Literacy Abides

Just re-read a late-1940s sci-fi classic, Earth Abides, by George R. Stewart. It’s a precursor of The Stand and I Am Legend and I think the first sci-novel to postulate the virtual elimination of the human race by disease. I read it a long time ago and only remember the first part, up to the point where the main character Isherwood Williams meets another survivor he wants to hook up with. I loved when I read it the first time though it’s not very good, really. But this time, I still loved the first part where Ish drives across the country from the Bay Area to New York and sees how already in the first months the structures, physical and social, that man has built are deteriorating.

But the second two-thirds of the novel I really found annoying. Ish and his mate, Em, and the few others they find and bond with are so utterly passive and stupid. Within a generation, Ish gives up on teaching the children reading and mathematics because they aren’t particularly interested. And instead to get a jump start on the reversion to savagry builds a bow and arrow from scratch. Okay, the bow and arrow is a good idea but come on, reading? Couldn’t even read those kids Duck Skates by Lynne Berry? Or Goodnight Moon? Apparently reading to kids hadn’t occurred to him.

And I started thinking of all the fun you could have with this. If it were me, I’d go and make my home in a beautiful university campus somewhere far enough South to avoid the worst of the snows and far enough north to avoid the malaria and alligators. Like Duke maybe, though I’ve never even been on the Duke campus. Or UVA?

And in Earth Abides they are so lazy they won’t even haul a gas-powered refrigerator up their hill. I don’t believe that. Think of how hard what’s her name in Cold Mountain worked when she was left alone in the wilderness to keep her farm going. People just aren’t that lazy. If my sister-in-law Carla survived the plague she’d have the whole East Coast’s power back on in a few months.

I just looked it up on Amazon and damned if Del Ray hasn’t reissued it (2006) and it’s 7,000 something on the sales ranking. Whoa!

Also started Tree of Smoke but know I won’t finish it. It’s too intense. I already dread reading each new chapter because I’m afraid of what’s going to happen and don’t really want it in my mind. Brilliant, of course. The writing is just what great writing should be. Crisp, invisible, inevitable and occasionally piercing.

So I have only re-read books so far for 2008:


1. Earth Abides, George R. Stewart
2. Captain Salt in Oz, Ruth Plumly Thompson

6 thoughts on “Literacy Abides

  1. Hey! Thanks for the shout-out for Duck Skates!My update on books chosen from your read-this-year list: I am slowly, painfully–ever-so-slowly-and-painfully–slogging my way through Prep. Did I mention it’s painful? If I owned the book, and it wasn’t a library check-out, I might go through and highlight the instances of the phrase “unbearably sad,” just for my own amusement–I can’t tell you the number of things Lee finds “unbearably sad,” and could Sittenfeld at least have mixed up the phrasing a bit? I do seem to be in the minority in thinking it’s just not all that well written, though–and I hate to admit that what <>really<> makes it painful is that a lot of Lee’s adolescent horribleness so resonates with me. Like, when she describes how, when an interaction with someone is going well, she just wants it to end so that she can chalk it up as a good interaction before it goes bad, and then not wanting to see that person again for a while (in my case, EVER) because you just want to leave it at a good interaction and not spoil it with a future bad interaction… That sort of thinking way characterized my adolescence (and 20s, for that matter), and is a bit painful to read.


  2. Yes, I’m with your in the minority of people who found Prep to be annoying, tedious and repetitious. Actually maybe it’s not the minority. There’s a thread on the Blue Board about how it dragged. A few people really liked it though. And I suppose it is a brilliant analysis of an “unbearably sad” girl, but good grief! Did I say in my original post on it that I wanted to the Cher in Moonstuck slap across her face and scream, “get a grip.”I am looking for a book that sweeps me away. I haven’t read one in so long. I think maybe since Water for Elephants.


  3. <>Did I say in my original post on it that I wanted to do the Cher in Moonstuck slap across her face and scream, “get a grip.”<>If you did, I don’t remember (so little that I remember these days)–but, amen, sister!I have in my pile from the library The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Is that from your list? I have NO memory of requesting it from the library (or even of having heard of it before–but, then, see above comment on current state of my memory), but it showed up in my requested pile; I am mystified and wonder if someone somehow entered a request under my card number? In any case, the title intrigues me, and I will report on the sweeping-away potential…


  4. <>I like Prep, but you know, not as much as Duck Skates<>I should think not! (-:Speaking of Prep, have either of you read An Abundance of Katherines (connected to Prep in being authored by the same dude as did Looking for Alaska)? I’m not sure it got nearly the critical acclaim as Alaska, but I think I liked it much more. Funny, funny, funny. I was reading it this week, while on the road, and just sat in my hotel room cracking up.


  5. I haven’t read an abundance. If it’s funny, I will try it. I really actually didn’t like Alaska that much. And yeah, I am puzzled why one’s adult and the other YA. A certain level of sophistication and introspection in the writing maybe?


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