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Who's Reading What

July 08, 1994|David Wharton

Ernie Barnes, a Studio City artist

"Culture of Complaint: The Fraying of America" by Robert Hughes

"He has written this book having to do with the conspiracy to marginalize the works of other races and cultures. It has to do with what is quality in art. For me, it helps in learning ways I might go about filling the hollowness that exists in our culture."

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Ron Wechsler, coach of Pierce College's rodeo team

"Grow Rich Slowly: The Merrill Lynch Guide to Retirement Planning" by Don Underwood and Paul B. Brown

"Most of the time I'm enjoying what I do and a lot of things slip by. Today, for example, my day started with a horse lecture at 9 and from 10 to 12 I taught riding. Now I'm trying to fine-tune our rodeo for May. But I'm also at the stage of my life when I'm thinking about how comfortably I'll live when I stop working. All of a sudden, reality strikes."

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Sean Manion, a Santa Monica Mountains ecologist

"Killing Mister Watson" by Peter Matthiessen

"Matthiessen has tremendous insight into both the natural world and the human mind and he blends them so well."

"Killing Mister Watson," an excerpt

Sea birds are aloft again, a tattered few. The white terns look dirtied in the somber light and they fly stiffly, feeling out an element they no longer trust. Unable to locate the storm-lost minnows, they wander the thick waters with sad muted cries, hunting signs and seamarks that might return them to the order of the world.

In the hurricane's wake, the labyrinthine coast where the Everglades deltas meet the Gulf of Mexico lies broken, stunned, flattened to mud by the wild tread of God. Day after day, a gray and brooding wind nags at the mangroves, hurrying the unruly tides that hunt through the broken islands and twist far back into the creeks, leaving behind brown spume and matted salt grass, driftwood. On the bay shores and down the coastal rivers, a far gray sun picks up dead glints from windrows of rotted mullet, heaped a foot high.

From the island settlement on the old Indian mound called Chokoloskee, a baleful and uneasy sky out toward the Gulf looks ragged as a ghost, unsettled, wandering. The sky is low, withholding rain, and vultures on black-fingered wings tilt back and forth over the broken trees. At the channel edge, where docks and pilings, stove-in boats, uprooted shacks litter the shore, odd pieces torn away from their old places have been strained from the flood by the limbs over the eater. A clothesline flutters in the trees; thatched roofs are spun onto their poles like old straw brooms; frame buildings sag. In the dank air a sharp fish stink is infused with corruption of dead animals and blackened vegetables, of excrement in overflowing pits from which shack privies have been washed away. Pots, kettles, crockery, a butter churn, tin tubs, buckets, salt-slimed boots, soaked horsehair mattresses, and ravished dolls are strewn across the pale killed ground.

A lone gull picks disconsolate at the softening mullet along shore, a dog barks without heart at so much silence.

A figure in mud-fringed calico, calling a child, stoops to retrieve a Bible, then wipes wet grime from the Good Book with pale dulled fingers. She straightens, turning slowly, staring toward the south. From the wall of mangroves far off down the bay, the drum of a boat engine comes and goes, then comes again, a little louder.

"Oh, Lord," she whispers, half-aloud. "Oh no, please no, sweet Jesus."

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