Reading Hugh Howey’s WOOL got me to thinking – again – about just what it is that makes a good story great. When does it rise above the level of mere entertainment and into the realm of the Gobsmackingly Grand? What is it, Mr. Ruskin, that divides “the books of the hours” from “the books of all Time”?
That, I am sure, would be fascinating material for a first-rate dissertation. But I shan’t be the one to attempt it. It is 2:17 in the morning and I have exactly this much interest (that is to say, none at all) in waxing loquacious. Especially when the only fortifying beverage in my glass is chocolate milk.
No, I’m just here to tell you that this is a terrific book and you really ought to buy it and read it and buy copies for your friends so they can read it and buy copies for their friends and so on and so forth ad infinitum. Yeah.
I was impressed with WOOL from the first page, but not until the last did I realize just how impressed I really was. Mr. Howey has created something truly remarkable here. His post-apocalyptic world – centered on a community that dwells in a giant underground silo hundreds of stories deep – feels at once fantastic and grittily, grimily, dirt-under-your-fingernails real. The characters who populate it are a compelling jumble of heroes (the kind you love to love) and villains (the kind you love to hate) and in-betweeners (the kind you generally feel rather sorry for). The story that sweeps them all along is epic without being impersonal; intimate without sliding into melodrama; and intelligent without ever losing its head in the clouds. Howey’s sense of pacing is simply beautiful.
And with all due respect to Jonathan Hayes, Howey’s “supple, muscular writing” is not just “the icing on the cake.” His writing is what holds the whole bloody thing together. It is the skeleton to wrap the flesh around, the frame on which everything else hangs. Icing on the cake? Nonsense. If we’re really going with the cake metaphor, Howey’s writing has got to be the flour.
I’d rather it be a pie metaphor, because pie is far superior to cake. But whatever.
I will only add that I love the story behind the story. Howey wrote WOOL while working as a bookseller, writing faithfully each morning and during every lunch break for nearly three years. He self-published in 2011, and the book has since become a hit that nobody ever saw coming. Knowing nothing else about the book, this fact alone is what originally sparked my interest. I’m glad I paid attention. It’s gonna be a classic.
Oh, and this: I hear the inimitable Ridley Scott has already optioned the film rights. I love this, too, because frankly, I can’t think of anybody else with a better chance at successfully bringing Howey’s story to the big screen in a suitably epic fashion. While we’re on the subject, here’s a vote for Tommy Lee Jones as Sheriff Holston, Philip Seymour Hoffman as Bernard, and Jessica Chastain as Juliette.
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Faulkner dubbed it the “the best novel ever written”, and I can see where he’s coming from. Until now, my only experience with Tolstoy had been The Death of Ivan Ilych, which I enjoyed but wasn’t blown away by. But this book… wow. Just wow. Leave it to a Russian with a epic beard to write something this fantastic.
Cities of the Plain by Cormac McCarthy
“In this final volume of The Border Trilogy, two men marked by the boyhood adventures of All the Pretty Horses and The Crossing now stand together, in the still point between their vivid pasts and uncertain futures, to confront a country changing or already changed beyond recognition.” McCarthy has yet to disappoint me. I don’t know how the story will end, but I know it will be magnificent.
Institutes of the Christian Religion, Vol. II by John Calvin
One down, one to go. And Calvin is being a boss, as usual.
Wool by Hugh Howey
YES. FINALLY. I’ve been aching to get my hands on this one since last year. I love the story behind it: Howey wrote it while working as a bookseller, writing faithfully each morning and during every lunch break for nearly three years. He self-published in 2011, and the book has since become an underground hit (Ridley Scott has even purchased the film rights). So yeah: I’m only slightly excited to see what all the buzz is about.
Her Hand in Marriage by Douglas Wilson
Something tells me this is gonna be a really, really good read: “The modern dating system is bankrupt. It does not train young people to form a relationship but rather to form a series of relationships, hardening themselves to all but the current one… Biblical courtship is a humble affront to the sterility of modern relationships. And as a new generation rejoices in this ancient wisdom, the current waves of broken relationships will begin to recede.”
In Defense of Sanity edited by Ahlquist, Pearce, & Mackey
It’s a collection of essays by G.K. Chesterton. And it’s awesome (duh). What more do want to know?
Why We Love the Church by Kevin DeYoung & Ted Kluck
From J.I. Packer: “Two young men, a pastor and a layman, here critique the criticisms of the institutional church that are fashionable today. Bible-centered, God-centered, and demonstrably mature, they win the argument hands down. As I read, I wanted to stand up and cheer.” While we’re on the subject, I’d like to recommend the other book these guys wrote, Why We’re Not Emergent. Seriously. Go read it. They make a terrific team.
What’s on your bookshelf right now?