Alas, Babylon: A Book Review.

Back when I was planning what books to read and in what order, I skimmed some of the reviews for Alas, Babylon. I was surprised to see that SO MANY people reread this book every year. I figured they were exaggerating. Why would one do such a thing when there are so many books to read and so little time?

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But I get it now. I get why this book is one to reread. I think it’s possible to take away something new every time you read it. The subtleties are abundant.

Thus far, out of all the books listed here, Alas, Babylon sits comfortably among my top three. It is such a captivating story. Every character exists, all are believable. They are all flawed. And they are all perfect because of those flaws. What I found truly remarkable about this book, however, was that it was written in 1959 and still stands up today. It is timeless.

I was also surprised by how hopeful this book made me feel, and how positive it is. I know that seems a little unbelievable. How can a book where millions of people die due to a massive nuclear war between Russian and the United States end up leaving a person feeling hopeful? But it did. Life went on in the most subtle and sometimes beautiful manner.

Life persevered.

Alas, Babylon brought me back to my sophomore existentialism class. I hated my sophomore existentialism class. I was so excited going into it, and it just failed miserably at giving me the rich thoughtfulness I so much desired. The books we read fell into the cliché category. The topics we discussed became a bore. I never experienced any enlightenment. I never left chewing on any new thoughts. It was just blah, which is kind of ironic actually.

However, during that same semester, I also enrolled in a literature course taught by a woman in her 70s. She brought a Yorkshire terrier to class with her every single day. She wore the most elaborate and colorful outfits—long shawls and flowing scarves—and moved around the room like one of those unique deep sea creatures. She taught with her entire body. Her jewelry clanged and jingled as she moved. She was so full of life! And she went on the most spectacular tangents about the books and poems we read. Class discussions were so much fun—never a dull moment—and when class ended you felt as though you UNDERSTOOD something momentous. New ideas shot out of the back of your mind like paint pellets, coating the inside of your head like a Jackson Pollock painting.

That was the class where I learned the most about existentialism. Life stands in the most glorious, clear, and beautiful manner when it appears to be over. Everything is amplified and crisp and cherished when you’re not given the guarantee of a tomorrow. Suspended from fear, hovering within a now.

What a necessary and important concept. And Alas, Babylon touched upon that once more.

Sometimes, amidst death and destruction, compassion and appreciation swell. People start to pay attention to what matters most.

When a forest is burned to the ground, new growth often flourishes.

Alas, Babylon, a book about nuclear war, turned out to be one of the more positive books I’ve ever read.

 

Dystopian Book Reviews

I’ve been reading a lot of dystopian – even apocalyptic – literature lately. As I’ve mentioned in the past, I take comfort in this dystopian literature. I used to read a great deal of science fiction as a kid and in my 20s but in the past decade, I’ve avoided genres with too much gravity. I’m not sure what changed – or when – but I’m sure it was a side effect of becoming a wife, mother, homeowner, baker, suburbanite, news-junkie, and a couple dozen additional roles or personalities.

One must wonder, though, if there’s more to it. After all, most people grow up and take on crushing amounts of responsibility and they don’t stop enjoying uplifting titles like The Road or Breitbart News.

And why has it pivoted recently?

Mental Health is Weird

I suffer from a great deal of generalized anxiety. I never realized how much it affected me until I began working with a doctor.

Sometimes, my anxiety goes into overdrive and invites my imagination over and the two spin in an echo chamber, making each other stronger, and I’m dragged along for the ride. This doesn’t happen very often but when it does this type of shit takes place.

Let them bring out our old pal depression, and the party quickly looks like The Garden of Earthly Delights.

The instant relief provided by certain medications can be a real eye-opener. For example, a  beta-blocker or benzodiazepine like Klonopin – when taken at the appropriate therapeutic dose – doesn’t really seem to do anything (aside from being a bit lazy or sleepy at first). It isn’t like medications or drugs that get you high or have undeniable effects.

Compared to things like PCP, crack, and magnesium citrate, the power of anti-anxiety medications for people with chronic, generalized anxiety is that those substances remove symptoms you may not have even noticed.

Imagine taking a pill and, an hour later, you realize not only that you’ve had fire ants biting you constantly for the past three decades but that they’re gone. The discomfort you’d gotten so used to as a baseline is zapped and suddenly, feeling neutral is much better than even the best high.

It reminds me of the Coney Island Polar Bear Club and the shock their bodies must feel when they go from a hot tub to the icy Atlantic.

Meds can be useful (especially in early therapy), while learning cognitive behavioral therapy (changing thought patterns), new coping skills, and mindfulness.

Because of Three Mile Island and 9/11, there is a section of my brain that believes it’s only a matter of time before the human race suffers from something colossal and terrifying. Part of me believes a plague could knock out a large chunk of mankind. I believe a nuclear mishap could take down entire continents. I believe climate change and extreme weather patterns will eventually wipe out cities and towns. I am better now that I’m being treated for anxiety and depression in the sense that I can now stop my brain from going to insane levels of delusions and worry. (Like the time I was CONVINCED we had a meth lab next-door to our apartment in Brooklyn? I had the maintenance come out twice, and begged Toby to come home from his business trip early. I moved the kids into the far end of the apartment. We all slept in one huddled mass in Emory’s room for two nights. And I posted all sorts of shit on twitter about it.)

It’s not that bad anymore, but it’s still there. And I suppose I read these books because it’s nice to sit with likeminded weirdoes at the book table. It’s nice to know you’re not alone. It’s also kind of nice to be prepared should the apocalyptic shit hit the fan.

Just kidding.

There is something beautiful about science fiction and the amazingly intricate worlds people create. This form of escapism appeals to me. When it’s done well. it’s truly remarkable, like hallucinogenics (not that I know a THING about that). Anyway, it’s good to be back here, to be able to thoroughly enjoy it again and not enter some other delusional dimension.

All that said, I think I’m going to start doing some short book reviews about all the books I’ve been reading lately. I was trying to read a book a week, but I’m finding that rather difficult given some of these books are 700 pages long and I have a family to care for. But I’m doing pretty ok!

SINCE JANUARY 1, 2017

Books I’ve Read:

Normal
Alas, Babylon
The Library at Mount Char
Man In The High Castle
On The Beach
The Wolf Road
Station Eleven
The Girl With all the Gifts
Dark Matter
The Last Tribe  (Didn’t finish.)
Wool
What Alice Forgot (Vacation Book)

I am trying to stick with dystopian and science fiction, but I’m finding that I’ve needed a few vacations here and there. What Alice Forgot was a vacation, for example. A much needed, and quite enjoyable one, I might add.

Currently Reading: Next To My Bed: 

Homo Dues: A Brief History of Tomorrow (Nonfiction)
Before the Fall

Upcoming: On My Shelf: 

Divergent Series
The Giver
The Handmade’s Tale

So, I will start tomorrow. It’s going to be a bit difficult as I haven’t made any notes on the books I read months ago, but they are still there. And down the road, I will write reviews and thoughts right as I finish, perhaps even while I’m still reading. I hope you will stick by and help me out. I would love to get your point of view. I will desperately try and avoid spoilers in the body of a post but may add them in the comments. If I do add any spoilers, you will be warned at the start.

I think this may help me to focus some of my misplaced energy lately. (Also: I still can’t run so this seems like a decent/healthy enough pastime.)

Thanks for reading, friends. Please feel free to drop me some suggestions. I love suggestions.