A review of The Parable of the Sower and The Road

Reflections on Middle-Class Prepper culture and visions of apocalypse.

This is an essay by Calla B. Martin.

January in Minnesota is typically a time to hunker down, do projects, and what I love most: read. While the temperature dips up and down, those of us fortunate enough to spend warm hours at leisure have time to reflect and contemplate this world we live in (that is, if we aren’t too distracted by social media). I digress. It turns out that reading speculative fiction about the catastrophic failure of our social and physical infrastructure alongside recent news articles about the real systemic vulnerabilities of that infrastructure is…kinda a bummer and not just a little anxiety-provoking.

Besides reading both The Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler and The Road by Cormac McCarthy, I live among and am friends with a number of people who might be dismissed as “preppers;” people preparing for the potential collapse of society. Some of them simply have an interest in the sustainable infrastructure. Many see the “cracks in the wall” that Butler and McCarthy’s characters witness, prepare for, and react to.

The Dangers of empathy and the end of the world while being black and female: The Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler

In The Parable of the Sower, Lauren Olamina is the main character. Living in suburban LA of 2025, she is beset with a disability; hyperempathy, which causes her to feel the pain of those around her as if it were her own. She is also a tall black woman. Being a woman, being black, and having a disability are all things that present special challenges today, as well as in this future scenario. She doesn’t have special powers. What she has is life-long practice of hiding her true vulnerability, her belief in something greater than herself, her ability to speak to others with conviction, and her extensive education that is both self-led and led by well-informed parental figures. When her fortified middleclass enclave is dispersed by violence, she begins a trek that she had prepared for in worst-case scenario planning. Not everything goes to plan. Change is sudden, sweeping and final.

I don’t want to give away the whole plot because Butler’s exposition builds well. The important lessons that I took to heart from this book were the observations about the older generation not being able to let go of their vision of the stillborn future, how to teach and prepare without spreading fear, how to adapt and create security by aligning with those similar to yourself, and listening, as an educated middle-class person, to the real-life wisdom of people from different class backgrounds.

Lauren Olamina, with all of her vulnerabilities, aligns herself with others who seem even weaker, but together they form an interdependent working unit that includes women and children.

Middle-class protectionism and preparation in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road

 The Road is stark and bleak. A man and his young son travel through a post-American wasteland with no sun, no plants, no animals. Nuclear winter is intimated as the cause of the present situation. The writing is stripped-down, the landscape is dark, lifeless, and oppressive. The story is punctuated by moments of glory when the scavenging pair discover food or shelter, and horror and depravation of their fellow humans in this desolate new world.

McCarthy envisions survival from the standpoint of middle-class protectionism and preparation. His main character, “the man” doesn’t ally with anyone but “the boy.” At the center of the story is a father nurturing his child, literally his only reason to survive, his only semblance of faith in anything. This book won the Pulitzer Prize and the cover of my copy declares it a “masterpiece.”

I’m sure that many suburban dads can imagine themselves as the main character in this novel, prepping, surviving, and caring day-in and day-out for a young child. The portrait of the child, supposedly born at the advent of the extinction event, is the portrait of a sensitive protected little boy. He’s mewling and upset by things in the environment even though he’s got no frame of reference for anything less harsh. He’s whiny and seems weak, even though he wouldn’t have had the tenderness and protection of a middle-class family life to shape him into this character. Only once in the novel do the pair share the food that they have, because the boy begs to be allowed to share the food with an elderly blind wanderer. Every other human being encountered is immediately assumed to be the dangerous “other” cannibalizing, raping, and subjugating. This is the ultimate macho prepper fantasy: Strong men and those under their protection are the only ones mentally and physically strong enough to survive such harshness. This is the epitome of the so-called traditional structure of the nuclear family with the man at the forefront; the idea of a male to lead his lesser to salvation is left intact.

As traditional and “ancient” as such ideas may seem, the nuclear family is a very recent middle class structure created by industrialization and capitalism. Even in our current American society, when people are faced with the scarcity of resources that we see amongst the lower classes, they work together in larger family networks to take care of each other. In more recent immigrant families, even those not impoverished, this is very common—grandparents, aunts and uncles, support parents raising the younger generation.

It seems unlikely, to say the least, that years into an extinction event “the man” is still holding onto his middle-class head-of-the-household ideology, and supporting a young child with no help whatsoever. With the world as we know it turned inside out, would people really cling to one-dimensional roles put into place by capitalism and industry?

Further reflections on apocalyptic fiction and preppers for the end of the world:

The fantasy of widespread chaos and being saved by a traditional alpha male in the face of governmental collapse as portrayed in The Road is a lot of what I see wrong with “prepper” thinking.

This sort of thinking ignores the harsh reality that there are people in this country already living in scarcity that have done so for generations. They survive due to networks of interdependence. They don’t thrive, though, because the middle and upper classes exploit what little they have—their time and their physical ability to work (For more on this subject, read Nickeled and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich, or if you have something better, please suggest it because her tone is SO condescending). Hundreds of years of labor were exploited from some people’s lineages, with the benefactors still reaping the rewards (see The Atlantic on the case for reparations).

Anyhow. I digress. Much prepper stuff is centered around “survival” and aligns conceptually with “social Darwinism” and “evolutionary psychology.” These theoretical frameworks’ assumption of genetic predetermination and a natural order that places white man at the top of a pyramid, lording over his environment, is the essence of these bastardizations of Darwinism. These “theories” are used to judge people in a ableist way to determine who is the “fittest” for surviving a potential apocalypse.

Forget the fact that working together, staying together, and committing to the group are essential skills for survival. They’re seen as soft “feminine” skills. Ignore that to thrive, a community needs women, children, and elders as active participants. Put aside the wisdom that can be reaped from individuals with disabilities.

End of the world fantasies, where surprise, surprise, a white man saves the day—hold little truth and less appeal for those of us who have already been surviving in a hostile environment that was built by and for “the man.” It has been suggested to me that the preservation of innocence, beauty and childhood is perhaps the point of The Road. But I ask, at what cost is the innocence of “the boy” and middle-class America maintained, even today?

3 self-help books that helped me

As much as I loath to admit it, the three most life-changing books I’ve read recently are self-help books, all written by middle-class, privileged people who decided a traditional nine to five wasn’t for them. While my co-editor argues you should take the advice contained therein with a grain of salt—I’m guilty of being not-so-secretly addicted to them. Part of my brain really enjoys the cheerleading, while the other part scoffs and says the advice-givers are exceptional, if only in their arrogance. Still, all things said and read, there’s something inherently hopeful and positive about consulting another writer for his or her best advice, even if I end up doing my own thing, and it’s completely the opposite. The three books listed below gave me lots of room for thought about the way I evaluate success, what I’m willing to suffer for and how I want to spend my time and live my life.

  1. The 4 hour Work Week by Timothy Ferriss

Tim Ferriss is many things—humble may not come to mind, but anyone who can look at the life he’s built for himself and resist reading his first best-seller, the 4-hour Work Week, has much more self-control than I pretend to possess. This book about the new rich—and how to figure among their ranks is full of ideas, case studies and practical ideas about building a passive income and living your best life. While I have my doubts about some of his methods, his message, which can be reduced to make as much money you need to live happily with as little grunt work as possible, and spend the rest of your time doing things that you are passionate about, is pretty hard to argue with. I especially like his thoughts on money for money’s sake—a waste of time—the one truly finite and absolutely volatile resource we all have.

  1. The Art of Non-conformity by Chris Guillebeau

Chris Guillebeau’s nontraditional success story about finding his way to meaningful work was so inspiring that I read it from cover to cover before I gave it to my brother as a Christmas present, and then proceeded to buy a copy in Spanish for my husband. While sometimes the author starts to sound smug, his over all message that you don’t have to live your life the way other people expect you to, and to choose your happiness, is one that I think lots of us need to hear. While sometimes he sounds irresponsible and unaware of the privileges he’s been afforded to quit school, and jobs, and move forward with his life, the book is full of inspiring ideas and encouraging quotes that push you to think differently about your past, present and future.

  1. The Art of Work by Jeff Goins

Jeff Goin’s book on finding your calling and living a meaningful “portfolio” life consisting of more than one passion is my favorite of the three. Generally, his tone and style of communication are gentler and more patient with the reader, and the message he communicates is less smug. Let your life as you’ve been living it guide you to what you can do for yourself, your family and the world. Make no mistake, it won’t be easy, but it’ll be worth it. For more details, read my book review in brief of the Art of Work.


Extra credit & Bonus Materials

All three of these authors have websites where they invite their readers to work through the processes they talk about in their books with bonus materials. Listen to podcast interviews with interesting people—among them authors, CEOs, politicians and famous musicians and actors on Tim Ferriss’ main site, the 4-hour work week. Download Chris Guillebeau’s original book-inspiring manifestos at ChrisGuillebeau.com. Study with Jeff Goins’ online course for registered users who buy the Art of Work or grab his best writing tips at Goinswriter.com

Finding your calling: Jeff Goins’ The Art of Work

Even readers skeptic of self-improvement books will get lots of helpful ideas and inspiration from Jeff Goins’ book about the hard work of finding your purpose(s) in life. His combination of true stories to motivate and practical methods to get started on your life’s work makes the book a fast and fun read that will get you on track to leaving your legacy.

The Gist: Everyone Has a Calling

 We all have a calling, we just have to be brave enough to let our lives point us to what it is and persistent enough to stick with it, even when things are hard. Your calling isn’t something you just know you’re meant to do. No one becomes happy and builds a legacy overnight –no matter how it may seem when we read about other people’s success. In the Art of Work, Jeff tells stories—about people he knows, himself, and even well known historic figures to illustrate how our ideas about “just knowing” what to do with our lives, innate talent, and the road to a meaningful life are far off the mark. Firmly, but with patience, he brings the reader around to the idea of listening to their own life experience and the people that know them best to find their path—accepting that most of us will change our plans more than once.

The Best: Moving Stories & Practical Tips to find your purpose

 The storytelling in the book is moving and expertly woven with why we owe it to ourselves, our loved ones, and the world to find our calling, making for a quick and inspiring read. The tips about how to put these ideas into action, as well as links to further materials on the book website are really handy. The discussion questions included at the end make this a great book for a book club or workshop.


The Worst: Sometimes it gets Preachy

Like so many self-help books, occasionally the advice can be a little overwhelming, overbearing and borderline preachy.

Some Favorite Quotes: Inspiring words

 “Putting an activity through painful practice is a great way to determine your direction in life.”

“If you can do something when it’s not fun, even when you’re exhausted and bored and want to give up, then it just might be your calling.”

“The lesson of the accidental apprenticeship is that long before a person is ready for his calling, life is preparing that person for the future through chance encounters and serendipitous experiences”

“…What we’re really saying in these moments of not knowing is that we want the journey to be safe. We want it drawn out for us—no surprises or setbacks, just a clear beginning and end.”

“You don’t need a specific address to begin. The path to your dream is more about following a direction than arriving at a destination.”

“…pain is the great teacher and failure a faithful mentor.”

“Every calling is marked by a season of insignificance, a period when nothing seems to make sense.”

“You must be careful not to succeed at the wrong things. You have to pay attention to passion and beware the temptation of success.”

“It’s not enough to be good at something, you must focus on what you are meant to do.”

“Most authors I know live portfolio lives…they don’t do just one thing but instead embrace a diverse set of activities that form a complete identity.

Self-Help Books: Take Them With a Grain of Salt

This is an essay by Elizabeth Simons.

I wish I had more discipline. Or more specifically, I wish I was better at directing my attention to things I want to do but avoid, anyway.

Enter self-help books, the darlings of the publishing industry and surely the answer to my dilemma. Continue reading Self-Help Books: Take Them With a Grain of Salt

Mermaids, Zombies & Vampires + Tweetable tips from an Amazon Best-selling Author

It’s not every Amazon best-selling author that goes it alone and survives to write another….and another, and another book. But then Brenda Pandos has a supernatural  support system made up of the pantheon of magical creatures in her head, recently rounded out by the addition of a time-traveler fighting against an evil all-powerful regime that is trying to do away with blue eyes, among other things.

Understandably, we were curious as to how she makes it all work and where the ideas come from. Learn more about what makes this author tick, as well as her  best tips for readers and writers below:

What’s the last thing you read? (It doesn’t have to be a book, could even be sign in the subway, I suppose).

This question? Haha. Kidding. Just finished Poison Princess by Kresley Cole. Loved it!

Do you have any unusual writing rituals or habits? 

I am addicted to ice tea so I have to have that. I also need lip balm, and frequent snack breaks.

I get good ideas when I’m doing dishes or fixing a snack.

What book could you read over and over and never get bored? 
I love this unknown series by Robin Hardy, called the Lystra series. The first book is  Chataine’s guardian. It’s so romantic. I also could read the Harry Potter Series over and over.

If you could be mentored by any writer, living or dead, who would you choose and why?  

CS Lewis, because he’s brilliant.

What genres do you read for pleasure and what genres do you avoid like the plague?

Thrillers, mysteries, sweet romance, young adult paranormal and sci-fi are awesome. I’m not a fan of horror or erotica.

What books would you put on a required reading list for humanity?

Anything by CS Lewis

Do you have any advice, or reading suggestions for your fellow writers?

Get a degree in marketing. The writing stuff you can pick up on your own and learn from other writers.

Your books deal with mermaids, vampires, zombies and time-travel. What inspired you to write about mythological creatures, paranormal events and fantastical worlds? Was your writing influenced or inspired by any particular books or authors? 

I have an overactive imagination. Growing up, my backyard was a canvas for anything and everything. White knights on horses, damsels in distress, mermaids, hoop skirts, summer camp, you name it.

I was pretending everything I possibly could fairytale wise.

My vampire series was inspired by Twilight, and my mermaid series from the movie, Splash. A milestone birthday, and “dear younger me,” inspired my Lost in Time series. Read our Review in Brief of Glitch.

You’re an Amazon best-selling indie author. People must ask you how to become one all the time. What’s your best tweetable tip?

Finish your book. Have it edited by a professional. Don’t stop writing just to promote your book. Be teachable.

Do you prefer to read paperbacks, leather-bound or e-books?I actually prefer audiobooks since I’m always staring at a screen. It’s nice to have someone read to me.
What’s your favorite place to read and write?

I like to read in bed and write outside on my porch, or at my desk which is newly situated in front of my corner window.


Author Brenda Pandos lives in California with her husband, two energetic boys, eight chickens and a grumpy orange cat. She writes fast-paced stories about kissing, hot mermen, bad boy vampires, and occasionally zombies–not all in the same stories. When she’s not writing, or wrangling her kids, she’s failing at her latest Pinterest replication or delivering a really bad pun. More than anything she loves to hear from readers. Feel free to email brendapandos@gmail.com or write on her facebook wall.

You can also find her at:

Periscope: Brenda Pandos



Find out more about her books here:

Amazon: http://smarturl.it/brenda-amazon

Ibooks: http://smarturl.it/brenda-ibooks

B&N: http://smarturl.it/brenda-nook

Kobo: http://smarturl.it/brenda-kobo

Google: http://smarturl.it/brenda-google

Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3449368.Brenda_Pandos


Glitch: The Perils of Zombies & Time Travel

Book Reviews in Brief: Glitch by Brenda Pandos

What would you tell your young self, if you had the ability to go back in time and give your best advice and in the process make a real difference in the world? In Glitch, our reluctant heroine, Abby,  gets to know the advantages and potential disasters time travel (and zombies) present. Sci-fi and Fantasy addicts will enjoy time-traveling with Abby in this Divergent-esque dystopian Young Adult novel. Read more about Brenda Pandos.

The Gist: Abby spends her time flirting with her best friend’s brother, playing baseball, following the rules and, trying not to think about the zombies beyond Brighton’s closely monitored walls. She’s just your average teenage girl.

Or she would be, if her future self wouldn’t keep interfering. Not to mention the beautiful blue-eyed boy who says her future self has told him he’ll one day be her husband. It’s all too much for one teenager to manage, but Abby’s got no choice – her own life depends on it.

The Best: This dystopian, science-fiction read is fast-paced and exciting, sometimes slightly scary. Abby was an interesting character, and changed and grew in surprising ways, probably as a result of all the time travel. The scenery is especially well developed, inside and outside Brighton. The zombies are disgusting and vividly described, but fortunately don’t get a lot of on-page time.

The Worst: The time-jumping Abby does can be very confusing. For the most part, I could follow, but sometimes when reading before bed, I’d get confused. What with the zombies, and Big Brother-esque society, this isn’t exactly a relaxing read. There are a few minor typos and grammar hiccups, but nothing too distracting, .

Notable Quotables:

“‘Your ratio of time lost versus time gained is commendable.”

“I didn’t want a computer telling me who to marry because we’d make genetically perfect children. I wanted something special.”

“‘Murdering your enemy from existence through their parents is pretty clever.'”

“‘He sees people…people from the future.'”

Rule 34.5: If you ever encounter a zombie, don’t run. Stab their head swiftly, aiming for the eye socket, with anything that’ll puncture their brain.”

“‘We just don’t have the need for a hotel when we have homes already.'”

“‘I’m proof people can survive without government interference..'”

“‘ We’ve found, for those with unsure futures, that by not telling them all the details, it’s better for them.'”


Write Often, Read More: An Author Interview with Dan Lewis

Write often, read more. Some of the best words of advice we’ve heard from a fellow writer, lately. Dan Lewis, the great mind behind the highly addictive Now I Know newsletter reflects on reading, learning , writing, and the merits of Harry Potter, baseball, the Simpsons and Star Trek.

First things, first. What’s the last thing you read? 

I read a lot — occupational hazard of writing as much as I do! The last book I read was Ready Player One, and I loved it.

Do you have any unusual writing rituals or habits? 

I tend to write on the train a lot. It’s quiet and there’s not much else to do.

It’s very easy to focus, but I’ve also fallen asleep a few times with my laptop open — it’s that relaxing!

What book could you read over and over and never get bored?

The Harry Potter series, no doubt. I’ve read each book except for #4 at least twice, and the only reason I haven’t read #4 twice is because I’m reading it to my kids right now. (Well, we took a break for baseball season.)


If you could be mentored by any writer, living or dead, who would you choose and why?

The writers of Star Trek — Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager. They’re really good at taking modern ethics and applying it to absurd (i.e. futuristic) situations. I wish I could write fiction like that. I can only seem to do non-fiction.


What genres do you read for pleasure and what genres do you avoid like the plague? 

I don’t really have a go-to genre

What books would you put on a required reading list for humanity? Probably Harry Potter, if only because then I could talk about it with basically everyone


Do you have any advice, or reading suggestions for your fellow writers? Write often, read more.

Your Now I Know books and newsletter share short-but-true anecdotes with readers. What inspired you to write non-fiction? Was your writing influenced or inspired by any particular books or authors? I like the quirky non-fiction genre — it appeals to my curious side.

I write about what I like to learn about, not what I like to write about.


Do you have any tips or tricks to researching, selecting and communicating real events in an interesting and brief way? I have an accidental style, where I start writing a story so it sounds like I’m going in one direction and then I go in another. I’m pretty sure I picked this up from the Simpsons — the first few minutes are totally different than the rest of the story line. I’ve replicated that.


Your books came after your daily newsletter. How do you take the success of a popular newsletter and make it into not one, but two successful books? How do you choose which stories to share with your newsletter and which stories to publish in your books? The nice thing about having an email newsletter with a bunch of readers is that book publishers are a little bit more likely to pay attention to you. 🙂


You’re a big Mets fan. Do you have any of the Mets or Met fans as fans? As far as I know, no Mets read Now I Know. Oh well.



ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dan Lewis is father, husband, Mets fan, and technically, a lawyer. At his day job he works with Cookie Monster and Elmo as the Director of New Media Communications for the Sesame Workshop. His daily email newsletter “Now I Know” shares interesting facts as he learns them with almost 120,000 subscribers. He’s harnassed his passion for all things trivia into two books: Now I Know, and Now I Know More, available for purchase on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com


Ah, the Glory of Words: The Hard Work of Writing

This micro-post (essay, if you will) was penned by  Elizabeth Simons
Writing is hard work. Make no mistake about it. But oh, the fun you’ll have! You get words, the stuff of language, and you get to arrange them in endless combinations until they sing or fly or glide or roar. You can make up tall tales. You can make people laugh or cry.  Continue reading Ah, the Glory of Words: The Hard Work of Writing

Book Reviews in Brief: The Braided Narratives of Sparrow Migrations

Book Reviews In Brief: Sparrow Migrations by Cari Noga

Contemporary fiction fans will want to read and re-read Cari Noga’s debut novel, Sparrow Migrations curled up with a cup of tea (I like oolong with jasmine), or with a glass of white in one hand. Her characters have heart, even during hard times. Noga uses multiple connected narratives to reach her readers; at least one of the stories is likely to resonate with you.


The Gist: Sparrow Migrationsmultiple narratives begin with Robby and his parents Linda and Sam on a ferry in New York. Robby has autism, and Linda and Sam are still struggling to come to terms with what it means for their son, and their future as a family even while on vacation when they witness an emergency landing on the Hudson. Then the story shifts to Deborah and Christopher, an academic couple contemplating a final IVF cycle after their close call on the flight, and finally Brett, a pastor’s wife and mother in the midst of an affair with another pastor’s wife, also present on a ferry in the Hudson. Full of highs and lows that will make you laugh and cry, much like in traditional coming of age stories, Noga’s multiple protagonists (particularly Robby and his parents) grow and change, their paths increasingly intertwined as the story progresses.   You’ll be rooting for them to pick themselves up after every fall, as they work to come to terms with who they and their loved ones really are.


The Best: This book is touching and beautifully written. The use of words and descriptions is skillfully and simply elegant. Facts about illnesses, places and birds are all well researched, and believable to non-expert eyes like our own. The dialogue and storylines make it hard to put the story down, even if you know things for your favorite character are going to get worse, far before they get better—and they’ll always be difficult.


The Worst: This isn’t a particularly happy or relaxing read. Not that all books are, or should be, but depending on your mood, and your purposes for your free-reading time, this might not be the book for you. It’s realistic contemporary fiction about real people going through real-life problems. If you’re even the least bit softhearted, parts of this story will have you in tears, which is a credit to the writing, really.

Some Favorite Quotes:

 What would happen when she wasn’t—they weren’t– there to buffer Robby from the expectations of the neurotypical world?

From her gut, Deborah’s yearning yowled.

“ I was open to children, but not at any price. And we’ve paid a lot…”

“ I’m not your buddy. We don’t ever see each other.”

“But you must be busy—”

“I’m perfectly capable of managing my schedule, thank you for your concern.”

“’Parenthood isn’t the only route to a meaningful life.”

She often thought of Robby’s brain as a kaleidoscope. It spun. It fractured. It was fragile. Btu it was also beautiful and original and bright.


“That choices matter. And Life is short. When your time comes, all the choices you’ve made, your whole life long, will impact what happens next. So straighten out. Live a life you’ll be proud of.”

Jackie was herself, ten years younger. And like Brett had then, she would only manage to fool herself and waste time.

Theirs had to be the first food pantry seduction in history.

“But if you’re the one building it, you need more. You need drive. You need commitment. You need passion. And it has to come from within.”

He strode across the room, damning the urgent that once again usurped the important, as happened every day in the life of a public school teacher…

“Have you ever heard you learn what you need to learn when you need to learn it?”

“I’ve learned that when someone else depends on you, you take care of yourself. That’s how I coped. I knew you were counting on me to be there. You’ll always be my daughter. But you don’t need me like that anymore. It’s my chance to spread my wings. I hope someday you can understand why I have to do this now.”




ChrisCiolliProfileA Midwesterner based in the Mediterranean most of the year, Chris Ciolli is a writer, translator and artist with two dangerous vices: books and travel. She lives in Barcelona with her husband, J., her cat Lulu, and mountains of books.




Words unlock worlds