The best books for ruining a good night’s sleep

The Books I Picked & Why

The Ministry for the Future

By Kim Stanley Robinson

Book cover of The Ministry for the Future

Why this book?

Something very bad and highly possible happens in the first chapter of this well-researched work of science fiction, and the year it ‘happens’ is a scant four years away. Climate change is not just a problem for the future, friends, and this tome puts it front and center, drawing on recent (2020) events, such as the Atlantic hurricane season and the Australian wildfires to make its case. But that’s not the part that will keep you up all night. The terrifying bit is the fact that the very bad thing that happens is still not enough to light a fire under the people who can actually save the human race. Shudder.

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The Road

By Cormac McCarthy

Book cover of The Road

Why this book?

A meteorite hits the Earth sometime before the book begins, and all that remains is gray with ash and burning. A father and son push a shopping cart across the devastated landscape looking for supplies and refuge, following the death by suicide of their wife/mother. Everything is horrible. There’s a baby on a spit, cannibals, a decided lack of community norms and support, and the gun Dad carries only has two bullets. The meteor, as it turns out, is not the worst that could happen. Hell is other people. Pick your neighbors carefully.

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The Circle

By Dave Eggers

Book cover of The Circle

Why this book?

Forget the crappy reality TV show on Netflix, I’m talking about the book in which an intelligent young woman is slowly indoctrinated by a cultish social-media company and becomes the spokeswoman and chief advocate of life in a voluntary panopticon (a prison wherein everything you do may or not be watched all day, all the time), destroying any concept of freedom and privacy. “Secrets are lies, sharing is caring, privacy is theft.” 

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All American Boys

By Jason Reynolds, Brendan Kiely

Book cover of All American Boys

Why this book?

This is the first book in a long, long time to give me big, choking emotions. Sixteen-year-old Rashad Butler’s only crime is to be Black in the wrong place at the wrong time and nets a beatdown from a young, hard-assed beat cop. Rashad’s classmate, Quinn, is white, a witness, and one of the cop’s mentees and close family friends. The book is fiction, but things like this are happening even as you read this sentence. The thought that we have to do better than this kept me twisting in the sheets for weeks.

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Johnny Got His Gun

By Dalton Trumbo

Book cover of Johnny Got His Gun

Why this book?

A novel by the dude who wrote the screenplay for Spartacus, among many other films. Blacklisted during the Red Scare of the Fifties, he was indeed a communist. ‘Johnny’ is about a young man, eager for war, who gets his wish. Then he gets his arms and legs blown off, his eyes, ears, nose, and mouth destroyed, in an artillery blast, and becomes a prisoner in his own body. When he does learn to communicate, he tells his CO that he wants to go on tour as a warning against war. What follows is pretty sickening. I gave my copy to a student who was considering enlistment. I wish I had more copies.

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