Spring time has me all a flutter over here in Northeastern parts. I've been jealously devouring all the posts from the Northwest bloggers, what with their pictures of flowering trees and their getting-gardens-ready-for-planting. Oh, and the fact that they already have spring produce at their farmers markets. But then just today, I saw the first crocuses blooming around a still-nekkid tree over on Tremont Street. Oh, did my heart twinge with joy. I. Can't. Wait.
Some of you may remember my garden from last year. It was a bit of a disappointment for my first back-porch garden, so I thought I'd scale back a bit this year and start with a fresh perspective on the whole she-bang. First off, I'm scrapping the veggies for the time being. It's just not feasible in my little container garden and I feel really happy about buying produce from my farmer's market, so we'll leave that until I have an actual garden. Or a job that allows me to devote more time to caring for veggies.
I bought a whole mess of flower seeds that I'm planning on scattering willy-nilly in several of my containers. We'll see what pops up with those. Theoretically, I should have already started seedlings or at least (I think) scattered the seeds last fall, but...well...meh? I'll be happy with whatever little flowers decide to poke their faces up at me.
And then (here's my Smartest Move Yet!), I ordered actual seedlings of several different culinary herbs that will magically, miraculously, oh-so-perfectly arrive at my doorstep just when they should be planted in the garden. So wonderful. So perfect. And even so affordable! I think I'm getting six different herbs for about $17. I can't WAIT for fresh herbs again. The more I've gotten into cooking this past fall, the more I've been learning and discovering new ways to use herbs. I didn't feel like I really took advantage of the herbs I grew last summer because I honestly didn't know how to use them--unless a recipe called for a specific herb, I didn't think to try adding anything different. This summer? A whole new kinda Emma, just you wait!
Ok, a few updates:1) I have finally finished Stephen's scarf. I custom knit some Urban Mitts (a.k.a. the Aid-and-Abet Smoker's Gloves) for Stephen last fall (link HERE) and apparently at some point agreed to throw in a hat and scarf with the leftover yarn. I don't actually recall this conversation, but Stephen was quite insistent that it did, indeed, occur. I have my doubts, but nonetheless, I did have leftover yarn and so...why not?! Well, other projects struck my fancy and with this and that, I didn't get around to finishing this scarf until a few weeks ago, just as the weather started to turn. I call it "Stephen's About-Time Scarf" and used the My So-Called Scarf pattern from Sheep in the City (link HERE). I love love love with a cherry on top and a few extra dollops of creme fraiche this pattern. It was fun to knit--never boring--and I felt very accomplished to have mastered the stitch (it's not actually that hard, but it looks that hard--the best of both worlds). The resulting fabric is kind of squishy or spongy, kind of like the waffle-weave on thermal shirts and absolutely perfect for a cozy scarf. I also have dreams of a cardigan in this stitch, but I'm afraid that will have to remain in Knitted Dream Land for a few more months. I knit this scarf length-wise because I was worried about running out of yarn (which I did. I even used all my little tail-scraps to finish binding off the last row! But look how symmetrical I got the stripes to be!). Oh, and a hat? Did I agree to a hat? I don't remember a hat...*Note to anyone out there thinking of commissioning some great knit good from me--I'm more than happy to do it, but don't expect anything in a timely manner. True art takes time, don't ya know. But wine and a steady supply of Top Chef DVDs will also help get the job done. Just sayin'.
2) The next book in the Keys To The Kingdom series by Garth Nix is out and in stores! It's called Lady Friday and picks up the story of our intrepid young hero, Arthur, just as he has taken the fourth key. Unlike the other books in the series which wrapped up the individual book with minimal cliffhangers, the recent book (Sir Thursday) ended practically mid-sentence. I believe I may have gasped when I turned the page and saw that the book just...just...ended! So it is with much delight that I anticipate reading this fifth book. Stay tuned, fellow lovers of young adult fantasy!
3) And last but not least, I leave you with the recipe and mouth watering pictures for my new favorite comfort food: Polenta with Parmesan and Olive Oil Fried Eggs and Garlicky Swiss Chard. Mmm, mmm...good. If only I had a few black truffles to shave on top, this dish would take no prisoners. All the flavors combine so perfectly--especially the creamy polenta, the runny yoke, and the crispy edges. I'm a huge fan of wilted greens, their bitter flavor and slight chew make a great contrast to the egg and polenta. I would like to point out that this simple dish combines every flavor profile: sweet, salty, bitter, sour, and umami.
This dish comes courtesy of the New York Times and their article "A Morning Meal Begs to Stay Up Late," published 2/7/07. (Click HERE for the article--though it may be content protected) I have made a few adaptations from the original recipe.
Polenta with Parmesan and Olive Oil Fried Eggs
*Note: This recipe for polenta makes the best polenta I've ever made--very creamy and smooth. It makes several cups, so I usually pour the leftovers into a bread loaf pan, cover with saran wrap, and let set. You can then cut off blocks of polenta as needed from the 'loaf.'
4 1/2 cups broth or water (I use half chicken broth and half water--all chicken broth makes the polenta taste a bit 'tinned,' in my opinion)
1 1/2 cups polenta (not quick-cooking), course corn meal, or corn grits. (I use Goya brand corn meal)
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1-oz chunk of Parmesan cheese
2 Tablespoons olive oil
8 large eggs (or 1-2 eggs per person)
course sea salt for garnish
1. In a large pot, bring broth/water to a simmer (not boil). Gently shake in the corn meal a bit at a time and add salt. Simmer, stirring as frequently as your arm muscles can stand, until it thickens to taste--between 10 and 20 minutes. Cover pot to keep warm.
*If making the chard as well, start the chard wilting now.
2. Using a vegetable peeler, shave the cheese into slivers. Alternately, grate it on the largest hole of a box grater.
3. In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil until very hot. Fry 4 eggs at a time until edges are crispy and the yokes are still runny. Repeat with remaining oil and eggs.
4. Pile polenta into 4 bowls and top with first the cheese and then the fried eggs. Garnish with sea salt.
Garlicky Swiss Chard
(if serving with polenta and fried eggs, cut the chard before starting any cooking and then start wilting the chard after the polenta has finished cooking.)
2 bunches of Swiss chard, stems removed (You could really use any leafy green, here. I think I might have actually used collard greens by mistake, and it was still delish.)
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
Large pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
Juice from one half squeeze lemon
Salt to taste.
1. Stack chard leaves on top of one another (you can make several piles), and slice them into 1/4-inch strips
2. Heat oil in a very large skilled. Add garlic and red pepper flakes, and saute for about 30 seconds, until the garlic is fragrant. Stir in the chard, turning to coat with oil. Cover pan and let cook for about 2 minutes until chard is wilted. Uncover, stir, and cook for 2 minutes longer.
Serve alongside the polenta with fried egg, and squeeze a bit of lemon juice over the top just before serving.
Weight Watchers Points: One egg, a half cup of polenta, a few shavings of Parmesan, and as much chard as you want will equal about 5 points.
Tuesday, March 27, 2007
Saturday, March 17, 2007
Since I didn't manage to extract myself from the cozy, multi-blanketed nest of my bed until well after the snow had passed from pristine prettiness into half-melty sludge, I give you this picture from Boston.com taken yesterday afternoon. Besides being yet another beautiful example of the fashion faux pas and arch-collapsing train wreck that is the Ugg boot (oh, why do I torture myself?), this photo so perfectly captures how unwilling we Bostonians were to deal with snow after a week of 55-degree weather--much less the blizzardy ice storm with sideways blowing snow pellets that we ended up getting. In my my three years in Boston, I can't help but notice that Bostonians have quite a time-honored "willing suspension of disbelief" going on here. To name a very few, we are willing to believe:
- That work on the Big Dig will eventually be finished.
- That if I dig my car out of the snow and leave a lawn chair on the spot with a note saying, "My Spot--Don't Take," no one will, in fact, take my spot.
- That the T runs on time, and when it doesn't, this is a completely unprecedented event.
- That Dunkin' Donuts makes the best coffee in the universe.
- That every year is "Our Year" for the Red Sox to win the World Series (And when the Red Sox really did win back in 2004, the entire city shut down for days--not because everyone was so elated that they finally won, but because literally no one knew what to do with themselves.)
- That if you let your dog poop in the un-shoveled sidewalk snow, the poop will magically have disappeared come spring when the snow melts and will not, in fact, sit in a frozen, petrified pile two inches from where I'm waiting for the bus. (I don't have a sassy web link for this one, but maybe it's better that way.)
A good pummeling of snow seems to bring out the best and the worst in people. This morning, it's bringing out the best. Determined to make Irish soda bread for a St. Patty's Day party later today and lacking the proper ingredients, I cinched on my snow pants, laced up my snow boots, and prepared for the worst. But then...the worst never came! When I realized that my local CVC doesn't carry buttermilk* and realized that a bus trip to the nearest Stop&Shop would be in order, I was sure my good mood was doomed. But then, miracle of miracles, a bus appeared on the horizon mere moments after I arrived at the bust stop. In attempting to board the bus, I managed to drop my shopping list, wallet, and T-pass at the same time, thus delaying the boarding of fellow passengers and departing of the bus. I apologized profusely to the bus driver, but instead of rolling her eyes or gazing disdainfully past my left ear--a normal and accepted reaction to passenger ineptitude--she actually said (get THIS!), "No problem. Welcome aboard." No problem? Welcome aboard?! Did anyone else hear that? But no, my fellow passengers were gazing placidly out the windows, not even minding that I was (continuing) to delay the bus by standing in the doorway, immobile with disbelief.
At the grocery store a group of local firefighters all dolled up in their boots and suspenders were shopping for a St. Patrick's Day dinner together--a very meaty St. Patrick's day dinner, as became increasingly obvious as I followed them around the grocery store. (Side note: I wasn't actually "following" the firefighters in the stalking sense; our shopping routes just happened to coincide is all. Though they were pretty adorable.) There was one Papa Bear Firefighter with the cart and all the other firefighters kind of orbited around him, bringing him cuts of meat for approval, adding condiments to the cart, dropping off sodas. I was especially touched when one swarthy-looking fellow added two beautiful purple rutabagas to the mix. I loves me a veggie-eatin' firefighter! And the whole time, the group was joking with each other, teasing the Stop&Shop employees (who they seemed to know quite well), and chatting with fellow customers. They even posed for a few pictures. It was all very heartwarming.
I found all my purchases, trotted back to the bus stop, and again waited mere moments for another bus to show up. The doors slid open and who should I see but my new favorite bus driver! "Good morning," she said as I climbed up (managing not to drop anything this time). "Good morning!" I chirped in reply. When I got to my stop, I actually walked all the way to the front of the bus just so that I could say, "Thank you!" as I got off. "You're welcome," she said gravely as the doors wheezed shut behind me.
And in one last feat of snowy-day good cheer, I passed the mailman on the short walk from the bus stop to my house. I always feel bad for mail carriers on the particularly gross weather days--rain or shine, they're always out there, but they always seem quite willing and happy to be doing what they're doing. In any case, peering at me from beneath his fur-lined, US Postal Blue hat**, my mailman said, "Hello! How are you?" "Quite well, thank you! And you?" I replied. "Oh, I'm great!" he said, and slushed past me, whistling a little tune.
*By the by, I'm not quite sure why I thought CVS would carry buttermilk, but I rilly wanted to believe it would--ahh...there's that suspension of disbelief! Hey, I'm a real Bostonian!
**Every time I see a mail carrier now, I totally think of the Project Runway episode where they have to redesign the US Postal Service uniform. I saw a mail woman a few days ago wearing a particularly fashionable uniform (I thought) and I almost stopped and asked her about it. That was on a day when snow was making Bostonians grumpy, though, so I decided not to.
Irish Soda Bread
I've shied away from soda bread for a long time. My memories of it are of dense, dry, crumbly bricks with little taste or satisfaction, which are left in the bread basket long after the hunks of airy baguette and elegant slices of sourdough have been claimed. In the build up to St. Patty's day, a number of recipes for soda bread--both sweet and savory--came my way and I decided to give it a whirl in my own kitchen.
I decided on a sweet bread with raisins and nutmeg and held my breath as the rocky, unappetizing balls of dough baked into golden loaves twinkling with granulated sugar. In both taste and consistency, this bread reminds me of scones. The crust is both crunchy and crumbly, with a satisfying chew. The interior was cakey and moist, rich with a light sweetness and chewy little nuggets of raisin. This cake was the perfect finish to the corned beef stew cooked by our St. Patrick's Day hostess, and was wonderful on its own, smeared with butter, or paired with the traditional sharp cheddar cheese.
In my research for this recipe, I found that soda bread is traditionally baked in a cast-iron skillet so that the top and bottom get crunchy and brown evenly while the middle stays cakey. I don't have a cast iron skillet (yet--I know, I know, it's sin that I don't have one yet), but I thought I could replicate the effect in my dutch oven. This recipe makes two loaves, so I baked one in the dutch oven and one on a regular baking sheet. (In the picture of the two loaves above, the one on the left was done in the dutch oven.)
Both loaves rose about the same amount, but the dutch oven loaf had a rounder shape and more even surface; where the loaf backed on the sheet was craggier and less uniform in shape. Additionally, the loaf baked in the dutch oven did indeed have a more even brown color and crunchier crust while the inside was noticeably more moist. The verdict? If you have a dutch oven or cast-iron skillet, I definitely recommend baking the loaf in it--just add about fifteen minutes to the baking time and remove the lid in the last five minutes. However, if you don't have a dutch oven, never fear--your bread will disappear just as fast.
Sweet Irish Soda Bread
Makes 2 loaves
4 cups flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
6 Tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon nutmeg (1 1/4 tsp if using freshly ground)
4 Tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into chunks
1 1/2 cups thick buttermilk
2 egg yolks
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/2 cups raisins (purple or golden)
Set oven to 375-degrees. If using a dutch oven or skillet, put it into the oven to warm as the oven heats.
In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, sugar, and nutmeg. Add the butter and use the tips of your fingers or a pastry cutter to work the butter into the flour until it reduces to pea-sized bits. Add the raisins and toss to coat with flour (this helps the raisins stay suspended in the batter).
In another bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, th egg yolks, and the vanilla. Create a well in the center of the flour mixture and pour in the liquids. Use a wooden spoon to stir the mixture until all the ingredients are combined and the dough easily comes together into a ball. It will be very moist and shaggy.
Divide the dough in half and form each half into a ball. Use a sharp paring knife to slash a cross into the top of each loaf about 1/2 inch deep, a traditional feature of soda bread that also allows the dough to expand while baking without cracking the surface. Sprinkle each loaf with a few pinches of granulated sugar.
If using a dutch oven or skillet, drop the dough (cross-side up) into the bowl and cover. If using a baking sheet, cover a baking sheet with parchment paper and set the dough in the middle. Bake loaves for 40 minutes or so until the surface is evenly golden, the center is set, and a cake tester (or toothpick) inserted into the center comes out clean. (Loaves baked in a dutch oven may need another 15 minutes to bake. Leave the oven uncovered for the last 5-10 minutes of baking.)
Allow the loaves to rest at least 1/2 hour before serving.
Weight Watcher's Points: Each loaf is about 34.5 points total. If you slice it into 12 wedges, each wedge is about 3 points a piece.
Friday, March 09, 2007
For as long as I can remember, I've dreamed of having a room of my own. Even when I was still living with my parents and technically had my own room, I still nurtured a fantasy dream room in my heart. Back then, the primary features of My Room were a loft with a big cushiony bed and various hidden doors, secret compartments, tunnels leading to other various sub-rooms, and all sorts of very mysterious and intricate designs. Since then, my tastes have evolved and become (somewhat) more practical, though the loft idea does still drift in and out of the picture depending on my mood.
These days, the room I lust after is part craft room, part lounge, part sanctuary. A room that's neither too big or small, but it's just the right size to fit all my things into and close the door. Somewhere I can leave projects out and make a mess without feeling the need to clean it up right away and organize everything just the way I want to. Along one wall would be big square-shaped shelves stacked nearly to the ceiling. These shelves would hold bins of yarn (organized by color, fiber, and texture, of course), my favorite books, and all my various Special Trinkets, of which I have collected many. My desk would be in front of the windows, which would be curtained in beautiful fabric sheer enough to let in sunlight, but opaque enough to provide privacy. It would be a big, long desk with my laptop at one end and the rest completely clear for whatever project I happen to be working on.
Against another wall would be a comfy love-seat couch with fold-out bed. Big stuffed pillows. A side table. Lots and lots of warm, glowy lamps because I'm very particular about my lighting and loathe overhead lights. Bright, patterned sheets of colored paper or simple tapestries of hemmed fabric would decorate the wall behind the couch. Everywhere the colors would be cinnamony-orange, burgundy, and steel blue. Accents of moss green here and there at the edges. All the furniture would be mostly blonde wood with some stainless steel for that bit of edge. A handknit blanket over the back of the sofa, and a cozy, broken-in sweater over the back of the chair. A warm, squishy rug on the floor. The light is always autumn and somehow it's always warm enough for bare feet, but cool enough to settle down with a sweater or scarf around my shoulders.
Oh, it all sounds almost too cozy and lovely to be true. I dream of this room and dream of sitting at the desk, lying on the carpet, napping on the sofa, running my finger along the spines of the books on the shelf. It's funny that I've never really thought in terms of a whole house or an apartment--it's always just been this one room. But a house would be too large for little me; a room fits me just fine.
What's your fantasy hide-away?!
Thursday, March 01, 2007
The Children of Men
by P.D. James
Quickie Synopsis: Set in the not-too-distant future of 2021, Children of Men tells of a time when humans have become sterile, science has failed to find a cause or a cure, and no children have been born for twenty-five years. The Warden of England holds the country from chaos by promising security, comfort, and pleasure through a thinly-veiled dictatorship as civilization fades into old age. Theodore Faron, the Warden's cousin, is one of the apathetic masses until he is approached by a group of rebels eager to change the system. Initially reluctant to help, Theo is drawn further and further into their plans and finds a passion awaking in him that he thought he'd lost long ago.
I have a border-line obsession with stories of the apocalypse. Give me a good end-of-the-world novel (or movie or art show or podcast or...you get the idea) and I'll cancel all appointments, hole myself in my apartment, and refuse food and drink until I've finished devouring it. Good apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic books are hard to find--both because there aren't that many that have been written and also because they often get shuffled into other, misnomer categories and are hard to find. By my definition, apocalyptic books are NOT stories of utopian or dystopian societies. They are not science fiction (by my definition, anyway). They do not involve any society other than humankind or take place on any world other than Earth. The events being described do not happen more than fifty years in the future. The best stories of apocalypse deal specifically with the end or near-end of the human race and could happen at any time to any society--The Stand by Stephen King, The Road by Cormac McCarthy, and the movie 28 Days Later are primo examples of this.
At the root of my obsession is an insatiable curiosity for how humans behave when all the trappings of 'normal' society are stripped away. We humans cling so tightly to arbitrary ways of defining ourselves and our place in society--ideas of ourselves as doctors and housewives and baristas and public-transit-commuters and radical thinkers and protesters and parents and nerds and food critics on and on and on. What happens when all these labels become meaningless? What is there to protest when there is no more government? Why collect money when there is nothing left to buy or no one left to sell it to you? How do you find food when you've only bought frozen dinners from the grocery store your entire life? What happens if you have any kind if disability and were dependent on technology to function? How will you spend your days when life is about survival instead of toeing the line? How do you define yourself when you are no longer being marketed to or pigeon-holed or compared against? I find these questions fascinating. I am obsessed with knowing all the possible permutations of the human spirit within this kind of vacuum.
And it was with this level of exuberance and fascination that I approached Children of Men. I hadn't heard of this book before previews for the movie started airing and everyone at the Noodle Factory was gibbering about it. A friend of the Engineer's who works in movies saw a sneak preview and declared that this would become a seminal movie for how humans think about the future, and that we would look back on it decades from now and see how the ideas from this movie came to pass. And thus my excitement grew.
As is my habit, I wanted to read the book before seeing the movie, and was delighted when I discovered that the original book had been written by P.D. James, an award-wining British mystery novelist. She is most well-known for her Adam Dalgliesh series, which was turned into a well-respected BBC mini-series. Her mysteries tend to be highly-detailed and fast-paced, and James imbues her characters with genuine ethos as she propels them through the twists and turns of her novels. When the killer is revealed in the grand finale, it's often done in the way you'd least expect with a twist that gives readers cause for genuine reflection.
I wasn't surprised that I'd never heard of Children of Men. It was written in 1992 (which was a whole different century, after all), doesn't fit in with her mystery-novel repertoire or appeal to her fan-base, and also....well...it just isn't any good. It was really, utterly, tragically disappointing. How some crazy script-writer or director came across it and decided to make it into a movie, I'll never know. Actually, they were probably going through all of P.D. Jame's novels and wondered why no one had made it into a movie yet. I'll tell you why--because it would take a script writer or director of singular creative genius to find the diamond in the rough in this book. I've heard such stellar things about the movie from people who's taste I trust that I can't WAIT to see the adaptation.
The first half of the book focuses entirely on Theodore Faron, our main character and apocalyptic hero. He has just turned fifty and is ruminating about his life and the deteriorating state of humankind. As a historian, he feels himself somewhat removed from the events going on around him. His voice as the narrator is clinical and detached, and his observations are unemotional and objective. He is approached by a representative of a small group of rebels and asked to represent their concerns to the dictatorial Warden of England, who happens to be Theodore's cousin. Theodore has little interest in what he considers to be their juvenile grievances and initially dismisses them in disdain. He is only convinced to talk to his cousin after he witnesses a government-organized and theoretically voluntary mass suicide for elderly men and women. Theodore's attempt to communicate with the Warden is clumsy, ill-prepared, and ultimately ineffective. Theodore's momentary enthusiasm for action subsides back into depression.
In the second half of the book, Theodore is once again approached by the rebel group, now calling themselves the Five Fishes, and this time he is asked to provide protection. One of the members, Julian, has become miraculously pregnant and the group needs Theodore's help because he is ostensibly the only man in Britain who can keep Julian from falling under the control of the Warden (a thin premise). Lucky for young Julian, Theodore has fallen in love with her and would do anything to protect her, even overcome his own apathy. What ensues is an unimaginative race through the English country side as the group tries to evade detection, meets with bands of feral humans, scavenges for supplies, and is ultimately hunted down. The climactic scene is so goofy that I don't even mind spoiling it for you--Julian's baby is born, and then Theodore kills the Warden, assumes his place, and wins Dame Julian's affection. Nice. And. Tidy. Barf.
The main characters are particularly disappointing. Theodore has heroic potential, but his transformation from cold observer to humanitarian hero is poorly conceived and unbelievable. Julian and the other Five Fishes are all caricatures of themselves. Each plays out a specific symbolic personality whose literary history can be easily traced through the great (and far greater) works of literature that precede this one and whose permutations have been long exhausted. The Warden is probably the most intriguing and well-written character in the book. He is multi-faceted and has a depth of spirit with which readers can truly empathize. Unfortunately, inconsistencies in his character keep him from being truly believable and trustworthy. (Why why WHY would P.D. James think that at this stage of the apocalypse, the Warden would still be testing only the fertility of those humans he deemed "healthy" and not ALL humans regardless of their mental or physical impairments or their criminal record? A character as smart and survival-oriented as the Warden would recognize that the end of humanity is not the time to practice eugenics. It baffles me.)
The only reason for reading this book at all is for the novelty of it's apocalyptic vision. The idea that no more children are being born and that the human race will just slowly fade into obscurity is a unique idea worth considering. Every other apocalyptic book I've read assumes that the end will happen relatively quickly and without a lot of advanced warning: nuclear annihilation, a super-plague that sweeps around the world and leaves bodies piled on street corners, uncontrollable tidal waves or earthquakes or meteors. One day everything is fine; next day, no more humans. With an apocalyptic event like this, humans can only react and survive as best they can. In a scenario like the one in Children of Men, the apocalypse evolves gradually one day at a time, always lurking on the horizon. Humans have plenty of time to get familiar with the inevitability of their situation. They have already moved beyond the initial stages of panic, hope, and despair, and have settled into resignation. They have time to plan, prepare, and decide how they are going to face the end. It's a different kind of survival and a different aspect of the human soul.
The first quarter of the book, which consists almost entirely of excerpts from Theodore's journal and includes his observations of events going on around him, gives a nice snapshot of what human society could be like in this kind of apocalyptic scenario. Theodore describes the feeling of despair when the last generation of humans reached their mid-twenties without becoming pregnant, the special treatment those last children received, the growing popularity of mass suicides, the preparations for consolidating the last humans into urban centers, how the remnants of the government will ensure that there will be enough resources to see the youngest generation into old age, and all the other signs of a society coming to terms with it's own death. In this sense, society exhibits all the characteristics of any individual come to the end of their life: crankiness, despondency, dementia, weariness, relief, rebellion, fragility, resignation, and acceptance--all wrapped into one package.
One of the key characteristics of all apocalyptic books I've read so far is a final note of hope. The good guys win. The child is born. The last survivors find one another. Life begins anew. Sometimes this is done very well (The Stand by Stephen King and the movie 28 Days Later). Sometimes it feels forced (The Road by Cormac McCarthy). And in the case of Children of Men, it's downright wrong. However it's handled, so far there are very few books where the author was able to bring him or herself to actually end the book with the idea that the human race comes to an end.* Especially in the case of The Road, it is as if the author builds up and up and up to the conclusion that humans fail and ultimately die out, but at the last minute just can't follow through and HAS to end on an up-note. This phenomenon in and of itself says something interesting about human nature--maybe it's a fundamental instinct of self-preservation that prevents authors from 'going all the way,' similar to how in dreams, you will always wake up before you see yourself die. It's as if denying hope is denying life itself.
And so I await with feverish anticipation the release of Children of Men on DVD.** Even if it only lives up to half the reviews I've heard, it's bound to be more entertaining than the book and promises a few more glimpses into the depths of human spirit.
*Now that I think about it, the only book I've encountered where all humans do actually die is in The Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier. But even in that book, it's implied that the human SPIRIT lives on, even if not corporeally.
**Yes, I'm a notorious tightwad, and by the time I'm done debating whether or not it's worth coughing up $10 to see a movie, it's usually left the theaters.
Final Recommendation: Skip the book; see the movie. If you insist on reading the book, stop after Theo goes to the Quietus and meets the Warden.
Good Read for When You're: Doing research for a book on apocalyptic visions.
Good Choice For: Someone you know is doing research on apocalyptic visions. Or is having apocalyptic visions.
If you're interested in having some apocalyptic visions of your own, I highly recommend:
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
The Stand by Stephen King
28 Days Later
If you'd like to read some good books by P.D. James, try:
Death of an Expert Witness
Devices & Desires