Writin' and Survivin': Books in May

Copyediting: A Practical Guide by Karen Judd is another guide to copyediting very much like the last one I read, The Fine Art of Copyediting by Elsie Myers Stainton. Both offer an overview of what copyediting entails, along with lots of reference material: when to use which punctuation, how to capitalize titles, and so on. Either book would be a valuable addition to a writer or copyeditor's library.

I don't think copyediting is a good career direction for me; I revel in the satisfaction of finding obvious mistakes (doesn't everyone?) but I would get impatient having to look up everything I wasn't sure about. I could be a copyeditor, but I wouldn't enjoy it much. (Although Judd actually says, 'Copyediting isn't fun," so maybe I'm missing the point.) But having read these two books, I now know more about good grammar, good writing and punctuation. Once I start writing for real I'll buy one of these books and refer to it often. My editors will love me.

The Craft and Business of Writing: Essential Tools for Writing Success is a collection of essays about writing, from the editors of Writers' Digest Books. It's divided into five sections: Getting Started / General Business, Fiction, Nonfiction, Children's Writing, and Poetry. Each of the last four sections is further subdivided into "The Craft of..." and "The Business of..." The essays are great, both helpful and inspiring. However, for some reason they chose to wire-bind the book and wrap it in a giant hardcover like a big ol' cookbook. Made it very hard to read it in bed, while brushing teeth, on the can, etc: all my best reading spots. So it has taken me weeks to read it. Between the dry-as-dust copyediting books and this I've been all clogged up in my reading.

A while ago Greg Wilson suggested I write a book about survival in the event of a disaster or collapse of our modern infrastructure. Seemed like a fine idea, so I thought I would find out what was already out there. A few years ago I read James Howard Kunstler's The Long Emergency: Surviving the Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century, and I briefly revisited it. Then as now, it left me more scared than prepared. The book mainly discusses what's going to go horribly wrong. The last chapter deals with how we might manage the process, but it's mainly prognostication and very little advice.

However, When All Hell Breaks Loose: Stuff You Need to Survive When Disaster Strikes by Cody Lundin is rich in advice on how to survive a week or a few months without the modern conveniences we take for granted.

The book is divided into two parts: "Head Candy" and "Hand Candy". Head Candy covers a wide range of philosophical, psychological, and physiological concerns, including posttraumatic stress disorder, consensus decision making, the power of gratitude, the importance of positive thinking. . . . Plenty of the material is valuable, such as the importance of continuing to communicate with your family, recognizing the signs of excess stress in others, and the impact of fear on physical function, but there's plenty that could be left out too. There's a lot of woo-woo stuff about thinking positive, and putting good vibes into the universe to get good stuff back.

You're 84 pages into the book before you get into the nitty-gritty of what you're gonna need and how much of it. That's the Hand Candy section, each chapter of which covers a particular need: shelter, water, food, sewage disposal, hygiene, light, heat for cooking, first-aid, self-defense, communication, transport, and how to get out if you have to.
Although the book is written in a light-hearted, humourous way, Lundin doesn't talk down to his readers: each chapter starts with a technical description of the matter at hand. For example, in the food chapter Lundin discusses the different sources of calories (protein, fat and carbs) and how the body metabolizes each one. He also devotes a page to explaining the Glycemic Index, two to calculating your Basal Metabolic Rate, and three on an overview of Great Food Shortages in History, most of which resulted in people eating each other (just in case you weren't sure whether you wanted to store some food). The light section has two pages on the history of artificial lighting and a one-page primer on batteries. And so on.

I would call this book over-written. Or maybe under-edited. Personally, I love all this information, but then I thrive on non-fiction. I'm not sure that the average reader wants this much background in a book of this nature. However, if you can get through all the extra stuff, the advice in here is gold. Lundin has years of hands-on experience living off the grid, living in the wild and leading survival courses. The book is rich with anecdotes and advice direct from experience, and when Lundin doesn't know something and couldn't find it out, he's blunt about it. (Like, how long does whole wheat keep anyway?) He is pragmatic and considerate of all your family members—for example, a couple of times he specifically addresses the needs of obese people without being judgemental.

I took copious notes while reading this book, and I now have a very long list of things to do and buy. Once I've done them all I will feel much more prepared in the event of something going horribly wrong for quite a long time.

Incidentally, if you should think that planning for a long-term failure of some or most of our infrastructure is paranoid, you might not know that the CDC's worse-case scenario pandemic plan involves the general public staying home for up to three months. Or maybe a solar storm will knock out the power grid indefinitely. The fact is I'd rather be ready and wrong.


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