The first book I remember loving as an adolescent was The Girl Who Owned a City. In it, everyone over the age of twelve or thirteen has been killed in a mysterious plague, and children are left trying to keep themselves alive. A ten-year-old girl named Lisa becomes a de facto leader in her suburb, and eventually faces off with a bunch of thuggish gangs.
I loved it so much that I stole the only copy from my school’s library, and I wrote to Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorcesse, urging them to make a film version. (As I recall, I offered to write the screenplay for them, too. I was a ballsy ten year-old.)
I recently reread the book, and realized that it’s a weird defense of free-market capitalism and Objectivism. Which seems like an odd thing to juxtapose with THE END OF THE WORLD, but whatever, it was written in the 70’s. The important thing here is that it instilled in me a ridiculous love of the genre. (And of its cousin, dystopic fiction, which will get its own post.)
I will, at this point, pick up nearly any book that promises the destruction of human society on every level. The Stand by Stephen King, was another favorite book as an adolescent and teenager, and I can still enjoy it, unlike most of his other books. World War Zby Max Brooks stands as one of the most outstanding titles in the entire zombie apocalypse genre — and I include movies in that as well. Robopocalypse by Daniel Wilson, which was just released in paperback, is similar to World War Z in its scope and premise, and just as satisfying to read. (You really can’t go wrong with killer robots, transhumanism, and a diverse cast of characters.) For people with a bent towards more literary fiction, there’s Earth Abides, which was written in 1949. It’s kind of the godfather of the genre, and is just as much about the environmental changes that would result from a huge population loss as it is about the survivors.
And then there’s non-fiction: The World Without Us is an amazing look at the ecological impact of humanity’s sudden extinction, similar to Earth Abides, but without all the forays into rebuilding society. Because who cares about polyamory and cannibalism and the evolution of religion when you can learn about the rate of erosion in urban environments? AWESOME.
I’ll admit to not having read a few of the more famous post-apocalyptic books out there. Namely, The Road. I’ll get to it someday, when I’m reasonably sure that reading it won’t send me into a spiral of depression and despair.
I think all the things that I find compelling about the post-apocalyptic genre are going to have to go into another post. I was actually planning on writing an entire essay about the white middle class and its obsession with apocalyptic stories, so, uh, stay tuned? It’ll be along shortly.
Floating somewhere around the internet, there’s a “Blog 100 Things About Something or Other” challenge. A few of my peeps have signed up, but I wasn’t planning to. Because, like, 100 posts? That’s asking a lot from me. I’m a busy person. I have things to do. (Right now, I’m making soup and editing a short story and wondering if I threw away last Sunday’s crossword and skipping out on an actual obligation to one of my jobs. I am a champion multitasker.)
Then I realized: I can so easily write 100 things about books. I work in a bookstore, so a good 40 hours of my life every week are devoted to handling, wrapping, shipping, receiving, retrieving, and blathering about books. I have had so many conversations about The Hunger Games and Fifty Shades of Grey,you don’t even want to know. I have a lot of opinions about books.
So here is my first of a hundred things about books: Jorge Luis Borges writes the best opening lines.
I just started reading Borges. I found a used copy of his Collected Fictions at the store. I have read three stories so far. I slogged my way through “Tlön, Uqbar, and Orbis Tertius”, which, holy shit. That’ll get its own post at some day. On the train ride home, I read “Man in the Pink Corner”, and “The Cruel Redeemer Lazarus Morell.”
Here are the three opening lines for those three very different stories:
I owe the discovery of Uqbar to the conjunction of a mirror and an encyclopedia.
Imagine you bringing up Francisco Real that way, out of the clear blue sky, him dead and gone and all.
In 1517, Fray Bartolomé de las Casas, feeling great pity for the Indians who grew worn and lean in the drudging infernos of the Antillean gold mines, proposed to Emperor Charles V that Negroes be brought to the isles of the Carribean, so they might grow worn and lean in the drudging infernos of the Antillean gold mines.
I’m not going to dissect these opening lines, because I am out of college and pretty done with literary theory and criticism at this point in my life. I am just going to reiterate that every one of these lines melts my soul like a Nutella in a microwave.
I have also decided that when Borges talks about either the sky or a river, you shut your dirty mouth and listen.
The Mississippi is a broad-chested river, a dark and infinite brother of the Paraná, the Uruguay, the Amazon, and the Orinoco. It is a river of mulatto-hued water; more than four hundred million tons of mud, carried by that water, insult the Gulf of Mexico each year. All that venerable and ancient waste has created a delta where gigantic swamp cypresses grow from the slough of a continent in perpetual dissolution and where labyrinths of clay, dead fish, and swamp reeds push out the borders and extend the peace of their fetid empire.
Which, just, what do I even say to that?
"Perpetual dissolution", oh my god. Take me now.
Okay, so now that I’ve squeed about Borges, anything else book-related you want to ask me about? Feel free to leave suggestions in my ask box.
“When comparing A Gender Not Listed Here results to those of transgender-identified respondents surveyed in Injustice at Every Turn, genderqueer respondents were more likely to be unemployed (76 percent versus 56 percent); suffer physical assaults (32 percent versus 25 percent); experience harassment by law enforcement (31 percent versus 21 percent); and forgo health care treatment due to fear of discrimination (36 percent versus 27 percent). There were other measures in which transgender respondents suffered higher levels of discrimination or harassment.”—Genderqueers more likely to experience discrimination, violence than trans people « Stuff Queer People Need To Know
“Monosexuals do this shitty thing where they go “yeah, uh-huh, right” when a bi person says they’re bi if they’re not currently fisting members of different genders with both arms. Don’t let people pull that shit on you. People who want to invisibilize your bisexuality are probably not worth being your friend or partner.”—
In her first order of business since being inaugurated as Malawi’s new president on Saturday, Joyce Banda fired the country’s top policeman. No reason was given for the firing, but the BBC reports that the police chief, Peter Mukhito, was in charge last year during anti-government protests over the worsening economy. Mukhito had personally questioned a University of Malawi lecturer over comparisons the latter had made between the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt and the fuel crisis in Malawi. The university was later closed. Then last July, police shot dead 19 protesters. Banda’s decisiveness does not surprise long term observers of Malawian politics and her appointment carries wider significance beyond the Southern African country.
For Malawians, it means a “triumph for democracy” in that the proper succession has occurred peacefully and smoothly. Given the rumors and some public statements after the sudden death of Banda’s predecesor, Bingu wa Mutharika, this is especially welcome news. So much for the Afro-pessimists. Senegal in March, Malawi in April. The Malian coup lasted only a few days. Who knows what May will bring?
Banda has been a lifelong champion of women’s rights. She has spent decades organizing rural women, in Malawi and beyond. She has pushed and pulled women, and pushed and pulled with women, to demand equal access to education, to jobs, to land, to health services, to opportunities, to power. She has started women’s organizations and actively supported women’s movements.
In 2004, Banda entered government as Minister of Gender, Child Welfare and Community Services. She focused, both in legislative and delivery terms, on addressing domestic violence. She then moved on to become Minister of Foreign Affairs in 2006 and Vice-President in 2009.
In recent years, as the regime of Mutharika became increasingly repressive and autocratic, Banda remained an independent voice for women and for others who suffered systemic and structural disenfranchisement, in good times and in bad. When Banda was kicked out of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, she formed her own, the People’s Party, and stayed in office.
And there she has been. Speaking out for women when they were attacked by vendors in Lilongweand Blantyre earlier this year. Speaking out for rural women constantly. Speaking out for more inclusive and democratic processes at all levels of state.
Joyce Banda has spent her life paying attention, learning, engaging, organizing, and effecting positive change. In particular, she watched and learned the difficulties and inequities of rural women’s and girls’ lives.
As a child, she learned that inequality intensifies with rural girls’ exclusions from school, and that the ways of those exclusions are numerous, entwined, complex, and structural.
At 21, Banda married and gave birth to three children. Her husband was abusive; the marriage was corrosive. Banda took her three children, left, and then got a divorce. For the next forty years, she has worked to end domestic violence and transform women’s positions in the world and at home.
When Banda gave birth to her fourth child, she suffered from post partum hemorrhaging and almost died. She realized she owed her life to easy access to trained medical care. From there, she began organizing and working for better access, especially among rural women, to reproductive health care and health care generally.
Joyce Banda’s ascendancy to the Presidency of Malawi is a moment to celebrate, to acknowledge, tohail. Women know, “The future starts now!”
Almost every day, my mailbox is filled with handwritten letters from students–teens and pre-teens–who have read my YA book and loved it. I have yet to receive a letter from a child somehow debilitated by the domestic violence, drug abuse, racism, poverty, sexuality, and murder contained in my book. To the contrary, kids as young as ten have sent me autobiographical letters written in crayon, complete with drawings inspired by my book, that are just as dark, terrifying, and redemptive as anything I’ve ever read.
Am now sparing a moment to be grateful that I share a world with people and authors like Sherman Alexie.
It’s estimated that approximately 26,000 youth in Illinois experience homelessness each year, 15,000 of them here in Chicago. On any given night, there might be up to 3,000 youth on the streets, in shelters or squats, or couch surfing.
For these thousands of youth, Chicago has 189 beds.
So I worked all day at my newest bookstore job, and then I came home and ate a shitload of nutella, and then I went on a date and ate real food like an adult, and then I saw The Hunger Games for the second time, then I made out with someone in their car, then I came home, ate some more nutella, and watched Spartacus.
“Declaration: “Spartacus” is one of the most feminist shows on television. It has so many different kinds of female characters, and though it doesn’t shy away from showing the restrictions they operate under, and it continually depicts their resilience, their strength, their flaws and their overall complexity. To the people who don’t watch this show and pre-judge it in annoying ways, I always say: It’s not only one of the best-constructed shows on TV, it depicts all kinds of sexuality in a truly equal and honest fashion (unlike many HBO and Showtime shows, “Spartacus” doesn’t put naked women in random scenes just because it can), it’s gay-friendly, it’s multiracial and it’s full of so much lady awesomeness. So the people who dismiss “Spartacus” without taking time to at least sample some of those aspects of the show? I have many choice German curse words reserved for them.”—
Maureen Ryan (Huffington Post)
(I don’t agree with anyone saying something is “the most feminist”, but I fucking love this show. For all the reasons above, and also because I’m a horrible person who loves watching bloody naked men run around shouting YARGH.)