The Science Of Psychedelics, A Genre-Busting Western, And Perfect Poetry For Summer
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Anyone listening to NPR knows this truth - we do love a good book. We also love a good book list. And this summer, we're asking booksellers and writers for their reading recommendations. John Evans has a few. He's the owner of Diesel, A Bookstore. It's actually two bookstores, both in California. He's excited about the new books he's read this year. John Evans, welcome to the program.
JOHN EVANS: Thank you.
CORNISH: So you have brought us several titles. And I want to start with one that is nonfiction, which I don't think people always necessarily reach for first as their summer read. It's called "How To Change Your Mind: What The New Science Of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression And Transcendence" by Michael Pollan. Very California title, I think.
EVANS: Yeah. This is by the author of "The Botany Of Desire," which is a much better title and much sexier. But the inside is basically his own personal exploration of psychedelics after he reads about all the new research that's being done on psychedelics. It gives a kind of cultural history, which is very lively, of psychedelic research in the '40s and '50s, and then the psychedelic period in the '60s and '70s and then the sort of suppression of psychedelics. And then he also ends up taking psilocybin mushrooms. He ends up taking LSD. And he describes those and puts those out for people to look at. And he - from being a skeptic, he's become somebody who sees the value, certainly the medicinal value, of these things. But it's actually a great, fun cultural history and history-of-science book.
CORNISH: A title that I can't resist asking about is "Whiskey When We're Dry" by John Larison.
EVANS: Yes. Now, this is a kind of genre-busting Western. "Whiskey When You're" - "We're Dry" is based on the Gillian Welch "Whiskey When I'm Dry" song. This is basically a highly violent and energetic Western, very well-written, told from a very unusual point of view - girl dressed as a boy gunslinger passing through the West trying to find her brother, who is almost a messianic outlaw figure. There's a lot of intense fight scenes and all that. But he captures the landscape beautifully, and it's one of those that you just get lost in and absorbed in. This is a good alternative to "Westworld" right now, I guess (laughter).
CORNISH: (Laughter) So a little bit of "Westworld," a little less of the puzzle box aspect of it.
EVANS: Yes. Yeah, not the...
CORNISH: For those of us who want to...
EVANS: Skip the...
CORNISH: (Laughter) Who want to put down that Rubik's Cube (laughter).
EVANS: Skip the science and the brain headache, the brain strain of "Westworld," and - but similar in some ways.
CORNISH: I want to ask you about one other addition to the list. You're excited about some poetry for this summer. And I think some people think poetry is hard (laughter) or that it's for curling up with in the winter. How did you think about this?
EVANS: Poetry is delightfully refreshing at using language intensely to say things that we don't know how to say otherwise. And I think a lot of people are turning to it for that reason and also just taking pleasure in it. So certain things that have come out are - New Directions has come out with a new edition of "The Red Wheelbarrow & Other Poems" of William Carlos Williams that we've been selling very well. And, you know, you just relax in your beach chair, read a poem, take a nap, read a poem, go swimming, read a poem, have lunch. And it's so relaxing to step away from computers, and...
CORNISH: Yeah. When you put it like that, I was lulled into (laughter)...
EVANS: Sounds pretty good, doesn't it?
CORNISH: I was - sign me up. I'll do that right now.
EVANS: Yeah. And also, relatedly there's Emily Dickinson that has - who's a fantastic American poet, as everyone knows, but some people think of as quite difficult. There have been these two books that have come out in the last year or two. "Envelope Poems" is one of them. "Gorgeous Nothings" is the other. And they're both very attractive photographs of her writing on envelopes. That's how she wrote most of her last poems, used envelopes - very sort of New England frugal. And poetry has come back into some kind of mainstream that's - that no one really could have predicted. And yet, that's what's happening.
CORNISH: Well, John Evans, thank you so much for speaking with us and for making these recommendations.
EVANS: My pleasure.
CORNISH: John Evans. He's co-owner of Diesel, A Bookstore. There are two - one in Larkspur, Calif., and the other in LA.
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