A Curious Outpost

A pandemic reading list for a fresh perspective

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Three creative books to hide out with while we ride out these weird times

This week, as a virus is spreading, I want to acknowledge that this is uncharted territory. The long and short of it is that something is afoot, and it’s remarkable to see how our world reacts when everybody has to answer the same question at once. I can’t think of the last time that happened, at least in my lifetime. The weather here has been dramatic on top of it all, we have 50mph cold winds and dark skies, a perfect day for curling up with a book.  So cue up the Ambient Atomic Orbitals, tell your people you love them, and let a story carry you away for a while.

These are some books to lend a creative angle on what we’re all staring at, what we can’t avoid, no matter how hard we wish.


by Neal Stephenson

Written in the early nineties, this book stars Hiro Protagonist, a pizza delivery guy in a vaguely fictional future that feels revealingly similar to the real world today. It’s one of those books that predicted dozens of details that actually came true, or at least close enough to true make you turn your head and wonder what Stephenson was tapped into when he wrote it. Hiro leads a dual life in the real world, as well as in virtual reality, and a number of scenes superimpose action in both realms simultaneously while still managing to make sense and advance the story.

The book balances a plot involving a computer virus that has deadly real world consequences with story about xenophobia and border control, touching on race, women’s rights, terrorism, Sumerian linguistics, and even fake news & nuclear weapons along the way. In the world of Snow Crash, like this world, it’s not just a matter of killing the bad guy, but a question of telling a story for everybody when we all live in separate realities.


by Stephen Batchelor

Published in 2020, this book is about the slippery meanings of the term “solitude”, especially in the presence of other people, such as you might find in times of voluntary social isolation (or any other time really). Helpful for contemplating one’s own identity and personal message, he draws upon stories of artists and philosophers of the past, combining them with his personal stories of expeditions into liminal realms both with and without the influence of formal meditation, ritualized psychedelics, and time alone in nature.

Comparing solitude at one point to the feeling of grasping a fist full of water, Batchelor is a self-described asshole who writes books, ingesting information, digesting it, and shitting it out. While he claims the book is not a Buddhist book, and takes issue with the rigidity of canonized traditions, his tone may sound most familiar to readers familiar with Buddhism, while not coming off as alienating to the rest.


by Jeff VanderMeer

Annihilation, Authority, and Acceptance are the titles of the three books in the series, which came out in 2014. The story deals with a remote coastal region called Area X that is under the growing influence of a mysterious transformative force. Centered around the experience of a biologist exploring the area, the bureaucracy that fumbles to control the situation, and the lighthouse keeper who lived there before the change, The Southern Reach is a story about struggling with problems that are bigger than we can even understand, and which we might have even played a part in causing.

VanderMeer is a master of imaginative fiction with a unique awareness of the strange relationship between nature and our limited experience of it as humans. Annihilation, the first story in the series, was made into a movie with Natalie Portman, and while it diverges from the text, it’s still worth watching if you can’t get your hands on the books right away. As we contemplate solitude and social distance, the series is a reminder that natural world and its incomprehensible designs on us are worth considering as we seek the clarity to choose our next steps.

Leave a comment below and let me know if you’d suggest any others!

The point of this project is to seek and discover new passageways to the inner space we each possess, those places you see before you fall asleep, or perhaps in certain heightened states of awareness, and how to dart through them bring something back when we’re done. It’s not just as simple as saying “OK, now do something creative,” (despite the title of this blog). I’m not an expert on creativity, but I’m looking for a deeper understanding about it.  Check back next week, or just sign up for the newsletter at the top of the page.  Thanks for reading. -SK

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March 14, 2020 02:10

Reading is good! Yes! “Ojalá vivas en tiempos interesantes”. Maldición Chino



[…] I appreciate all the additions people sent for the pandemic reading list, I’m looking forward to checking out House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski and Earth Abides […]