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November 23, 1986|ALEX RAKSIN

Pilgrim's Guide to the New Age, Alice and Stephen Lawhead (Lion Publishing, 1705 Hubbard Ave., Batavia, Ill. 60510: $9.95). Anti-war, anti-Establishment--1960s counterculture was understandable, if not agreeable, to most Americans. "New Age" culture, on the other hand, is harder to peg, for the steadily growing '80s movement doesn't seem to be anti-anything. Embracing East and West, capitalism and environmentalism, self-fulfillment and social sacrifice, followers of the movement predict that our divisive world will soon become a pacifistic "Global Village." Under which ideals will the world unite? Most New Agers won't say. The problem with this ambiguity is that it leaves the movement open for expropriation by a host of people promoting special interests, such as the authors of this book. Slickly promoted as an introduction to "the New Age," this book is actually an attempt to show that the movement's goals are grounded in "Christian thought." The appeal is subtle. No mention is made of God or religion on the cover and in the introduction, and most chapters carefully avoid polemics. One section, for instance, refrains from saying "whether it is right or wrong to live in a commune, have a child out of wedlock, stay at home with small children or pursue a career," but later cautions that "God won't be changing any of his ideas, visions, or expectations for marriage or the family." Contradictions continue. The authors salute Einstein, Copernicus, Galileo and Darwin by printing noble pictures of the scientists (tailored for the TV generation, the book is abundantly illustrated), while disputing their ideas in the text: "The jury is still out," we read, "on much of Darwin's evolutionary theory." The authors seem to have good intentions--they're part of a growing number of young Christians trying to reconcile traditional teachings with scientific advances and new, alternative life styles--but there remains a problem with the book's packaging; a better title might have been "Pilgrim's Guide to New Age Christianity."

The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture, Wendell Berry (Sierra Club: $7.95). When the author composed this warning in 1977, then-Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz was predicting rapid farm growth at home and grain demand from abroad. Now, of course, the problems Berry predicted are well-known--soil erosion (worse today than during the years of the Dust Bowl), soil damage caused by single-crop farming, overuse and waste of the water supply, and toxic pollution from agricultural chemicals. "The Unsettling of America" remains relevant today, however, for after pinpointing the causes of today's "farm crisis," Berry moves on to explain what we still don't understand: underlying causes, predominantly a "mentality of exploitation" deeply rooted in our past. To succeed in the long run, Berry believes, mechanized farming cannot remain blind to the ecosystem. For economic as well as humanitarian reasons, we need a "sustainable agriculture," one that "does not deplete soils or people." While Berry details some specifics (smaller and more self-sustained farms, more reliance on natural fertilizers, less on chemical pesticides), this is a work of philosophy. Readers looking for more practical suggestions should read another of Berry's works, "Essays in Sustainable Agriculture and Stewardship" (North Point Press).

No Place Like Home, Amy Arbus (Doubleday: $14.95). If the phrase, "It's a nice place to visit but you wouldn't want to live there" didn't exist, it would have to be invented to describe The Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo, where guest rooms resemble everything from caves to ocean seascapes and South American jungles. Great fun, of course, but for daily life, most of us prefer to be surrounded by more serene and subtle environments. We already encounter our fair share of familiar obsessions and unfamiliar milieus; we don't need them resonating from furniture and walls. Some, however, are more daring, as New York City artist Amy Arbus shows in this lively volume. Arbus' photos of homes (primarily in Los Angeles, though also in San Francisco, New York, Houston and Albuquerque) capture architectural inventiveness and absurdity. Most interesting to Arbus, however, is the way the houses reflect their owners' personalities--from perseverance (the man who stuck half a million jigsaw puzzle pieces on the walls of his house) to harmony (a couple on the fast track who retreat to a stark tan and white bedroom) and hope ("If I had the money," says a singer with a black velvet painting that lights up, "my place would look like Caesars Palace").

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