What to Read When the World Isn’t Enough
I’m not alone when I say I’ve had a hard few weeks. Things have felt slightly broken, shook askew, tilted into fantasy mayhem. I’m trying to take the long view, trying to steel myself for a fight, but sometimes some of the best uses of our time is taking a step back and looking through different eyes.
I’m a big reader, so in the days since the election I’ve been trying to understand things through fiction. So here’s a small list of inspiring and thought-provoking books I’ve been dwelling on.
I’m actually only two-thirds of the way through this one right now, but it’s chilling how close to life this near-future dystopia is. A world-ruining drought in California, climate change past the point of no return, an utterly broken economy, plus a street drug that drives people to set trash, homes, and even people on fire for the pure joy of seeing the flames. It’s a dangerous world, but there’s hope in our narrator, who’s grown up in the maelstrom and yet is determined to get out and create something. Like I said, I’m not done yet, so I can’t say much more about this or its sequel, Parable of the Talents, but I can say they’re already both on my Christmas wishlist.
The ultimate in revolution books, this could also be the ultimate in ways to distract yourself from the real world for weeks, if not months. Called “the brick” in the Les Mis fandom, this book is around 1,500 pages long. I’ve been “reading” it for a few years now. I promise I’m going to finish it soon. If you haven’t seen one of the movie adaptations or the wonderful musical version, the plot is… well, not simple. It tracks an honorable man through some dishonorable times: Jean Valjean goes to prison for stealing some bread to feed his family, gets out after 19 years, and spends the remainder of the book doing as much good as he can to repay his debt to society and God. It’s sort of like the reverse Count of Monte Cristo.
The second half of Les Miserables connects with what became known as the June Rebellion, of the Paris Uprising of 1832, which was a failed social revolution. Which may make you question whether or not this book/movie/musical is going to be at all comforting reading material just now. But despite the lack of military success, the message of putting the people first and needing to rise up stands strong.
One of my favorite YA books, Unwind is another near-future dystopia that takes the abortion debate out to its extreme conclusions. Abortion is illegal, but between the ages of 12 and 17, children can be “retroactively unwound” if their parents deem it necessary. The children’s parts are completely reused for what has become a very lucrative and advanced medical field of transplants and replacements, but clearly there’s some moral issues going on. This is the first in a series of books tracking the rebellion that forms from within the ranks of the unlucky children pledged to be “unwound.”
I for one didn’t learn nearly anything about the recent history of Iran when I was in school, so Marjane Satrapi’s groundbreaking graphic novels were my introduction to the very real pain and issues that spread out from that part of the world during and after the Islamic Revolution. At some point during the election season, I saw a tweet by an Iranian that had the idea “America, if you’ve always wondered how countries can fall to such insanity so quickly, now you’re living it.” That tweet, and Satrapi’s work, have continually been showing up in my thoughts lately. History doesn’t repeat itself: it rhymes, and we might be getting close to echoing back this particular refrain. The honesty, courage, and verisimilitude within Satrapi’s graphic novels, which were also adapted into a movie, is something for us all to aspire to in the coming years.
Most of these are just what I had on my bookshelf and what has been calling to me, but I know there’s gaps in this collection. Let me know in the comments what books you’ve been finding comfort and inspiration in lately.
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