A Required Reading List For the End of the World


Well, we’ve made it folks: it’s the end of the world. Or, er, maybe it will be, sometime today. In these end times, we’ve been thinking about our dear friend P.J. O’Rourke, who once quipped a quip that’s always nagging at the back of our minds: “always read something that will make you look good if you die in the middle of it.” Well, readers, the day has come. Now, whether anyone else will be around to see your cool death-read is a separate question, but if you need a little guidance as to what to keep on your person for posterity, we’re here for you. After the jump, a few books we think would send you off with a bang — whether today or years from now. Get on it.

Nightwood, Djuna Barnes

Routinely name-checked as one of the most difficult books in the English language, you can’t go wrong dying (or just sitting) next to this slim but intense Gothic novel. If questioned, you can always quote T.S. Eliot’s introduction, and sniff that “only sensibilities trained on poetry can wholly appreciate it.”

The Complete Stories, Flannery O’Connor

We’re major Flannery fans over here, so we think you could do a lot worse than to lie down for your final sleep with this satisfying brick of storytelling as a pillow. Plus, maybe you can absorb some of that Southern Gothic-flavored Catholicism to ease your passing.

Pnin, Vladimir Nabokov

If you’ve been watching this space, you must have guessed we’d recommend dear old Vlad for the end of the world — who else? We’d also accept Pale Fire and Lolita here, but why not go the unexpected route and put your vote in for Pnin? We can’t think of a better final companion than the semi-respectable, semi-tragic, semi-reliable eponymous Timofey, who could bumble us right on into the great beyond.

The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood

Hey, at least you’ll be able to rest assured that the world doesn’t turn out the way Atwood imagined it, even if that’s only because it crashed and burned early. And anyone that finds your body will know you had your head on straight.

The Complete Works, William Shakespeare

Why not spend your last hours filling your head with the gold standard of English literature? You still won’t get all the allusions, but you might have eloquent dreams. Hint: put your bookmark near the end for increased impressiveness.

The Master and Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov

Here’s another way the world could end — Satan and his enormous cat henchman playing parlor tricks. This book will make your corpse seem worldly, and you’ll also go down laughing.

Rings of Saturn, W.G. Sebald

This is probably the most apocalyptic book on our list — ostensibly a narrative of walking around the English countryside, but really a strange meditation on the history of the world and the way it has fallen — and will continue to fall — apart. Another one of our always-favorites, we’d happily succumb to the impermanence of everything with Sebald at our side.

Labyrinths, Jorge Luis Borges

We don’t know about you, but the farther we get into the technological age, the more relevant we find Borges. We’d support him as anyone’s companion to the very end.

Invisible Cities, Italo Calvino

Just imagine you’re somewhere else. We suggest one of these places. No one will fault you for your escapism.

Live or Die, Anne Sexton

Because for Sexton, the world was always ending. And for the rest of us, a book of these poems would look pretty impressive in our apocalypse-stricken pockets.