Archive for June 14th, 2012

Apocalypse tomorrow: Two books contemplate life in a land of death

June 14, 2012

There are few topics in life as interesting as death. Sure, endless reams of paper and reels of celluloid have been expended on money, love and adventure. But death may hold more fascination than any of those.

Consider the countless murder mysteries in print, on film and on television. Think about tales of espionage, adventure stories, science fiction TV series and movies: Almost inevitably, the lives of an agent, a crew, a nation, a galaxy hang in the balance. The prospect of mortality helps sharpen the poignancy of medical dramas. Death overshadows and underscores war, horror and historical narratives.

It’s no surprise, therefore, that there has been much speculation about the end of the world and everything after. Recently, I read two such books: The Pesthouse, a 2007 novel by British author Jim Crace, and The Road, which American writer Cormac McCarthy published in 2006.

Crace begins with a fascinating premise. Several generations ago, apparently, for reasons unspecified — perhaps the exhaustion of fossil fuels? — America lost its ability to generate electricity. The nation, and possibly the rest of the world, has fallen into a primitive state roughly equivalent to the 18th century. Metal is now an exotic substance. For all intents and purposes, medicine has vanished. Artifacts of our contemporary existence are viewed as indecipherable ruins. Read the rest of this entry »

Burned and bummed out

June 14, 2012

I had been driving for a few hours after my visit to Little Talbot Island State Park on the Atlantic coast, on the outskirts of Jacksonville, Fla., when I felt it. “It,” of course, was that tell-tale irritation familiar to anyone who has carelessly exposed skin to too much sunlight. My three hours of eating, reading, lounging and wading at the beach had left me with a souvenir.

Semipermanent blush. That is: sunburn.

I got home around 12:45 a.m. Tuesday. After unpacking the car, I stripped and inspected myself in the bathroom mirror. Most of my normally pale back was crimson. So was much of the top of my left foot. There were also a few red spots on my right foot and by my inner right ankle. Stray blotches were scattered across my chest and belly; there were a few on my arms and legs, too.

Before heading into the sunshine Monday, I had tried to coat myself thoroughly with sunscreen. While lounging on the sand, I had applied a second coat to my shoulders, which painful repeat experiences have taught me to be particularly vulnerable to solar radiation. Unfortunately, I had considered and rejected the notion of applying a fresh layer of sunblock to the rest of me, and I had paid for that omission.

I was burned, and my back and my left foot were yelping. Read the rest of this entry »

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