Books on the Nightstand: The end of the world as we know it

I’m on a post-apocalypse novel jag.  Maybe it’s because of the weather. Maybe it’s the drumbeat of news about our impending doom from climate change, or pandemic, or what have you. I should be sitting vigils with the Keystone Pipeline protestors, or volunteering to sign people up for flu vaccinations, but baby it’s cold out there.  

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So, instead of making myself useful, I’m curled up with books about what happens after the collapse of civilization.

Here’s what’s on my nightstand:

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The Dog Stars, Peter Heller. Evocative, terse, compelling. I could keep going with the adjectives. This is a gorgeous book.  My husband checked it out of the library, and barely spoke to me for three days while he plowed through it.  I couldn’t put it down, either. The author, Peter Heller, is a contributor to NPR, Outside MagazineMen’s Journal, and National Geographic Adventure. He writes like the outdoorsman he is, with spare, almost cryptic prose. Even though the style would ordinarily drive me crazy — no quotation marks, and full of incomplete sentences — somehow, it works. The characters feel utterly genuine. Protagonist Hig flies a small plane across desolate landscapes, hunts, fishes and mourns the loss of trout.  Most people, including his wife, have died from a flu-like plague. His companions are a dog and a gun-toting survivalist who keeps the riffraff, i.e. everyone else, at bay. Everything is more or less limping along in an acceptable balance of survival of the fittest, except that Hig is haunted by a mysterious radio transmission that he is dying to check out.  Where Cornack McCarthy’s The Road  is bleak, Heller’s book balances futility with hope in a way that pulls you almost gently, insidiously, and wonderfully into the story.

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Wool, Hugh Howey. Wool is a book for every indie writer’s heart, not just because it was self-published and went on to become a New York Times best seller. It’s gripping. Might as well give up on the chores you’re already putting off and let yourself be sucked in.  Picture a devastated, toxic landscape and a community of people living in an underground shelter, a “silo”, hundreds of stories deep. They’ve adapted pretty well, what with grow lights and a pretty good source of energy. The biggest taboo? To ask to go ‘outside.’ The citizens are loosely guided by a mayor, but it quickly becomes clear that she is not in charge. But who is?

As soon as I finished the book, I went right out and got the second in the series.

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The Seneca Scourge, Carrie Rubin. Rubin is another indie author and one of my favorite bloggers. She is self-effacing, kind, supportive — and funny.  I’m sure she won’t mind if I slip in a link to her Elf on a Shelf post from the holidays. Anyway, in this, Rubin’s first novel, a young infectious disease specialist who finds herself on more or less permanent call during a modern-day plague, discovers a potential remedy, and what appears to be a conspiracy to keep the cure secret. Rubin’s background as an MD makes the story all too plausible, and she spins the story out of the medical thriller genre with a twist of — stop here if you don’t want any spoilers — science fiction. Suffice it to say, I got my first flu shot in 15 years after this one, and now give dirty looks to people who cough on planes.  Fire up the tea pot, get out your fleece, put up your feet and settle down to Rubin’s fast-paced thriller.  I’m looking forward to her soon-to-be published second book.

What are you reading these days?

23 comments

  • Wow, you really ARE in a post-apocalyptic mood! Thank you so much for including my book. Very thoughtful of you! And I appreciate your kind words. What a wonderful Saturday night treat. 🙂

    The Dog Stars sounds like something my husband would really like. I may have to get that for him.

    Happy reading! Seems to be about the best thing to do in this cold weather. 🙂

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    • Dog Stars definitely crosses the gender line. Passed it on to 3 other men who all liked it. How can it go wrong with a guy who fishes and flies a plane?

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        • It’s one of those secret Man Books. Guys pass along special knowledge behind women’s backs, stuff like what exactly the Alternative Minimum Tax is, and what books pass the OK-to-read test.

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  • Great list, Julia, but I wouldn’t have expected anything less. I’ve just finished ‘Twelve Patients: Life and Death at Bellevue Hospital’ by Dr. Erick Manheimer. While I may not agree with the doctor’s political takes on medicine; it’s the first time in history that anyone has opened the doors of Bellevue hospital and allowed readers inside. He is a great commentator.

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  • I’m actually jockeying between 2 books about local history –history of Alberta. Very different than history of Ontario or British Columbia.

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    • Books about Canada — that’s a thought! We’re going to visit Revelstoke next month, an area I know nothing about.

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  • I’m curious why are you going there? By the way, there is the national wilderness park, Revel National Park. We went snowshoeing there. In the summer time, there are beautiful alpine meadow flowers.

    Then further north, is Yoho National Park. Go east, along Highway I, to Roger’s Pass, very windy. I think there is Radium Hot Spring further east. You are actually in an area, that one of the most difficult areas for building the CAnadian National Pacific Railway during the 1800’s.

    The Chinese railway workers undertook the most dangerous work west from Revelstoke and west to Vancouver. A lot of lives were lost. Similar history in U.S. I am not certain if the railway museum in Revelstoke mention the contributions of the Chinese rail workers.

    We will be going to Golden, British Columbia for a few days soon! That is just a few hundred km. or less east of Revelstoke. We hope to do some snowshoeing. Golden again was a railway stop I believe.

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  • You may not want to be my friend anymore, but we love to downhill ski, as well as cross country, and Revelstoke has been on my husband’s bucket list for a long time. Thank you for the tips! I will check out the museum. The railroad has shaped so much of recent history in the wild places in Canada. Have fun on your snow shoe trip! Looks like the snow and ice that we got in the Pacific Northwest bypassed that area, so here’s hoping they get some good snowy weather.

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  • Very nice reviews here, Julia! They all sound wonderful. To survive this awful winter I have been catching up on Netflix and movies I have wanted to see. The only reading I am doing lately besides blogs is college applications, financial aid websites, Senior Prom gowns & updo hairstyles. 🙂

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    • Noble reading all! Especially about up do’s. A junior year daughter? Hope all the activity helps sweep you through the last of the polar vortex!

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  • Guess it doesn’t matter what the story line is about if it’s interesting and you’re enjoying. I read The Road or I should say was glued to The Road and was sorry when it was over. Didn’t make me feel all warm and fuzzy but what a well written doomsday (actually after doomsday) story. Understand your choices.

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  • I agree about The Road. What a writer Cornack McCarthy is. Who else could make us stick to such a bleak tale and then make us sorry when it was over?

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  • To say I’m jealous of your reading time is an understatement. I do have books on my nightstand, however they are just there mocking me every day as I pass them by. Hopefully they will have their pages turned very soon!

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  • I will have to pick up these books! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve started one and put it down after “being thrown out of the story.” So many aren’t well edited.
    I just finished “Blackbirds” by Chuck Wendig. It is a very dark thriller and I had to skip a chapter because I knew I couldn’t handle the graphic horror, but the book was addictive!
    Thanks for bringing this to the party! Have fun mingling with everyone!

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  • I’ll check out Blackbirds, too. I’m on to Seating Arrangments by Maggie Shipstead, which started off a little flowery I thought, but she has me deep in it now. I’m the same about graphic horror, in books or movies. Even though I know it’s pretend, my brain reacts as if it’s real, and haunts me at night. Thanks for visiting!

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