Our Reading Lives

Bug Out Books: The Tomes I’d Save in the Event of the Apocalypse

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Kristen McQuinn

Staff Writer

Kristen McQuinn is a medievalist who dreams of reading more, writing more, and traveling more while being the best single mama by choice she possibly can be. By day, she can be found working with English teachers at the University of Phoenix, where she also teaches the occasional class on mythology, Shakespeare, or Brit lit. Sometimes she updates even her own blog. Follow her on Twitter:@KristenMcQuinn or www.hergraceslibrary.com.  Twitter: @KristenMcQuinn

Sometimes, I like to state the blindingly obvious. Such as saying that post-apocalyptic and dystopian literature is popular (Or at least it was. There seems to be a sad, downward trend in it these days). I have often wondered if these kinds of books are so popular because people feel like, no matter how shitty our own society gets, it can always get worse and they are a weird kind of comfort read. Schadenfreude, maybe? Or maybe they are hoping something like an apocalypse actually happens and they’re preppers and using these novels as textbooks, which…okay. Neat.

ANYWAY. I live on the other side of a mountain range from a big nuclear power plant. Nearby, both to the northwest and to the south, are big Air Force bases. I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t thought about what I would do if that power plant melted down, or if one of the bases became a target of some kind. Given my love of dystopian, post-apocalyptic literature, it would also be a lie if I said I hadn’t considered that maybe it isn’t the power plant the blows, but rather it’s is the zombie apocalypse, a pandemic, a natural disaster. I can tell you now, as one of the weakest humans on the planet and someone with horrific eyesight, I would absolutely be among the first to die in a zombie apocalypse. If Yellowstone blows, we’re all pretty screwed. The fact that I have given serious thought to these things should also tell you something. That’s right: Xanax was created just for people like me!

Of course, that doesn’t stop me from making plans anyway. Just in case! You never know. I’d get my kid and the dog to safety first. But, time allowing, don’t for one second believe I don’t also have a list of books I’d go back to save if at all possible. If I needed to, I’d totally set up a barter system that would put the one in Farnham’s Freehold to shame. It’s for the preservation of literature, people! Of course I’d risk my neck for these!

So, in no particular order, my bug-out book list.

  • The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley. I have a weakness for Arthurian literature, and this feminist, Druid-centric interpretation is my favorite version of them all. It is quite possibly my all time favorite book ever.
  • Physica by Hildegard of Bingen. I dig medieval holy women (I also appreciate the irony of that, as do those who know me), and Hildegard is my favorite of the lot. If the apocalypse means there’s no electricity for me to listen to her gorgeous music (yep, she was a big time composer, too!), then I’d want one of her books with me.
  • The Kitchen God’s Wife by Amy Tan. I’m sure most book nerds have a book they remember as their first book that felt like an adult book, or one that made them truly understand that literature makes you have feels and deals with real-life issues, like losing your literary virginity. This book was my literary virginity. I read it for the first time as a freshman in high school, revisited it several times in the intervening years, and simply don’t want to go through any apocalypse without it, thank you.
  • The Dragonriders of Pern. I grew up with the people of Pern and I would go into a burning house to save these books. I have a ratty old hardback that I got ages ago from the Science Fiction Book Club that has the original trilogy bound into one volume. That’s the edition I’d go back for.
  • The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh. I’ve always had a fondness for the Thousand Arabian Nights and this new version is full of lush language, rich culture, and awesome imagery. I kinda want to bottle this into a perfume or something, sand and spice and words. If there’s an apocalypse, maybe it would be nice to have something
  • When Christ and His Saints Slept by Sharon Kay Penman. Penman’s novels are all ones I would risk my life to save if I could, actually. However, if I had to choose only one, it would be this one, which elegantly brings to life The Anarchy of the 12th century between Empress Matilda and Stephen of Blois and the start of the tumultuous Plantagenet dynasty.
  • The Complete Collection of Edgar Allan Poe. If I am to endure the apocalypse, I’ll need some dark and twisty stuff to read, for sure. The next generation of children will need something to read in their language classes as well, and Poe will make a great tutor. The kids can improve their vocabulary, learn about meter, rhyme, alliteration, assonance, and imagery while giving them nightmares!
  • The Princess Bride. Westley and Buttercup. Prince Humperdinck. Count Rugen. Inigo and Fezzik. ROUS’s. Revenge. True Love. Honestly, a world without this book is truly… what’s the word I’m looking for here? It’s escaping me at the moment…
  • Ash by Malinda Lo. She takes the traditional Cinderella story and gives it a fresh coat of paint, complete with lush worldbuilding and love. There is no way I am going through any end of the world without this book, and I am grateful to my friend Maggie for introducing it to me.

Are there any books you would want to take with you through the end of the world?