It’s Ideas Day here at Taking it to the Streets
A 264 page Socratic dialogue about saving the earth and the teacher is a gorilla? And Diane says “Read it!” – say, what?
My local Borders store is one of the ones they closed so I was in there trying to nab some bargains. I wanted to reread Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse and found I had given my copy away – so that’s what I was after. The young man who showed me where they hid fiction there said he had always wanted to read Hesse. I told him Hesse is PERFECT for young people and that his best book, by far, is Siddhartha. So we struck up an easy camraderie around books. I had worked in a bookstore when I was in my 20s and somedays I still AM that person, albeit cleverly disguised as an aging hippie.
So the young man told me about HIS favorite book, Ishmael, by Daniel Quinn. that’s when he told me the gorilla part, apologetically, as, I suppose, I should be with you. He told me that that really doesn’t get in the way and that the book was really fantastic and inspired him still. On his enthusiasm alone, I bought the book and this past week I read it. And wow! I’m glad I did.
I asked the other day on Facebook if “Socratic, didactic” was a redundant phrase and my friend Sean and I came to the same conclusion – a work that is Socratic is, perforce, didactic. But one could have a work that is didactic, but not Socratic. This book is both. The back cover uses the beginning of the story as a hook: “Teacher seeks pupil. Must have an earnest desire to save the world. Apply in person.”
And earnest is a good word to use in regard to this whole book. Both Ishmael and the unnamed hero are earnest, each in their way. And Daniel Quinn surely is. Since I too am earnest about saving the world from the perils created by our modern way of life, this suits me fine, but others may find the preachiness and earnestness too much.
Besides tieing in with my interest in sustainability and the importance of simple living, the book also hit a chord with my philosophical bent. It touched on some ideas about the Bible that I must say have never ever crossed my mind. Since I want you to read this book and for me those ideas were the most surprising parts of the reading experience, I’m not going to say more, other than it has really given me some new viewpoints.
As one who believes that we are all one and by WE, I don’t just mean white humans living in North America and Western, but all humans, animals and plants (I do limit my ‘all onenness” to sentient beings, so maybe that is my little prejudice), this book rang very true. I guess that’s why a gorilla is involved – as a spokesperson for all that humankind is so blithely, unthinkingly destroying.
The timing is good for me. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my impact on the world and have noticed that I’ve been loathe to cut across lawns to get where I’m going, not wishing to tread unecessarily on the grass. Even I find that odd and a bit too precious, but it has been a strong internal dictum this spring. So I listen.
Though this super easy to read novel and Judith Schor’s academically-tinged Plenitude would seem to not have much in common, I think they both evince a “middle way”. I think the Conservative reply to Progressives call for change in response to environmental meltdown is that we’ll all be living in caves like Osama bin Laden – a world with not only no Starbucks or Internet but maybe not even houses or food or jobs – “it will be awful!”
And the Progressives say “Ya, just drive your Hummers and watch the whole world turn into one huge earthquake-tsunami-Gulf Oil spill…” – oh, wait. We have that now.
But both Plenitude and Ishmael say we CAN have a saner life for the whole planet without living like monks. Unless it’s the kind of monks who have gardens, raise chickens and bees and hang out with friends and chant and sing. Oh, that sounds like the life I’m moving towards!
So I have to say, I found the gorilla part a bit too precious, really I did. I think it would have amused me more when I was the hippie bookseller, not the aging hippie talking to the cool-dude bookseller. But the points Quinn makes are valid, it’s well-presented, and very thought-provoking.
And hey, if you’re WAY into it, he’s got a whole online community happening.
And I think Ishmael was right – we’re running out of time. So have a read, think about the world you are helping to sustain and the role you want to play in it. Definitely a thought-provoking book!
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