Monday, September 25, 2006


by Kurt Vonnegut

Billy Pilgrim, fatalistic ex-soldier injured in a plane accident, psychologically scarred in the Dresden bombing, gets “unstuck in time” and flickers back and forth through all points of his own past, present and future – which include a stay on the planet Tralfamadore. Or, he may be a nut; he lived through the firebombing of Dresden, and it scarred him.

Based loosely on Vonnegut’s own experiences, this is a remarkable book, both for its detached wisdom in discussing the Dresden massacre, and for its fantastic, careening imagination.  Though I wonder how useful Vonnegut’s meta- textual self-commentary is – a typical moment is when he stops his narrative to explain the epigraph of his book – Vonnegut is clearly a philosopher and a great writer with an eye for catchy phrases and scenes (“fizzing with rabies;” “among the things he could not change were the past, the present and the future;” “so it goes”).  A wonderful testament to the absurdity of human existence.  So it goes.

[read twice]

five stars

Friday, September 22, 2006

Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Technology

by Eric Brende

The author, a graduate of Yale and MIT, moved with his newlywed wife to an Amish-like community (that he calls “Minimites”) and lived for eighteen months with no electricity or running water.  They plowed their field and grew and sold crops, helped the Minimites (but much less than they got help from the community, of course), and learned about themselves.

Brende has written a fairly interesting book about the experience.  As Jon Krakauer said in a blurb, he certainly does not come off as a “sanctimonious scold,” which would be boring.  Instead, he quietly asks a series of questions about how we use technology and how technology takes from us (in terms of time, money and social skills).  He argues that technology is a not a tool, but a sort of organism, because it grows and uses fuel, and therefore we should be wary that it can be a drain on us, or worse, a competition with human endeavor.  I liked Brende’s conclusions on labor, on how in its pure state it frees the mind and shapes the body and promotes socialization; in fact, the work was less strenuous than he’d feared it would be, and they had what he calls a lot of leisure time.  It’s certainly an interesting line of thought, and Brende lives it, because despite his education he works as a buggy driver and soap maker. 

four stars