The Million Dollar Book

A million dollars. A million! For a first time novelist! I still am having trouble wrapping my little head around the fact that Karen Thompson Walker was paid (allegedly) a million dollars after a nine-house (what the hell!) bidding war for her book The Age of Miracles. A million dollars. To put this in perspective, Jonathan Safran Foer was given an impressive (and reportedly) $500,000 for his debut, Everything is Illuminated back in 2002- and that was a big fat deal. A million dollars- well, that's quite the chunk of change.

I, of course, was initially wary, considering plenty of crap is given large amounts of money (ahem, Fifty Shades of Gray). But then I read the premise and was intrigued enough to order it. Told from the perspective of a sixth-grader, the novel delves into the question of what would happen if our days started getting longer (because the earth starts rotating slower). How would our essential crops continue to grow when the nights got longer? How would people sleep when it was daylight for long stretches (Alaska already had this in the bag)? What would happen to people on a psychological level? Would life end? Would a fix be made? 

I just finished it today and have some very mixed feelings. First of all, it's a very quick, interesting read. I recommend it as a quirky little sci-fi "beach" read, I suppose. The main character Julia was written decently, the level of fear the author invokes is to be commended, and the side plots are woven into the major concept well. I also really appreciate the environmental undertones- can we ever really know what our planetary abuses will cause later down the line? How can we be prepared globally for such a change? Sustainability in terms of the environment, and even ourselves, is a huge theme in this book.

And now I will attack. Sort of.

It was simply just not worth the one million bucks on a literary level. Random House saw it as marketable (although I'm surprised there hasn't bee more publicity) and knew a movie studio would swoop in. Her writing is good for a first-time novelist, but it's not amazing by any means. Some of the characters and their relationships are quite one-dimensional, and some of the judgement calls the narrator makes raise some eyebrows, considering her age (she must keep some big secrets from her mom regarding her dad- she can't keep it a secret that her friend has run off to join a commune, but she is able to keep it a secret pretty easily that her dad is boinging the piano teacher? I needed more inner turmoil and debate, I guess). I think my biggest point of contention is the sketchy science; Walker said that she had an astrophysicist read it and make corrections, but some of it just bothered me. First of all, the rate at which the earth speeding up and the point at which it was discovered and announced seemed off. I would have liked to see the seasonal changes addressed better, as well as the radiation and impact of the solar storms. And I know there are people out there that would tell me to shut up, that "it's just a story," but as a reader those questions tend to really bother me. I know we have no way of knowing of this sort of an event would impact Earth, but she should have made something up, like she did with everything else. And without giving anything away, I was not pleased by the ending. 

I feel bad, in a way- my praise is a mere fraction of the size of the complaints. Strangely, though, I do recommend this book. It's an interesting premise and it makes you really think about what you would do if you were in the same position. Would you go on the twenty-four hour clock that the government calls for? Or would you live according to the light and dark, like the ostracized people that feel force to move to communes? I found the whole notion unsettling- I live and die by the time. People think that I'm constantly on my phone when in fact I'm generally checking the time (fine, fine, that does tend to be the gateway to email checking and texting). I wore a watch from second grade up until a year or so ago when all of my watches either died or broke at the same time. If I wake up in the middle of the night I check. I obsessively calculate time and drive distance on trips. A world where the twenty-four hour day becomes 36 or even 70 bothers me greatly. In this unpredictable world I know I can at least count on sixty minutes in an hour and twenty-four hours in a day.

And that's why this book has some definite redeeming qualities- it does make you consider living outside your comfort zone. 


  1. This sounds like the scenario from natgeo/history channel Canada's episode of "Aftermath" - If the Earth Stopped Spinning. Check it out online if you can. All four scenarios are very interesting but that was my favorite. Who knows maybe the author saw if?

  2. This is so my genre! Despite my stack of unread books cluttering up my nightstand, I really want this book. I am intrigued!*