David Quammen (YGtCTO Words #92)

The Flight of the Iguana

Book written by David Quammen

I believe I first spotted a Starbucks coffee shop in Pittsburgh around 1992. I was prepared for the experience, not because I had any idea what Starbucks or an upscale coffe shop ought to be, but because I had shopped in a Nature Company store.

Nature Company shops invaded malls across the country (and probably the globe) with a rather lovely, alternative sense of shopping that has become the norm. For one thing, they had a lot more wood in all their fixtures. That rather stood out in the tile and marble monuments to consumerism that is a shopping center. Who can forget the rain sticks, propped up in a corner? They invited flipping. You could enjoy the fake rainfall and watch the older men flee for the nearest restroom.

Really though, Nature Company stores had a sense of being inviting, like they wanted you to be enveloped in the same embrace that they brought to the world. That’s some trick for a corporate entity. They’re long gone now, so I’ll leave it that it was a pleasant way-stop, different from Spencer’s and Sears.

I’m not sure that the bookshelves at Nature Company offered anything that couldn’t be found at Barnes and Noble or Borders, but those places were not available to me at the time. Mall bookstores were small and carried top ten bestsellers and weird remainder stock. Used bookstores tended to be jumbles of discovery. The Nature Company had neat shelves with a focus on, well, nature. That was right up my alley.

David Quammen

I don’t
have any recollection why I grabbed The Flight of the Iguana off the shelves or proceeded to buy it. At the time, it had to mean a definite commitment that was unusual for me. I was not reading a lot of science or non-fiction. Maybe I sensed the lack in my intellectual diet. Perhaps the wall of books about ecology and biology and such produced the outcome.

Quammen is one of those rare writers who brings to light essential facts. He doesn’t lecture you about what to do with that information, but leaves you with the sneaking suspicion that maybe he has found that giant lever that can alter your world view ever so slightly.

The book changed me in a lot of ways. The most significant was that I slowly became aware that I was simply not thinking hard enough. I had grown comfortable with the knowledge that I possessed when so much more existed in the world. Essentially, I could choose to keep my mind open or I could fall into the unfortunate habit of filtering out uncomfortable data.

By no means do I believe that I have succeeded. Quammen’s art, for me, has been in setting a goal of constantly wanting to know a little more. Beyond that, it’s also the goal of being willing to reconsider past stances and fundamentally change ways of thought. Life has been a long journey of compromise. The challenge has been to recognize when those compromises have taken me too far afield from what is right. Open-mindedness advanced by a seeking brain and tempered by experience is the price to pay.

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You’ve Got to Check This Out is a blog series about music, words, and all sorts of artistic matters. It started with an explanation. 25 more to go.

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