Sunday, April 28, 2013

Live Like Fiction Book Club
World Made By Hand

This month I chose the novel, World Made By Hand by James Howard Kunstler, for the LLF Book Club. It's the story of the not-too-distant future here in rural Washington County, New York. Kunstler imagines a world not without oil, but without leadership or a functioning government. In the book a terrorist group plants bombs on a series of cargo freighters in a west-coast port and the explosion sends a ripple through our economy we could not recover from. The bombs made it impossible to allow any cargo into the country without being inspected and that process took so long that the businesses that traded goods on said ships started to fall apart. It took forever to get t-shirts and tomatoes in the American stores and international business suffered. After that two bombs took out Washington DC and Los Angeles and that was all it took to break the camels back. The nation collapsed from lack of resources and a functioning economy. Services faded away until the electricity was just the occasional flicker and the government entirely shut down (along with all the services it provided, from welfare to road plowing). Unlike a lot of modern apocalyptic fiction, WMBH doesn't involve zombies or UN plots. It was created by the same situations and enemies we have now. The oil didn't run out, it simply got to expense to get to and the money was all used up elsewhere. America fell back to functioning more like it did in the civil war than now. This all happened in a decade of decline.

What I like about this series is the people. This book doesn't focus on world politics, peak oil, or terror plots. This is the story of a town in a farming community and how it survives. Complicated relationships, traditional gender roles, religious fanaticism and plain old fashioned murder and suicide are what creates the landscape of drama. Some folks found these books offensive. I found them fascinating. I love any story where people figure out how to survive and restart their community, because it gives me hope. And since this book takes place in a Greenwich, NY summer along the Battenkill River it's close enough for me to reach out and touch.

This will be our wrap-up discussion on the book! Feel free to share your ideas, thoughts, insights, and opinions in the comments!

P.S. Next Month's Pick involves a certain James Alexander Malcolm Mackenzie Fraser....

21 Comments:

Blogger Stacie said...

You know, there were some things I really liked about this book and some things I didn't. The thing I didn't like is that there were very few female characters with any, well, character. It wasn't that the women were doing things like laundry-- that absolutely makes sense-- but more that the women didn't feel believable as characters and really weren't subjects in the story as much as kind of uncomfortable objects.

I really liked the basis of the situation-- it felt very believable that everything would just sort of.... peter out. Or devolve. This type of book, for me, is often deliciously realistic but far-fetched, but this one felt like it could actually happen, and it could start happening tomorrow. And the way people set themselves up felt like how I'd imagine it to go, too.

April 28, 2013 at 11:49 AM  
Blogger time4trees.mb said...

I fell pretty much like Stacie about this book. It took many chapters before it got my interest though.

April 28, 2013 at 1:45 PM  
Blogger time4trees.mb said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

April 28, 2013 at 1:46 PM  
Blogger PansWife said...

I read this book a while ago, but I agree with Stacie about the female characters. I couldn't really relate to anyone in the book, but the women especially had the depth of paper dolls. I liked the premise of the story and when it worked it really engaged me, but often I felt a little frustrated by the weaknesses of the characters and the unevenness of the plot.

April 28, 2013 at 1:49 PM  
Blogger Dessa Wolf said...

Ah, Outlander...one of my all time favorite series.

April 28, 2013 at 3:26 PM  
Blogger Maine homesteader said...

For books that have strong women characters, try The Gate to Women's Country or Into the Forest. I did enjoy World Made by Hand also, and didn't mind the female thing; didn't feel it was important to the narrative. And I am a woman.

April 28, 2013 at 4:45 PM  
Blogger Sylvia said...

I agree about the women characters. They just seemed like a male fantasy--women who wanted sex, didn't need any foreplay, and who didn't really want to talk. It did get me thinking about what I throw away, though. "Bikers will be digging it out of the trash!" is now a saying at our house.
Thanks for the book suggestion.
Sylvia in Wisconsin (Treadlestitches)

April 28, 2013 at 5:14 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I read this book a number of years ago and found it to be very engaging and realistic until it got to the spiritual/kookie part, which totally left me cold. I would recommend 'Earth Abides' by George Stewart. Written in the 50s, I think, it describes how people re-connect after a virus wipes out most of the population. VERY realistic in terms of how communities are formed, with no sensationalism at all. GREAT BOOK!

April 28, 2013 at 5:29 PM  
Blogger seagrrlz said...

I liked the book. I also read the 2nd book in the series.
I enjoyed it in a different way from Dies The Fire. To me, the 1st book we read was fantastical. Don't get me wrong, I loved it and have read almost all of the books around the change.
World Made by Hand seemed more beliveable to me. It seemed like just ordinary people making do.
I also agree about the lack of strong female characters. Most of them just seem like backdrops or scenery.
Still, all in all, I found it a good read.

April 28, 2013 at 8:03 PM  
Blogger Jenna said...

So this is interesting, do you guys think in this situation more women would have leadership roles? I do. But in this fictional world it seems like the men and women decided together to do things this way? Anyone else feel that was the case?

April 28, 2013 at 8:05 PM  
Blogger Jenna said...

I totally agree about the weak female characters. But I feel the strongest character in the next book is a women, the book is named after her.

April 28, 2013 at 8:06 PM  
Blogger JoAnne Schnyder said...

Ahhh, Jamie Fraser...Love the Outlander series. Might need to participate in that reading.

April 28, 2013 at 8:09 PM  
Blogger JoAnne Schnyder said...

Ahhh, Jamie Fraser...Love the Outlander series. I might need to participate in the book club reading.

April 28, 2013 at 8:10 PM  
Blogger aart said...

Well, it was written by a man......human nature after all, which this book clearly displays several different genres of such.

Hmmm...thought we'd had this discussion on FB a few weeks ago...and now I can't remember what I wrote there 8-\

April 28, 2013 at 8:16 PM  
Blogger Stacie said...

I don't really know that I expected more women in leadership positions-- I think that would be great, and I'd want it to happen, but I also see how their town setup is a natural progression from the way things are now, in a lot of areas. I'm glad that, in the next book, there are perhaps some more developed female characters, because, although I wouldn't necessarily demand more female leadership, I do think there would be more involvement by women in general.

April 28, 2013 at 8:25 PM  
Blogger Karen said...

I enjoyed the book as a look into what could happen in a world gone sideways. Bartering as a means of exchange really got me thinking what I could offer. Maybe people would fall into "traditional" male & female roles, but given how society has changed, I think women would find ways to be in stronger positions,as well.

April 28, 2013 at 8:26 PM  
Blogger Wildjo said...

JHK is the first author I've read that has written both serious non-fiction and fiction that I love.

The World Made by Hand series is awesome. The characters are well done, the future is well-imagined. The writing is top-notch.

The one thing I kept thinking about, though, is what happened to the world's nuclear power plants. In a grid down situation such as imagined in the book, most, if not all, would melt down. With no grid electricity and only a few days of fuel for the onsite generators, it would get ugly world-wide really quickly.

Thus, even though we're likely to see economic collapse in the near future (as in inevitable in a system that seeks ever increasing growth through the exploitation of finite resources), Kunstler's World Made by Hand will, unfortunately, remain fiction.

April 28, 2013 at 10:05 PM  
Blogger blind irish pirate said...

Someone in the last post about this book said that when the world has gone the way it has in this book, feminism wouldn't be important, and I had to think that it was absolutely not about the words that we use as it is about reality. And I think that reality is that women are more educated, empowered and able than they were ever before. Do I think that the author reverting back to old fashioned gender roles was realistic? Not really, but maybe upstate New York has circles of incredibly conservative people? Do I think that his female characters had the complexity of a boiled down potato? Absolutely.

I can't help but to think of Claire from Outlander, and Solara from Book of Eli. Jeez, who else? It makes me sad that the author wrote the book this way, I guess.

The fantastical was way too out there. I don't get it, and I really don't have a clue how it meshes itself with the story.

Was anyone actually not impressed with the overall plot and writing of the story? I couldn't believe I finished the book, I was that frustrated with the ... random things that happened.

April 28, 2013 at 10:50 PM  
Blogger Tams said...

I believe there is a difference between an expectation of more leadership roles and saying there is a lack of depthness in the writing of the female characters. I for one didn't relate to them. I live in what many would consider a traditional role. I've lived several different roles within my life. As I believe many women have...even if I now am in a more traditional role...that doesn't define me.Nor do I think most women would end up having to go that route to survive. Our skillset is different...

I didn't read the next book...maybe in that one the character the book is named after does more..but in this one..All she seems to be is a queen bee...and that is not realistic.

April 29, 2013 at 2:12 AM  
OpenID cathmiller said...

I don’t seem to notice gender as much as others do, I just identified with some of the main characters and their activities. I never even noticed that men were “in charge” I just took it that the competent leaders were in charge.
One of the main issues for me was that I didn’t understand how things had collapsed so quickly. Roads and bridges would last 100+ years, especially without the traffic (there are examples of roman bridges around the world that are 2000 years old. Throughout history people lived better lives than he described before the convenience of oil and gas and we have the benefit of hindsight and knowledge. He writes as if all the engineers and scientists were killed off, and no-one could remember how people had used windmills, water wheels, water tanks and gutters, or even a simple solar hot water heater with black plastic/metal tubes under a piece of glass/plastic. We could still make fire - and with the knowledge to plant woodlots not clear fell everything - we could work metal, we could use steam powered engines, would could have wood gas vehicles like they did after the 2nd world war. I didn’t like the religious overtones, and couldn’t identify with the rise of the fundamentalism - Australia is a much more secular country, even our Prime Minister is an Atheist and 30% of the population has no religion. It showed how religious organisations prey on the vulnerable to bring them to their side.
I did enjoy the psychic spiritual parts and enjoyed the second book even more.

April 29, 2013 at 11:49 PM  
Blogger Rosalyn said...

I wasn't as upset about the lack of development of female characters (although it was poor) but I found all of the characters a bit inconsistent and hard to relate to. The religious element was really weird too (and I don't mind a religious element in a book, it was just the way this one was developed and explained that I found unappealing). It was interesting to think about how they made use of everything and how they would be able to continue on with improving their town and working together as a community, but I just didn't find the book to be very engaging.

If you are interested in other books with a slightly different slant for future LLF reads, I am currently reading a book called The Woefield Poultry Collective by Susan Juby, which I just happened to stumble upon in the library last week. And I love it. It doesn't take place in a post-apocalyptic era, but follows an idealistic hopeful homesteader as she moves from New York to a derelict old farm that she inherits in British Columbia. I seriously laugh out loud on almost every page and I LOVE how it is written. It's cute and funny and heartwarming, and it might interest a few of your blog followers. :)

April 30, 2013 at 9:20 AM  

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