I first learned of James Howard Kunstler back in the 1990s when a friend sent me a galley copy of Home From Nowhere. That nonfiction book was a revelation, explaining why suburban sprawl is depressing and more traditional architecture and urban development is not (in other words, why I had chosen to live in Old Town Key West instead of Weston). I feel a little reactionary about it and I’m not against everything modern but in the Jane Jacobs / Le Corbusier divide, I’m on Jane’s side all the way. I noted that Kunstler was, at that point, primarily a novelist but was grateful that he had chosen to write, and write well, about urban planning, a subject in which I have always taken a small but persistent geeky interest. *
Since then, I have followed Kunstler’s career as a polemicist about the coming post-oil world — which he thinks is coming a lot sooner than the rest of us are prepared for — and occasionally looked in on his blog (which has the endearing name of Clusterf**k Nation). But I had never read any of his fiction. Until recently, when dystopia became a topic of interest. Not just because of earthquakes, volcanoes and oil spills although that certainly all seems to make one think post-apocalyptically. And my sister mentioned she had been reading Kunstler’s novel World Made By Hand. So I ordered it up via interlibrary loan (thanks again, Alachua County!).
The story is set in an unspecified but obviously near future, when America has essentially fallen apart and reverted to a pre-industrial society after oil wars, nuclear bombs and a lethal flu epidemic. The setting is Union Grove, New York, an upstate small town that has survived better than most but is starting to fall apart. Continue reading
I really have been reading a lot, or at least I was until we got cable and the Tour de France took over my waking, non-working hours. But I can see the end and the stack is piling up. I read Dominion by Calvin Baker, who will be appearing at the Key West Literary Seminar in January. It was a little outside my normal reading, which is the best kind (it’s the reason I joined a book group years ago although that fell by the wayside when I was pursuing my master’s). I read Women and Ghosts by Alison Lurie, a slim book of short stories that I think I might have read before, unless that was an effect of its eerieness. It reminded me how much I like her, and how much I need to read The Last Resort even though I have a strange fear of reading about places I know and love. (Haven’t been able to make myself read Tracy Kidder’s Hometown yet, either, about Northampton, Mass., where I was born.) I read Sacrifice by Eric Shanower, the second volume in his Age of Bronze series of graphic novels about the Trojan War — it was as good as the first, though it does suffer from that effect of many of the guys looking the same; you can distinguish them by their headbands, though. Over the Fourth of July weekend, perhaps influenced by the reintroduction of cable television into my brain, I found myself craving brain candy so I read The Boleyn Inheritance by Philippa Gregory (author of The Other Boleyn Girl and numerous other works of Tudor Trash). I gulped that down in a day and a half so maybe I’m not over my Tudor thing entirely; plus it was fun to hear from/about a couple of the lesser-known Henry VIII queens (Anne of Cleves and Katherine Howard, or Nos 4 and 5 if you’re counting). And just today I finished Dreaming Up America by Russell Banks, which I’ll be reviewing for Solares Hill shortly. Whew.