cover image If They Give You Lined Paper, Write Sideways

If They Give You Lined Paper, Write Sideways

Daniel Quinn, . . Steerforth, $13.95 (208pp) ISBN 978-1-58642-126-7

This slender volume—a place marker in Quinn's philosophical oeuvre about mankind's relationship to nature (including the trilogy Ishmael , The Story of B and My Ishmael )—is as slight as the winsome aphorism in its title. Two-thirds of the book is a lightly edited transcript of a rambling, three-day dialogue between Quinn and a fan who spent Thanksgiving 2005 weekend with him in his Houston home "to nail down the ideas she had explored in my books." For Quinn, a related goal was to answer the question, "How do you do what you do?" for himself. The result provides no startling insights for anyone familiar with the author's essential thinking, though it does occasionally depict Quinn as a cranky and condescending guru, as he challenges his visitor on such topics as world history, religion and God's compassion, abortion and capital punishment, and overpopulation. The essence of the q&a exercise boils down to challenging received wisdom, pulling back to look at the big picture and examining all assumptions. Two essays, one on whether humanity can save itself from environmental doom and one on animism as religion, add some much-needed heft. (Jan.)