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Asked why he decided to turn his lens on Miami, New Journalism pioneer and white-suit aficionado Tom Wolfe said it all came down to that steamy Magic City libido.
Wolfe might be right — and his massive new tome, Back to Blood, certainly has its share of orgies — but this week is the one time a year Miami-Dade trades its stereotypical skimpy swimsuits for studious bifocals as the Miami Book Fair International rolls into town.
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"The beauty of the fair is we've never done it thematically, because we just wait to see who has books coming out," says Mitchell Kaplan, Books & Books owner and the fair's organizer. "Fortunately, postelection, we do have a number of people who can speak to the effects of this campaign, from Bill O'Reilly to Jeffrey Toobin to Chris Hayes... to Wolfe, who's never shied away from a political opinion."
Two of the biggest names at the fair — Wolfe and Junot Díaz — kicked off the week with appearances last Sunday and Monday, and hundreds of other authors will descend on Miami Dade College's Wolfson Campus (NE Second Avenue and Fourth Street) for this weekend's Street Fair. Unless noted otherwise, each author will appear at the Chapman Conference Center, Building 3, Second Floor, Room 3210.
While Tom Wolfe's novel is obsessed with the idea of Miami as an untamed American jungle, Scott Wallace's The Unconquered is about the real thing: wilderness in all its sublime, terrifying splendor.
The book's subtitle, In Search of the Amazon's Last Uncontacted Tribes, says it all. Wallace, a journalist who covered Central America's civil wars in the '80s, spent three months shadowing a scientific expedition through the remotest regions of the Brazilian Amazon. The group's paradoxical goal: to chart the territory of the fleicheros — or "People of the Arrow" — without actually making contact, lest their germs decimate the tribe.
There was also plenty of danger during the expedition. "What made this experience so intense was the fact that we weren't necessarily at the top of the food chain," Wallace says. There were anacondas and jaguars lurking in the dense rainforest, but the fleicheros themselves could be equally deadly with their curare-tipped arrows. "We were intruding on their land," he says. "They would have no reason to see us as anything other than hostile intruders bent on their extermination."
That threat is sadly all too real. Many of the expedition's guides came from indigenous tribes that were wiped out after contact with outsiders. The thin line between discovery and destruction runs through Unconquered like a narrow jungle trail. Wallace's reporting revolves around Sydney Possuelo, a hirsute, wild-eyed Brazilian explorer and ethnographer who has taken it upon himself to learn as much as possible about remote tribes without killing them.
This remarkable book evokes other famous expeditions, not least of them Edgar Rice Burroughs's The Land That Time Forgot. Wallace is the first to admit he lived out "every boy's dream" by exploring the Amazon. "I love the notion that at the dawn of the third millennium, there are still groups wandering the forest and the names of their tribes are unknown to us," he says. "These are the last holdouts to the global village. They are not participating in our journey. They don't know what America is or Christopher Columbus or Jesus Christ. None of our history has any bearing on their lives — and that's amazing." (Sunday, November 18, 4 p.m., free) — Michael E. Miller
Naomi Wolf has spent her career defending women from their destructive culture — from 1991's The Beauty Myth, an assault on women's poisonous physical expectations, to Misconceptions, a feminist examination of pregnancy and childbirth. Her latest work fights for the very thing that defines femininity: the vagina.
Borne from Wolf's medical quest to regain her sexual vitality, Vagina is a look at the science of ladyparts — and how that science affects society at large. Crazy-awesome, mind-blowing orgasms have physical and mental effects that reach far beyond the bedroom, she argues.
"A lot of women have talked to me about... the connection between [orgasms] and other kinds of energy — creativity and positive feelings," she explains.
Vagina is filled with stories about women who overcome depression, perform better at their jobs, and even discover new talents when their sex lives are particularly frisky. And an absence of orgasms can have the opposite effect too, Wolf says.
"We deride and degrade the vagina in this culture, but if it's a medium [to release] all of these powerful, positive neurotransmitters, maybe we shouldn't dismiss it so quickly."
The trouble is, the conditions for great sex are tough to come by for women (no pun intended). Earlier generations of well-meaning feminists insisted on sexual equality, leading to what Wolf describes as a harmful expectation that "women should fuck like men."
Vagina presents statistics indicating that women physically need romance, respect, and relaxation to get off. These days, those things are "dismissed as foreplay — 'oh, that's not important, that's what you have to do to get to the real thing,'" Wolf laments.