My Literary Obsessions

What to read?  It’s harder to decide what not to read.  Sometimes I leave the library feeling guilty about how many books I’ve checked out.  But that’s the best part of the library:  if you get home and find out it’s not the right book for you, you can immediately return it, no harm, no foul, and someone else can check it out.  Whether fiction or nonfiction, I have certain genres that I return to over and over with which I am, perhaps, more than a little bit obsessed.  I’m intrigued by the lives of women living in the Middle East, and I am horrified and fascinated by the way Jewish women tried to manage their lives and their families in the most nightmarish of circumstances. I love to read about treacherous travel from the safety of my little bed, and I imagine being a pioneer woman, once again trying to manage self and family under harsh conditions, whenever we drive to the Sierra.  My favorite genre is the “seamy side of London” category (I don’t know what else to call it).  Pickpockets, prostitution, and insanity in Victorian London? Well, it makes me happy, what can I say?  Reading is one of life’s great pleasures, and I am sad that Kids Today forsake reading for any manner of electronic stimulation.  Maybe one day they will find their way to books–we can always hope.  And now, a few of my favorites…

Books about women in the Middle East:

Princess by Jean Sasson (nonfiction); Eight Months on Ghazzah Street by Hilary Mantel (fiction);  A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini (fiction); Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi (nonfiction, comic-book style);  A House in Fez: Building a Life in the Ancient Heart of Morocco by Suzanna Clarke (nonfiction)

Travelogues (Armchair Tourism):

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer (nonfiction);  Sand in My Bra edited by Jennifer L. Leo (nonfiction);  How to Shit Around the World by Dr. Jane Wilson-Howarth (nonfiction);  Notes from a Small Island and A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson (nonfiction); Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick (nonfiction); Baghdad without a Map by Tony Horwitz (nonfiction)

Holocaust  Women:

Holocaust by Gerald Greene (fiction);  All But My Life by Gerda Weissmann Klein (nonfiction); Day After Night by Anita Diamant (fiction)

Pioneer Women:

Pioneer Women: The Lives of Women on the Frontier by Linda Peavy and Ursula Smith (nonfiction);  Impatient with Desire by Gabrielle Burton (fiction); One Thousand White Women by Jim Fergus (fiction)

The Seamier Side of London:

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters (fiction); Slammerkin by Emma Donoghue (fiction); Hubbub: Filth, Noise, and Stench in England by Emily Cockayne (nonfiction); The Sexual History of London by Catharine Arnold (nonfiction); Dr. Johnson’s London by Eliza Picard (nonfiction); The Crimson Petal and the White by Michael Faber (fiction); The Dress Lodger by Sheri Holman (fiction)

So many books, so little time!


Crazy Survivalists!

Oh wait.  That’s me.  Well, not really a survivalist.  I mean, I don’t even like camping.

No, this isn't me!

I avoid like the plague sleeping in a sleeping bag, even indoors!  So maybe I’m just a preparer.

I’ve always kept my pantry stocked such that if the whole family came down with some dreadful flu we could feed ourselves for several days without having to leave the home.  But now, for some reason, I’m starting to take this kind of thing a bit more seriously.  I have been reading a few books and have found things that made me laugh (one book has acronyms for everything–TEOTWAWKI, and WTSHTF, to name a couple, which stand, by the way, for “The End of the World as We Know It” and “When the Schumer [Yes, really. Schumer.]  Hits the Fan”, respectively), and

Haven't read this yet...

I’ve found some good information about, for example, how long food will keep.  There are even novels about The End of the World as…excuse me–TEOTWAWKI, such as One Second After, by William Forstchen.

I found out that  Mormons are big on stockpiling food.  Who knew?  They seem to have very organized systems of storing food, and not just a few extra boxes of pasta.  We’re talking actual sacks of wheat.  Large quantities of canned vegetables.  And of course you have to have hand grinders to grind the wheat to make flour, and camping stoves to cook the veggies.  It sounds crazy, I know.  But when you start to think about These Uncertain Times, it gets a bit less crazy.  Apparently the Mormon church used to advise its members to keep a supply of one year of food.  Now, however, that has been scaled back and three to four months of food storage is encouraged (although longer would certainly not be frowned upon).

We’re not necessarily talking about society crumbling due to terrorist attacks, although that is of course a major consideration.  Pandemics such as avian flu, among others, are of grave concern.  If, heaven forbid, avian flu mutated (which viruses regularly do)  to transmit easily to and between humans, and there were an outbreak, surely we would be instructed to hunker down at home to minimize the spread. That means no running to the store for bread and milk.  There is also a lot of talk about a disruption in the power grid, by way of a terrorist attack in the form of an electromagnetic pulse.  Our banking, fueling, communicating, shopping, etc.,  would grind to a halt from such a disturbance.  Don’t forget about things like the solar storms we’ve been seeing this week that can also disrupt the power grid, or even an asteroid

Feeling paranoid yet?

strike. And then of course you’ve got your garden variety chemical and biological threats, and…and….

Now, you could just  lie awake and worry (something I excel at).  Instead, however, you might feel a little bit better if you manage your household in such a way that you have some water put aside, some food to keep you going for a little while, a hand-crank radio to listen to.  It’s really not that different from earthquake-preparedness, which we Californians are well used to. For instance, don’t just stockpile a ton of canned food.  You have to stockpile food your family actually uses, and then rotate your stock constantly, so that if some catastrophe comes along you aren’t stuck eating seven year old canned green beans and not a whole lot else.  I mean, if you have to use your stores for the emergency you stockpiled them for in the first place, it’s likely things are going to be pretty bad.  Wouldn’t a little familiar and comforting food help things?  Of course it would.

In addition, if you don’t ever need the food you stockpiled, it’s good to know it won’t be wasted–these are things you use anyway. And a gas powered generator can keep the food in your freezer frozen for quite a while, provided that’s the only thing you use the generator for. So with your Coleman stove, your hand crank radio that will also charge a cell phone, your generator, and your stored food, you should be okay for a month or so. Maybe even longer if you really get into this way of thinking.

When I fixate on an idea, like this one, I go on a reading jag (more about my literary obsessions another time), and I find out what I can.  I can’t even imagine what the people who stock the reserved-book shelves at the library must think I’m doing with all the survivalist, pantry-stocking books I’ve been checking out.  But while there are some books that are not really my bag, that segue into militia-type preparedness, I did find some that are worth taking a gander at, and that have useful information to keep in the back of your mind.

My favorite of the books I read is Just in Case: How to be Self-Sufficient when the Unexpected Occurs by Kathy Harrison.  The other books I read which I found interesting and helpful are as follows:  How to Survive the End of the World as We Know It by James Wesley Rawles (yes it’s the one with all the acronyms, but it was actually an informative little tome); Emergency Food Storage and Survival Handbook by Peggy Layton; and 100-day Pantry by Jan Jackson. Mind you, there are thousands of books on this topic–you just have to find the ones that speak to you.

Isn’t all this a little paranoid?  Maybe.  But isn’t it better to have supplies and not need them (although they certainly won’t go to waste), than to need supplies and not have them?  So buy a few extra cans of broth (FYI, you can cook pasta, rice, and veggies in it, thus saving water), some extra cans of salmon or tuna, and a couple extra boxes of pasta or bags of rice when you go to the grocery store each week.  Doesn’t cost much, and you may be very glad one day.  And just so you know, no, I’ve not gone crazy!  I guess what all this boils down to, really, is embracing your inner Boy/Girl Scout; that is, BE PREPARED.

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