Monday, January 07, 2008

x 24

x 24, originally uploaded by your neighborhood librarian.

I am not thinking about a post-apocalyptic world.

That is a lie. Whenever I am not thinking about a sci-fi novel (and sometimes when I am), I am thinking about a post-apocalyptic world.

The littlest thing can set me off - an ailanthus tree growing out of an alley crack, an air-raid siren perched on a firehouse, Quonset huts, Daniel Day Lewis. Shouldn't he be the guy when they make the movie of The Road? Face like his, he looks like he's stared down plenty of cannibals.

Certainly I've always loved the post-apocalyptic fiction. A Canticle for Liebowitz - I invoke it every time I recommend microfilm as a preservation medium. Riddley Walker, possibly my favorite novel of all time. Love in the Ruins by Walker Percy. Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood. The Stand by Stephen King. Mmmm - I would STILL read that book, even though it's hell long and I know how it ends (ludicrously) and I'm getting the idea that his son is a better writer. I even slightly enjoyed the first book of the Left Behind franchise because of the authors' vision of the Earth after the Rapture (don't get me wrong - it's offensive, reactionary bullshit, but it surely qualifies as "speculative").

Plus the movies and the TV: the Yangs and the Khoms episode of Star Trek; Planet of the Apes; that scene in Twelve Monkeys when Bruce Willis meets the bear in Philly... the world laid waste has great visual appeal. I'm even looking forward to seeing I Am Legend, even though I hate zombies.

So it's no surprise that Alan Weisman's "thought experiment," The World Without Us, was a real page-turner for me. The book attempts to describe how the planet would recover (or not) were the human race to disappear all at once. What would happen to the nuclear power plants? The hole in the ozone? The squirrels in the Bronx? His description of how a house would disintegrate, teased apart by moisture, succumbing to gravity, oh, I'm practically a big old Goth girl, I love that so much.

But more objectively, this book belongs on my Favorite Non-fiction Books of All Time list because the author allows his curiosity to lead him the length and breadth of the planet and from one end of the Dewey Decimal System to the other. His research plumbs history, paleo-history, geology, geography, weather, anthropology, zoology, physics, taste, economics, chemistry, and habitat ecology. He goes to the middle of the Pacific ocean, Poland, Kenya, New York, Arizona, and South Korea, among other places.

Something for everyone, in other words. Plus, it's a clear-eyed, sound, well-researched discussion of the extent of the environmental damage we have done so far and what will happen if it does not cease. I'll tell you what: no more plastic water bottles in our house, not after reading this book.

I have a list, by the way (what a surprise), of Favorite Non-fiction Books of All Time. In fact, I used to only read non-fiction: Jaime once wondered how anyone could expect me to do adult reader advisory when all I read was books about disease and natural disasters. But I've branched out, and the reason I feel ok about presenting this list now is that The World Without Us touches the subject of each and every one of these books (except The Professor and the Madman. And possibly Homicide.).

Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey. Desert ecology.

Tornado Alley: Monster Storms of the Great Plains by Howard B. Bluestein. Tornados.

Blood on the Tracks by Miles Bredin. Africa.

In the wake of the plague: The Black Death and the world it made by Norm Cantor. Bubonic plague.

Ecological Imperialism by Alfred Worcester Crosby. Ecology.

Nickel and Dimed: On (not) getting by in America, by Barbara Ehrenreich. Economy.

A Gap in Nature, by Tim Flannery, pictures by Peter Schouten. Extinct animals.

King Leopold's Ghost by Adam Hochschild. Congo.

Magical Mushrooms and Mischievous Molds by George W Hudler. Fungi.

Isaac's Storm by Erik Larson. Hurricane.

The Soul of a New Machine. Tracy Kidder. Computer design.

Arctic Dreams by Barry Lopez. The Arctic.

City on Fire by Bill Minutaglio. Texas City refinery fires.

A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush by Erik Newby. India.

The Rape of Europa: The Fate of Europe's Treasures in the Third Reich... by Lynn H. Nicholas. Art in WWII.

The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan. Economy, agriculture.

Stiff by Mary Roach. Corpses.

Honey, Mud, Maggots and Other Medical Marvels by Robert Root-Bernstein. Folk medicine.

Garbage Land by Elizabeth Royte. Garbage.

Low Life by Luc Sante. New York City crime.

A Primate's Memoir by Robert Sapolsky. Baboons.

Homicide by David Simon. Baltimore crime.

Rats by Robert Sullivan. Rats.

In Siberia by Colin Thubron. Siberia.

Envisioning Information by Edward Tufte. Visual display.

Bones: A Forensic Detective's Casebook by Doug Ubelaker. The original forensic anthropology story collection.

Krakatoa by Simon Winchester. Volcanic eruption.

The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester. Oxford English Dictionary.

Rats, Lice and History by Hans Zinsser. Cholera.

Most honorable mention must be made of Commodify your dissent: Salvos from The Baffler, edited by Tom Frank and Matt Weiland. Anyone who's ever caught themselves buying an EXXtreeme Mountain Dew instead of a regular one should read this book and cringe.