Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Joshua Davis

Joshua Davis' writing has appeared in GQ, Wired, Outside, Mens Health and Food & Wine, and has been anthologized in the 2006 and 2007 editions of The Best Technology Writing as well as the 2007 edition of Best American Science Writing.

In April of 2003, he snuck into Iraq to cover the war for Wired and later that year became a contributing editor for the magazine.

In 2005, Random House published his first book, The Underdog - a recounting of Davis' armwrestling, bullfighting, sumo, sauna and backward running adventures.

Last week I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
At the beginning of the summer, I started reading The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes. It's slow but fascinating, largely because it reveals what a fundamentally creative pursuit science is. These guys would come up with an idea about what a molecule looks like and build a machine from scratch to test that idea. I just find that really exciting - it makes me want to come up with some ideas about how the universe works and build a giant machine in my backyard. I don't think I'd be able to get any uranium at this point but that's just the type of practical hurdles these guys jumped every day. Looking out my window now, I see piles of dog shit, a rake and a couple of rat traps. I'm sure that's the beginning of something.

Unfortunately, as I started packing for our Caribbean vacation, my wife off-handedly said that a 1000-page book on atomic science would make me look like a complete dork on the beach. She mentioned something about French romeos wandering the shores in speedos and did I really want to spend all my time huddled under the beach umbrella on my own personal geek-a-pollza trip?

It was a dirty, sly ploy because her ultimate goal wasn't to make me jealous - she just didn't want to find herself stuck with the carry-on containing a book that big.

She also knew that I have a habit of bringing a whole stack of books with me whenever I travel. The problem is that I never know exactly what I'll be in the mood to read when I get where I'm going. So much depends of the weather, the size of the hotel room and other intangibles. If the room is small and the weather oppressively muggy, I need something light and distracting like Steve Martin's memoir Born Standing Up. If the room is big, the view wonderful and the air-conditioning effective, I can handle something more adventurous like Ryszard Kapuscinski's description of the Iranian revolution in Shah of Shahs.

I loaded those books into the bag but hesitated with The Making of the Atomic Bomb. My wife walked by the door dangling one of my old speedos and I decided to leave the big book behind. Still, I announced that, in retribution for her total underhandedness, I was going to the bookstore to buy MORE BOOKS which I reserved the right to bring on vacation to make up for the loss.

At the bookstore, Patrick O’Brian’s Master and Commander caught my eye in the window; ­ it was wedged in amongst pirate books. I guess O’Brian’s tale of 18th century British naval warfare was close enough. I had recently written about a group of guys who save sinking ships for a living and a good naval yarn seemed like just the thing for me. It was light enough to mollify my wife, manly enough to read in the midst of the tanned, speedo-clad lotharios, and, last but not least, it was something I was actually interested in reading.

I burned through it and am now a total addict. I’ve read the first 4 out of the 21 book series and when I finish a book, I go to great lengths to buy the next one immediately. If I was smart and listened to my wife, I would order them all and have them standing by. But I guess I’m not that smart. I like feeling the burning need to go out and buy then next book. Yesterday, I even scheduled a business meeting at a Borders just so I could be sure and have the fifth book by nightfall.

Despite the logistics and scheduling problems I’m creating by insisting on urgent trips to bookstores, my wife is happy. I know exactly what I’ll be reading for the next year - the 16 remaining books in the series. It means I don’t have to bring more than one or two books with me when we travel. Plus, they’re lightweight paperbacks. The marriage is in a good place.
Visit Joshua Davis' website.

--Marshal Zeringue