Every day I take my lunch hour outside in my car. I do this for several reasons. Mostly because after dealing with people all day I’m ready for some alone time, and also so my coworkers can’t find me to ask work related questions. But really I like to use my allotted hour to read. I have no idea what part of “I’m sitting alone in a corner with a book stuck to my face” sends the message that it’s okay to talk to me, but that’s how it is when I take my lunch in the break room. Thus the blissful solitary hour in my car.
I had some concerns today, however, because summer has landed with a resounding boom here in Georgia and it’s hotter than the blazes of Hades. Even now, in full dark, it’s 98 degrees with enough humidity to curl your arm hair. You can imagine what it was like with the sun straight over head in the middle of a forest of asphalt. Still, I thought I’d give it a go because that’s how much I need my daily hour of reading.
So I parked my car in the shadiest spot I could find, between an F150 and a Silverado. (And since I drive what amounts to a roller skate, it was like being parked between two skyscrapers.) With the windows down and a slight breeze rolling through my car, I settled in to enjoy a few chapters and forget the world. I did not feel the heat, I did not see the sun, and I did not notice that I was sweating through my uniform to the point where it looked like I’d peed my britches when I finally rejoined the world.
Walker’s spectacular debut begins thusly: “We didn’t notice right away. We couldn’t feel it. We did not sense, at first, the extra time, bulging from the smooth edge of each day like a tumor blooming beneath skin… On the sixth of October, the experts went public. This, of course, is the day we all remember. There’d been a change, they said, a slowing, and that’s what we called it from then on: the slowing.” Of course, as the earth’s rotation grows slower still, heading towards an uncertain apocalypse, 11-year-old Julia still has to deal with all the equally world-ending mundanities of adolescence.
The Flame Alphabet by Ben Marcus
In Marcus’ most recent novel, language has become toxic. At first, the sound of children’s voices beings to make adults sick, but as the strange plague develops, any communication at all, even their own, even facial expressions, makes adults suffer unbearable pain and begin to waste away. As you might expect, all interaction effectively stops, except for a rabid amount of casual sex, everyone looking away from each other. Towards the end of the novel, the protagonist despairs, “Without language my inner life, if such a phrase indicates anything anymore, was merely anecdotal, heresay. It was not even that. It was the noisings one might detect if a microphone were held against a stone in the woods.” Bleak, indeed.
The Greatwinter Series by Sean McMullen
In these novels, a group of scientists recreate an ancient and extinct species of whale Jurassic Park-style, from its recently discovered DNA, a project that seriously, seriously backfires. As it turns out, the whale species had telepathic powers, which they use to punish the humans who have so hurt their brethren. They feel and copy feelings of longing from one of the scientists, and then translate these into a telepathic, emotional “call” that causes almost all the humans in the world to walk into the ocean and drown themselves. Lots of other stuff is happening too, but: whales, you guys. Telepathic whales.
Dust by Charles R. Pellegrino
“They’re dead, I tell you! All the fungus gnats are dead!” And that’s a bad thing. In this bizarre novel, all of the insect species on Earth begin to go extinct, and their absence wreaks havoc on the planet’s ecosystem, the disaster moving steadily up the food chain until enormous mites are devouring every living thing in their path. You might just think twice before pulling out the flyswatter next time.
The Wind from Nowhere by J.G. Ballard
Ballard’s first novel is a seriously weird one — at first, there’s just a stiff breeze, but every day it gets stronger. The breezes become winds become gales become hurricanes become unearthly forces that threaten to blow every living thing off the planet.
The Snow by Adam Roberts
You think the winds are bad? Try a never-ending snowfall that smothers the earth, covering even the highest buildings and accumulating more and more until the snow is miles thick around the planet. The only way to survive is to constantly stay on the snow’s surface — everyone who fails to do so is buried alive.
Dies the Fire by S.M. Stirling
Another baffling catalyst is “The Change” — a mysterious and seemingly spontaneous worldwide shift that alters the physical laws of the world so that electricity, gunpowder, and other forms of technology suddenly stop functioning, and modern civilization follows right on their heels.
Blindness by José Saramago
This novel is about exactly what it sounds like — blindness sweeps an unnamed city, causing a complete breakdown of society. It’s sort of amazing to consider how something as relatively common as blindness (more common than aliens or flesh-eating bacteria, anyway) can destroy so much if applied to a community on a grand scale.
Sleepless by Charlie Huston
Similarly, Huston’s Sleepless imagines a world racked by a plague of insomnia that slowly unravels society. We think that would probably be even worse than widespread blindness.
Vanishing Point by Michaela Roessner
This novel’s apocalyptic event is bizarre for it’s simple lack of explanation (and stands in for the many post-apocalyptic novels who skirt this very issue). One day, 90% of the world’s population disappears. No apparent reason. 29 years later, scientists are still searching for answers to explain the Vanishing, their findings a whole new physics that are just as bizarre as the mysterious catastrophe.
I sometimes wonder if we romanticize books too much.
I mean, all bibliophiles speak of the scent of a bookstore, how the dusty boards reach out to you, how the corners are filled with wisdom and whispers. You travel the aisles, anticipating the perfect volume, heavy in your hand, gilt edges sparking in the dim and hopefully mysterious interior of the quiet little shop. Perhaps you clutch the book to your chest, holding it as a lover. Or maybe you open to the middle, breathing in the pages as though you’d never smelled anything quite so divine as the aroma of old wood and resin, or new paper and fresh ink. You might finger the brittle yellow pages and consider what other eyes have skimmed the rows of faded letters or revel in the idea that you alone are the explorer in this undiscovered land.
Everyone loves a beautifully bound book, old or new. We all feel the little swell of pride in a shelf sagging with the weight of words. As readers, there is nothing so indicative of home as the sight of a beloved book waiting by the pillow, or the comforting heaviness that tells us the bag on our shoulder is full of friends.
Would we feel the same about the look and feel of books if we’d never experienced them in such pretty packages? What if our stories only ever came to us in scuffed up form, tattered and worn and not the least bit aesthetically pleasing? After all, isn’t it the story that matters? The reaching into other worlds, other lives, the escape of it all, the knowledge that there is more out there?
Perhaps it is only our experience that makes the book so pleasing to behold. We know what’s inside, after all. We know where those pieces of paper candy can take us. And that’s where the appeal comes from. Should it matter if the words we read come from a leather bound vintage volume? Aren’t those the same words one would read in a tattered paper back? Or perhaps an electronic screen?
Books are, in the end, only stories. What form you choose to take them in is up to you. But remember the old adage about beauty; it comes from within. And so it is with books. Swoon over the covers if you must, but remember that love usually shows up in the most unlikely and unwanted of places. Take a second, or third, or maybe even tenth look at some places you would never dare to consider. You might be surprised what you’ll find.
“Write no matter what dramas and conflicts are happening in your life. Storms will rage, lovers will leave, and friends will disagree. Write despite the weather, your broken heart, or bruised feelings. There will never be perfect conditions for writing, when all is peace and tranquility. Chances are once one area of your life smoothes out, another will erupt. Find the equanimity within, no matter the conditions in your outer world.”—
Jessica Page Morrell, The Writer’s I Ching
Once in awhile, I pull a card from the deck of cards that came in The Writer’s I Ching. Amazingly, the card I pick always seems to address whatever problem I’m dealing with in my writing. The above passage is at the heart of my writing resistance/procrastination. I always allow life to pull me off track, always waiting for things to calm down before I get going again. This has certainly been the case for the past couple of weeks. Apparently, I need to knock it off. The I Ching says so. :)
i miss the generations when a guy had to ask a girl out by asking her parents, where a girl could just be beautiful in a tshirt, where bubonic plagues decimated villages across europe and left a third of the population dead. reblog if u agree
“Don’t let yourself feel worthless: often through life you will really be at your worst when you seem to think best of yourself; and don’t worry about losing your “personality,” as you persist in calling it: at fifteen you had the radiance of early morning, at twenty you will begin to have the melancholy brilliance of the moon, and when you are my age you will give out, as I do, the genial golden warmth of 4 p.m.”—F. Scott Fitzgerald, This Side of Paradise (via larmoyante)
“I couldn’t live a week without a private library - indeed, I’d part with all my furniture and squat and sleep on the floor before I’d let go of the 1500 or so books I possess.”—H. P. Lovecraft (via bookaddictiion)