The Sky is Falling on Two Percent

Ron Charles recently wrote in his Washington Post Book Club column – “Tom Perotta’s ‘The Leftovers’ might become U.S. policy,” reminding me of the 2011 novel about an apocalypse with two percent of the world’s population vanishing.

Charles points out the U.S. President has proposed tolerating the death of just one or two percent of us, as he urges the country to go back to work – Trump said: “We lose much more than that to automobile accidents…”

Perotta frames his story around the 98 percent who are left.  Two percent doesn’t seem so large a number; Emily St. John Mandel’s  “Station Eleven”  imagines that a flu kills off 99 percent of the world’s population. Yet, who would volunteer to be one of the millions who are sacrificed for the good of the economy in an election year?

I looked back to my review of The Leftovers in 2011 and am posting it here.  Chilling how fiction mirrors real life.

Review of The Leftovers

Amazon, I Give Up

It’s getting harder to avoid Jeff Bezos. I had sworn off buying books, joining Prime, or anything else from Amazon when the pop-eyed titan clashed with Hatchette book publishers. In 2014 The New York Times reported “(Amazon) controls nearly half the book trade, an unprecedented level for one retailer. And the dispute showed it is not afraid to use its power to discourage sales.”

The desire to own the universe has expanded since then to some of my favorites. Amazon is now the force behind the Washington Post, Audible, Goodreads, Whole Foods, Airbandb, and Uber. And “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” is only available on Prime Video. I may not be able to hold out much longer from the persuasion of persistent marketing.

th  Yes, Virginia, I did finally give in and subscribe to Amazon Prime – bingeing on Mrs. Maisel and Jack Ryan. I christened my Whole Foods account today with a sweep of my App, buying many of the tempting (but not needed) Prime Savings items. I laughed at John Kelly’s article in the Washington Post with his stack of unread New Yorkers (he knows me well), and I dowloaded more books on Audible.  I’ve read and enjoyed most of the Goodreads Choice Awards including Moyes’ Still Me and Hannah’s The Great Alone, but I still wonder why most of the prestigious book award winners were not included.  Where were?

  • Pulitzer Prize winner Less by Greer
  • Pen/Faulkner Award winner Improvement by Joan Silber
  • National Book Foundation Award The Friend by Sigrid Nunez
  • Man Booker Prize Winner Milkman by Anna Burns

51qvrvMLUoL._AC_UL200_SR200,200_On a quick search, I found I could, if I wanted to, order wine from Amazon, as well as my favorite Illy coffee, products from Trader Joe’s, and live goldfish – but no puppies…yet.

I hope Jeff Bezos appreciates my contribution to his space race – but I doubt he’s noticed.

A Short Thought on a Book I Do Not Plan to Read

shopping   I prefer Tom Clancy to James Patterson when I am looking for a thrill through espionage, and I would rather see the movie than read the book – “Hunt for Red October” leading the list.  James Patterson’s prolific turnout leaves me cold, despite the heroic Alex Cross, so my expectations were low for his collaboration with a former President.

But then I saw the tantalizing interview with Bill Clinton exonerating himself from the MeToo movement, and then I read Anthony Lane’s sarcastic take on “Bill Cinton and James Patterson’s Concussive Collaboration” in the New Yorker.  Although the book is a thriller, Lane offers excerpts guaranteed to provoke laughter in the context of his analysis.

Has any of this convinced me to read the Patterson/Clinton book?  No, but I am more determined than ever to read Curtis Sittenfeld’s book imagining how Hillary’s life would have been like if she had not married Bill, planned for publication in 2019.  There’s a thriller worth anticipating.

In the meantime, I am desperately looking for a good book to read – any ideas?

Royal Wedding

UnknownA friend recently reminded me the Americans fought a war to get away from the English Royals, yet many of us were happy to succumb to the pomp and ceremony of the recent royal wedding between an American who gave up her religion, her career, and her country for the love of a Prince – a plot right out of the Hallmark Channel.  Most public commentators were either politely politically correct or effusively complimentary; privately, opinions on the dress, the celebrities attending, and the sermon varied – but everyone loved the Queen.

51kkZEjM6bL._AC_US218_I found Anthony Lane’s “Daily Comment” in the New Yorker this morning, and I  laughed so hard, my fascinator fell off.  After reading “Harry and Meghan Look to the Future, but Some Royals Never Change,” I decided to download his collection of New Yorker essays – Nobody’s Perfect.  Since Lane is a movie critic, the book is full of his irreverent reviews from “Indecent Proposal: to “Pearl Harbor.”  Although he skewers the plots, the actors, and producers – even Julia Roberts and Alfred Hitchcock do not escape – the book is full of honest laughs.  The Queen would approve.

A Quiet Space – Nothing to Do But Be In It

lightning-bolt-clipart-lightning-bolt-hi  Lightning in the area had closed the Frank Lloyd Wright exhibit – the Bachman-Wilson house that had been moved from New Jersey to Arkansas, rebuilt, and restored – one of the reasons I was there. I chatted with the gate keeper, a young intern finishing her Masters in Museum Studies; I bought a book about Wright’s vision, and I hoped for the storm to wear itself out.

Ahead of everyone when the storm finally passed that afternoon, I was the first to wander through the narrow entrance, getting the house to myself for five minutes before the world crowded in behind me, mostly teenagers on a field trip. I imagined sitting on the built-in bench, looking out at the woods – my pilgrimage complete.

thumbnail_IMG_4374  The quiet space reminded me of Patricia Hampl’s The Art of the Wasted Day.  I had been prompted to find her book after reading her essay in the New York Times Sunday Review section – Scrap Your To Do List.   Following Hampl’s advice, I was doing nothing for the moment – just quietly staring out a window and wondering.  In her book, she identifies with Montaigne, her hero – and mine, redefining happiness as daydreaming, not afraid to do nothing, not even meditating – just reflecting and being open to insights that can only come in quiet solitude.

Like Hampl, I was trained by the nuns to always be productive, eschewing idleness and daydreaming as devilish pursuits.  Hampl writes:

“The idea of constantly doing something, of always accomplishing something, seems to be woven into the American DNA…while life and liberty are guaranteed, happiness isn’t, only the job of seeking it. The essential American word isn’t happiness. It’s pursuit.”

Sitting alone and quiet can be cathartic, and I am determined to do it more often. Hampl advises:

“Loafing is not a prudent business plan, not even a life plan, not a recognizably American project. But it begins to look a little like happiness, the kind that claims you unbidden…wondering, rather than pursuing…for once you don’t really need to have a to-do list.”

The Art of the Wasted Day was a good purchase, and I will go back to it often.  With references and excerpts from Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, Virginia Woolf, and Montaigne, Hampl forges her thoughts as an essayist into a travelogue of places, people, and memories, successfully convincing the reader that wasting time is not a waste after all.

Go ahead – daydream a little, waste a little time…who knows where it might lead your mind.

Related ReviewSarah Bakewell’s Montaigne – How to Live