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on 13 September 1998
Let me say one thing right up front: Ed Abbey is my favorite author. From the lyrical imagery of "Beyond the Wall" to the alternating landscapes and polemics of "Desert Solitaire" to the introspective fiction of "The Black Sun," Abbey at his best was like no other author. That said, "One Life at a Time, Please" is not my favorite Abbey book. Always a mercurial writer, ("when he was good, he was very, very good, but when he was bad he was awful"), this is a very uneven book. Since it is a collection of essays originally written as lectures, magazine articles, and book forewards, you'd expect a certain amount of variability, but "One Life at a Time, Please" has more highs and lows than a Canyonlands relief map.
Some of the essays are very good--"A Writer's Credo" and "The Future of Sex," for example. Others, like "River of No Return," illustrate his trademark power to breathe extraordinary life into otherwise ordinary adventures. My main complaint is with the collection of essays in the section titled "Politics." In "A Writer's Credo," Abbey eloquently argues that it is the writer's responsibility to be a critic of the society in which he lives, so as to foster positive change in that society. But he seems to forget that to be effective, the writer must also persuade. The vitriolic essays in "Politics" may please existing ecodefenders but are more likely to alienate those important readers who are still undecided. If the result causes people to turn away from environmentalism rather than embrace it, they do more harm than good. Abbey himself seemed to recognize the danger of his ways in the excellent essay, "Mr Krutch."
Would I recommend the book? Absolutely yes. Those already familiar with Abbey will find it an enlightening insight into the enigmatic old misanthrope's personality. New readers will discover an often eloquent leader in 20th century environmentalism. One caution, though. If you've never read Abbey before, save the section titled "Politics" until the end. That way you'll be less likely to fling the book across the room into a roaring fireplace, or if you do, you'll at least have gotten more of your money's worth.
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on 11 February 1997
This book of essays gives the reader new to Abbey a brief but coherent representation of his cannon. Among favorites in the book are "Theory of Anarchy" where he outlines a lifestyle and society where the individual is priority; "Lake Powell Houseboat" where Abbey uses the pastoral wonder of the Colorado River to reflect on personal experience; and finally the flag ship essay of the entire collection: "A Writer's Credo." Here Abbey outlines the true purpose of the freelance writer "to oppose injustice, to defy power, and to speak out for the voiceless." All Abbey followers should own this book and all who are interested should buy one.
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on 25 November 1998
Of all Abbey's non-fiction titles, I liked One Life at A Time best after Desert Solitaire. It's vintage Abbey at his best. You may not agree with his political views in this book of essays. But you'll find his arguments compelling and logical. "Immigration And Other Liberal Taboos" is a classic. So is "The Future of Sex" in which he asks the question, "What is femininity?" Gloria Steinham be damned.
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