The world is going to hell. We all know this. I could list some of the social, cultural, and political signs of our collective decline, but my readers are smart. Both of you. You guys already know.
To be honest, the “how” of society’s downward spiral has never really interested me. Listen, if you want to know how Republicans are ruining everything, read the New York Times. If you want to know how Democrats are ruining everything, read the Wall Street Journal. If you want to know things and get a side of topless women, read the The Sun (UK). If you want to know more about any of the Kardashian sisters, kill yourself – you’re part of the problem.
That said, I’ve always been fascinated by the potential end results of that downward spiral, be it physical destruction or totalitarian control. Post-apocalyptic and dystopian fiction have always had a prominent place on my bookshelf. Among my favorites:
Yes, I know this is the predictable top of the list. There’s a good reason for that: over fifty years after its publication, its relevance and poignancy have only grown. Try naming books that can make that claim. You won’t come up with many. I’ll get to ‘Lord of the Flies’ in a minute. ‘Ender’s Game’ might be on its way, but needs a few more rings around its trunk (and an intergalactic war to break out). Semi-related, has anybody done a scholarly paper comparing the military training of select gifted children in ‘Ender’s Game’ to the AAU basketball circuit yet? We need to get some English major / sports fan on that one.
Is that obscure enough for you, person who was snarky about my “predictable” mention of ‘Ninteen Eight-Four’?
(Suck it, predictability-complainer-guy)
Two complaints about people my age: Amidst a surge in anti-intellectualism, we’ve quickly forgotten that, even within the past decade, people still really, actually, physically burn books. We’re not nearly as evolved as we’d like to think. (Yes, I will get to ‘Lord of the Flies’ in a minute; I promise). Second, we don’t give Ray Bradbury nearly enough love. There was a time when the sci-fi / fantasy genre had not yet been flooded with a bunch of mediocre tripe about hormonal werewolves and vampires, and the still more hormonal teenage girls who find them preferable mates to teenage boys. People told stories that gave readers things to think about other than which of the monsters that met Abbot and Costello they’d most like to bang.
Bradbury told great stories – ‘The Illustrated Man’ alone has a bunch of really good ones.
He even wrote an episode of the original ‘Twilight Zone’. I love the old ‘Twilight Zone’ episodes. Are they often preachy and/or dated? Sure. Still, there are some really good stories in that series, which has become as much a fixture of my New Year’s Day as my hangover.
Kids who borderline-enjoyed high school English seemed to fall into two distinct camps: ‘Catcher in the Rye’ and ‘Lord of the Flies’. I know this is blasphemy in some circles – like pointing out just how much pandering Bruce Springsteen does to a New Jerseyan – but, how was this even a debate? Real Talk: ‘Catcher’ is about an angst-y teenager coping with a messed-up world. It’s dog-bites-man. I wonder if it remains perennially popular for the same reason that horrendous “Tonight’s gonna be a good night” song has become ubiquitous – because it tells people exactly what they want to hear at exactly the time they want to hear it. I’m guessing the general perception of the book would be much different if people read it for the first time in their adulthoods, rather than tenth grade.
Plus, with the recent popularity of ‘The Hunger Games’, it bears repeating that ‘Lord of the Flies’ was an OG of kids-killing-other-kids stories – and in ‘Flies’, they didn’t need the construct of a “game” to do it. It’s easy to say that kids would go around off-ing each other if the big, bad grown-ups made them. It’s a much harsher (but no less true) look at human nature to say that, absent adult supervision, they’d probably get around to it on their own. While I’m on that, how has nobody mentioned that ‘Hunger Games’ is a blatant rip-off of ‘Battle Royale’? I’m not one to knock the hustle, but I’m just saying…
If you can’t stand the brevity of ‘Lord of the Flies’, try ‘The Stand’.
Question: With the surge in nerd-chic, where comic books and ‘Star Wars’ have gone very mainstream, is it now “cool” to be a Stephen King fan? Or would people who have a mint-condition copy of ‘The Amazing Spider-Man Meets Bat-Man #2′ look down on me for having read the entire ‘Dark Tower’ series? You might be thinking “No such comic series existed” or “Idiot, one of those is Marvel and one is DC”. The next time you look down on my taste in books, I want you to remember that you thought those thoughts.
I recommend this with some pause, and not just because it was featured in Oprah’s Book Club. ‘The Road’ is a brutal book – not just in terms of subject matter, but also matters of form. It’s a difficult read. McCarthy often loves run-on sentences, and hates punctuation. Also, if you’re the type of reader that needs every question to be answered and every loose end to be tied up by the last page (not that there’s anything wrong with that), don’t bother with this one. McCarthy doesn’t even tell you the main characters’ names. Caveats and qualifications aside, I thought this was a really rewarding, albeit exhausting, read.
“But, Dave, ‘The Giving Tree’ isn’t about the end of the world.”
Try telling that to the tree.