Orion Book Award Nominee To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up. To ask other readers questions about About a Mountain , please sign up. Lists with This Book. Apparently they had heated debates over whether facts matter. D'Agata throws the word 'art' around like some trump-card and was generally acting like an asshole. I don't disagree with his point: However, I don't think D'Agata can justify that what he wrote is art! I read the essay in question it's actually the last chapter of this here book and I would say that he didn't change facts in the service of art, but in the service of sensationalism!
Besides, his writing style is atrocious. I have no problem with other artists fudging the truth, when they are actually making good art: Herzog, Erroll Morris, Kiarostami, etc. But a hack job like D'Agata? Give me a break! Sorry for the rant, but this article just pissed me off. John D'Agata is no writer. He may be smart and he may have his eye on the pulse of new innovative writing and he may even be able to talk intelligently about it , but he is no writer. There is a simple explanation for this.
John D'Agata has no ear for language. At this point, you may be flabbergasted. You may be wondering "but Jimmy, how can you say that about someone who is admired by Ben Marcus, Blake Butler, David Ulin and many other innovative trendsetting writers? It is easy to be caught up in a provocative subject, presented in an innovative new way.
Even the most fact-driven boring newspaper writer should have an ear for language, a sense of how to create rhythm and sounds for a desired effect. Or for the opposite of that effect, to shatter rhythm and sound in an attempt to undermine poetry. But here there is no sustained strategy in either direction. Each sentence clunks against my ear, each syllable losing flight in the dead air. In a book not so much about a mountain, but about a form the form of a mountain? This is all the more heinous given that John D'Agata is supposed to be the artful essay writer, as opposed to the un-artful essay writers who care too much about subject matter and not enough about 'style'.
And yet, I will take many other essay writers concerned about subject matter over John D'Agata. At least most of them have no pretensions of literary value. And some of them can actually write a good sentence. John D'Agata's sentences, when they are short and declarative are transparent in the way they are trying to build momentum. And yet no momentum is built. The air goes straight out. The rhythm is decidedly off, and the details are trite, even predictable. There is a particular art to writing a good list, of the predictable vs.
John D'Agata does not know anything about this art.
Yucca Mountain As Metaphor in About A Mountain : NPR
When his sentences are long, they end up tripping all over themselves. And yet I would also argue that this book is completely style-less. Style must exist organically. What we have here is an attempt to write an unconventional essay. So he inflates the pages with words, with lists of words that may have associative ties to the subject at hand, in the hopes of hitting an emotional register or two. Yes, there is something sloppy in this mess of a book.
I was expecting so much from it because the subject matter was so interesting. His writing approaches the superficiality of the city of Las Vegas itself. His attempts to relate it back to his life, his mother, the suicide victim, etc. I could only feel the excruciating effort in these attempts, not an opening up to the possibility of discovery through language but a feeling of closed-up-ness. Just for the record, I have nothing against the new essay or the blending of personal and historical, fact and fiction, etc.
In fact, I have been reading an anthology that John D'Agata himself edited: The Next American Essay. And I really like some of the pieces so far Joan Didion's piece in the book does something similar to what John D'Agata is trying to do here, but much more effectively. I even have a shelf of poetic essays. So what I object to is not the form, but how it is executed. View all 5 comments. I think I've come a little bit closer to defining what it is I love about great writing -- I love to learn a little something, I love to lose a breath over an ingenious construction of words, I love an author who welcomes me into a room peopled with ideas that surprise me.
I love John D'Agata.
Like, watch out, John, you are right now living in my town, and I could find you. Alright, I tried to be cute and look you up in the phone book, but you're not listed, but I found I think I've come a little bit closer to defining what it is I love about great writing -- I love to learn a little something, I love to lose a breath over an ingenious construction of words, I love an author who welcomes me into a room peopled with ideas that surprise me. Alright, I tried to be cute and look you up in the phone book, but you're not listed, but I found the listing for your office in EPB, and I could conceivably drive by every day on my way to work if I didn't mind that two mile detour through collegetown traffic.
But all that would be silly, because what I really love is his fervent attitude about the essay. D'Agata's essay refuses to follow form; his conclusion refuses to recap his intro, his outline is beside the point; his facts are researched and justified, but their role is more character than bullet point. His pseudo-facts play the straight man, honest and accurate and ridiculous. Plus, on top of this incredible, irreverent essay construction, what he's saying is just as enchanting as how he's saying it.
You might say D'Agata got lucky, finding himself in Vegas with a national headline concerning nuclear waste on his left and a suicide on his right, but really, all he did was pay attention. And then he asked a lot of questions. And only now and then did they get answered, but more often than not, the not-answer was answer enough. And the ridiculous things like creating a warning sign that will survive and communicate for 10, years made him chuckle through the knuckleheads he interviewed, and the sad things a year-old suicide in the city boasting the highest number of suicides per capita in the country made him weep poetry.
And when was the last time you read an essay that took you to such emotional extremes? Essays aren't supposed to do that, they're supposed to be little theses with facts and logical argument -- no crying. I'm off to read D'Agata's other book of essays, Halls of Fame: Essays , where it seems to me he's doing some Anthony Bourdain-style visits to various halls of kitsch. I'm looking forward to his sharing with me his curiosity, his capacity for wonder, that informs his writing and makes it feel like I'm not learning anything, just staring at his open palms with my mouth agape, wondering what's next.
View all 6 comments. Jun 02, Steve added it Shelves: It's hard to make any criticism or comment regarding About A Mountain without feeling like that reaction has been anticipated by and even included in the book already. One of the texts primary arguments is that everything from atomic storage facilities to attempts at communication inevitably corrodes and fails, given time.
So to call this ambitious attempt to tell the "untellable" story of Yucca Mountain a failure is redundant, because instead of that impossible it offers a collection of facts a It's hard to make any criticism or comment regarding About A Mountain without feeling like that reaction has been anticipated by and even included in the book already. So to call this ambitious attempt to tell the "untellable" story of Yucca Mountain a failure is redundant, because instead of that impossible it offers a collection of facts and figures untethered to advocacy or calls for action, and bookends these with more personal, suggestive details.
What bothered me, though, in the assumption that the whole of such a complex a "technical disaster" can't be told is that other books, by other authors, have accomplished what D'Agata declares impossible -- Carolyn Nordstrom's A Different Kind of War Story , for instance, and Svetlana Alexievich Voices from Chernobyl. Unlike those books, About A Mountain never really puts much at stake, despite the appearance of the highest stakes.
There's no real argument against the Yucca Mountain facility, because Las Vegas, the place most at risk, is portrayed as a city designed for destruction. Meanwhile, there's no real attention to the natural environment that the facility would impact, either. Ultimately, that lack of stakes made this feel more like an intellectual exercise than anything else -- an interesting one, at times, and compelling to read, but I couldn't shake the uncomfortable sense that such a casual, even cynical approach reduces significant, disastrous possibilities to nothing more than materials for epistemological speculation.
I'm not even going to try to give this a rating, because that kind of reduction is so at odds with my confused, ongoing reaction to the book.
About a Mountain
Me gusta mucho hablar de residuos nucleares en Las Vegas, y menos de suicidios en Las Vegas, pero la verdad es que una vez que te pones con lo primero, llegas a lo segundo bien derechito. While this is technically a book about the proposed nuclear waste storage site at Yucca Mountain which has never housed the waste and whose funding was pretty much axed in April , it's really a book about the failures of communication.
D'Agata presents a litany of examples, such as how he gets the run-around when he starts asking how anyone came up with the 10, year figure for when the waste will be less dangerous, or how no one can come up with a set of "danger" symbols that can be put While this is technically a book about the proposed nuclear waste storage site at Yucca Mountain which has never housed the waste and whose funding was pretty much axed in April , it's really a book about the failures of communication.
D'Agata presents a litany of examples, such as how he gets the run-around when he starts asking how anyone came up with the 10, year figure for when the waste will be less dangerous, or how no one can come up with a set of "danger" symbols that can be put on a sign that will make sense 10, years from now. When he signs on to be a counselor on the suicide help line Las Vegas, near Yucca Mountain, has the highest suicide rate in the nation , he's told never to ask the callers "why.
The ending documents a suicide from the tallest building in Las Vegas, in surveillance-ridden detail that is fascinating and horrifying, and it underscores how no matter what "evidence" we have in front of us, we can never adequately answer the question "why? My review from the Missoula Independent In his second book, John D'Agata has shown himself to be a razor-sharp deconstructionist of society's foibles, fables and complexities.
Author of the much lauded collection of essays, Halls of Fame, and aggressive editor of two essay compilations, he turns in his latest to Yucca Mountain, an arid landscape miles northwest of downtown Las Vegas, and its implications—both correlated and imagined—that it had on the region and on the world. From the first p My review from the Missoula Independent In his second book, John D'Agata has shown himself to be a razor-sharp deconstructionist of society's foibles, fables and complexities. From the first page he manages to dust off our notions of the essay, the cultural history and the travelogue.
It's all very disorienting, and somehow extraordinarily pertinent. About a Mountain starts on a personal note and wends its way to cover the universe. While helping his mother relocate to a Las Vegas development, D'Agata begins investigating the proposed nuclear waste depository at Yucca Mountain approved by Congress in , rescinded in Soon, he discovers that contradictions about the site are ubiquitous.
D'Agata recounts, in tragicomic deadpan, that neither the National Economic Council nor the Department of Energy can agree on anything from the cost of the project to hypothetical routes the shipments would take. From there, the absurdities multiply and the author dutifully follows them all. Stylistically wedged somewhere between the nerdy travel episodes of Sarah Vowell and the incisive compulsions of Chuck Palahniuk, D'Agata immerses himself in the looping knots of his story, from the vagaries of casino architecture and the dark politics of Vegas, to the Thematic Apperception Test and the Vegas suicide rate researchers claim that merely visiting the city increases the chances of having suicidal inclinations.
From a study of the nightmarish designs intended for Yucca, D'Agata focuses his considerable dexterity on "nuclear semiotics," the highly subjective theory of figuring out which words, colors and images to use to deter the curious of the future from disturbing nuclear waste sites. Not once in About a Mountain does the author attempt anything as conventional as a narrative, or for that matter, anything resembling a formulaic chronology: His story could have occurred over the course of a week or several years.
Often archaic and misleading, it is never boring or incomprehensible. With chapters journalistically titled "Who," "What," "When," "Where," "Why" and "How," D'Agata gives an account of his time volunteering with the Las Vegas Suicide Prevention Center after which he becomes obsessed with the suicide of year-old Levi Presley , the biological necessity and approaching extinction of screaming, the frightening diary entries of Edvard Munch, "The Scream" in modern advertising, the fear and trembling inherent in all the great works of art, and the ultimate astrobiological fate of the universe.
At the conclusion of this page denial of our future, D'Agata gets at the nucleus of his investigations: I think that what I believe is that the mountain is where we are, it's what we now have come to—a place that we have studied more thoroughly at this point than any other parcel of land in the world—and yet still it remains unknown, revealing only the fragility of our capacity to know.
Its humor is buried in noncommittal narration—as dry and inhuman as the region it explores. D'Agata creates a disruptive, unemotional mood, imbues it with real or artificial meaning, then fades out and into another fascinating whim. It is one circuitous digression after another, as though the author is taking every passing thought remotely connected to Yucca and attempting to statistically prove why each is important while still remaining unconvinced.
No answers are given, few questions beforehand asked. One considerable disadvantage is his tendency to make the obvious into something impenetrable in order to instill much of his material with nonexistent significance. D'Agata is a master of juxtaposing curiously ironic statistics with the deeply miserable.
See a Problem?
About a Mountain is a virtuosic display that, like many postmodern attempts, only occasionally relegates itself to inanity. Starting early in his career D'Agata has injected prose poetry into lackluster topics, going far beyond simply illuminating his subjects to a disassembling of the craft of writing itself. He is more technician than writer, and his book is high-end collage rather than lyrical essay.
Sometimes the artistic drive hinders the facts, as in D'Agata's statement that the year-old boy's suicide coincided with the final Senate vote on Yucca, only to add a disclaimer that he embellished the dates of the two events for reasons of continuity. But at its best, About a Mountain is not really about a mountain. Mostly, it is about the form of the essay as though its subjects were set to random on an iTunes playlist; poetry charged with a slightly frightening dud of dynamite.
Everyone to whom I've summarized the book responds, "That sounds like a great novel," and it says something essential about D'Agata's method that when I tell them it is a nonfictional essay, they still insist that it sounds like a great novel. Jan 11, John Vanderslice rated it it was amazing. This is a brilliant book. I don't like to throw a term like that around too easily but this book blew me away.
On the surface, it's a book about the controversy surrounding the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste depository, but it ends up being about so so much more. No surprise that D'Agata is a fan of the lyric essay--and also that he started out as a poet--because this book is as much prose poetry as it is investigative reporting. Don't get me wrong. It has plenty of investigation in it. In fact, D This is a brilliant book. In fact, D'Agata obviously did a mammoth amount of research for this book, consulting a veritable army of experts of all kinds, from linguists to nuclear scientists to authorities on suicide to private investigators to Las Vegas PR people and everyone in between.
He read extensively and quotes extensively. But what's more important to the book is how organic a structure it employs. He researches one subject and then allows that subject to naturally lead to another. He lets life events lead from one subject to another. After all, he only discovers the Yucca mountain subject because he and his mother move to Las Vegas, a life event with which he opens the book. And then he pursues that next subject to the hilt, even if it means getting very far away from the immediate subject of Yucca mountain.
For some readers, I imagine, this could make the book quite maddening. But I loved it. I think it's a tour de force of creative nonfiction. One of the best written, most exacting, and most haunting books I've read in some time. It isn't bad, it really isn't. In a way I enjoy hearing about the history of Las Vegas, the signs, the buildings, and the people who live there.
I find the controversy of nuclear waste intriguing and it certainly makes me think about how far mankind will go to ignore the problems that they themselves created. Yet I still can't bring myself to consider it a good read, or one I would consider making again. I am still reading it and by no means is it a chore to finish reading, but I already plan to cycle this book out of my library.
To sum my thoughts up simply and honestly The history is interesting. The controversy is interesting. The book is not. John D'Agata is not. As another reviewer, Jess, stated: D'Agata or the work he did before writing this book, but I just didn't find this book to be extraordinary in its content or writing style. View all 7 comments. Jun 11, Mazola1 rated it liked it. About A Mountain is quirky little book. Exactly what ties these things together is never made entirely clear, but half the fun of reading About A Mountain is pondering that enigmatic mystery.
My own answer is that the three elements are tied together by a sense of unreality, futility and sadness. Las Vegas is no doubt the most unreal city in America, a glitzy metropolis built on previously barren desert sands. Once home to nothing more than jackrabbits and snakes, it's now a megacity, complete with luxury hotels and gourmet restaurants run by every celebrity chef worth the name.
But most of Las Vegas is simply a cunning deception, an artful facade marked by a fake Eiffel Tower, a fake St. Mark's Square, a fake Empire State Building, a fake volcano, a fake pyramid. There's no shortage of places to spend money and have fun, and no shortage of places to lose money and to despair. The Stratosphere is a fine symbol of the futility of trying to come out ahead in this city of dreams and nightmares. Isolated from the main action, it soars above the city and desert sands. The view is spectacular, but the hotel feels lonely and sad, like the failing venture it is.
Perhaps that's why a lonely teenager chose this place to end his life by taking the elevator to the top and jumping off. And then there's the mountain of the title, Yucca Mountain, the proposed and controversial nuclear waste dump. The juxtaposition of the thoroughly cosmopolitan city that is Las Vegas with Yucca Mountain, where tons of nuclear waste would be stored, is odd and jarring.
Las Vegas is an alive place -- a city that buzzes with energy -- the megawattage lights, the unending gambling, the casinos that never close. And Yucca Mountain, if it is ever completed, would be a dead place -- an eternal tomb for nuclear waste, that highly toxic spent material left over after all the energy has been extracted from nuclear fuel. Yucca Mountain is probably never going to be completed.
What fills one with sadness and despair is not that politicians proposed it, but that the nuclear waste that would have been consigned there continues to be generated and stored haphazardly who knows where. About A Mountain puts a spotlight on this ugly problem of the nuclear age. Right now, there's really no good place to put the stuff. At times, I have also changed subjects' names or combined a number of subjects into a single composite 'character. Them's fighting words for those who take a hard line on invention in nonfiction, but the offhand genius of "About a Mountain" is that it renders the whole issue moot.
By the time we get to D'Agata's admission, we've already given ourselves over to his subtle brand of experimentalism -- a fluid mix of reportage and conjecture -- with the personal, political and philosophical interwoven like overlapping roller coaster tracks. It is also a book that seeks to tell us a little something about time and understanding, even as it admits that these concepts are too big, too amorphous, for us to wrap our minds around. This is what, at its best, contemporary narrative nonfiction aspires to, a story that, like the novel, operates on many levels at once.
And in "About a Mountain," D'Agata has found a nearly perfect nexus to investigate our post-millennial concerns.
Book review: 'About a Mountain' by John D'Agata
Beginning with a bit of personal history -- he came to Las Vegas to help his mother move there -- the book quickly shifts focus, detailing the battle over nuclear waste disposal at Yucca Mountain while questioning whether such containment even can be safely accomplished. The concept behind Yucca, 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas, is to create a secure repository where waste will be stored for 10, years.
The problem, however, is that 10, years is a number more arbitrary than not. The very notion of 10, years, then, is a leap of faith, a kind of temporal metaphor. Metaphor, as it turns out, is what D'Agata is after, and after he gets going he finds it everywhere. It emerges in the fact that Las Vegas, which is supposedly all about illusion, has the highest suicide rate in the United States, a statistic almost no official will discuss because of the negative image it portrays.
It emerges in the atomic history of the region, where nuclear tests were once viewed from resort hotels.