Packing lightly?

Book Meme 2012

Week 10: Books that I would bring if the world was going to be destroyed by aliens/cylons and we had to restart civilization as we know it. (ie: the basis of human knowledge and thought and civilization.)

Oh my.

The only way I can psych myself into answering this question is by assuming that everyone is going to bring books, and that what I am able to bring will only be the tip of the iceberg. Logically, I know that books are not a top priority for everyone packing for the apocalypse, but I this is speculative, so I can dream. Let us assume that everyone will bring the books they consider most fundamental to society. That takes a little pressure off. That said, I am still a librarian. This question is HARD!

I will categorize the books I take.  Some of these categories are dependent on the type of apocalypse we are facing. The cylon/alien world destruction assumes the loss of Earth (or the 12 colonies), but this is not the only way society might collapse. Thus my first category of books is dependent on their still being a world, but not a civilization.



Obviously one cannot rebuild society if one is dead. Therefore my primary concern with these books is surviving. If we are all on a handful of jump-capable space ships I might still have a hard time leaving these behind, but they would not be necessary, to my mind, for the rebirth of civilization.

Camping and Woodcraft by Horace Kephart
There is a reason that this book is still available and still read by campers 106 years after its original publication. If I had to survive in the wild and on the move, this would be my manual of choice.

The Forager’s Harvest: a Guide to Identifying, Harvesting and Preparing Edible Wild Plants by Samuel Thayer
This is the best guide to wild foods I have found, and I thank my mother for giving it to me one Christmas!

I would also include a medical manual of some kind, but looking in my collection, I have none, and I am going to limit myself to my own collection because A: it is simpler and B: if I am going to stuff books in a backpack I need to actually have the books.


General Knowledge:

Science Textbook:
I have to cheat a little for this one because my old textbooks, if we still have them, are in my parent’s attic. Also, they are quite heavy. I would have to look through them and decide which would be best, and I have not done so. But a science textbook would be high on my list of priorities. Even if I could just preserve the basic principles of scientific theory I would be glad. Observation, investigation and logical reasoning are, I believe, fundamental to the growth of society and I would not want to be without them.



The Holy Bible:
As one might expect, the sacred text of my faith would be the first book packed. Which copy is difficult to choose. If size was not an issue, my first choice would be my 4-in-one comparative copy, but it is very large. My small New International Version is my favorite sword, lightweight and easy to handle, but then again my old, ragged study NIV has served me very well. For the sake of argument, I will go with the smallest.

Mere Christianity, by C. S. Lewis
I am, by nature, a skeptic. I prod things, test them, reason them through, and I am leery of trusting too much. From what I can tell, Lewis was much the same kind of person. If I am to help rebuild civilization, I must start from what I know, and this book tends to speak to people such as me.

Orthodoxy by G. K. Chesteton
This is a relatively new discovery for me, but my copy is compact, and enlightening.  I think I would pack it. I have some issues with Chesterton, and with Lewis as well, but where Mere Christianity appeals to my logical mind, Orthodoxy appeals to my abstract mind. The two together cover a lot of thought-territory.



More than anything, human communities thrive on stories. Our myths help us to understand concepts that are otherwise difficult to express. They are, I believe, the nearest words can come to soul-to-soul communication. I cannot conceive the rebuilding of society without stories, and it would be best to carry some along to remind us how important they are. I will list the myths I would carry with me in order of importance. The most important are those supposedly designed for children because, in truth, they are the ones designed for everyone and often their essence is more fundamental than the complexities created for adults.

The Princess and the Goblin and the Princess and Curdie by George MacDonald
Thankfully, I have a copy of this with the two books in one small paperback. These stories are true fairy-tales, filled with magic, danger, courage, friendship and beauty. Much of what I am I owe to these stories, and if I were to assist in reviving civilization, I would be reading them to children and adults alike.

The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm
These tales represent the heart of folklore in western civilization, both good and bad, and I would not be without them. I would have to take the stories one by one to talk about why, but the variety of stories contained herein offer a wealth of fodder for communication.

Till We Have Faces by C. S. Lewis
Anyone who knows me well could have predicted this choice. I consider this a powerful myth dealing with the nature and the state of humanity. It is not a children’s story, but adults need stories as well, and I could not bear to allow this one to pass away.

Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien
Oh Tolkien… why oh why? This author might break my backpack. Of all mythologies I have encountered, his is the one I would most desire to take with me. The problem is that I want to take it all, and that may prove the end of my backpack. My three thick paperbacks might be the lightest way to carry this book, but even so it is probably pushing the limit, but I could not bear to be without it, at least until I collapse under the weight. The themes of this book are the reason it comes before its companions. The relationships and struggles contained therein speak to their own value and their rightful place in the mythologies of Earth.

The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien
My second Tolkien is chosen for its accessibility and the joy contained in its pages. This is another book born for all ages, which makes it versatile.

The Silmarillion by J. R. R. Tolkien
And this is the hard mythology behind the mythology. Stories that are indicative of people’s struggles and the flow of the world can be found within this book for those who have the patience to read, and I assume that people struggling to remake themselves would find a need for and an interest in the tales of this kind. I know I would.

The Languages of Tolkien’s Middle Earth by Ruth S. Noel
This one is small for all that it adds to the reading of the above three.

The Classic 100, edited by William Harmon
I cannot forget poetry. By this time my backpack is bursting and there is no room for food, but to lose all of this art… I cannot leave it! I will wedge this one in an outside pocket, a remnant of an art that may yet be revived. For the rest, I must trust my memory, as best I can.

That is 16 books if I include LOTR as three volumes. Heaven knows how many pounds!


Books I would love to take, but can’t:

Gardner’s Art Through the Ages
This is a textbook on art history. I would love to drag it everywhere with me, but sadly it is also massive. I carried it for three semesters in college, and I can attest to its ability to slow a person down. Unless someone invents a Bag of Holding or an Undetectable Extension Charm, I am out of luck.

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare
I have this in a reasonably small form. I may get a lot of flack for not including it in my theoretical backpack, but this is why: while I have been fairly fluent in Shakespearean English from a young age, I know that the language is a barrier for many people. If I am intent on rebuilding civilization, I need that which is most accessible, else the chances are it will not survive past my life. Perhaps I am wrong, but would I risk it for valuable backpack slots? Alas, I would not.

There are hundreds of others. Such a wrench! May I never have to make this choice for real!

That… that is it! I did it! I made it all the way through a meme on time! …it will probably be a long time before I try this again, but I feel accomplished!

Here are the links to the rest of this series, in order:

1. Motley Crew

2. Cue Music/Shout Out

3. Villainy Most Vile

4. Very Ominous Endings

5. Shapes are Only Dressess… and Dresses are Only Names

6. Chridonalchett

7. Verbage

8. The Scent Test

9. Personal Question

10. Packing Lightly


About jubilare

Just another tree in the proverbial forest. Look! I have leaves! View all posts by jubilare

21 responses to “Packing lightly?

  • Urania

    Don’t worry, the Shakespeare will be in my luggage. Might I respectfully argue (as a student and hopefully future professor) that the archaic language difficulty ought not be a reason to exclude the Bard? I understand your concern, but the civilization that doesn’t rise to a challenge isn’t one that can survive. We don’t want to dumb-down future generations, but raise them up. And Shakespeare is good enough to compel readers in any era.

    • jubilare

      That is a comfort to know. See, this is why I desperately hope that all survivors will pack at least some books!
      My brother is a Shakespearean scholar and just defended his dissertation :) I am so proud of him! My mother raised me on the Bard so that I was literally translating for my little friends while watching plays. Your argument is perfectly valid, and you are no doubt right as far as the long-term reconstruction of civilization is concerned.

      My hesitancy comes not from an assumption that Shakespeare is irrelevant(I certainly don’t believe that!) but rather from the fear that the oral tradition that will, at least for a while, carry civilization after an apocalypse, would avoid literature that takes translating. The rhythm of Shakespeare’s writing does aid memorization and recitation, and many of his stories are excellent, but if the story-carriers have difficulty in getting the gist, then I worry about its long-term survival. Hopefully I would be wrong, but such is my reasoning. LOTR would no doubt suffer simplification and embellishment, as occurs in oral tradition, but the initial learning of the tale would be simpler.

  • emilykazakh

    If the world ends, I hope I can find you and your library in the chaos. Your list is excellent.

  • Colleen

    I’d have to take the Foxfire books.

    • jubilare

      Yeah… it is a wrench to me omitting them, but the Kephart trumps them for the immediate need. I could certainly use the chapters on cabin-building.

      I am surprised you are not shaking your head at my leaving out the Bard!

  • Melpomene

    Nice! Wasn’t is Chesterton who, when asked which book he would prefer to have when stranded on a island, replied, “A Practical Guide to Ship Building”?

    You do have a good list. I am very curious to see what everyone comes up with for this. Mainly because it reveals the things which we value the most on culture, or think the most important!

    • jubilare

      I think it was. It sounds like him, anyway.

      I am quite curious as well! I await your contribution with bated breath. :) Looking at my contribution, I can see that it is very telling. It reminds me of good old Holmes and his “what would you grab first in a fire” question. This one is somewhat more searching than that, but even so.

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  • David

    Ah, fantastic! This was what I’d hoped to initially do with my post — break it down into categories and choose key representatives for each. I didn’t end up doing that, but I’m glad you did. Hard to argue with any of your choices — I’d want them all in my Essential Library.

    Though I have to be honest — I’ve been reading through my copy of the Complete Grimm’s Fairy Tales, and I’m having trouble seeing the value in them beyond as a bit of cultural record-keeping. The vast majority of the stories, as I can see, have little to no value as stories or fables, and all of them are separated from their cultural and historical context, which makes it extremely difficult to tell why they were told in the first place. The classic tales (Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Hansel and Gretel, etc.) have clearly survived so strongly because they are the most developed and interesting, and it might be nice to have them. However, part of me wonders if they haven’t seeped so deeply into our cultural subconscious that we wouldn’t actually need Grimm’s versions, because the first group of survivors would end up retelling their own versions (probably much from Disney, though) to the following generation. I dunno — I’d still like to have them, ideally, but I have a hard time making an argument for them over other great myths and fairy stories, like those of MacDonald, or Lewis, or Homer.

    Great job! I can’t wait until next year’s meme, whatever it is.

    • jubilare

      There’s just so much material in Grimm’s. Not only myths and tales, but the building blocks of the myths and tales of European culture. My interest, obviously, is geared towards the oral tradition which I would expect to revive under apocalyptic circumstances, and the bards of the post-apocalyptic wasteland will need fodder and inspiration as well as established tales. Perhaps there are better things out there than the collection of the Brothers Grimm, but it was to hand and it is full of treasures. :)

      I am glad you enjoyed the post. It was fun to write, but also heartbreaking! My poor books!

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