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September 24, 2006|Susan Salter Reynolds

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St. Lucy's Home

for Girls Raised

by Wolves

Stories

Karen Russell

Alfred A. Knopf: 242 pp., $22

"A cartographer of imaginary places." How I wish those were my own words, instead of breakneck demon writer Karen Russell's, whose stories begin, in prose form, where the jabberwock left off, inspiring a dangerous, often unflattering loosening of the vocabulary. Without her skill for creating containers (places, plots, characters) for all this lush language, the novice, belly up to the bar, risks overwriting (a kind of sin in these endless and pristine postmodern years).

"A school of ghoulish mullet," a sound "alive with lonely purity," "on new-moon nights, the sky is winning," a child "splayed out like a murdered cloud." All are phrases picked randomly as the book falls open like some Harry Potter creature, letting Russell's animated words escape into the room.

Step right up. Welcome to Swamplandia! (a Gator Theme Park), Glowworm Grotto, the Thomas Edison Insomnia Balloon, and the Palace of Artificial Snows Ice Skating Rink. Meet Olivia Lark, Waldo Swallow, Osceola and her boyfriend Luscious. Like Peter Pan, a reader thinks she is traveling in fantasy worlds until Russell's subconscious burbles up and jogs something in the childhood memory department. Uh-oh. Run for your life. This girl is on fire.

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The Laws of Simplicity

Design, Technology, Business, Life

John Maeda

The MIT Press: 176 pp., $20

FINALLY, a book about simplicity that is not too academic to read. John Maeda begins with a confession: Even as an "Olympic-class technologist," the guy "whose early computer art experiments led to

"I am sorry," he writes, "and for a long while I have wished to do something about it." That something is this book, the SIMPLICITY consortium he founded at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's media lab and a life's work in art and design that is exhibited in museums around the world.

Maeda explains 10 laws of simplicity, including principles of good design and how to tame complexity and reduce clutter in your life. At the book's heart is the Shinto belief in animism, the spirit in all objects. Nicholas Negroponte, one of Maeda's mentors, once told him to become a lightbulb, not a laser beam. This he has done; all this and more.

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Heidegger's Hut

Adam Sharr

The MIT Press: 112 pp., $24.95

"HEIDEGGER'S HUT" is and is not a book about a hut. It's about how a place inspired a life's work, and how that work inspired modern architectural theory and, to a lesser degree, the sustainability movement.

In 1922, philosopher Martin Heidegger, then 33, built his cedar-shingled hut high in Germany's Black Forest mountains with hand tools. It had four rooms, a kitchen, a bedroom, a study and an earth closet/drying room. Die hutte at Todtnauberg is where Heidegger did most of his writing and thinking (from "Being and Time" on) for more than 50 years, including the 1930s during what author Adam Sharr refers to as "his nauseating political affiliations" with Nazism.

Heidegger's writing on architecture is infused with an anti-technocratic resistance to modernity. He believed in the relationship between geography and creativity, and that the anxieties of existence could be quelled by architecture. His 1951 paper "Building Dwelling Thinking" outlines many of these ideas. He saw his hut and its environment as an "honest" place, as opposed to the suburb of Freiburg, where he lived and taught. He found it sustaining. Many of the book's photos of Heidegger are posed, though the light is beautiful. The hut has a confidence, a rightness that is oddly indisputable, making, in the end, even the philosopher's work seem transient and insubstantial.

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