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If They Give You Lined Paper, Write…

If They Give You Lined Paper, Write Sideways.

by Daniel Quinn

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A good refresher for those who have read Quinn's Ishmael series! Not only does he review some of his main points from Ishmael, he tackles new questions from readers and tries to reveal his thought processes so we can all think like "Martian anthropologists." I found the second half of the book better as I think his reader/student that he is dialogging with has caught on a bit more. ( )
  dahabdabbler | Mar 6, 2010 |
Summary: For those of you reading this review who are unfamiliar with Quinn's work, I'd recommend starting with Ishmael or Story of B. I can, without hesitation or hyperbole, say that these books are the most important books I've ever read. If you're not ready to commit to a reading a book, read either or both of the essays linked below. If you can't commit that far, you'll have to do with my horribly inadequate summary: Currently, there are six billion people on the planet, and although we're supposed rational, we're living in a way that is systematically destroying the very support of human life. Quinn attempts to get to the bottom of why this is the case, and points out that if we as a species are going to survive the next few hundred years, we're going to have to live differently... and that means we're going to have to start thinking differently about who we are as a culture, and as a species, and as a participant of life on this planet. This book is a way of understanding what exactly it means to think differently.

It's set up as a transcript of a four-day dialogue between Daniel Quinn and one of his readers. The fundamental question they set out to answer is "How do you do what you do?"; that is, what does it mean to see the world from a Daniel Quinn-ian perspective, and how can the rest of us go about achieving that perspective? In achieving that, it covers a lot of ground familiar from Quinn's other work, but the focus is not so much on the answers, but rather on the method of discovering those answers for yourself. It's formatted so that when Quinn tells Elaine to take a break and think about things, the reader can also set the book aside for a moment and attempt to think through the problem on their own - although of course we're denied feedback when our answer differs from Elaine's. This book also includes the text of two of Quinn's speeches, The New Renaissance and Our Religions, which have never before been published, but are available on the web.

Review: The preface to this book states that "the reading of [Quinn's] other books is not in any way a prerequisite to reading this one." I have to disagree. Well, I do think that this work would probably be understandable to readers unfamiliar with Quinn's oeuvre, although they'd miss a lot of the subtleties. He references a lot of topics - tribalism, animism, Takers and Leavers, Mother Culture, the Gebusi of New Guinea, the Great Forgetting - and more-or-less takes it for granted that the reader will understand what he means with minimal explanation. His point may come across to new readers, but the full impact of that point may not. However, whether or not a new reader could understand this book is immaterial, since I can't really see why someone who is not familiar with Quinn's work would want to read a book that explains how Quinn thinks.

The book itself is excellent at accomplishing its twin goals - of not only explaining how Quinn thinks, but also in giving those of us who have read the rest of his books a means of checking how "changed" our minds really are - if we're just repeating Quinn's answers, or if we've absorbed the message enough to generate new answers on our own. Ideally, we'd all get to sit down with Daniel for a couple of days and chat... but failing that, this book is a good substitute.

Recommendation: For newcomers to Quinn, don't start here. For Quinn devotees (if you are B - or think you are) then this book is definitely worthwhile, a quick-reading but deceptively simple kick in the butt that makes you really think about how you think, and the things that Culture tells us that you automatically take for granted. ( )
2 vote fyrefly98 | Jan 9, 2008 |
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"In Ishmael, Daniel Quinn offered new ways of seeing and understanding human history, and our future. His message has been transformative for millions of people, and Ishmael continues to attract tens of thousands of new readers each year. Subsequent works, such as The Story of B and My Ishmael, expanded upon his insights and teachings, but only now does he finally tackle the one question he has been asked hundreds of times but has never taken on: "How do you do what you do?" In if They Give You Lined Paper, Write Sideways, Quinn elucidates for readers the methods behind his own thought processes, challenging and ultimately empowering them to view the world for themselves in creative, perhaps even revolutionary ways.". "If They Give You Lined Paper, Write Sideways also includes Quinn's never-before-published essays "The New Renaissance"and "Our Religions. "There Is a scientific consensus that global warming Is approaching a tipping point beyond no return faster than had previously been predicted. Quinn has long portrayed humans as "a species of beings, which, while supposedly rational, are destroying the very planet they live on." So what are we to do? There has never been a plan for the future - and there never will be. But something extraordinary will happen in the next two or three decades; the people of our culture will learn to live sustainably - or not. Either way, it will be extraordinary. The sooner we understand this reality, the greater the chances that human society will transform Itself so that the human race might have a future."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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