Thought exercise: Dystopian Future Library
November 11, 2014 5:12 AM   Subscribe

The scenario: access to the internet has been cut off due to (insert your worst fears here). Your only reading/reference material that you now have access to is what is on your shelves at home. Question: what are the best books to have stocked your shelves with beforehand?
posted by anemone to Grab Bag (15 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
We talked about post-apocalyptic libraries here.
posted by zamboni at 5:17 AM on November 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Well, god. That's wide open. I'd be going for collections of authors that appeal to you. Full collections from prolific ones. An atlas. A full encyclopedia. Collections of short stories from genres that appeal to you. A thesaurus. Lots of recipe books (with pictures).
posted by h00py at 5:17 AM on November 11, 2014

Best answer: So I actually have experience sending books to people who have no internet and have only very limited access to books -- prisoners. They tend to request the following:

-Language books -- dictionaries, thesauruses, etc. Also other languages, although that would be less relevant in an end of the world situation than in a prison, where other people around you speak Spanish, etc.
-General reference books, like atlases, almanacs, and pocket encyclopedias
-Science and technology -- physics, basic chemistry and biology, relevant maths like algebra and geometry
-Trade skills -- homesteading, building, maintaining things; I would add books like Euell Gibbons for foraging safely to these
-Medical reference, including things like a basic mountaineering medicine guide
-Religion -- sacred texts (whatever that means to you)
-Poetry -- I think this is v. relevant as poetry can be read and re-read in a way that the latest Dean Koontz cannot. I'd throw Shakespeare in this category as well.

After the above, I'd add in history, philosophy, biographies/autobiographies (probably starting with Anne Frank -- a lot of people really connect with her), followed by novels.

Also, I'm assuming that this is a "daily reference" library rather than a "rebuild society" or "Library at Alexandra" collection. That's a different discussion entirely.
posted by pie ninja at 5:29 AM on November 11, 2014 [9 favorites]

Probably this book.
posted by devnull at 5:40 AM on November 11, 2014

DIY books. Basic book on plumbing, electrical, building framing, etc.
Books on hunting and farming.
Books on weather and the local environment.
Lots of local maps
posted by Flood at 5:42 AM on November 11, 2014 [2 favorites]
posted by yoyo_nyc at 6:41 AM on November 11, 2014

Best answer: heh. Well, I lived this awful dystopian existence for more than half my life (since you seem to be asking about just no-internet), and what we used were reference books (as well as just regular reading for pleasure books).

We had what I would consider a very small collection, because we lived in small places, but our collection included encyclopedias; dictionaries; thesaurus; atlases; many manuals of style and usage, editing, and practical grammar for writing/English; the Dictionary of Cultural Literacy; a collection of classic literature (20-30 hardbound book collection with pages like onion paper) plus the Norton Anthology of English Literature; Trouser Press record guides; giant illustrated art history books; Leonard Maltin's Movie Guides; "According to Hoyle" rules for games; some foreign language dictionaries; dictionary of quotations; various history books; the Larousse Gastronomique; The Joy of Cooking; "Diet for a Small Planet" (and other food / cookbooks); Medical guides; travel guides; various How-To and crafts books; some physics and astronomy books; illustrated guides to rocks and minerals, shells, gems, plants, flowers, animals; some books like "Chaos" and "Gödel, Escher, Bach," "A Brief History of Time," "Cosmos"; a lot of anthologies; a lot of technical books (radio, sound engineering, electronics, machining, for a few); all the "Straight Dope" books ... plus, of course, just lots of books – fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and many magazine subscriptions, as well as the daily local newspaper, and the Sunday NYT.

Of course, I'm forgetting many now, but I do remember that for several years I also had big huge books about DOS, Windows, and HTML. By the time I got around to learning CSS, I was only using online resources.
posted by taz at 6:53 AM on November 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Can you clarify whether we're talking about only the Internet being cut off, or whether it's a more global apocalypse? Because it's gonna make a difference whether it's just the Internet that's down, but gas, electricity, phones, etc. all still work, or whether we're talking "1850's levels of tech".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:38 AM on November 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I took a loooooong trip once and worked my way through the enormous Norton Anthology of American Literature along the way. Loved it. So yeah, go for some "bang for the buck" big books filled with lots and lots to read.
posted by BlahLaLa at 8:00 AM on November 11, 2014

Response by poster: "Can you clarify whether we're talking about only the Internet being cut off, or whether it's a more global apocalypse?"

Well, maybe a more pleasant scenario would be the "stuck on a deserted island" variation. Not looking to recreate civilization per se. But a library that could be useful and/or inspiring in a timeless way.
posted by anemone at 8:11 AM on November 11, 2014

Ah, another point: "Best of" books were high on our acquisition list, and these were usually annuals, like "The Year's Best Science Fiction," "The Best American Short Stories [year]" and something for poetry, which I can't remember. We also subscribed to Granta and other lit mags. Even after access to internet and ebooks, I still ordered the paper version of "The Best of the Best: 20 Years of the Year's Best Science Fiction," which I highly recommend for a deserted island library.
posted by taz at 9:02 AM on November 11, 2014

Backwood's Home is great DIY/off the grid magazine that is full of useful information about living without modern conveniences including entertainment. It is also got an article or two about the evils of modern liberals/nanny staters/whoever every edition, this can be ignored (and occasionally some christian god stuff as well). Not too much about rebuilding civilization since they think anything beyond the local village is just useless so no worries there. Despite the last couple of sentences it really is full of good stuff.

Where there is no doctor and where there is no dentist are both available as pdf's online and pretty damn useful for emergencies (tons of links just google).

There is also a LOT of WPA stuff from the great depression on farming/land management that is awesome and in the public domain. Steve Saloman as some links on his page and some good books on small scale homestead style gardening.

Don't forget any manuals for equipment you depend on-like car repair/tractor repair/small engine repair/photovoltaic maintenence/etc.

Then you can get all kinds of classic and public domain stuff for free from project gutenberg and from amazon for any kindle or kindle app. Buying a cheap kindle and loading it up with free reference and classic books would be a GREAT way to satisfy the educational and entertainment needs of the internet (assuming you have access now, but may not in the future).

And the DIY section of any local used bookstore (if you community still has any left) is an awesome resource for all kinds of stuff.
posted by bartonlong at 3:12 PM on November 11, 2014

I'd also be sure to gather up some books about history (not history textbooks) because the stuff they're teaching as history right now is material that's been written to satisfy some particular political bent and I'm certain that would only get worse if the internet was lost. Without any means of cross-checking historical material that's supposed to be factual but likely isn't, history becomes fiction.

Some good humor and parody would be nice; how about some Terry Pratchett?

All the other suggestions are tops - basically gather all the how-to books that are so old they don't involve electronics. On that subject, maybe some self-help books on overcoming depression and anxiety, forming and maintaining human relationships, and how to train your brain to look forward instead of back would be helpful, especially if smart phones disappear also - we're all pretty deeply invested in our electronics.
posted by aryma at 7:44 PM on November 11, 2014

I might add the Boy Scout manual to the above suggestions. Think practical survival strategies (/camping) written for a 12 year old.
posted by el io at 10:48 PM on November 11, 2014

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