cover image The Plain Reader

The Plain Reader

. Ballantine Books, $19 (272pp) ISBN 978-0-345-41434-2

The current spate of books extolling the joys of a simpler lifestyle draw varying degrees of inspiration from the segment of the population that has lived in the simplest ways for generations. The Amish, Quaker, Shaker, Anabaptist and Mennonite peoples have always eschewed technology, government-operated schools and overpopulated communities, as well as dependence on corporations and institutions for the necessities of life. Living close to the land, sharing work, worship and play within a small community, these ""plain people"" claim to live out different values than the rest of America. Here, however, essays drawn from Plain magazine (edited by Savage) display the harsh critical side of what Savage calls ""this strange, alternative, upside-down world of horse-driven carriages, televisionless houses, and family-sized gardens,"" in ""communities that view the Bible as a blueprint for living."" Readers seeking help in simplifying or spiritualizing their own daily lives may be shocked by the opinions with which this assembly of voices justifies and celebrates their chosen way of life (""I believe,"" writes Mary Ann Lieser, ""one reason doctors encourage prenatal diagnostic testing is their fear of birth and of death""; ""Kids are learning how to process all learning through computers,"" charges Jerry Mander; children ""at rock concerts or sporting events,"" says Gene Logsdon, ""scream and stomp in ludicrous animal ecstasy of thought-obliterating noise""). Important societal issues are raised, however, including choices that must be made about computer technology, the global economy, agriculture, health care, public education and environmental impact. And the beauty of some of the writing, especially in Wendell Berry's ""Health Is Membership"" and Bill McKibben's foreword, elevates the book, allowing it ultimately to issue a provocative, if ill-couched, challenge to us all. Editor, Ginny Faber; agent, Victoria Shoemaker. (July)