Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Apocalyptic Reading

My inner (but never subsumed!) apocalypse girl has been directing the reading choices lately.  I started the week-end of our sailboat non-purchase in Jacksonville by reading Hilma Wolitzer's An Available Man.  On its face, it's not a novel of apocalypse.  Societies  do not collapse, nothing goes awry on a global scale.  But it is a story about a man who loses his wife to cancer.  He's not that old, but the horrors of dating again seem both poignant and apocalyptic to me.

Many times I was tempted to quit reading.  It reminded me of those books I loved as an adolescent:  folks living in the orbit of New York City who apparently have gobs of money but we don't see them work much.  How do they afford these vacations in the Hamptons?  When I was young, I assumed my grown up life would be just this way.  So far, not exactly.

From that book, which I zoomed through in just a few hours, I read Helen Simpson's In-Flight Entertainment.  It's a collection of short stories, most of them extremely short.  Many of them had an explicit apocalyptic theme, while all of them had a foreboding kind of tone, even if societal collapse wasn't imminent.  The story from which the collection takes its title deals with global warming and the implications of air travel across the globe.  "Diary of an Interesting Year" terrified me in the same way the nuclear war movies of my adolescence did.  It made me think of regular life and what would be lost if the glacial shelf collapsed, and water overtook the world.  It made me think of how life would be particularly difficult in a female body.  It made me want to get serious about target practice and use of a gun.

I'm currently reading Colson Whitehead's Zone One, a zombie apocalypse kind of book.  But along the way, there's lots of musing about life just before the zombie apocalypse (our current day) and life in the 1970's.  It, too, deals with the myth of New York City, but in such a different way than Wolitzer does.  Whitehead realizes that there are many myths of New York City, and he deftly weaves them together.

Of course, I can't read nothing but apocalypse.  I also read The First 20 Minutes: Surprising Science Reveals How We Can Exercise Better, Train Smarter, Live Longer by Gretchen Reynolds.  I love its premise, that maybe we don't need to do some of the impossible sounding activities we've been told we must do to be healthy.  Now, to lose much weight, yes, we may need to make a more strenuous effort.  But to improve our health actually takes very little, in terms of exertion that hurts.  If you go here, you can find links to two delightful interviews that aired on NPR, plus you can read an excerpt.

I also scanned Dr. Andrew Weil's Spontaneous Happiness, which didn't tell me anything I didn't already know, but it's good to be reminded of the importance of fighting against a doomed outlook, which is one of the risks of descending into apocalyptic reading.  Weil gives all sorts of suggestions and concludes the book with an 8 week program for moving toward emotional health. 

How I miss the summers of my youth, where I had long days to lose myself in good books.  But I'll take the smaller scraps of time, even while longing for whole weeks or months.

1 comment:

Hannah Stephenson said...

In-Flight Entertainment sounds really good! I've been reading for fun this summer, too, which has been lovely. I just finished "The Behavior of Moths" (very fun) and "How to Do Things with Video Games" (a great title, right? Helpful for thinking of games analytically).