Soup's On!

POINT homeboy serves up rich anthology

Gorillas in the Myth:
    A Duck Soup Reader

by C. L. Bothwell III

Brave Ulysses Books 96 pp., $10.00 paper


Bothwell Cecil Bothwell's essays are a joy to read. They're short and challenging, frightening and hopeful. I read them weekly in his online Soupletter, and now he has created an anthology of them with publication of Gorillas in the Myth: A Duck Soup Reader.

The mythical gorillas of the title are corporations, those eight-million-pound gorillas that seem to be able to sit anywhere they want. To thumb his nose at them, Cecil has decided that his book will not be sold at any mega-bookstores, but can only be purchased from independent booksellers.

He uses the events of his day-to-day life to think about larger issues of being human in the modern world ... He invites us to his home, into the woods, into his canoe, into the garden, even to the outhouse.

Two traits of Cecil's are immediately apparent: his love of puns, however bad, and his strong preference for the trail less taken. In the essay "Buy Here Now" he writes, "The bottom line is not, and has never been, price. In the end, what matters is the air we breathe, the food we eat, and the meaning we find in our work and in our lives."

Regular readers of POINT are familiar with Cecil's work. He's made it his business to understand environmental issues, the natural world, and the promises and perils of civilization. He uses the events of his day-to-day life to think about larger issues of being human in the modern world.

I've read enough of him to feel like I know him, so I feel comfortable calling him Cecil rather than Mr. Bothwell. Occasionally I think of him as the Duckman or the Soupman, though his writing is rarely as humorous as "Duck Soup" implies.

It is obvious from these essays that Cecil has chosen what most of us would consider a simple life but which he would argue is a complex life. A simple life, Cecil says, involves setting the thermostat so that all the machinery of the heating system will work; the complex life involves finding the dead tree in the forest, knowing whether or not its wood will burn well, cutting and splitting it, stacking and curing it, calculating how to have enough to make it all the way through winter, hauling it into the house, knowing how much to put into the wood stove and when and how to bank it to have hot coals in the morning.

The simple life is flipping the light switch and paying the electric bill; but Cecil's complex life involves being off the grid, using solar panels and batteries, making choices about what appliances are necessary and how to ensure a steady supply of power.

Time after time, Cecil has a perspective that challenges conventional wisdom.

He would probably argue that the simple life of modern civilization involves accepting the ideas that are spoon-fed to us, in part, by our eight-million-pound gorillas, while the complex life involves thinking for yourself.

As his essays reveal, he has chosen a thrifty life that allows him time to raise food, generate power, walk in the woods, watch the stars and read more books in a year than most Americans will read in a lifetime -- a complex life that does not indulge in one of our favorite modern hobbies: complaining about how busy we are; a life where he chooses, every day, to work a little more on the process of crafting words to communicate with himself and others; a life, most of all, that gives him time to think, to ponder, to explore the borders between thought and feeling, between feeling and being.

His essays are of uniformly high quality, so that he could almost choose them at random for a collection like this. For this book, he has placed 39 short essays into five broad categories that consider nature, human impact on the world, resource use, lifestyle and personal choices. He invites us to his home, into the woods, into his canoe, into the garden, even to the outhouse.

One of the problems most of us face is how to put into perspective the massive amounts of information we process every day. To come on an idea, know that it is important, forget it and come on it again months or years later is a haunting feeling -- why weren't we able to integrate it into our lives?

Since I had read many of these essays when they originally appeared in Cecil's weekly newsletter, I had that haunted feeling several times while re-reading them. Cecil has taken time to explore what matters and to write about it from a unique and compelling perspective. He puts ideas into very small word packages, and invites us to explore his and our own ideas.

Hey, Soupman, if you're reading this, I would like to challenge you to create a volume that takes your many ideas and connects them with one another in a way that creates a cohesive and comprehensive world view, the ingredients mixed perfectly into one big soup. In the meantime, no complaints, these short soups are low-fat, high-flavor, thoughtfully delicious.

Gorillas in the Myth costs $10, plus $1.50 postage and handling . To order, send e-mail to, call 828-669-9235, or ask your local independent book store when they'll have it.

Larry Crenshaw is a native South Carolinian now writing and doing environmental work in Alabama.

© Copyright by POINT, 1998
Last modified 6/23/97