I sit on my couch, cradling my aching head while trying — all at once — every known homeopathic remedy to fight my way through a sinus infection sans antibiotics, when my thoughts wander to a headline I recall scrolling past: Stephen King Insists the Coronavirus Is Not Like The Stand.
First, let’s all take a moment to give thanks that Coronavirus is not the nonfiction counterpart of Captain Trips. Now, let’s pretend for a minute that it is. In that case, the people who are well-read will rule whatever is left of the world.
Follow me down this rabbit hole for a moment. Disease strikes. Mankind fights for its survival. With a decrease in available workers, plumbing, electricity, all modern technological advances (luxuries and ‘necessities’) eventually fail, including the internet. Doctors will try desperately to heal the ailing with inadequate treatments. Farmers will have to shovel the land by hand. Politicians, repudiated for their weak understanding of science and poor preparation for global catastrophe, will be banished. Athletes will be relegated to the physical labor of repairing crumbling buildings and sidewalks (since, apparently, looters will destroy the towns and/or some natural disaster strikes everywhere civilization still exists), for their unmatched strength and nimble limbs will have been honed for just such a task. Who will be left to take control — to organize and plan, to seek answers to new, yet ancient, problems, to lead the populous into an era of peace and compassion, humility and togetherness?
Nerds, it is us. Unite (even though we are mainly introverts who would come out this weekend but unfortunately we’ve already made plans…)! We’ve prepared for this exact scenario. We’ve read the books — like, all of them — every single one. We’ve studied the rhetorical devices, appreciated the wordplay, memorized the figurative language. We’ve stayed in the bathroom during breaks in hopes that our coworkers won’t try to talk to us. Now is the time we claim our power and use the knowledge of ages and the wisdom of the greats stored in our giant brains to recreate the remaining people into a happier, more loving, and gentler society, already properly envisioned in our overactive imaginations.
As I consider the question of what to read to adequately prepare for the catastrophe the Doomsday Preppers believe is rapidly approaching, I think about the books I’ve read over my lifetime. If I was truly worried about an apocalypse, I think my final reading list would look a little something like this:
1.The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant by Stephen R. Donaldson
This is a series of ten adult fantasy books, and from the first time I read the books in college to the last series read-through when the final book was released, it has remained one of my all-time favorite stories. The premise is a very ill man finds himself, after an accident, waking up in an unfamiliar environment, which he suspects he is imagining. As it turns out, saving the Land becomes, for our protagonist, intrinsically linked to saving himself — what he believes is good, and worth fighting for, and worth making sacrifices to obtain — whether the Land is real or not. I can’t express how much joy I have derived from these books, nor relate to you how many tears I have shed over this series.
“There’s only one way to hurt a man who’s lost everything. Give him back something broken.”
2.The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
In a similar vein to the Thomas Covenant series, I have read and reread these books numerous times. The overarching theme is that even in the darkest, saddest, worst, most fearful times, there is still hope and love and friendship and happiness to be found. We observe the courage and perseverance of our main characters even in what appears to be certain defeat (and, for some of them, unfortunately is). These stories can show us what dedication and loyalty truly are. They demonstrate how to overcome overwhelming odds, crushing temptation, and painful despair. They inspire me to be more optimistic and to recognize that, while I may not “win them all” I may “lose” with pride, and cling to my belief that the good in the world will defeat the bad.
“Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends.”
3.Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
This lighthearted classic tale is purported to be an allegory, both of drug use and of politics of the time. As a card-carrying conspiracy theorist, I can attest that the allegations are one-hundred percent accurate, but also very probably not real. Even if it is true that the Queen of Hearts represents the Queen of England during Victorian times, that knowledge wouldn’t lessen my appreciation for the work as a silly, amusing story entertaining for both children and adults. It is cautionary in nature: Alice finds herself recklessly tumbling into a world in which she gets pulled deeper and deeper due to her insatiable curiosity and sincere appreciation for free food. The strangers she meets are crazy, unpredictable, treacherous, but, also, occasionally helpful and well-meaning. Basically, it’s life in a college dorm.
“It’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.”
4.The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
This is a memoir that spent over 440 weeks on the New York Times Best Seller list, and with good reason. Jeannette describes her early life as one with many obstacles she worked to overcome: being homeless, living in poverty, and being neglected and abused. Her writing style is elegant and compelling. Her story is heartbreaking and uplifting. She begins by describing how she set herself on fire. Her tragic early life has propelled her into a successful, strong, college-educated career woman. I haven’t often read a book as moving and inspiring, yet relatable, which simultaneously made me feel guilty about the life I’ve enjoyed. It’s a rare gem.
“Pick out your favorite star,” Dad said.
“I like that one!” I said.
Dad grinned. “That’s Venus,” he said. He explained to me that planets glowed because reflected light was constant and stars twinkled because their light pulsed.
“I like it anyway,” I said.
“What the hell,” Dad said. “It’s Christmas. You can have a planet if you want.”
And he gave me Venus.
5.The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle
A unicorn is led to believe she is the last in existence, and thus goes to search out what has happened to all the others. It is a tale of having courage, and forging unlikely friendships, and finding or recognizing purpose and meaning in life, and accepting our innate nature, and defying the greed of our leaders for the betterment of the public. It is also about a unicorn, so….
“What use is wizardry if it cannot save a unicorn?” He gripped the magician’s shoulder hard, to keep from falling.
Schmendrick did not turn his head. With a touch of sad mockery in his voice, he said, “That’s what heroes are for.”
6. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
In the unlikely event of a civilization-altering calamity, it might be worth reading a story set in the midst of the “Roaring 20’s,” when people cared for little else but living in the moment and partying wildly on bootlegged hooch, recklessly squandering wealth in the expectation that their prosperity would continue unchecked indefinitely, in the time just before the stock market crash and Great Depression led many of these same players to suicide. Each time I read this book, I discover more to love. The tale of Gatsby and Daisy is timeless, and tragic, and unforgettable.
“I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. He had come a long way to this lawn and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him.”
7.The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom
I have lost count of the number of times I have read this novel but the story has remained near the top of my favorite books list (which doesn’t actually exist, but if it did I would never forgive myself if I laminated it because I’m too indecisive to make that type of commitment). I have taught it to my students seven years in a row and every time it was genuinely enjoyed by a majority of the class, a feat so rare it only happens as often as a double rainbow after a Blood Rain in Kottayam. Albom’s powerful imagery, simple prose, poignant lessons, and memorable characters combine to create a novel which was on the New York Times Best Seller list for almost two years. As a bonus, this book is short and a fast read — perfect for a snowy afternoon snuggled on the couch with some hot chocolate.
“All parents damage their children. It cannot be helped. Youth, like pristine glass, absorbs the prints of its handlers. Some parents smudge, others crack, a few shatter childhoods completely into jagged little pieces, beyond repair.”
8. The Stand by Stephen King.
Because, well, it can’t hurt to prepare.
“Whatever lay ahead, he was glad to be alive.”
Peace and love.