Tag Archive: review 23


Dystopian Thriller

Wow, it’s been a while since I’ve written a post.  Lots of things going on these last couple of months that I won’t get into, but I’m going to try to get back on the wagon, as it would be a shame to let this project fall by the wayside.  I decided to go with a short but profound thriller by P. D. James, The Children of Men.

As you’ll have gathered from the title of the post, the story is set in a dystopian society in the not-too-distant future.  The year is 2021.  For twenty-five years, human beings have been unable to procreate, plagued with infertility.  Thus, the youngest members of society are in their mid-twenties, and the population trends geriatric.  The consequences of this plague are numerous: many have lost the will to live, committing ritualistic mass suicide; the lack of fertility has led to a dwindling interest in sex, so that the State purveys p*rn left and right, trying to maintain the societal libido; in England, convicts are shipped to a penitentiary on the Isle of Man where chaos reigns, though crime on the mainland is at an all time low.  In this bleak situation, Theo Faron, our protagonist, is recruited to a conspiracy that advocates for change in the government.  The cousin of the Warden of England, Theo would seem particularly well placed to persuade him to make the desired changes.  After some convincing, he makes the effort, but to no avail.  Thus ends the first half of the novel.

In the second half, Theo once again becomes involved with the conspiracy, learning that, by some miracle (not literal – no virgin birth here), one of the members has become pregnant and needs his help.  The rest of the story describes the group’s efforts to find a place for the delivery of the child safely far away from the government – a task harder than it sounds, as the government is on to the group, which has been blowing up landings from which the mass “suicides” are launched.  Filled with twists and turns, the story rushes to an intriguing and unexpected climax that tantalizingly leaves unanswered many of the difficult questions the story raises.

This is the first James novel I’ve read, and it did not disappoint.  Her style is elegant and engaging, and it is filled with profound insights on the nature of faith and the human condition, without being an overtly religious story.  Take this description of humanity’s relationship to science:

“Western science has been our god.  In the variety of its power it has preserved, comforted, healed, warmed, fed and entertained us and we have felt free to criticize and occasionally reject it as men have always rejected their gods, but in the knowledge that, despite our apostasy, this deity, our creature and our slave, would still provide for us; the anaesthetic for the pain, the spare heart, the new lung, the antibiotic, the moving wheels and the moving pictures… Science was never a subject I was at home with… Yet it has been my god too, even if its achievements are incomprehensible to me, and I share the universal disillusionment of those whose god has died.” (5)

Or the following dialogue regarding the existence of God toward the end of the story:

“I don’t think [God] bargains.”
“Oh yes He does.  I may not be religious but I know my Bible.  My mother saw to that.  He bargains all right.  But he’s supposed to be just.  If He wants belief He’d better provide some evidence.”
“That He exists?”
“That He cares.”

In a brief nine sentences, James eloquently sums up the strongest argument against the existence of God, and yet in a way that the challenge could be met.

Perhaps the most disturbing thing about this book is its eerie similarity to western culture today.  Though human beings are not incapable en masse of procreation, the tendency in most western countries is toward reproductive rates below replacement level, and one wonders what kind of future is in store for western civilization.  The Children of Men grapples with these and other questions in a compelling and insightful way.  Highly recommended.

Twenty-three down, (at least) twenty-nine to go.

Ta,
J

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The Biography of a Cat

The Aprils have morphed into the Mays, but once the final push of the semester is over, I suspect that J and I will be back at reading the books. Right now it seems that we have both been swallowed by piles of papers and exams to grade. Anyway, with this in mind I deliberately picked up a light book to read the other day- something I saw a while back, and decided that it might be a fun book . So today’s book is Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World by Vicki Myron (with Bret Witter.)

The (true) story of Dewey Readmore Books starts when a small orange kitten is shoved into a library drop box on a frigid Iowa December day. He is found by the head librarian Vicki Myron, who nurses him back to health with the help of the library staff. Dewey then becomes the “library cat” for the town of Spencer, Iowa.

Okay, so you are probably thinking, “a library cat, really?” But this book is about much more than a library cat. Dewey’s story unfolds in little vignettes, and as that comes out, so do other themes. The town where this all takes place, Spencer, is a small  town center in a rural area, and Myron carefully plots out some of the problems that the town faced– the losses of the small family farms, the rise of big Agra, the loss of manufacturing jobs, and how life in a small farm-town is markedly different from that of big cities.  She also builds on the importance of the public library in the town, how it serves for a center of civic and public life, and how  libraries are instrumental for regular people. For instance- in many local libraries in small Midwestern towns, the libraries keep fancy cake-pans (yes, cake pans) for people to check out so that they can make a special cake for a birthday or celebration. Yup, Midwesterners do not mess around when it comes to food, and even the libraries embrace this fact.

Dewey, of course, is the star of this book, and much of the work centers on how he, as a cat, lives an extraordinary life. Those who live with animals and who understand animals, know that our cats and dogs humanize us, and that is, in one sense what Dewey did as the Spencer’s library cat. He gave joy to all who came to the library, including disabled children, homeless people, exhausted young mothers, and the elderly. He became a sort of mascot for the town, more popular than the local politicians, and he became Vicki’s cat.

Some of the more moving parts of the book center around how Dewey’s love and affection grounded Vicki— a single mom who escaped a bad marriage to an alcoholic, who managed to graduate from college as an adult despite numerous obstacles. As the book unfolds, you realize that it is about more than just a cat that came to live in a library– it is about ordinary Americans living ordinary lives (that are often filled with emotional and physical pain) but who manage to persevere– much like Dewey himself.

Interwoven into all of this are funny little stories about the cat himself, small-town politics, and how Dewey eventually became a media sensation (long before this book ever came out.) This is a sweet little book, one that could be shared with older children (not the whole thing, a few chapters are pretty dark) but is an easy read about how one little cat came to change the life of a little town in Iowa, and their head librarian. I enjoyed it– it was light and pleasurable and a good book to help get things rolling again.

Ciao for now,

Bookish C