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Dystopian books play on our fears about the future, both big and small. While an apocalyptic future in itself is scary, sometimes it’s the small details that stick with us.
While it’s fun to try to catalog the many things you’ve learned from reading, it’s also fun to take stock of the weird things that you’ve taken on board from all that reading. Fears, habits, ways of thinking…the possibilities are endless.
I’ve found that some of the strange things that have stuck with me have come from dystopias and post-apocalyptic books. I guess the extreme nature of the situations just gets my mind turning about how (or if) I and my family could survive.
When I was a kid, I liked to imagine what I would need to survive if I got lost in the woods for days at a time. There was never really a clear scenario or reason why I was lost in the woods. I don’t remember if these fabled woods were near my home, in the mountains where my family camped, or on some deserted island where I somehow landed on my own and needed to survive. The setting probably changed each time.
Unsurprisingly, I was also drawn to stories in this vein. Hatchet. Lord of the Flies. Island of the Blue Dolphins. The Babysitter’s Club Super Special where two of the sitters were trapped on an island with their charges. This random TV show that I remember from the 80s called “Children’s Island,” in which a group of kids is trapped on an island (does anyone else remember this show/movie on Nickelodeon? I loved it.).
The quality of stories I sought varied from classic to abysmal, but the through-line was the same: what did the people in these stories do, and need, to survive?
Nowadays, my tastes run less “lost in the woods” and more “how do people survive societal or technological collapses?”
And while I can get on board with the whole dystopia-with-a-teenager-saving-the-world thing, it’s the stories of collapse written on a smaller scale that stick with me. Sometimes in very weird ways.
This is the book that makes me question my soap supply. If the world fell apart, how long would my supply of soap last us?
I mean, this is otherwise a great book. I love how the characters continue to pursue and share art while trying to survive. And find soap. Because soap was really hard to come by, 20 years after a global pandemic wiped out most of the population.
I’m just saying that a month or so ago, I accidentally bought a sixteen-pack of bath soap, not realizing we already had one, and my first thought was, “Well, I guess we’ll have more for the apocalypse.”
My crazy doesn’t end there. When I’m in the bathroom or kitchen, I’ll eye up our bottles of shampoo and liquid soap and think, “We can stretch these! Just add a little water and they’ll still get us clean, but they’ll last longer!”
This is all based on what was probably a throw-away line in a larger narrative of the characters searching abandoned houses, but apparently it struck fear and horror in me. What WILL we modern people who don’t know how to make lye DO when there is no soap??
This book makes me eye-up my toothpaste and painkiller supply. Also my book collection. Is there anything on the shelf that could teach me to identify edible plants once the internet goes down? Guess I should also do something about this brown thumb of mine.
Oh, these books. I have THOUGHTS on these books, many of them not so positive. Despite this, I did read the first five (several more have been written since then), and–wack-a-doo politics and poor characterizations aside–they’re pretty good stories and they are thorough in detailing how survivalists think.
The first book is kind of a shopping list for survivalists, with brand recommendations and everything. But I wasn’t familiar with survivalist culture, so I found it fascinating.
While the author really wants me to arm myself and my family, it’s no surprise that what I (the liberal who works in renewable energy) took away is that I should probably invest in an off-grid solar energy system. And maybe I should build a big shed and buy some of those emergency food stashes at Costco (probably not).
Of course, my focus on these details is totally misguided. If the post-apocalyptic tales are to be believed, in the event of a major collapse we wouldn’t be able to stay in our house. Water, food, security, and medicine (antibiotics, not Advil) would be primary concerns.
All that aside…I guess I could barter soap when the world falls apart? I’d be doomed in a zombie apocalypse.
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What are the weird things from books that have stuck with you?