July 22, 2000 ~ Books
I keep forgetting to write an update of what I have been reading.
I finished Starhawk's The Fifth Sacred Thing quite some time ago. Everyone should read this book. Wow. If I ever get the reviews section of this site up, this book will be featured prominently.
The book is set around 2050 A.D. Due to environmental devastation, there has been a societal collapse. Toxin levels are so high that swimming in the ocean can kill you. All of the global networks have been disbanded. The plot centers on a group of people who have set up a new city in San Francisco. They have managed to purify their waters, plant gardens and orchards, and have started to return the ecosystem back to something like it was before all of the environmental damage struck. They have developed new technologies, and they have found alternatives to all of the environmentally devastating practices of the past (our present). It is a sort of utopian community, with every culture, language, and religion represented. One's job, in this community, is whatever one has a talent for and is passionate about.
In the Southlands, however, trouble has been lurking. The Stewards have gained control of everything. The Stewards merely want power, money, and resources, but they rule by a religious code that is basically a very twisted and corrupt version of extreme fundamentalist Christianity. The Stewards have decided to reclaim San Francisco. The city learns of this, but they have spent all of their time and resources on things that would bring health to the community (water, food, shelter, and medical care to anyone who needs it). They have absolutely no weapons. What can they do?
This is a brilliant story which illustrates the price and the pain, but also the logic and compassion, of non-violent resistance. Starhawk does not cheat her reader by showing only the good side of non-violence. She also shows the bad side. She shows how it can't always work. She shows how in the wrong culture, it doesn't fit.
The only complaint I had about this book was that it was set in the future. By doing this, Starhawk was able to set up her story to work perfectly with the philosophy of non-violence. It was very convenient for her to have removed the threat of an air attack, with missiles and nuclear weapons. In this futuristic society, there are not the resources for such weapons. Her book may have been more powerful (towards illustrating her point of non-violent resistance) if she had set it in modern times, against the odds that a modern person would have. Air strikes and nuclear weapons make the idea of non-violent resistance much more difficult to achieve.
Overall, however, this is one of the most interesting books that I have ever read. The characters are very complex, and the plot is well carried out. Starhawk is a very talented author, with a gift for description and character interaction. These characters are very real, and not one-sided at all.
Aside from The Fifth Sacred Thing, I read Girl, Interrupted, by Susanna Kaysen. It was a good book, and I would certainly recommend it. It probably won't end up on my "favorite books" list, however, for it wasn't quite that good. It is a true story of the author's stay in a mental institution in the sixties. This was an excellent book for a quick read. The chapters are short and to the point. Each gives you a snapshot of a situation in the hospital. I think the reason the book is so chilling is because you are left thinking at maybe anyone could be just as easily locked up. Kaysen stretches your definitions of "sanity," and leaves you wondering exactly how sane you really are.
I have been poking very slowly through both Victor Hugo's Les Miserables and Thoreau's Walden: or, Life in the Woods. Both are the type of books that I read some and then put them down and read something else for a while, though. It will be some time before I get through them. I am also reading The Well of Loneliness, by Radcliff Hall. The first time I read it was for a class, and I could only skim it due to lack of time, so, this time, I am enjoying it. I'll write more when I finish it.
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