Scientific libraries are being destroyed by the government of Stephen Harper in Canada. Members of the same government continue to stall on the establishment of environmental standards for the oil industry. To the south the congress of the United States has ground to a halt because fanatical elements in one party have constructed a false history of their country, apparently with no nobler goal than to destroy government and give everyone a gun.
Government agencies, most visibly in the U.S., are at work, seemingly intent on collecting every thought of every person. They do it with the excuse that they are protecting these same people, trying to pretend that thought and action control is not the goal. The U.S. government is imposing its tax laws on other countries. Meanwhile, many library administrators are at work destroying knowledge by trashing books and journals or condemning them to obsolescence via electronic media. Many CEOs of large corporations are amassing huge sums of money for themselves and, to a lesser extent, their shareholders, while fighting unions, off-shoring jobs, and pushing more and more people from the middle class to the working poor.
Though the trend lines for the issues outlined above don’t look very promising, no one can tell for certain where we’re headed. Despite recent suggestions that the humanities are headed the way of the middle class, literature provides the most vivid roadmaps, if not the most certain. Are we headed toward the world of corporate and government control over a remnant of clueless semi-humans depicted in Margaret Atwood’s “MaddAddam” trilogy? Or maybe something closer to thought-controlled, past-less and soulless world of George Orwell’s 1984? We can hope the end result will not be like the post-Nazi conquest Britain of Robert Harris’s Fatherland, nor quite as hopelessly grim as Cormac McCarthy’s The Road – though the paranoia and deceit of Vichy France in Alan Furst’s “Night Soldiers” series do seem at times disturbingly contemporary. But maybe there are other, more hopeful pathways open to us?
We’re curious, what do you think? What books would you recommend we all read to get ready for whatever brave new world is awaiting us in 2014 and beyond? Please make your suggestions in the comments section below – after all, there’s no reason we shouldn’t be well read, even as the hand basket descends.
– Michael Hayden
Being Dead by Jim Crace
We may not die in 2014, but we’re guaranteed to be dead someday. Why not preview the poetic side of death and decay?
On a societal level, I have to go with this short story in the Coachella Review (full disclosure: written by moi) about videovoyeurism and the collective loss of personal privacy.
It’s always great to return to some of the early dystopian visionaries, Orwell, Huxley, Vonnegut…and then for a laugh, watch Idiocracy or Soylent Green :)
You have my vote for Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy. Chickie Nobs!
JoAnn Valenti suggests 2052, by Jorgen Randers, a nonfiction book of forecasts that we both felt was worthy of an honorable mention for the 2012 Rachel Carson Book Award, for which we were judges.
I haven’t read them in years, but that won’t stop me from recommending them for the coming apocalypse of stupid that is shortly to descend upon us.
The Gilded Age, by Mark Twain
Corruption and the Decline of Rome, by Ramsay MacMullen
Something to escape by. Try Swahili for the Broken-Hearted; Cape Town to Cairo by Any Means Possible. It is by Peter Moore and will take you away from the horrors of the things Tom has written about. While you read it you will not even think about them, but be captivated by his humour and insight. Sadly the book will only be a temporary escape, but I’m enjoying every word as I wait in Schipol airport for the flight back to freezing Minneapolis.