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Savage Park: A Meditation on Play, Space, and Risk for Americans Who Are Nervous, Distracted, and Afraid to Die

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Part memoir, part manifesto, this exploration of the underside of America’s obsession with safety is prompted by the author’s visit to a thrillingly alarming adventure playground in Tokyo "How fully can the world be explored," asks Amy Fusselman " . . . if you are also trying not to die?" On a visit to Tokyo with her family, Fusselman stumbles on Hanegi playpark, where children are sawing wood, hammering nails, stringing hammocks to trees, building open fires. When she returns to New York, her conceptions of space, risk, and fear are completely changed. Fusselman invites us along on her tightrope-walking expeditions with Philippe Petit and late night adventures with the Tokyo park-workers, showing that when we deprive ourselves, and our children, of the experience of taking risks in space, we make them less safe, not more so. Savage Park is a fresh, poetic reconsideration of behaviors in our culture that — in the guise of protecting us — make us numb and encourage us to sleepwalk through our lives. We babyproof our homes; plug our ears to our devices while walking through the city. What would happen if we exposed ourselves, if — like the children at Hanegi park — we put ourselves in situations that require true vigilance? Readers of Rebecca Solnit and Cheryl Strayed will delight in the revelations in Savage Park .

144 pages, Hardcover

First published January 13, 2015

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Amy Fusselman

13 books81 followers

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 54 reviews
Profile Image for Oriana.
Author 3 books3,370 followers
July 20, 2017
I pre-edited this book many moons ago, and it absolutely, totally ruled. I'm so excited that it's finally out!

I admit that I don't love the cover because it makes the book look kind of folksy/storytellery, when actually it's this totally harrowing and plangent meandering meditation on these Japanese parks for kids that are basically giant dangerous piles of metal and wood and dirt, plus getting over crippling fears, walking on tightropes, dealing with death and mortality, learning how to play at any age, and understanding how to have a body in relation to the world around you—all sorts of cool thinky stuff like that.

It's an absolutely splendid, fairly unclassifiable set of joined essays, and I really think everyone ought to read it right away.
Profile Image for Josh.
306 reviews161 followers
June 5, 2015
I received this as an ARC from Goodreads.

Amy Fusselman’s Meditation on play, space, and risk for Americans who are nervous, distracted, and afraid to die is half memoir/half rant on what we Americans classify as the act of playing, how we perceive small-s space (space on Earth) or big-s space (outer space) and why we American’s are so worried about everything affecting our fast lives and our worry that death is always at our figurative ‘front door’ and let it control our lives.

As she and her family (husband and 2 boys) visit a friend in Tokyo and walk around through the landscape inside and outside of the city, they come across Hanegi Koen Park which includes the smaller Hanegi Playpark (aka Savage Park) within.  As the family enters this space, Amy notices that it’s quite different than any American playground she’s been on.

”We turned back and stood there, dumbfounded, staring at the dirt and trees and the structures that were woven around and between them, structures that were clearly not made in any place where safety surfacing had ever been a serious discussion…the material to make the structures – hammers, wood, saws, hole punchers, screwdrivers, nails, paint, brushes and donated scraps of all kinds – were available at the park for everyone to use”

Also, to her surprise she sees children in trees:

”I looked up at the trees.  I was astonished to see that there were children in them.  The more I looked, the more children I saw.  There were children fifteen feet high in the air.  There were children perched on tiny homemade wooden platforms, like circus ladies dressed in glittery clothes about to swan-dive into little buckets.  There were children sitting up there, relaxed, in their navy blue sailor-type school uniforms, chatting and eating candy on bitty rectangles of rickety wood as if they were lounging on the Lido deck of the Love Boat.”

Reasons why parents should take more responsibility about the commercial products they use to supposedly ‘protect’ their children:

A typical scenario: A baby is left playing in the seat (baby bath ring, holds a baby/toddler up in the bathtub as they are bathing) when someone comes to the front door or the telephone rings.  The mother believes the seat will protect her baby.  She walks away and is gone briefly.  The baby reaches over to retrieve a toy or tries to stand up.  The suction on the bottom pops loose.  The baby falls forward or slips.  In a few minutes, the mother returns to find her baby face-down in the tub.  But by then, it’s too late.

I was surprised.  The problem with the above scenario, to my mind, was not the bath seat.  It was the mother’s belief that the seat would “protect her baby” while she was gone.  I kept reading, looking for whatever else might be wrong with the seat.  Finally I was stopped short by the following concluding sentence:

“While this CU Guide warns parents never to leave a child alone, it also acknowledges reality: a parent can become distracted, and a child should not have to pay with her or his life as a result.”

This sentence gave me pause.  If parents are distracted while bathing infants in the bathtub, it is because they do not understand the risk of putting a tiny child who can’t yet sit up in water.  A mature and respectful relationship with water – let alone with baby – includes this understanding.

What kind of reality is this, where a parent should be protected from having to face that fact that water is precious and perilous, where she should be encouraged to entrust her baby’s life – this would be funny if it weren’t so sad – to a bath seat?  Who is the child here? And what is being protected?  It is not, ultimately, the baby.  It is the parent’s “right” to become distracted.”

Also why we should allow our kids to play and not worry about them hurting themselves constantly and the American mentality on death and dying:

”American playgrounds can’t look like Hanegi Playpark because Americans refuse to make peace with their own death and dying.  This approach is built into the culture at the most profound levels, and the mostly unconscious indoctrination into this perspective begins very young.”

Overall, Fusselman makes some interesting points in her thesis about the aforementioned subjects, although her discussion of space seems a bit tedious and out of place, yet I’ll still say the book is a quick, entertaining read.  An easy 3 stars.
Profile Image for Chak.
495 reviews5 followers
August 29, 2017
Amy Fusselman is an interesting, fun, and funny person, and I went into reading this book thinking that Savage Park would be light and maybe thought provoking, interesting, and unique. It was. But the book also had this weight, (and not just because of an event in the book which I will not spoil, which was incredibly heavy), this gravitas, this underground current of deep thinking running through it (even through the lighter/funny parts).

Sometimes, our mind's eye sees memories as photos from a camera that had vaseline rubbed on the lens. They spark this kind of bittersweet physical remembering, cut out from everything else like an unplaced collage piece. We ALL have those. But hardly ANYONE can express them so that other people see those of another person. And, that's what the author did there, at least for me.

Savage Park is a truly beautiful book that has all of the things that great writing and great storytelling should have, and it has more. It has more than that, because the author's soul is actually in the words. I'm always absolutely amazed when a writer can do that.
Profile Image for Lauren .
1,735 reviews2,336 followers
May 13, 2016
There's a great idea here - but it needed honing.

I was right there with Fusselman in Part I as she visited Tokyo, waxed on space, play, and fear... but then she kind of lost me when part II unrolled.
Profile Image for Jordana Horn Gordon.
283 reviews34 followers
January 15, 2015
So interesting conceptually but a bumpy ride. I wanted more about Japan, about what makes Japanese parents enable a playspace like this.
Profile Image for Delia Rainey.
Author 2 books40 followers
March 18, 2023
play is not about what you do, but how you do it ~
play is courageous, and so is moving through space like it is your home ~
objects and people are trembling all the time in space, safe and unsafe, moving and not moving, changing ~
americans *are* afraid to die, and afraid to imagine other possibilities outside of the definitions of our regulated landscape ~
friendship is trusting someone with a game in the dark, and sitting side by side in silence like sisters ~
"play at your own risk" is the only sign needed before entering any space that is life ~
~when we die, we are "birthing ourselves"
~thinking about the garage or shed or basement where older men are creating objects and why can't any space be a space for this
~objects are like our children, too. we want to keep them from getting damaged (keep them), but the objects and the children also need to live
~the park is a space outside of capitalism, where people should roam, rearrange the parts around them, experiment, hide, eat, collaborate, and fail
Author 2 books6 followers
September 26, 2019
There are some interesting and evocative vignettes/observations here, arranged (quite) loosely around the theme of the safety of our children and the overprotective nature that pervades Western parenting, but at times it feels like the sum of the parts is less than it could be, as they are placed too scattershot to achieve a coherent end.
Profile Image for Rumeur.
351 reviews4 followers
November 20, 2015
I'd consider this part memoir, part poetic, at times

It's a non-fictional story about the author's time spent at Hanegi Park AKA Savage Park, in Tokyo

She first goes there while on a visit with her husband & young children, & staying with her friend , Yelena & her husband &children, at their apartment in Tokyo

Yelena takes her to Hanegi Park, which is vastly different from American playgrounds. It allows children to play in the dirt with hammers, nails & other scraps that children may use while playing. There are open fires where a man toasts marshmallows, tires that can be moved by the children to roll & put in a broken down boat

It's about space, or as the author writes, s-space, as opposed to S-Space. It's being mindful in the here & now & being present. To look at your surroundings, & take from that space all you can while in it

Our American playgrounds are made safe, more for parents fantasies that there is a safe place for children to play in. Governed by the standards set by the Consumer Product Safety Commission & certified with certain guidelines in order to make the playground "safe"

She goes back again to work for a week,alongside Hanegi Park employee, Noriko They put in 12 hour shifts daily, just overseeing the park. One evening while a meeting was taking place, she was ready to leave. Noriko hands her the key to her apartment & she's left to rely on her gut to get back to the apartment alone. She always chatted with Noriko while on their daily walks to & from the park & she didn't pay much attention on the route, but she walked it so many times, her gut guides her safely back to the apartment in a foreign country where she doesn't speak the language

Earlier she writes about an experience with a famous tight rope walker. The man who walked between the Twin Towers in NYC on a tightrope back & forth 8 times, although it was illegal. She takes a class with him wanting to learn about space from him, but also learns to connect with objects. It seems funny to say "hello" to a ball you may be holding in your hand

Towards the end was where I found it to be very poetic when talking about how objects & people are both broken

This book has made me be more aware and mindful of the space I'm in, what's in it, who I may be sharing it with or if I'm alone in it at the time. It's mainly about being present in the here & now

I won this in a Goodreads giveaway & have written an honest opinion of the book
Profile Image for Abi Inman.
140 reviews27 followers
March 23, 2015
Amy Fusselman is one of those narrators who, as Anne Lamott puts it, could say "Hey, I've got to drive up to the dump in Petaluma-wanna come along?" and I honestly wouldn't be able to think of anything I'd rather do. (https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/9375...)
She is so brilliant and perceptive, and has such a charming voice. It's incredible the amount of material she covers in this relatively small book. I think in the hands of most other authors it would come across as unfocused, all over the place. But Fusselman manages to weave it all together beautifully.

One of my favorite passages, which comes across a little structurally awkward out of context but flows beautifully when read with the rest of the paragraph/chapter/book:

"It was because the place existed at all for just this reason: this full and complete allowance of a self, including all the ineptness, failure, and possibility of death, because it is understood that only with this allowance do we have the capacity to be great."

<3 <3 <3
Profile Image for Melissa.
55 reviews6 followers
May 26, 2016
I went into this thinking it was going to be along the lines of that Atlantic article a few years back, about the adventure playgrounds. It sort of is...but really I guess it's not. At first I was sort of disappointed: she almost glosses over the parts about the Japanese playground and the wild, dangerous adventure it represents. She and her family visit and accept the playground in an almost anticlimactic fashion. I expected a treatise on how American parents over-shelter their kids, and how revelatory the experience of visiting the adventure playground was for her, but really the playground was just a jumping off point for a very lovely examination of play, and how mindlessly yet anxiously we move through most of our days. I really enjoyed Amy Fusselman's other books, and her writing and persona here are no less winning. Overall, once I moved past my own assumptions about this book, I found it to be a very enjoyable and thoughtful read.
Profile Image for Jen.
159 reviews
March 8, 2015
It was an interesting and quick read. I completely identified with her idea that by protecting (or overprotecting) our children we are not teaching them to be safe in the real world. Not teaching them that sometimes risks need to be taken, but if we are attentive and fully present in the moment we can be safe enough. Hanegi park in Japan looks fascinating. As I think back to when my kids were young and we went to parks all the time, the best part of the parks was not the play structure (which of course was safe with appropriate padding underneath), but everything else. There was the park with the great climbing trees, the park with the big rocks, the park that had all the great mulch they could make into "ice-cream cones" or "sandwiches".
Profile Image for Kevin.
Author 33 books35.4k followers
June 30, 2015
Fusselman's meditation on space, play, and risk is subtly effective thanks in large part to her always generous and warm voice. You just can't help but fall in love with the way she talks about tightrope walking, experimental architects, battle tops made of Legos, and the Tokyo playground (Hanegi Playpark) that inspired this whole train of thought--and the book does read like one wonderful train of thought.
In one great passage, she talks about how her son, Mick, has figured out the secret delight of moving in slow motion to a fast song. This book is kind of like that--all these big subjects (birth, play, death)--are thoughtfully savored and slowly unravelled and it's stunning and delightful to watch.
Profile Image for Trina Knittle.
168 reviews1 follower
January 20, 2015
Goodreads win. Will read and review once received.

This was a very interesting read. I really loved the flow of this book and the topics that are covered in this book. It was a book that can be read within one day. The idea in this book was very interesting and I learnt quite a bit of things. I can deifnitely see myself re reading this book in the future.
56 reviews
January 15, 2015
Maybe the Japanese have a good idea here. We protect our children from every conceivable harm that would beset them. Not sure if that's he right way to experience life a young age.
Profile Image for becky.
167 reviews14 followers
July 10, 2016
Thank you to Josh for the book recommendation.
Profile Image for Derick Edgren.
20 reviews1 follower
April 17, 2019
I spent the last two years hearing about this book from a friend. For whatever reason, I would nod at the recommendation and then promptly forget all about it. If only I'd read it sooner! The concept that one can play anywhere, hence belong anywhere, is delightful and flies in the face of capitalism-fueled existential dread. In a quick one-hundred twenty pages, one discovers in reading Fusselman on play, space, and risk an inevitable joy. Even turning the pages of the book, I found, was a kind of game. My head is now full of ideas about how to fill the world around me with play. Savage Park, the essay itself and the park for which it's named, is a state of mind one brings to being. As Husselman writes, play is a "how," not a "what." If you enjoy playful meditations and unruly abstractions (as I very much do), this book will not disappoint!

Also, it's only discussed for a page or so, but the idea that American restaurants--or, more broadly, restaurants--were naturally infantilizing to patrons fascinated me. The "mommy-sphere," Husselman calls it. Waiters are mommies! Why don't I cook the food myself? Why don't I just get up and get another Sprite? I guess I want Mommy to do it for me. Some of these meditations, such as the condemnation of computers and tablets, read more fractious than truly concerned about their dangers. (Maybe I'm annoyed because I grew up with a mix of outdoor and "screen-based" activities; also I know family friends who tell me their children with autism can really thrive given iPads and other touch-screen devices to play. I know it isn't that deep, but that's kind of my point about the book. If play is really a state of mind, why are electronics suddenly an exception to that otherwise liberating rule?)

Expect a dearth of insight on the accessibility of space, how we restrict public spaces, how some people are more easily afforded spaces than others, etc. In that way, the point-of-view of Savage Park is limited. Husselman's friend Yelena's makeshift art station at MUJI, for example, is cute but also potentially ignorant of social convention and respectful awareness of those around you. Yelena is white, and her knack for acting "like a homeless person," as Husselman writes, is depicted as nomadic and romantic, but I applaud her confidence with hesitant admiration. Yes, everyone should be free to challenge the system of capitalism and subvert its awful expectations of us, but even a rudimentary understanding of how facets of identity factor into how different people play with space would be useful for qualifying that belief. Husselman disclaims Americans are unlikely to adopt such an attitude themselves based on societal expectations, but there are plenty, including she and her whole family, who clearly have it easy enough to say, "Screw those expectations!"

All that being said, despite some lack of social awareness on the part of the author, I think Savage Park itself is a useful read that lets everyone enjoy the fun of play. I can imagine using ideas and games from the book in a classroom setting. The teachings, fortunately, are fairly accessible and refreshingly simple.
Profile Image for Rosie.
116 reviews
November 10, 2022
I would describe this arty book as "mildly interesting." I take the point that American lives are often sanitized and, by design, removed from risk, and how this may be a detriment to both children and adults. The problem with the argument is that it only applies to a distinct selection of the population - the middle or upper middle class. This is fine, but it deserves acknowledgment at least. I also think much of this book was boring. I don't need to see a picture of your friend's random baby, it is not interesting or relevant and I don't know why I am looking at it. Ultimately this would have made a much better article, because even as a slender tome there was too much unnecessary information.
Profile Image for Aaron Maurer.
240 reviews9 followers
April 5, 2015
I needed to step away from reading books on education and productivity. With my latest batch of books from the library(currently have 56 checked out) I read Savage Park by Amy Fusselman. I read it without checking out the back cover or trying to remember why I checked it out in the first place. I just dove in.

I am glad I did because the book was a departure from my usual readings. This book is part journal/memoir with a dash of manifesto on play, combined with storytelling, and ideas on importance of space, play, finding ourselves, and more. I don’t really know how to describe it any other way.

What really connected me to this book is that ironically while I was reading about the ideas in the book my son and neighborhood kids took on the task of building a tree fort. As much as I wanted to say no, tell them to be safe, no tools, don’t climb too high, and all the other adult limitations set upon kids today I chose not to. I kept to the integrity of what I was reading in the book to see how things played out. I never gave advice, I did not tell them no(when I wanted to so many times), and just let them figure things out. I was so impressed that after about 30 hours of work they had assembled a fort that they could call their own with some impressive troubleshooting ideas.

IMG_2724 IMG_2725 IMG_2726 IMG_2727 IMG_2728 IMG_2729

Going back to the book I had to write down some passages that just really hit home.

“Why do we ever stop saying “Hi!” to everything? How is the understanding that the entire world is worthy of conscious consideration ever lost?”

This quote really resonates with me. My three year old will talk to anyone and anything. She does not care and is always so happy. I have written before on that it drives me nuts when you say good morning or hello to someone in the hallway and they walk by and don’t say anything back. How can you look at someone, recognize they are talking to you and not respond? It drives me crazy.

Another passage that really smacked me in the face was the idea of distraction. In the book the author discusses the sad situation of the labels and warnings needed for bathing infants in bathtubs and story of a mother who believed that a bath seat would protect her baby in the water while she was distracted.

“…a parent can become distracted, and a child should not have to pay with her or his life as a result.”

I am reminded of myself and how easily I get distracted. The anxiety I feel when I don’t get all these things done that I think are essential. When I calm my brain down and really process what is important in life I laugh. This blog is not essential. My nerdy videos are not essential, social media is not essential, yet I often am distracted by these thoughts in my daily life or when I should be playing with my kids more.


My topic of love. I blog about play. I have a Play and Tinkering G+ group. I am fascinated by play and continue to push for more play in schools. The book opened up my eyes to so many things. If we take a US focus, play is often described as an activity. The book references Roger Caillois when he says something that I LOVE! “The structure sof play and reality are often identical, but the respective activities that they subsume are not reducible to each other in time or place.” Basically, play is a reality twin of reality!

How powerful is that statement? Yet it is perfect.

“Play is not something that we do; it is something that we are.” This statement is something that we forget as adults. We try to schedule “play dates” or “play time” or we have now moved to an oversaturated society where everything is scheduled with perfectly created uniforms, schedules, rules, and adults involved at every nook and cranny. We have basically eliminated play from the lifestyles of children.

The book continues to take a look at how every playground in America is the same due to all the rules and restrictions. When compared to the Hanegi Playpark where kids just make with tools and scraps found laying around it is quite sad. As Susan Solomon states in her book American Playgrounds, “Existing American playgrounds are a disaster.”

Finally, I love this final quote worth sharing

“To play, you do not need a particular object or game or even a playground, you need only an assent, a grateful and glad yes.”

Kids need space. They need to be able to leave the reality of worksheets, sitting in desks all day, being forcefed useless knowledge and information and given time to explore, to learn, to grow in their own terms. We need adults to step back and give them the space needed to find themselves. I am not suggesting we let them be all the time and ignore them, but how often do we let them find their own path? We allow them to be distracted with devices and video games just as we do ourselves, but that is not what we are talking about.

If I can go back to my son. I wanted to intervene. But for three days my son did not touch his iPad. He is an iPad junkie and I partly to blame for allowing it to happen. He will waste a day away if I let him. For three days he spent 10-12 hours each day in this fort building, fixing, learning how to use tools, and just playing. It was wonderful.


I would encourage you to read this book. If nothing else it tells a remarkable story of people who grapple with space, family, friends, growing up, and most important what it means to be human. At a deeper level I hope you rethink your ideas on play.

Last, next time kids want to play please give them the space to do so and maybe they will create their own fort or something even better.
Profile Image for Laura Ross.
16 reviews
February 23, 2023
I wanted to love this book, but I'm not sure I ever fully understood the points the author was trying to make about space and objects. It's a very unusual book- I suppose I should have focused more on the "A Meditation" part of the title. I read this because it was referenced in "Ordinary Insanity" (one of my favorites!) and I thought it was going to be a more straightforward look at the American fear of death through the lens of Savage Park. Her meditations on death are definitely beautiful at times, but I still found myself struggling to see the bigger picture quite often. Nevertheless, I still recommend giving this book a read if the topic interests you.
Profile Image for Virginia.
165 reviews1 follower
July 20, 2017
This is a very interesting series of thoughts on a number of topics that I hadn't connected before. Death and play being the central focus but other ones like friendship, motherhood, and creativity, too.

It's a provocative exploration on the meaning of play and our obsession with safety that is central to Fusselman's thesis and it is beautifully woven into the writer's own experiences.

I am thinking of making this required reading for some people I work with.

What a lovely and unique small book.
478 reviews4 followers
February 24, 2019
The title is accurate. This is a meditation on the topics. It's the author's musings, and not linear or conclusive. I'm really interested in this subject, and Fusselman adds worthwhile ideas to the conversation, but I would have preferred a more structured format. Maybe the fact that I didn't care for her non-traditional writing structure just illustrates her point, and that does make me smile!
Profile Image for Eoin.
262 reviews8 followers
December 20, 2019
Play freely at your own risk. This is a book about mortality from a parent's point of view by considering a reasonably anarchic playground in Tokyo. It contains the idea that mortals, including parents, children, and babies, can and do die. As with the two other Fusselman books I am aware of, this is wonderful and everyone should read it. Thoughtful and weird and honest, with the right balance of eclectic, personal, and academic. Worth it for Katie on the trampoline.
Profile Image for Frances King.
34 reviews
March 31, 2023
I came home from the bar to finish reading this book! I love play and playgrounds and moving through lowercase-s space and thinking about how yeah it would be so fun if weddings had an active spin, a “shall we go?” instead of an “I do”! Let’s go!
Profile Image for Stefanie.
204 reviews20 followers
September 12, 2017
Disjointed ramblings intermixed with a handful of somewhat interesting cultural comparisons between the U.S. and Japan. A quick read but not really worth the time. Strange.
Profile Image for Alicia O'Donnell.
144 reviews1 follower
August 31, 2022
This was a bit different than I expected, but very interesting nonetheless. There were some aspects I wished she’d delved into further, but still worth the read for me.
Profile Image for Teruha.
57 reviews2 followers
March 10, 2023
“it was possible for the two of us to do this action together only if each one of us, individually, first did something alone that was internal, and invisible”
Profile Image for Angela.
536 reviews
May 28, 2015
I'd read an article some time back about Hanegi Playpark (probably The Atlantic's excerpt of this book, though I didn't realize it at the time), and I was intrigued. So despite my general dislike of memoir-style books, I requested this from the library. The parts about "Savage Park" are interesting, and I felt that Fusselman had some nice musings on play. Her resources section seems extensive, and I intend to look into some of those sources for more in-depth material on adventure playgrounds. But I was so-so on the rest. The stream-of-consciousness style, jumping around in space and time, seemed unnecessary. Maybe I just didn't "get it," but the part about "space" seemed to be a topic for a different book. She focused on herself, her friend, and the play facilitator, and I suppose that's one perspective. But what about the people playing at the park? What were they doing, experiencing, learning...?

My fave parts:
"And yet, bulldozing a space, padding and disinfecting it, and then congratulating ourselves on how we can sit back with our handhelds and leave our babies and children alone to "explore" is just one approach. It has its drawback, however, including the fact that babies and children, who quickly become young adults, do not learn how to take risks in space, something that ultimately makes then less safe in space, not more. Allowing babies, children and young adults to spend as much time as possible with the lowest level of interference in the highest-quality environment we can provide for them -- that is, an environment that we have not engineered ourselves and do not completely control, an environment we don't fully understand, an environment that includes devils and angels and accidents and trees and swings and lunch -- this is another approach. It also has drawbacks, the major ones being the pain of our own uncertainty and vulnerability, the process of making peace with the unknown, and the requirement that a non interfering adult Be Here Now." (p.86)

"To play, you do not need a particular object or game or even a playground; you need only an assent, a grateful and glad yes. Granting this yes, to and for ourselves, in every environment, even awful ones, is one of the most liberating things humans can do." (p. 96)

It was a quick read, a good start-of-summer reminder about the importance of unstructured & empowering creative play, and a nice jumping off point for more in-depth resources, so it wasn't a waste of time. I'd just hoped for more substance.
Profile Image for Anne.
50 reviews6 followers
June 7, 2015
The narrative is uneven, but the parts in Tokyo were fun. I give it 3.5 stars because she acknowledged Ruskin.

The best parts of the book deal directly with the park in Tokyo itself, and have little narrative intrusion. Fusselman conveys her wonder and appreciation for the Savage Park, which seems an anomaly even for Japan when juxtaposed with her vignette of time at a natatorium where organized swim lessons are taking place. Talk about unbearably regimented.

Toward the end, there are some lovely prose poem sections (short and flashy) that serve to bounce off of previously stated ideas about dignity and savageness. Some mention of meeting the Italian designer Sottsass which seems more like name-dropping: all buildup and little substance. Oh, you own one of his tables was about all.

It seems to be the musings of someone who saw shortfalls in her own life (which she reveals very subtly when she shares a time when she could not pick out an appropriate, personalized gift for a selfless and generous friend) and to save face, lays the blame elsewhere. But.... safe playgrounds with uninspiring plastic structures are not a metaphor for what's wrong with the world. Many children grow up playing freely and responsibly on boats, on trucks, building fires, hammering nails, and in tree houses. If they they have lucky parents, nobody is siccing the police on them for allowing their children to take natural risks. I think it's kind of sad that Fusselman had to go all the way to Japan to see children having this sort of fun.

I guess in some ways this is a book of regrets. If only she had been able to parlay her time with Sottsass into more meaningful discussions of objects and savagery those observations would have bounce meaningfully in the play-space of this book, and other interludes, like having Philippe Petite say "Shall we go", would have had more gravitas.

Profile Image for Biblio Files (takingadayoff).
579 reviews292 followers
November 30, 2014
Savage Park is, as its subtitle tells us, a meditation. I've never read a meditation before, and it turns out to be like an essay, but even more loosely structured than that. Savage Park has elements of blog entry, poetry, and conversation. The book is short, only 140 pages or so, and although you can read it quickly, there's a lot to chew on.

The Savage Park of the title is a playground in Japan that consists of an unlandscaped area with discarded lumber, old tires, retired boats for the children to play with. Although there's supervision, it seems like a lot of sharp edges to Amy Fusselman, whose own preschool children use city-approved New York parks with little of the inherent danger she sees in Savage Park.

From this experience, Fusselman contemplates the seemingly contradictory duties of parenting -- keeping your children safe while allowing them enough exposure to danger to allow them to learn to deal with it. She recognizes that this is not only a problem for parents, it's something we all deal with as human beings -- how to balance taking risks and living our lives while trying not to die in the process.

A class she takes with Philippe Petit, the famous high-wire artist, helps her to get a different perspective on the subject.

There's a lot to think about, but I have to confess, the most surprising aspect for me was how it shook up my apparently stereotypical notions of Japan as precisely manicured and orderly. Savage Park, the book and the playground, have made me look at Japan in a whole new way.
Profile Image for Leslie Lindsay.
Author 1 book78 followers
January 8, 2015
I'll admit it: I hate to play. It's too abstract, oftentimes silly, and generally not productive. Or is it? These are just some of the things that come to mind after closing Amy Fusselman's book, SAVAGE PARK.

Fusselman, a writer and mother who traveled to Tokoyo, Japan several years ago with her young family to meet and friend who took them to a park-within-a-park in which the children (and oftentimes teenagers and adults) would congregate to play with sort of rudimentary objects: old plywood, nails, ropes, dirt. Sure, it was unconventional, but it provided hours of play, learning, and of being one with the environment. Fusselman was entranced. She came back to the U.S. pumped up on the power of play, she began researching American playgrounds--why they are the way the are, who designs them, and so forth. She became a sort of social scientist exploring the artful--and at times death-defying--act of play.

The prose is brilliant, engaging, and observant. It makes me *want* to feel impassioned about tight-rope walking and Legos and Asian-based playparks, things that in "normal" life I might not think twice about. It makes me want to be a better parent, allowing my children to explore more and worry less.

SAVAGE PARK reads like a novel at times, a memoir at others, an meditation on life, and then there is the slim size; don't be fooled--this book packs a punch.
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