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for people who care about the West

'Yes' to desire and an end to fear

 

Some of the Dead Are Still Breathing: Living in the Future
Charles Bowden
243 pages, hardcover, $24.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009.


But as a desert man, I can only say yes to rain. -- Charles Bowden

Mulling over decades spent reporting on everything from border crimes to environmental destruction to post-Katrina New Orleans, journalist Charles Bowden declares an end to the way things have been.

Neither cynical nor hysterical, Bowden's latest book, Some of the Dead Are Still Breathing, reiterates that the climate is changing, human populations are taxing the natural world beyond endurance and greater storms are undoubtedly brewing. Such is the world we now inhabit, and we should no longer imagine that we can return to a post-World War II American idyll. It is time to stare down this new world and accept our place within it. "The real history and revolution is taking place all around us," he says, even as we refuse to acknowledge it.
"I live in a time of fear and the fear is not of war or weather or death or poverty or terror," he writes. "The fear is of life itself. The fear is of tomorrow, a time when things do not get better but become worse. This is the belief of my time." Bowden does not share that fear, however. Instead, he reminds us that only by saying yes -- to action and desire -- can we dissipate our pointless, paralyzing dread.

This is not the book for newcomers to Bowden. Some of the Dead Are Still Breathing is for readers already accustomed to his complex, emotional style, who trust that his tangents will lead someplace relevant and that he isn't rending our hearts merely for effect. Despite his melancholy tone -- obsessing over everything from women murdered in Mexico to the depletion of desert groundwater -- Bowden still seems to view the world through unclouded eyes. 

This latest book leaves readers acutely aware of Bowden's own sense of mortality. His books are always personal -- too personal if you're not interested in the man's love life or other entanglements -- but this one reads as intimately as a letter to all those who have read his words for years and nodded in understanding. It may seem pointless to mourn the still-living, but as the author himself acknowledges, everything changes, and all things come to an end.