Monday, March 30, 2015

Water Bears

I'm so proud and excited about this new game we just released! Water Bears started out as Project GameGrid at the ETC, where it was funded by a grant from the MacArthur Foundation to create a systems thinking game. The student team worked with Kylie Peppler at Indiana University to create a pretty great prototype, that we were all pretty happy with. However, at the end of the semester, due to visa issues, the student team was unable to take it further. I was bummed to see such a promising game not get finished, so after the student team graduated, Schell Games made a deal with the students to acquire the game from them (it is ETC policy to let the students own their work). I had the idea that it could be both an educational game, but also a casual puzzle game, because it is so much fun! And we did just that. Under the able direction of Jason Pratt, and with a phenomenal team working on it, we turned it into Water Bears, and have released two different versions. First, the consumer edition, available for iPad in the appstore, but also the GlassLab edition which is integrated into the GlassLab system, which sells apps into schools. If you are a teacher who wants to use games in the classroom, you should definitely check that out. We'll see how this "dual app" strategy works -- but we are all really proud of how the game turned out. It's simple, colorful, and fun! And I hope it does well, because we have a ton of ideas for Water Bears 2!

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Emerson's Essays

I read these, bit by bit, on Sunday mornings and other lazy days, over a period of a year or so. There is something about Emerson that makes him wonderful to begin the day with -- I think because his work brims over with hope and power and possibility. Some call him America's first philosopher, and he certainly embodies the spirit of American independence. For years I have admired the many Emerson quotes I would run into here and there -- and so I was very much looking forward to reading this collection of his essays. In some ways, they were a bit disappointing, however. His writing is not exactly clear and lucid, and there are times I am not sure at all what he is talking about. He certainly seems quite sure of himself, but I would sometimes read a passage three times, only to have to give up on it. The structure, such as it is, of his essays is peculiar as well -- often more meandering, than anything else. But it is all worth it for the many wise epigrams that turn up on almost every page. It is easy for me to see how much Elbert Hubbard was influenced by Emerson, and much of my writing has been influenced by Hubbard, especially in those places that Hubbard was at his most Emersonian. I was very flattered when Bruce Sterling wrote a book review of Art of Game Design where he describes the book as "Emersonian in its cheery disorganization." Because, yes, Emerson's work is crazy and disorganized -- but he simply doesn't care, because is doing his best, and in his heart, he is sure he is doing God's work. And that's about the best any of us can do, I think.

I'd comment on the individual essays, but really, they all kind of run together in my mind. I generally found I was disappointed by the ones I looked forward to, like "Reality," but the ones I dreaded, like "New England Reformers," were full of insights. Generally, though, it isn't facts, or arguments that come through in these essays, it is a certain spirit, and I am glad that I have this well to return to again and again when I need more of that Emersonian spirit, for it is the spirit when I am at my best self. Here is a collection of thirty quotes I took from these essays.

  1. Write in your heart that every day is the best day of the year.
  2. What you do speaks so loud, I cannot hear what you say.
  3. Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.
  4. The soul is light; where it is, is day; where it was, is night.
  5. When we can read God directly, the hour is too precious to be wasted in other men’s transcripts of their readings.
  6. Let the stoics say what they please, we do not eat for the good of living, but because the meat is savory and the appetite is keen.
  7. This time, like all times, is a very good one, if we but know what to do with it.
  8. Nothing arbitrary, nothing artificial, can endure.
  9. A man is what he thinks about all day long.
  10. Jesus and Shakespeare are fragments of the soul, and by love I conquer them and incorporate them in my own conscious domain.
  11. Every burned book enlightens the world.
  12. He who is not everyday conquering some fear has not learned the secret of life.
  13. What your heart thinks is great, is great. The soul’s emphasis is always right.
  14. Accept your genius, and say what you think.
  15. What we do not call education is more precious than that which we call so.
  16. The less a man thinks or knows about his virtues, the better we like him.
  17. It is strange how painful is the actual world – the painful kingdom of time and place.
  18. Each man sees over his own experience a certain slime of error, whilst that of other men looks fair and ideal.
  19. Ideas must work through the brains and the arms of good and brave men, or they are no better than dreams.
  20. An institution is the lengthened shadow of one man.
  21. Better to be a nettle in the side of your friend than his echo.
  22. The condition which high friendship demands, is, the ability to do without it.
  23. Life is a festival only to the wise.
  24. New arts destroy the old.
  25. The length of the discourse indicates the distance of thought betwixt the speaker and the hearer.
  26. Beware when the great God lets loose a thinker on this planet.
  27. Our moods do not believe in each other.
  28. Beauty without expression is boring.
  29. So now you must labor with your brains, and now you must forbear your activity, and see what the great Soul showeth.
  30. Every artist was first an amateur.
Would that I could be full of Emersonian boldness all the time! On the other hand, "Moderation in all things, especially moderation." Or is that the same hand? Despite what Stevenson had to say, It is clear to me that my book might not exist had Emerson not done his great work. When we think and write, and do so boldly, we influence others in ways that alters the universe into the future for all eternity. That, simply put, may be Emerson's central message: What we do is important. 

Saturday, March 28, 2015


Yeah, Rack-o! This is a deceptively simple game with a surprising amount of difficult decision making. Your goal is straightforward... dealt ten cards with various numbers on them from 1 to 60, your goal is to get them in order. BUT -- you aren't allowed to sort them! They must stay locked in place in their rack! So... how can you sort them? Well, on your turn, you are given a new number card, and you can decide to swap it out for one of your existing cards. Players take turns doing this, and the first one to get a set of ten cards in order wins. There are a surprising amount of decisions in this simple game...

1) Should I take the face up card (the devil I know) or draw a card (a mystery)?
2) Where should I insert the new card? Should I focus on eliminating cards badly out of order, or on expanding the gaps between numbers?
3) There are bonuses given for getting consecutive runs (34, 35, 36, etc.). Should I take the risk of trying to create runs? Or just be the first to call rack-o?
4) If I don't get rack-o, I still get points, based on how many cards, starting at my lowest, are in order. Should I prioritize getting my lower cards in order first?

It isn't the game of the century, exactly, but it does take a lot of thinking (though, not too much), and the bonus system makes for some exciting upsets. It's a simple, solid, well-designed game. I wish I knew who the inventor was -- he or she certainly had an eye for elegant design.

Friday, March 27, 2015

84, Charing Cross Road

You probably know that I love books. 84, Charing Cross Road is not a novel, but rather a real-life collection of correspondence between Helene Hanff and the staff of a London bookseller. It is charming, and touching, and very, very much about the love of books. So... if you love this, or this, or this place, you will want to check out this short and delightful read. It got me reading Latin again!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Giver

Good Lord. I knew that this is what the young people were reading in school nowadays, and I wondered quite a bit what it was about. I had NO IDEA. If the kids are actually reading this, everything is going to be fine. My favorite English teacher, Henry Brady, used to have us read Brave New World, trying to get the same effect, but it was too enmeshed in the adult world, and was too dated to make much sense to most students. But this is something else again. Its fundamental premise is that left unchecked, society will ultimately rob us of our humanity. It is thoughtful, deep, multilayered, imaginative, elegant, bold, and deserving of its many accolades. Ron Rifkin makes a passable reader for the audiobook, but the director of this should be ashamed of himself. Terrible synthesizer music at the same frequency as Rifkin's voice pops up at various key points in the book and basically ruins them.

I guess I should read the sequels. Thanks, Lois Lowry, for protecting us from ourselves!

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Mikado

When I was young, I became quite obsessed with Gilbert and Sullivan. It came via my father, I think, who took us to see the (surprisingly excellent) performances at the local college. He also had recordings of the big three, Pinafore, Mikado, and Pirates, with lyric sheets, and an interesting annotated book that contained text from all the plays. The summer after sixth grade, I remember, I worked every day to learn the complete lyrics of the Major General song, and I worked away with a dictionary to learn what every word of it meant. But somehow, the Mikado ended up being my favorite. I think most of all, I liked the irony of it -- the layers and layers of irony. The whole premise of it is that everyone is so serious they cannot see how ridiculous they are. And perhaps that is the message of the play? Ofttimes the reason for a huge amount of seriousness is to cover up how ridiculous a thing is, perhaps? Everyone in it knows they are a character, going through the motions, but it is all they have, so it is what they do. Anyway, it is certainly my favorite of the plays. It keeps moving, and every song is a delight. So, when the Pittsburgh Savoyards (yes, that's a thing, now in their 77th season) offered a performance just minutes from my house, it was hard to stay away.

And they had a lot of fun with it! They always have a mix of players, some more and some less professional, but this cast had a some wonderful performances and singers. The overall choreography was a little clownish for my taste (again, I like irony of the show, which I think comes through more strongly with more serious choreography and blocking), but it was all very pleasing, and wonderful fun. The songs, the rhymes, the logic puzzles, the wistfulness, the decapitation jokes, the second trombone, I think I will never tire of this show. I think these four lines sum it up best...
To sit in solemn silence in a dull, dark dock,  
In a pestilential prison, with a life-long lock, 
Awaiting the sensation of a short, sharp shock, 
From a cheap and chippy chopper on a big black block!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Divergent Series: Insurgent

So far, this wins for most awkward movie title of the year. I guess the title so long since "Divergent: Insurgent" sounds like a joke, or maybe a Bob Dylan song. Anyway, I didn't set out to see this, but my daughter was into it, as she read and enjoyed the books, and also the first movie. I went in knowing not much more than to expect something like Hunger Games with Standardized Testing, and I had super low expectations. For the first half of the movie, my low expectations were met. Whether this was because I had no connection with the characters or because it was such a lot of corny nonsense, I'm not sure. Probably both. About halfway through, the movie started to win me over with a bizarre fight scene on a double-wide train. Not that the fight scene was very good (it was kind of silly and baffling, honestly), but because my mind was fascinated with the notion of a double wide train. See, there are four rails, and the engine, in the front, rides right up the middle, on rails 2 and 3, pulling two sets of freight cars on rails 1 and 2 & 3 and 4 respectively. I kept wondering.... could this work? Are there no trains going the other way? What would happen if this weird system went around a curve? Maybe I'm obsessed because I helped make this. Anyway, uh, after that, they finally started getting into the VR thing that is apparently the hallmark of this series. See, you plug a bunch of air hoses into your back, and, uh, somehow you float around and play videogames in your head. For reasons that are unclear, these mental videogames can kill you. Tris, our hero, spends a huge amount of the movie in fistfights, falling down stairs, etc., and never gets a scratch, and her makeup never smudges. But, man, when she plays a videogame, blood comes out her nose, her ears, all over the place. Anyway, the first half of this thing bored, me, but he second have interested me mainly because I like visualizations of futuristic videogames. And weird trains! So, uh, if you like those things, uh, maybe you'll like this?

Oh! I almost forgot. This movie is more evidence that young people are preparing for some kind of revolution. I don't think they know what kind yet... but they know one is coming. This article explains further.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

An Apology For Idlers

I have many books from the Penguin "Great Ideas" series, but this one, by Robert Louis Stevenson, with its clever cover, is the first I've read all the way through. This volume is really a collection of Stevenson's essays using the old trick of using the best essay, with the most intriguing title, as the title for the whole volume. Other, longer, duller essays are included as well, about topics as preparing for life as a painter, love, old age, and some travelogue pieces about Stevenson's life in California. The wisest statement from these last regarded the nature of land ownership in California: "...the Americans had been greedy like designing men, and the Mexicans greedy like children..." I think there is rather a lot in that bold statement.

But the main essay is the most interesting, I think, even though it is quite short. In it, he makes many arguments in favor of idleness. It is some of our most pleasurable time, and most memorable time. Time spent in self-reflection is generally more educational than time spent in lecture. Further, he rails against busyness as overrated, and unnecessary.
And what, in God's name, is all this pother about? For what cause do they embitter their own adn other people's lives? That a man should publish three or thirty articles a year, that he should finish or not finish his great allegorical picture, are questions of little interest to the world. The ranks of life are full; and although a thousand fall, there are always some to go into the breach. When they told Joan of Arc she should be at home minding women's work, she answered there were plenty to spin and wash. And so, even with your own rare gifts! When nature is 'so careless of the single life', why should we coddle ourselves into the fancy that our own is of exceptional importance? Suppose Shakespeare had been knocked on the head some dark night in Sir Thomas Lucy's preserves, the world would have wagged on better or worse, the pitcher gone to the well, the scythe to the corn, and the student to his book; and no one been any wiser of the loss... This is a sobering reflection for the proudest of our earthly vanities.
This is a deep and provocative statement, calling into question what really matters. Conventional wisdom is that grinding away at "important work" means either safeguarding yourself and family, or doing work that helps the world, now and in the future. This question resonates with me quite a bit, because I am constantly up against this dilemma. Am I wiser to relax and take pleasure now, or fuss and fret about my work so that I'm better off in future? I constantly run into situations where I am overwhelmed with responsibility, and wonder if I am making a mistake. At the same time, though, my hard work in the past (writing my book, preparing lectures, growing my studio) has done a great deal to secure my current situation. But on the other hand, in the last thirty years, I have not stopped working for more than a week at a time, and I have a lengthy wish list of things I would eagerly spend time on (books, games, solo projects, performances, etc.) if I somehow had time. I hear people tell me tales of how they retired, but then quickly became bored, having nothing to do... that boggles my imagination... I always have more and more things to do. I guess the central question in my life is one of obligation... walking away from my teaching or my studio would leave many people disappointed, not to mention how much it would scare my family. One day, not too far off, I hope to find a way to take a significant kind of sabbatical, where I do nothing but pursue my interests, perhaps do some writing, coding, crafting, or performing, but at my leisure, with no set deadlines. But how can that happen?

Since it's late, I may as well bring this up. More and more, I am becoming uncertain about the nature of time. I am not at all clear that it runs in a single direction, or that it is linear, or that it only happens once. I have a suspicion something far more complex is going on, that we have trouble seeing, due to the limited nature of our consciousness. It seems, more and more to me, that time is all of a piece, that we receive messages from the future all the time. As I've mentioned before, I often run into things that seem to have special significance, as if they are going to be important. I've learned to pay attention to these moments. Somehow, they seem to lead me to positive, successful situations, even though sometimes they can take a long time. And then, later, the magic seems to go out of them entirely, as if somehow, I know they are no longer useful. My Hohner Trumpet Call Harmonica was like that. As is the Atari 2600 game, "Room of Doom." I saw it in a magazine in 1984, and it seemed terribly important. It has seemed important all that time. I finally ordered it recently, and it sits here on my desk, ominously. I know that I will play it, when the time seems right, and somehow, something will come from that. It always sounds crazy to talk this way -- but I'm not rambling. The nature of time is central to Stevenson's thesis. Does our place in the future matter more than hedonism? Does the universe have a goal? If it does, is it in a hurry to carry it out? Does it matter if I help it reach that goal? I know I often feel like it does have a goal, and when I work hard, and fill my life with busyness, it is in a belief that I am helping it achieve that goal, as arrogant and egotistic as it sounds. I cannot hold, I think, with Stevenson's proclamation that Shakespeare didn't make a difference to the world -- he has done a great deal to shape the doings of humanity, and one suspects that somehow, he knew this... there is a weight in his work, a weight of responsibility, that suggests, no, implies, no SCREAMS that he knew about the tremendous responsibility that was upon him, that he was doing work that no other could do, work that would shape the world in intricate ways for thousands, if not millions of years. This point of view seems to argue against idleness. But does it? For extreme industry can lead one away from what is most important. If our most valuable tasks are to serve the universe, we will be unable to carry those out without listening to the universe, and we can only do this kind of listening in moments of idleness. All of this makes me realize that what I seek more than anything else is not a life of no industry, or no idleness, but rather a life of intense industry, and intense idleness, but free from obligation. For obligation to others promotes industry, and destroys idleness, and obligation to others makes one focus on doing the work that others need most, not the work that the universe needs most. But can I be brave enough to cast aside these obligations so that I might do the work the universe needs? This is exactly what Jesus talks about on the sermon on the mount, of course. Following your faith takes a lot of idleness, a lot of industry, and a lot of bravery.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Silas Marner

This is one of those books that everyone has heard of, but I'm not sure very many people have read. I think there was a time it was required reading for high school, or maybe junior high english students, but I think that time has passed. I read it as part of the Lexica reading challenge we are doing at Schell games. Lexica has approximately 400 books in it, and we are trying to see if collectively as a studio, we can read them all. No one in the studio signed up for Silas Marner, and I've always been a fan of George Eliot, so I went for it.
I can't say it is an excellent book. It is definitely a good book, but it has a kind of uneven feel, and the main character, an antisocial weaver who becomes a miser, and then, uh, stops being one, is a bit hard to relate to, and doesn't always seem completely believable. But for all the uneven parts, the strength of the book for me is the moments. It has fascinating and powerful moments. The attention to detail draws you in, and makes you feel like you are there. I'm realizing, now, as I write this that most of those moments are when characters are alone, and noticing things in their environment. And that is a really fascinating part of this book -- it is very much like a time machine. You get a really clear sense of what it would be like to be in a village tavern in the mid-1800s, or at a loom, or what cooking over a fireplace was like. How George Eliot (really a woman named Mary Ann Evans) had such insight into the world of men (taverns, the workplace, a private argument between brothers) is somewhat beyond me. She must have been an amazing listener.
I did enjoy it, it kept moving, and I'm glad I read it. It makes me want to go back and finish Adam Bede, and makes me look forward to Middlemarch, which people generally call her masterpiece.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Collected Shorter Poems 1927-1957

I found this book of W. H. Auden's poems in a cool bookstore/cafe in Edinburgh. It was one of those "recommended by the staff" books. It called to me, somehow. I didn't buy it at first, but after I left, I kept thinking about it, and returned the next day to buy it. I'd never really read Auden before. It's weird that it was in a Scottish bookshop, I guess, given that he's an English/American poet.

He's kind of a scary poet, honestly. He works very hard, and his hard work comes through. He makes it rhyme, dammit. Not that his poems feel forced -- rather, they feel like they are made out of hardened steel. And they are dark, too. Not that they revel in darkness, instead, they are bright and welcoming, but they always have an eye on the grave, and when it comes to facing it, have an unflinching quality. Here are some various quotes I saved as I went through the book.
Among the half dozen things for which a man of honor should be prepared, if necessary, to die, the right to play, the right to frivolity, is not the least. 
Each has his comic role in life to fill, though life be neither comic nor game. 
Love like matter is much odder than we thought. 
Any heaven we think it decent to enter must be Ptolemaic with ourselves at the center. 
Let us honor if we can / the vertical man / though we value none / but the horizontal one. 
I’m afraid there’s many a spectacled sod prefers the British Museum to God. 
O stand, stand at the window as the tears scaled and start; you shall love your crooked neighbor with your crooked heart. 
Clear, unscaleable ahead / rise the mountains of Instead / from whose cascading streams / none may drink except in dreams 
When I’m a veteran with only one eye / I shall do nothing but look at the sky.
 It was a pleasure getting to know Auden over this thirty year collection. The poems are sorted chronologically, so I really got a sense of his growth as a poet as I passed through his life. He is a sturdy companion I am sure I will visit with often.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Descartes: An Introduction

I always like reading philosophy, and I'd never read straight up Descartes before, so I thought I'd go for it with this interesting audiobook, assembled by Ross Burman. It contains readings of Descartes' six mediations, as well as his Principles of Philosophy. It was quite interesting to see how the Principles of Philosophy are, in a sense, better written versions of the Meditations. It makes me feel better about my own work, given that certain chapters of The Art of Game Design are better (I hope) written versions of earlier essays I'd published here and there.

Generally, I have to admit, I did not gain much insight from reading Descartes. Most of it is either well known (cogito ergo sum) or, well, kind of ridiculous. The idea that God must exist because:
1) The idea of perfection could not come from imperfect beings
2) God is perfect
3) Man is not perfect
4) Man possesses the idea of a perfect God
5) Therefore, the only way man could possess the idea of a perfect God is if it were given by a perfect God
... is well, kind of ridiculous. But the validity of Descartes' arguments isn't the point. The point is his bold and logical approach. Armed with nothing more than logic, he attacks the hardest questions we know. In some ways this is no different than Plato, but with a new level of formality. We give Plato a bit of a pass when his arguments are wooly... but we hold Descartes to greater scrutiny, because his formal logic demands greater scrutiny. Descartes' gift to us is not the arguments, but the frame that holds them. It is ironic, I suppose, that this very frame destroys most of his arguments, but that only proves the value of the frame.

The audiobook has two narrators -- Johnathan Oliver, who is the voice of Descartes, and Roy McMillan, who gives commentary and introduction to each section. McMillan can sometimes sound a bit like "The Book" in the The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which makes some passages especially amusing. (It is pretty clear to me that Douglas Adams must have done some reading of Descartes.) Here is my favorite passage, which seems almost straight out of Hitchhikers:
There are, however, criticisms of the ontological argument. I may be able to have the idea of a perfect cheese sandwich, but it does not necessarily follow that such a sandwich exists. Existence is not a property. By giving the property of existence to God, we presuppose that God exists. But, anyway, rather like Descartes, I digress.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Wisdom from The World According to Mister Rogers

This is a cute miniature version of a larger collection of Fred Rogers quotes. I recieved it as a gift the night that the Fred Rogers Company won Pittsburgher of the Year.

Some really interesting ones were quotes from others that Fred really liked:
You aren't just the age you are. You are all the ages you have ever been! --Kenneth Koch
 Be patient towards all that is unsolved in your heart, and learn to love the questions themselves. --Rainer Maria Rilke
But most of them were wisdom from Fred himself.
Discovering the truth about ourselves is a lifetime's work, but it's worth the effort. 
Please think of the children first. If you ever have anything to do with their entertainment, their food, their toys, their custody, their day or night care, their health care, their education-- listen to the children, learn about them, learn from them. Think of the children first.
I consider that what I do through Mister Rogers' Neighborhood is my ministry. A ministry doesn't have to be only through a church, or even through an ordination. And I think we all can minister to others in this world by being compassionate and caring. I hope you will feel good enough about yourselves that you will want to minister to others, and that you will find your own unique ways to do that. 
 It's a brave notion, to consider your work a ministry. I am trying to become that brave myself.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015


I watched Daria a bit back in the 90's, like everyone else, and thought it was pretty cool. But, binge watching through the whole series as family entertainment is something else again. I was amazed at how solid a show it really is. It's not an easy thing to make a sitcom with no laugh track that has an antisocial bookworm as the protagonist. It's not at all like Big Bang Theory, where Leonard is really fairly normal, and is surrounded by misfits. In Daria, everyone is a caricature, and everyone is a misfit. And Daria is an unlikely bridge to the audience, but she is part of what makes the show so great. I think very few people can fully empathize with Daria, but everyone can empathize with her impatience with lies and hypocrisy, and everyone can appreciate her sharp sarcasm. Weirdly, the more I think about it, her best friend Jane Lane is actually more accessible than she is... which is a really unusual device for television... or is it? As I contemplate it, I realize that this makes Daria like Sherlock Holmes, and Jane like Watson... which leads to the question of who is really the protagonist? Is it Holmes, or Watson? Anyway, all that aside, this is a truly well-crafted show. Five seasons, including two movies, with excellent character development, and investigation of sides of high school often ignored. I also love how it doesn't really paint anyone as good or evil -- something it shares in common with Freaks and Geeks.

It's weird to think about how this show came about. Daria was a Mike Judge character on Beavis and Butthead, who somehow got spun out into her own show that had nothing at all to do with Mike Judge. But somehow, one gets the feeling it was for the best, that he would not have allowed it to become what it is. It freaks me out a little how much this show affected me, as we watched it through. I find myself reading more, and that I'm less impatient with dry books. Also, it got me thinking about a high school friend who Jane Lane always reminded me of, and I was able to meet up with her and learn about her last twenty years of art doings.

Oh! I need to comment on the voice acting. It is all SO GOOD! How did they cast Tracy Grandstaff, the voice of Daria? She seems to have been a production assistant at MTV, and never seems to have acted again. Many of the other voice actors seem to have similarly short careers. Even the ones who are well known are somehow not *that* well known... I don't quite know how this happened, but the fact that the voices are mostly unknowns just strengthens the show, somehow.

Anyway, I don't have much more to say about Daria other than I think it is excellent, that it seems to do a really good job with female characters, and that I hope Daria and Jane can be friends forever. It's probably late for a Daria reunion... but... I would totally watch that.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Monkey Wrench Gang

I found this in an airport bookstore and picked it up for reasons unknown. I had never heard of it, or Edward Abbey. I was intrigued by the quote on the back: "Somewhere in the depths of solitude, beyond wilderness and freedom, lay the trap of madness." As I started reading, I was somewhat captivated. It is about some relatively ordinary citizens who form a conspiracy to halt civilization. I loved the book for a number of reasons:
1) The protagonists are mostly fairly ordinary people, who are just fed up, and taking simple destructive action. The idea that most of us are just one day away from being anarchists is intriguing.
2) Nothing in the story is cut and dried. While it is easy to sympathize with wanting to slow down over-construction, the way they go about it seems like a terrible idea... and yet, it doesn't seem like a bad idea either. It would've been easy for Abbey (given this was written in 1975) to make our destructive friends into heroes, and their opponents into villains, but it isn't exactly that way. He lets us sympathize with both sides of the situation, which makes the whole thing deeper and more thoughtful.
3) Details! Good Lord! I've never known so much about bulldozers, or trains, or explosives, or canyons. I can only wonder how Abbey acquired so much knowledge about these things, but, wow, there is a lot of it there. I can see how this book must have inspired a lot of real life vandalism -- he lays so much out very plain... though at the same time, is clearly not advocating it.

Now... funny thing... the quote on the back cover. When I ran into it in the book, I was surprised to learn it was different in the text! In the text, the word is "wildness," not "wilderness." So... where is the typo? When I search the phrase on google, there are more matches for "wilderness" than "wildness"... but, I feel certain that Abbey must have said "wildness." It just makes more sense. But since the book is, on the surface, about wilderness, I think people just get it wrong. Everyone likes wilderness, but we are squeamish about wildness. "Wildestness" should be a word.

So, I loved this book, I enjoyed it through and through, and I can easily imagine reading again in future. But I see in the frontispiece a long list of other books by Abbey! I wonder which one I'll read next?

Side note: Why don't I write in this blog more often? Lately, I go long periods without writing, though I finish books and movies and such by the dozens. I guess it's just really hard to carve out time when I can feel good about writing. I don't much like to just splat down words, I like to think about what I'm saying and why, at least a little bit. And it is hard to justify not doing other things just so I can make time for this. I'm not sure. But I do like writing for its own sake, and I will keep trying to find ways to write here more regularly.