The Hypothetical Library is in need of its first major correction above and beyond the usual poor grammar, run-on sentences and overuse of commas. I neglected to place a hypothetical promotional blurb from the very real Jonathan Lethem on the cover of Apocalypse Animals. Please see the revised cover. In anticipation of future mistakes, I’ve decided to name these occasions “Errata Hypothetica.” Mea culpa, all.
Two of my oldest and closest friends—one a poet, the other a fiction writer—have a game they play on occasion called “Drop the Needle”. The premise is that with truly good writing you should be able to grab a book off the shelf, open it up, settle on a line or two, and be impressed by what you have just read. It should at least be a necessary and perfectly constructed sentence, and at best be beautiful. These are pretty brutal criteria—even the expository descriptions are held to these standards.
As I was reading Lydia Millet’s How The Dead Dream, I was reminded of this game, because page after page, I was amazed by the consistently gorgeous prose. Her writing is relentless: beautiful, funny, sad, and profane, often all in a single sentence. It makes you want to turn the radio down, curse the passing traffic, and forego that second glass of wine, all so you can focus on the writing.
In her most recent novels: Oh Pure and Radiant Heart and the above mentioned How The Dead Dream, Millet addresses the uncomfortable, looming reality of species extinction—both animal and human. She is documenting more than the epochal inevitability of extinction, she is reporting on the shifts in human manner and psychology as we experience, ignore, and contribute to it. Her work makes me think of the sentiment that was famously phrased in cartoonist Walt Kelly’s POGO: “We have met the enemy and he is us”.
Millet is not the only voice speaking about what we are doing to the world, but she is easily one of the most elegant. I “Dropped the Needle” on several pages of How The Dead Dream while writing this introduction. All were wonderful, but here is my third “drop” from page 214:
“ Here man was fully animal again, but he was still tender . . . you never lost what you were, never lost it fully. There was always the suspicion of a past life that faded and returned
And you did not have to know yourself to be fully human. There were always those who did not, and no one said they were beasts.”
For Millet’s entry into the Hypothetical Library she is collaborating with her husband, the environmentalist, philosopher, and executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity, Kierán Suckling, on what would be her first non fiction work and his first long form book, Apocalypse Animals. With their combined passion and knowledge about what many consider to be the earth’s sixth mass extinction, in Apocalypse Animals Millet and Suckling would have explained the link between biology, belief, and imposed obsolescence.
As with every entry on the Hypothetical Library, I want to read the book, but with and Millet’s and Suckling’s offering, I feel like I need to read this book. Unfortunately that will never happen. But with Millet’s evocative description of Apocalypse Animals, we are given enough information to connect the dots, go out and get the information for ourselves, and build our own texts.
If anyone asks you who composed this song,
if anyone asks you who composed this song,
tell him ‘twas I and I sing it all day long.
It takes a worried man to sing a worried song,
it takes a worried man to sing a worried song,
I’m worried now, but I won’t be worried long.
APOCALYPSE ANIMALS: Dreaming and Wanting at the End of the World —The hypothetical flap copy
“This powerful and strange hybrid beast — part epic story, part incantation, part polemic and part memoir — by novelist Lydia Millet and her husband, environmentalist and philosopher Kierán Suckling, tells the story of a relationship between human impulses toward self-destruction and our perception of the sublime; of a relationship between past and current visions and stories of the apocalypse and the psychology of climate-change denial; and of the cultural, historical and religious implications of the world’s ongoing Sixth Mass Extinction.”
The promotional quote—Jonathan Lethem
"Millet and Suckling's APOCALYPSE ANIMALS made me want to melt down my possessions and build an ark. I recommend it to any doomed species." —Jonathan Lethem
Lydia Millet is the author of six novels and a short story collection; her 2002 book My Happy Life won the PEN-USA Award for Fiction, and more recent books such as Oh Pure and Radiant Heart and How the Dead Dream, the first in a trilogy about extinction, have been acclaimed critically and named by various best-of lists. She also works as a writer and editor at the Center for Biological Diversity, and has recently begun writing novels for younger readers, the first of which will be published in the next year or two. She lives with Suckling and their two young children in the desert outside Tucson, Arizona. For more information about more of Lydia's work check out http://www.lydiamillet.net/
Kierán Suckling is the executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity, the leading U.S. nonprofit on protecting endangered species. Suckling, who grew up on Cape Cod and studied philosophy at the graduate level at SUNY-Stonybrook, co-founded the Center in 1989 and has since become known as a powerful innovator in the fight against species extinction. He has published several widely cited, peer-reviewed papers in conservation science as well as essays on biodiversity issues, and lectures and presents often on subjects ranging from the value of linguistic diversity to global warming. He created, and maintains, the country’s most comprehensive database on endangered species. For more information about Kierán and the crucial work he does you can read here, and here.
Next week: Thomas Kelly