The Chapstick At The End Of The World

Masterful dystopian novelist here, reporting on the predicted end of the world as we know it.

So, dear readers, shall I advise you to stockpile gold bullion and bullets? Noooo, actually end-of-the-world economics will not be based at all on gold — can’t eat it, and it won’t prevent sunburn or cure warts or do anything else useful, therefore you won’t be able to trade it for much because in addition to being useless, it is heavy to carry around. You and everyone else will have more important things to think about than jewelry.

Ok, what about bullets? Yes, you would think they might be a good medium of exchange, at least until they are all used up or the guns break or rust. But bullets will not be a universal currency — only those with the right type of guns that utilize the type of bullets you happen to have will be interested in bartering with you. And once you’ve given them the bullets for their gun… well, how long will they let you keep the stuff they just gave you for the bullets? Maybe this will work if you have more and better guns than they do. But the odds are against being able to get the stuff you want with bullets, unless you put the bullets in your own gun, thence to rob and/or kill, which brings up more fundamental issues than dystopian economics…

Returning to the subject at hand, let’s look at other possible media of exchange. How about coffee? Soon to become rare, coming all the way from Central and South America, and valuable as a stimulant. Say, speaking of stimulants, might as well throw some of that Columbian marching powder on the back of the donkey or in the hold of the sailboat as you bring it north…

Hmmm. Sailboat — now there’s an idea — a boat that can carry heavy loads from place to place without fossil fuel. Might be handy to have.

But since not everyone will acquire a sailboat — or a donkey — just in case the world might come to an end, let’s bring this down to a more basic level. How about band-aids and antiseptic ointment? Aspirin? Chapsticks? These are small and inexpensive items, easy to stockpile, that just about everyone will want once the world comes to an end, since there will be a lot of headaches, infections and chapped lips. Two chapsticks for a chicken? Well, alright, I’ll make it three.

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Nebraska

A new film, Nebraska, directed by Alexander Payne (Sideways, About Schmidt and The Descendants), features Bruce Dern with a supporting cast of eminently watchable characters, including Bob Odenkirk and Stacey Keach.

Dern portrays Woody Grant, an irascible old guy with borderline dementia who lives in Billings, Montana, and receives a sweepstakes letter from a magazine publisher announcing he has WON a million dollars!

His car keys having been taken away by his serpent-tongued wife and two grown sons, he decides to walk to Lincoln, Nebraska to pick up his winnings. There are several false starts, in which one or the other of the boys collar him as he ambles alongside the highway in a southeasterly direction. Finally, the younger son agrees to drive him to Lincoln, to prove to him that the letter is a scam.

Nebraska -- Click Here for Reviews

And so the adventure begins — a road trip across the Great Plains, a boy and his dad, with many stops and adventures along the way, particularly in Woody’s old hometown of Hawthorne, where things get complicated with his brother, nephews, old flames and a former business partner, when they learn, mistakenly, that Woody is now a millionaire.

Like most good movies, this one is fundamenally about relationships and growth of character. And it is shot in black and white, with stunning photography of the big sky and barren plains, the broken-down old towns and farm houses, and the worn faces of the people who inhabit these places.

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What Is Myron Reading?

For the past several weeks, I’ve been immersed in the novels of Nelson DeMille, having gotten started upon the recommendation of a friend. Mr. DeMille, a best-selling author, is a true craftsman. So far, I’ve devoured Plum Island, The Lion’s Game and its sequel, The Lion, plus his latest, The Panther (all centered around one of his major characters, John Corey). I’m now in the midst of The Gatehouse.

Plum Island by Nelson DeMille

What makes his novels so readable? First of all, many of them have a strong sense of place, being centered in and around Long Island, New York, an area of the country which DeMIlle knows well — he grew up and lives there. So there is a huge amount of engaging historical and geographical detail. True, the most recent John Corey novel, The Panther, take us to Yemen, but even there DeMille gives us a detailed and engaging background.

Secondly, at least in the novels I’ve read so far, DeMille writes in the first person singular. So we are in the central character’s head, looking out at the world. This gives us a dual level reality; that is, what our protagonist actually says and observes, in juxtaposition to what he thinks and imagines. And what he thinks is generally phrased in sarcastic and humorous one-liners, the kind of zingers we’d all like to spout, but don’t — this makes for an entertaining read.

Next, DeMille writes very well. His prose is tight and descriptive. Ok, I agree that his latest, The Panther, may not be his best — a few too many pages covering a bit less action than we’d like, and he could have placed more emphasis on the unusual twist towards the end, when we learn who our hero’s true adversaries are, but it is still a good read. And the guy has written so much for so long, maybe we can kick back with him on this most recent. Remember the movie The General’s Daughter, with John Travolta, James Cromwell and Madeline Stowe? That was based on a DeMille novel of the same name.

Lastly, DeMille just writes and writes and writes — you could fill a bookshelf with his work, and it ain’t easy to maintain his level of dedication and focus over decades. Reminds me of advice I received as a young man, aspiring to write, from an older mentor: the art of writing is fundamentally the practice of applying the backside to the seat of the chair!

If you want to get started reading DeMille, I would recommend Plum Island or The Lion’s Game, early in the John Corey sequence. Words of warning: these may be stories that appeal mainly to guys, since the protagonists are manly men (yes, I meant ‘manly’, not ‘mainly’) who aren’t afraid of Islamic terrorists, guns, knives, alcohol, bloodshed or political incorrectness; and for some, such as myself, they may become addictive.

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