right out of a Beat-generation novel. His public-radio accounts of hitchhiking across the nation, challenging authority figures and communing with the wilderness have the feel of a true-life Kerouac classic. Running After Antelope, a wonderful collection of Carrier's best radio and magazine work from the past two decades, is a testament to his extraordinary storytelling prowess and a celebration of life in the margins of the modern world.

In 1982, Carrier's brother, a doctoral student in biology, theorized that human beings evolved into two-legged endurance runners to hunt large prey by running them to the point of exhaustion. Carrier was captivated by this notion and began a 15-year quest to chase down a pronghorn antelope. This pursuit provides a running theme, as he chronicles his adventures in America and abroad.

Whether he's chasing antelope or assignments, Carrier's ability to navigate one absurd situation after the next gives him a confident voice in the face of adversity. In Kansas City, Mo., he's producing a radio story on how a community lowered its crime rate by hosting a midnight basketball program when the bag containing his interviews is stolen. (Not recognizing the irony, his bosses force him to reinterview his subjects without acknowledging the theft.) And in Utah, Carrier is interviewing schizophrenics when he realizes that his troubled home life is on par with his subjects. The personal accounts in many of Carrier's essays hint that his desire to keep moving might be one way to flee from the culture he documents.

While the first half of "Running After Antelope" examines the author's personal conflicts, the second focuses on the struggles of people living in war-torn Cambodia, Kashmir and Mexico. Regardless of where he is writing from, he remains interested in engaging the people he meets rather than the politics that surround them.

The rare nature of Carrier's work is reinforced by the postscript to his piece on the Zapatista rebels in Mexico. The men's magazine that commissioned the article replaced it with a fashion spread of male models dressed in military garb -- just the type of callous commercialism that might drive one to forsake the conveniences of modern life and chase after antelope.
-- Frank Diller

-- Frank Diller

"open closed open"
By Yehuda Amichai
Harcourt Brace, 208 pages, $25

The "magnum opus" of 77-year-old Yehuda Amichai, Israel's top poet, is the verbal equivalent of an opera. Reading 175 pages of poetry steeped in Jewish scripture and tradition would be a daunting task without Amichai's ability to lace the deadly serious with the playful. He gives the reader a Whitmanesque ride through catalogs of laments and praises for things past and present, of the body, mind and spirit, all discussed in a tone both reverent and irreverent.

The collection opens and closes with "the amen stone," "a triangular fragment of stone from a Jewish graveyard destroyed/ many generations ago ... one survivor fragment/ of thousands upon thousands of bits of broken tombstones in Jewish graveyards." (The stone sits on the poet's desk.) Amichai sees the stone as a symbol of himself and the Jewish people. He titles one of his sections "I Wasn't One of the Six Million: And What is My Life Span? Open Closed Open."

Amichai's feelings about God are ambiguous; the poems suggest, with some bitterness and more longing, an absent God, who abandoned his people in Auschwitz, "an invisible god in high heavens. ... And when prayers ascend on high, they fall/ back down like shrapnel from anti-aircraft shells/ that have missed their target." Nonetheless, Amichai is hopeful.

While Emily Dickinson described hope as "a thing with feathers," Amichai calls it barbed wire, a minefield to keep out despair. He says it is "like a faithful dog ... I call her: Hope, Hope, come here, and she/ comes to me."

This is the mature work of a mature thinker; it is musical, philosophical, whimsical. The poems work through traditions, ancient and modern, of the Jews, but the intellect informing the poems is not exclusive, but expansive and inclusive. The prevailing spirit is more open than closed. -- Joyce Brown

"you are being lied to"
Edited by Russ Kick
The Disinformation Co. Ltd., 400 pages, $19.95

By now, most literate or semiliterate citizens of the U.S. and elsewhere know the system doesn't work for them; it works for heads of state and giant multinational corporations. But since the mainstream media tends to rest in the pocket of these groups, one has to make a full-time job of proving the paradigm wrong. That's where counterculture web portal Disinformation comes in, all set to sell the not-so-surprising revelation that You Are Being Lied To about many things.

Some of the essays -- penned by such intelligentsia celebrities as Noam Chomsky, Jim Hogshire and Thomas Lyttle -- occasionally contradict each other and trumpet the sizable egos of their authors. But they also pose a healthy challenge to the reader's perception of the outside world. At their best, they strike a mighty blow against the ignorance fostered by the dominant culture.

The collection excels with its political-science and media critiques. Chomsky sets the tone for many essays with an outline of his theories on mainstream media. Subsequent exposés such as Michael Parenti's "The Media and Their Atrocities" follow Chomsky's tactics for deconstructing popularly reported news -- in this case, the Kosovo crisis -- almost to the letter. Such formulaic writing made this reader thankful for Sidney Schanberg's "The War Secrets Senator John McCain Hides," an excellent investigative piece that shows how the federal government, and McCain, have more information about POWs and MIAs than has been shown to their families.

Other sections, such as the one about religion, "Holy Rolling," don't work as well, due to shorter and less-complete condensations of their topics. In such segments, the collection loses its coherency and, at the awkward spots where the essayists plug their books, its legitimacy.

But this should not dissuade readers from taking in the message of hope delivered by Jim Hogshire, who in "Poppy-cock" transforms the prohibition of the opium poppy into a profound metaphor for foolish, utterly brutal tyranny. As difficult as it may be to arrive at the truth, all of these authors believe it can still set us free. And from there we can draw our own conclusions. -- Justin Hampton

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