After about a 45 minute post-shift debrief at home – at 1am – where I deconstructed a suicide call I had just taken at the shelter (which ultimately went fine, but one always second guesses whether it could have been handled better), the conversation took a more macabre turn, and I was asked what 5 books would I take to the compound – after the apocalypse hits and it would be up to us to re-civilize the world (5 being the only number of books I could take).
I was asked this for two reasons. The first was the seemingly hopeless situation many homeless youth feel their lives are situated within. The familial and systemic barriers they face are enormous and often overwhelming. And secondly, because I was excited for a book that came for me in the mail today. I had just read a library copy of James Baldwin’s Nobody Knows My Name, and knew I wanted to read it again, and underline numerous passages and make copious notes in the margins. It truly is an amazing book.
I had gone online after I discovered that our local bookstore did not have a copy, and came across an original hardcopy at a bookstore in Winnipeg for only $10. In excellent condition. (It amazes me what is considered a “valuable” book (from the same time period), and what does not. An original Kurt Vonnegut – say Slaughterhouse Five – sells in the mid-$30’s; Hemingways are in the mid $150’s).
Yet Baldwin, a significant and brilliant surveyor of American culture is still basically being given away. (Did I mention that Baldwin is Black?)
Anyway, I was excited, and that was why I was asked, when I realized that I hadn’t been excited about a book purchase in a long time, about what 5 books I would take with me into the end-times.
I immediately said: 1) the Torah; 2) Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance; 3) The Unbearable Lightness of Being; 4) the Tao Te Ching; and 5) Emile Zola’s Germinal.
Not all are the greatest books ever, but they marked significant periods (passages) of my life. These books were enormously important to me, and my life, at those certain magical moments in time – when the epiphanies were more powerful, when the sun and the moon shone brighter.
Now, I think more about authors I like, than particular books. Anais Nin, Plato, Tom Robbins, Annie Dillard, David Foster Wallace. The husband and wife team of Will and Ariel Durant (the most enthusiastic historians I have ever come across). (The list goes on…)
Anyway, it was all such a conversation in self-indulgence.
Try and imagine a time after the environmental apocalypse.
How many refugees do you ever see in the news carrying books around with them, as they wander the land looking for water and scraps of food…?
P.S. Tom Robbins finally has a new book out! Tibetan Peach Pie