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Vacation reading

I did a little reading while on vacation last week, actually finishing two books, which is one more than I read all of last year.

I used to be a fairly avid, though slow, reader. I loved books. But things like work, kids, yard work and watching three or four hours of television each evening has cut into my reading the past couple years. Now, it’s mostly limited to the morning papers and an occasional on-line essay.

While on vacation, though, I read Dan Brown’s “Angels and Demons” (which I liked more that the “Da Vinci Code,” and Kurt Vonnegut’s “A Man Without a Country,” which took all of about 90 minutes to finish, even at my semi-retarded pace.

I loved Vonnegut when I was in high school and college in the late 1970s and early 80s. I believe I read every book he had written up to that point and I’d be lying if I said he did not have an impact on my world view.

He wrote a couple books after that that I picked up and glanced at but was just no longer interested in reading him. What had been funny in my teens seemed kind of stupid now.

“A Man Without a Country” is different. While it has some humor, it’s really a sad take on the world from a man who had seen so much literal horror in his life (he was in Dresden, Germany as a POW in 1945 when British bombers leveled what was probably the most beautiful city in Europe, albeit one with no military significance, killing about 135,000 people in a single night). He had been filled with hope of a better future after that but as he’s contemplating his death, it’s obvious he has abandoned that hope.

The bulk of the book is a lament on what we’ve done to the earth, which he describes as this wonderful, life-giving planet. How we’ve poisoned the air and all that stuff. He claims the recent strong hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes, bird flu, etc. are merely manifestations of the earth’s immune system fighting back. The earth is trying to kill us off to save itself. An interesting thought.

I mention “Man Without A Country” today because of a letter to the editor in today’s News-Herald defending the Rev. Pat Robertson and his latest outrageous claim.

In Vonnegut’s book, he talks about people like Robertson and his followers. How they are always calling for a greater role for religion in public life. Vonnegut wonders why they are always calling for the Ten Commandments to be posted in schools and other public buildings. “The Ten Commandments is Moses, not Jesus” he notes. Why do they not want to post anything Jesus said, like the Beatitudes, “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth,”

“Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy,” and “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God?”

“Not exactly the stuff of the Republican platform.” Or the Democrats for that matter.

I was thinking about that on the way home last night. If Jesus were to return to earth today and deliver the Sermon on the Mount, I wonder how long it would be before some TV preacher called him a liberal and called for his assassination? Probably not long.

Books are a little too heavy for me. I think I’ll just stick with newspapers from now on. There’s something about the shallowness that’s comforting somehow.