I guess since we're doing this, I finished a book which doesn't really happen at all anymore. White Noise, Don DeLillo, is witty and intelligent--I marked almost every page with something interesting. He does some phenomenal theme/motif/word usage things--so much so that almost every page feels densely packed with either meaning or intention.
It's a mix of a lot of things, but the most pronounced themes seem to be the importance of simplicity, the predictability of man, how we cope with disaster, the superfluousness of useless knowledge, death and coping with death, family, and media/information saturation/overload. There's also this strain the reader is torn between of the untrustable nature of second-hand knowledge and the need to make rational, useful decisions.
Overall, I think trust, mortality, and intelligence are the key takeaways. In many ways, it feels incredibly relevant to the world we now live in--maybe moreso than when it was actually written (mid-80s).
The toxic event had released a spirit of imagination. People spun tales, others listened spellbound. There was a growing respect for the vivid rumor, the most chilling tale. We were no closer to believing or disbelieving a given story than we had been earlier. But there was a greater appreciation now. We began to marvel at our own ability to manufacture awe. (153)
This is the nature of modern death. [...] It has a life independent of us. It is growing in prestige and dimension. We can predict its appearance, trace its path in the body. We can cross-section pictures of it, tape its tremors and waves. We've never been so close to it, so familiar with its habits and attitudes. [...] But it continues to grow, to acquire breadth and scope, new outlets, new passages and means. The more we learn, the more it grows. Is this some law of physics? Every advance in knowledge and technique is matched by a new kind of death, a new strain. Death adapts, like a viral agent. Is it a law of nature? Or some private superstition of mine? I sense the dead are closer to us than ever. (150)
Remarks existed in a state of permanent flotation. No one thing was either more or less plausible than any other thing. As people jolted out of reality, we were released from the need to distinguish. (129)
Terrifying data is now an industry in itself. Different firms compete to see how badly they can scare us. (175)
I tell myself I have reached an age, the age of unreliable menace. The world is full of abandoned meanings. In the commonplace I find unexpected themes and intensities. (184)
One of my absolute favorites came up rather unexpectedly. There is a part near a criticism of toxic masculinity that talks about the reason for the permeation, need for, and meaning of violence/apocalypse in western entertainment. It's hard taking it out of context because the context is incredibly meaningful, but here's a part (and it's such a great mix of negative with positive things):
"We've looked a hundreds of crash sequences. Cars with cars. Cars with trucks. Trucks with buses. Motorcycles with cars. Cars with helicopters. Trucks with trucks. My students think these movies are prophetic. They mark the suicide wish of technology. The drive to suicide, the hurtling rush to suicide."
"What do you say to them?"
"These are mainly B-movies, TV movies, rural drive-in movies. I tell my students not to look for apocalypse in such places. I see these car crashes as part of a long tradition of American optimism. They are positive events, full of the old 'can-do' spirit. Each car crash is meant to be better than the last. There is a constant upgrading of tools and skills, a meeting of challenges. A director says, 'I need this flatbed truck to do a midair double somersault that produces an orange ball of fire with a thirty-six-foot diameter, which the cinematographer will use to light the scene.' I tell my students if they want to bring technology into it, they have to take this into account, this tendency toward grandiose deeds, toward pursuing a dream."
"A dream? How do your students reply?"
"Just the way you did. 'A dream?' All that blood and glass, that screeching rubber. What about the sheer waste, the sense of a civilization in a state of decay?"
"What about it?" I said.
"I tell them it's not decay they are seeing but innocence. The movie breaks away from complicated human passions to show us something elemental, something fiery and loud and head-on. It's a conservative wish-fulfillment, a yearning for naiveté. We want to be artless again. We want to reverse the flow of experience, of worldliness and its responsibilities."
(The above is, I think, actually pretty spot-on, but it ironically comes from one of the useless knowledge characters--he teaches an entire curriculum on car crashes.)