What Can I Do?

An Alphabet for Living

Lisa Harrow, with an introduction by Roger Payne

Chelsea Green: 154 pp.,

$7.95 paper

Here’s a practical gift for the holidays. Remember “50 Simple Things You Can Do to Save the Earth”? “What Can I Do?” tops it, offering hundreds of websites that tell you how to make your home, your life, your entire world more beautiful, simple and sustainable “in accordance with the laws of nature.” "[C]urrent science provides enough understanding to act,” writes Roger Payne in his introduction. "[I]t is our collective will that needs work.” Cleaning products, compost, jobs, investments, hybrid cars -- it’s all here in one sweet volume. Lisa Harrow includes a few tales of “People Who Did,” such as Russell Long, a fisherman who started to stop pollution from two-stroke engines, and Russell Wattenberg of, which collects books that Wattenberg gives to schools and other organizations (10,000-plus per weekend), and Seth Riney, owner of a hybrid-car livery service. Harrow’s preface and Payne’s introduction are about how the two met, married and inspired each other -- Harrow with her actress’ talent for going straight to the heart, and Payne with his scientist’s vision of how to live in harmony with nature.


North of Nowhere, South of Loss


Janette Turner Hospital

W.W. Norton: 304 pp., $24.95

“There must be, by Maggie’s reckoning, upwards of fifty chooks running loose, but who would know?” Excellent question. These stories are full of chooks (characters who are cursed and driven by currents in the collective subconscious too fast for everyday life) running loose. Brian, a character in several stories, is a physicist who frequently ends up in hospitals, hotels and other places where he can hide from everyone he knows. Jug is “sung” by aborigines (not a good thing) after he rolls his bulldozer through their land to make a road. A 14-year-old girl is abducted when she and her mother encounter one of those haunted eddies of time and place that are the stuff of horror stories. And then there are the characters who stem the current: an 18-year-old who has arrived in the city to make something of herself and holds the sobbing girl in the adjoining bed at the hostel, a car repairman who saves another lost soul. Happens all the time, and stories like these help you notice when it does. Like other authors who write on several levels at once (conscious, subconscious, intergalactic), Hospital knows the value of words like “chook” and “larrikin” and “bede-box.” They pull readers up short, keep us from getting too comfy.



Edward Bernays

Ig Publishing: 176 pp.,

$13.95 paper

“The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society,” wrote the late Edward Bernays in this pioneering volume, first published in 1928. Bernays, a nephew of Sigmund Freud, was inspired by studies in psychology and by Walter Lippmann’s 1922 book, “Public Opinion,” about the importance of helping people think “clearly” about their own and the national interest. Many call Bernays the father of modern public relations. He called himself a “propagandist for propaganda,” taking his definition from the Oxford English Dictionary: “the propagation of a particular doctrine or practice"(this in turn from a 1622 effort by the Roman Catholic Church to save the world from Protestantism). The effectiveness of movements, Bernays felt, depends on propaganda, which brings order out of the chaos of information. Too much information causes inertia: “The great enemy of any attempt to change men’s habits is inertia,” he writes. “Civilization is limited by inertia.... I often wonder whether the politicians of the future, who are responsible for maintaining the prestige and effectiveness of their party, will not endeavor to train politicians who are at the same time propagandists.” Hmmm.