I admit it, for the past few years I’ve been slacking with this whole book-gift-giving-recommendation thing. It’s not that I haven’t been reading anything, heavens no. This year I read “Riddley Walker,” “The Road,” “Underground Airlines,” “Cloud Atlas, “A Canticle for Leibowitz” (which I really enjoyed). And a bunch of other stuff.
From the above you can see that this year I became obsessed with good ole’ fashioned apocalyptic dystopian fantasies. End times stuff, it must have been in the air. Lord, I could have just looked out the window. Anyway, reader beware, for beyond this paragraph here be monsters.
J.G. Ballard. “High-Rise” and “Concrete Island”. This summer I went on a Ballard bender. Whoo boy. Thought it important to better understand the influences behind the Punk and New Wave movements; those guys and gals have a thing for technology, isolation, and violence. Clockwork Orange with fast cars. One book, notoriously famous, was absolutely unreadable. I’ve never experienced anything like it, it was so appalling. I was embarrassed to hand it back to the librarian. Another famous book was disappointing.
But there are two worth looking at. “Concrete Island” is a modern Robinson Crusoe tale of a man trapped on a traffic island under a highway overpass. After some initial struggles he decides to remain on the island, becoming the lord and master of his tiny kingdom. Great idea, could do with a little more work. “High-Rise” is the better of the two. The inhabitants of a 40-story apartment building slowly descend into savagery when the power goes spotty and routine maintenance is forgotten. The symbolism, of course, is obvious. No subtlety here. And now it’s a motion picture starring all of your favorites: Jeremy Irons, Tom Hiddleston, and Elizabeth Moss. Sorry honey, I know you are quite fond of these actors, but this movie will certainly make you squirm. Nevertheless, in the queue!
Michel Houllebecq. “Submission”. One of the best things I read this year. An indifferent and disillusioned French academic. A quirky French election. An Islamic regime in power. With a Gallic shrug the academic adapts and carries on, realizing that all he really cares about are his bourgeois pleasures. An intriguing piece of work. Could be worth a second read.
Victor Klemperer. “I Will Bear Witness”. I don’t know why I went back to these two books. I haven’t read anything Nazi-related in years. After all, as a famously handsome man once said, “Nazis. I hate these guys.” And they are loathsome. So, at a subconscious level may there is a reason why I returned to Klemperer. This is his diary chronicling increasing degradation as his life as a thoroughly unreligious Jewish German is slowly circumscribed under the Nazi regime. Each day, each week brings another indignity to Klemperer, and as the months progress the screw tightens. At which point does a person say “enough”? At which point is it too late? What is tolerable? Like the frog in the pot of water gradually coming to a boil, can any of us recognize when it’s time to hop out?
Ugh, sorry to be such a downer, but I feel that mentally we have to steel ourselves against some sort of unpredictable future unpleasantness. Be prepared, so to speak. But who cares?! Here’s a bourgeois pug in a top hat!
LOL, but as Jonah says: “Real Talk”. I don’t mean to be flippant because one could argue that a lack of seriousness got us into our present predicament. Keep your eyes open. Happy Holidays.