may 2005

click here for permalink May 25, 2005

This weekend we watched Stone Reader, a documentary that's been getting rave reviews and a public reception more wildly enthusiastic than its makers probably imagined possible...

The DVD cover caught my eye a couple months ago at the video store but after reading the back I didn't trust myself to return it in two days. So, with the threat of a(nother) $20 late fee hovering overhead, I steered my attention back to the seven-day aisles. Last week, it turned up at the library so, the second I spotted it on the shelf, I snagged it.

Filmmaker Mark Moskowitz decides to document his search for an out-of-print masterpiece of modern literature and its nearly-forgotten author; that premise might not sound like a formula for entertainment yet somehow, it's riveting. And it makes you think... about reading and writing... it also makes you wistful for a past you may not even remember, a time when those things held a great deal more weight in our minds and our society than they do today.

On the periphery of the documentary's central quest, and its unexpectedly rewarding conclusion, is a vague but pervasive feeling that there is more than just one man's literary legacy under the threat of extinction here. A love of books; the very pursuit of reading for pleasure, may itself have a shelf life.

Television and video games, the usual culprits, are only partly to blame; the very structure of our society is antithetical to any pursuits that aren't somehow productive. Free time spent on self-improvement or home improvement, building relationships and bonding with your children; these are considered a healthy counterbalance to the time you devote to your career.

You develop your skills so you can succeed in business, be creative and proactive; follow your bliss. Work full time but make time for family; be in a committed, passionate relationship; be your kids' best friend. Keep in touch with old friends and cherish your relatives (because, one day, it will be too late), get lots of exercise, eat healthy, think globally but act locally (because, you know, it takes a village).

But... introspection? A pursuit knowledge for its own sake? Becoming an expert on anything that fascinates you but doesn't feed you?

People will think you're the next Unabomber.

click here for permalink May 5, 2005

I'm actually a week late for the anniversary of April 26th but here are a couple of excerpts, courtesy of The Guardian Unlimited. The book is called Voices From Chernobyl by Svetlana Alexievich.

Ivan Nikolaevich Zhykhov
Chemical engineer
We dug up the diseased top layer of soil, loaded it into cars and took it to waste burial sites. I thought that a waste burial site was a complex, engineered construction, but it turned out to be an ordinary pit. We picked up the earth and rolled it, like big rugs. We'd pick up the whole green mass of it, with grass, flowers, roots. It was work for madmen.

Sergei Vasilyevich Sobolev
Deputy head of the executive committee of the Shield of Chernobyl Association
There was a moment when there was the danger of a nuclear explosion, and they had to get the water out from under the reactor, so that a mixture of uranium and graphite wouldn't get into it — with the water, they would have formed a critical mass. The explosion would have been between three and five megatons. This would have meant that not only Kiev and Minsk, but a large part of Europe would have been uninhabitable. Can you imagine it? A European catastrophe.

So here was the task: who would dive in there and open the bolt on the safety valve? They promised them a car, an apartment, a dacha, aid for their families until the end of time. They searched for volunteers. And they found them! The boys dived, many times, and they opened that bolt, and the unit was given 7,000 roubles. They forgot about the cars and apartments they promised — that's not why they dived. These are people who came from a certain culture, the culture of the great achievement.
They were a sacrifice.