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What are you reading?

Black Elk Speaks, by John Neihardt. I picked it up because I had taken some eco-theology courses at my university a while ago and had read some small excerpts from it in compilations. ­It’s about a holy man from the Oglala Sioux in the Black Hills of South Dakota. ­I’m only about 30 pages in, but so far, ­he’s telling his story — about his father, about some of the battles when the foreigners first came. The ­book’s author is sort of transcribing it. ­It’s very spiritual. The second chapter was basically him speaking about a vision he had. ­There’s kind of a poetic twist to it; it drew me right ­in.”

Excerpt from Chapter One:
The Offering of the Pipe
“These things I shall remember…and often they may seem to be the very tale itself, as when I was living them in happiness and sorrow. But now that I can see it all as from a lonely hilltop, I know it was the story of a mighty vision given to a man too weak to use it; of a holy tree that should have flourished in a ­people’s heart with flowers and singing birds, and now is withered; and of a ­people’s dream that died in bloody ­snow.”

Who is your favorite author?

“I like William S. Burroughs. I think he was in the Beat Generation, him and Allen Ginsberg. He was like an earlier Hunter Thompson, with the drug thing. ­It’s a used word, but he really is kind of unique. His writing is twisted — it makes the harsh reality of things soften. ­I’m reading through a whole pile of his books. ­I’m reading one now, Nova Express. ­It’s just really far-out and strange; I ­don’t know how to describe it. I ­don’t always make it very far when I start to read it because it ­doesn’t seem to have a real, basic plot to it. I can tell you about another one, though — The Last Words of Dutch Schultz. ­It’s written in play format — it gives the setting of the room so that you have a visual image, and then it gives the names of the characters and what they say. ­It’s about a guy lying on his deathbed, and ­he’s going in and out of different states, fading in and ­out.”

Excerpt:
“Interior. Jail Corridor. Day. Tracking shot. Guards move down corridor with drag queens dressed as famous actresses of the period…. Faces at the cell door, teeth bared. Prisoner: I want Lillian Gish. Prisoner: I want Gertrude Lawrence. Drag queens include Vincent Coll and Albert Stern…. Guards open cell doors to let drag queens in and collect money…. Nobody wants Albert Stern dressed as Sarah Bernhardt. Just before he goes out with the guards he turns and looks at Dutch…”

What book has been most life-changing for you?

“I once read a tai chi book and then started practicing tai chi. I was drawn in by the philosophy and some of the basic movements and breathing techniques. I had a back injury, so I started to think about tai chi. Chi like energy — ­it’s based on Taoism, which I ­don’t know much about. But it helps me physically. I ­haven’t been very disciplined, but if ­I’m working and overwhelmed and I start getting stressed out, I do it more often. It helps me relieve ­stress.”

Do you read any magazines or newspapers?

“I read the Reader. Usually, the cover story, and then the music ­ads.”

Do you talk to friends about reading?

­”I’ve only been here eight months, but I talk to people at work about books occasionally, if ­they’re interested. You can tell if someone is authentically interested — the tones, the body ­movements.”

Name: PETER HAGOPIAN | Age: 30 | Occupation: JUST FINISHED SEASONAL JOB AT WILD ANIMAL PARK | Neighborhood: COLLEGE AREA | WHERE INTERVIEWED: FRY'S ELECTRONICS, MISSION VALLEY

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