Thursday, January 15, 2009


Over the last couple years i covered books, mostly novels, almost exclusively, and there's no way anyone can read everything. but let me call james howard kunstler's "world made by hand" my favorite undersung novel of '08, or something along those lines.

the book is the tale of a little village in upstate new york in a world suspiciously like ours, but after resources have run out almost entirely. the residents have returned to a kind of rustic 19th century simplicity -- they homebrew beer, shop for stuff in an elaborate town dump, wish they had electricity, worry about some religious zealots wandering up from down south, etc... alan weisman, who wrote the wonderful/chilling "the world without us," called it "a poignant, provocatively convincing novel," which sounds about right.

i can just add that nothing i've read captures so well the tone of life after the economic meltdown. it's not exactly reassuring, but shows how life can and will go on, in ways both better and worse. here is a NYT essay (not by me) on this and its precursor "ecotopia."

kunstler is a left-leaning social critic (and longtime novelist) and i must say, i had all the reasonable fears of a novel penned by such a fellow. (i mean no disrespect -- some of my best friends are lefty social critics.) but i was completely unprepared for how lyrical and gently persuasive the book is -- for me certainly more affecting (sorry, cormac mccarthy) than the grim and powerful "the road."

the author's earlier books include the acclaimed, "the long emergency," which is an important jeremiad about the coming collapse of oil, environmental devastation, etc -- well written, tirelessly researched, etc, but kind of relentless as a read. this one is like, i dont know, dylan's john wesley harding record or "music from big pink" or something.

but dont take my word for it -- "world made by hand" just came out in paperback.

Photo credit: Grove/Atlantic and Flickr user 8


Okie said...

Sounds like an interesting book with fun futurism, social commentary and language. I'll add it to my list. :)

Scott Timberg said...

indeed... it is the future but it isnt -- that's part of what's intriguing about the