7. Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler
Parable of the Sower has been on my reading list for a while and I picked it up recently at Capitol Hill Books, a used bookstore near Eastern Market in D.C. that really does seem to have everything.
Fifteen-year-old Lauren Olamina lives in a walled-in cul-de-sac in a suburb of Los Angeles. The few times she has been Outside, her father, a Baptist minister and other adults from the neighborhood have escorted the children in an armed group. Although her small community helps each other, attends church together, and grows their own food, outside their wall lurks a constant assault of increasingly desperate, homeless, and drug-addicted people. Money and jobs, not to mention water, are scarce and the federal government is all but defunct. State borders are heavily patrolled and the incompetent police are only available for exorbitant fees. No child has a hope of a life better than their parents, who still keep insisting 'the good times will return.' But Lauren has a dream. She invents her own religion, Earthseed, and she believes she can build a community that will be drawn together through a common goal of one day inhabiting planets light years away.
The premise of Butler's novel feels shockingly, darkly real to me. The problems of her world, caused by overpopulation, economic breakdown, global warming leading to water shortages, gas shortages, and all kinds of horrific drugs, seem extremely plausible from the vantage point of 2012. My generation is the first in decades where there is no reasonable expectation that we will achieve more than our parents did. While it may seem melodramatic in my case, I related to Lauren's insistence that it is not possible to wait for "the good times" to return. We cannot sit back and hope that the economy will resolve itself. Her "God," as she puts it, is Change. She planned for survival, for going Outside, and achieving her dreams despite the obvious danger and comparative safety of her home. While I did not find the religious verses that accompany each chapter particularly inspiring, Lauren's attitude and self-reliance I did find incredibly admirable.
Butler does not stint on realism at any point in the novel. She is all too aware of the horrors that people are capable of and how survival works in desperate situations. Nevertheless, Lauren does find others sympathetic to her, those who are worthy of the type of community she wants to build. This is a combination of post-apocalyptic/dystopian novel, survival novel, coming-of-age journey, and religious text. I wish everyone in the world would read it today and work together to prevent a world like that from happening.