Review: How to Survive a Sharknado

Book Details

Title: How to Survive a Sharknado (and Other Unnatural Disasters)
Author: Andrew Shaffer (with contributions by Fin Shepard & April Wexler)
Publisher: Three Rivers Press, July 2014


Review

In 1999, when Chronicle Books published the first in what would eventually be the popular Worst-Case Scenario book series, I was an early adopter. I can’t say for certain where I purchased my now worn copy (it’s still in my personal library after six moves, including two cross country and one cross planet), but I have a feeling it was at the Urban Outfitters on 6th Avenue in Greenwich Village.  It was my go-to spot for specialty books typically displayed and marketed as kitschy gifts. The display table in the front corner of the store by the window was the table I often hit first, with the intention to buy for keeps. (The Book of Spells: Over 40 Secret Recipes to Get Your Own Way in Love, Work, and Play was another purchase.)

sharknadoI’ve been planning for disaster almost my whole life. Certainly since the first time I watched the tornado sweep Dorothy away from Kansas into Oz. But I took a more serious interest leading up to Y2K and then again in advance of the yet-to-be-realized Mayan Apocalypse.

Like the author of How to Survive a Sharknado, I tend to approach my prepping with a blend of earnestness and humorous self-deprecation. After all, there’s a fine line between prepared and crazy.  (Prepared, for instance, is a safe room in my house in Israel stocked with two weeks of food and water for me and my family. Crazy, on the other hand, is the underground bunker in West Virginia stocked with MREs for 15 years. I am prepped, but I only dream of being crazy.)

Of course, there’s a reason for Shaffer’s humorous approach to disaster in How to Survive a Sharknado: He’s writing a fictional movie tie-in book, as opposed to a true reference handbook a la The SAS Survival Handbook by Lofty Wiseman (which I also have in my personal library and which Shaffer references in the introduction to Sharknado.)  How to Survive a Sharknado is part of the Syfy Sharknado brand, a made-for-tv film franchise I’ve — regretfully? —  never seen. (Watch this trailer for “Sharknado 2” starring Tara Reid.)

Like any good B-movie horror flick, How to Survive a Sharknado is rooted in truth.  Bizarre one-off disasters do indeed happen (See 7 Global Apocalypse Scenarios That Might Really Happen and After Hundreds of Bee Stings and Thousands of Volts, Tree Trimmer Eager to Get Back to Work) and people — not just preppers — go bananas on social media when they do.

But, as far as I can tell, Shaffer’s book is as fictional as the Sharknado movie, a humor book mocking real-life disaster coverage and promoting, in a way, a host of B-movie disaster flicks on SyFy, such as “Arachnoquake,” “Mega Python vs. Gatoroid,” and “Sharktopus.”  Shaffer plays it so straight in the book, however, I almost believed some of the stories were real until I got to “Dinonami,”

How does he do it? In addition to leading off each “unnatural disaster” chapter with a table of vital statistics, Shaffer also offers “reports” of incidents and commentary by “real-life” witnesses and experts.  In the section for Extreme-Weather Vortex, for instance, Shaffer references “the morning of May 18, 2008” when “the air in the lower atmosphere above Manhattan began swirling.

“The first sign of trouble happened in Central Park. Six-foot-tall whirlwinds filled with subzero air whipped through the park. Children chased these ‘mini tornados’ around — until the tornados started chasing the kids back…A twister formed near the Liberty Island, killing dozens and ripping off the Statue of Liberty’s raised arm.”

Shaffer goes on to “quote” meteorologist Cassie Lawrence,

“At the site of one funnel touchdown in Midtown, I found evidence of lightning. It made perfect sense. Planets with high and low atmospheres are lightning machines. If the storm continued to build, I calculated the lightning would increase in frequency exponentially, building to a crescendo the likes of which we’d never seen on Earth before.”

I laughed out loud towards the end in the section called “Unnatural Disaster Kit” as I read the list of “tools and supplies,” which includes:

“Cash, coins, and Chuck E. Cheese tokens

and

“Packaged snacks: Although not very nutritious, most processed foods like crackers and snack cakes have shelf lives longer than basilisks”

(Basilisk is total insider geek speak. It makes me feel loved and a little less lonely.)

The book is cute and clever, but would be funnier, I think, if I was a bigger B-movie fan (like my husband, for instance, who dragged me to Piranha 3D) or if someone bought me this book at Urban Outfitters on Sixth Avenue as a gift for my upcoming birthday; as a way to gently, but lovingly mock my zombie apocalypse obsession.

As I said, there’s a fine line between prepping and crazy: I prefer laughter to lunacy.

Disclaimer: I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for this review.

Sexy Quiet

What if I made the choice
and the choice was
Quiet?

It’s true
sometimes Noise
tricks me
into believing
he is life.

What with all the
heart racing
and the jumping out of bed.
Gentle she,
Quiet,
though sometimes
tiresome
allows me the freedom
to kiss my children goodbye
and think like that again
only
when the front door crashes
open.
Unassuming Quiet
permits me to write
and eat ice cream.

I desire Quiet.

Noise, though sexy,
appetizing in an indulgent way
moves me in the way
ice cream does,
when I eat it from
a cone. One scoop
more than I needed.

What the world needs now

I spent the morning with my father-in-law in a cafe in Kfar Tavor.

He was generous enough to be an interview subject for me in regards to a creative writing project I’m preparing for a class called “Art, Atrocity, and Truth.”

My father-in-law is a child of the Holocaust. He is, in a way, art born of atrocity. His story is fascinating, as are the stories of so many whose parents survived the Holocaust, either in camps or in hiding or in brave revolt in the woods of Poland.

But his story is not my story today. My story is brief and bubbled up for me this morning on the drive home from the cafe.

My story is in response to the despair I often feel in this world; and the despair I feel specifically right now in this region.

I woke up this morning with a headache, and with a swelling I get in the hollow of my neck where sadness lurks. The news, the last thing I read before falling asleep last night, still lingered there.

But two hours later, after a spinach quiche and cafe hafooch at Cafederaztia, after taking 8 pages of notes, after probing my father-in-law for details about the small Polish village, about the time in Lublin, and the after time in Germany, and the time after that in Lod and in Petach Tikva, and eventually Newark, NJ …

I felt alive again.

The headache is still there a bit, but the hollow less congested. And if I had to say why, I’d say it was the listening. It was the act of being a vessel — even temporarily — of someone else’s story. Someone else’s past; someone else’s meaning. I bet if you asked my father-in-law immediately after our conversation, he would probably say he felt lifted up too. For having been actively and intentionally listened to.

It’s not the first time I’ve listened. It’s something I enjoy. It’s something of myself I want to give to others, if that makes sense.

I sense they need it. And I sense I do, too.

I know this is a luxury — drinking coffee, listening. I know it’s a luxury of living here in the Lower Galilee where, for the time being, war is more a headline than a reality. I know this is not a luxury for those in shelters in Southern Israel or others whose life stories are characterized more by war than by living.

I am not naive, though this is an accusation sometimes leveled on people who still suggest conflict may be resolved by talking and listening.

But I repeat, I am not naive.

I am just open. A vessel.

And there are more like me. A lot more.

We could band together. Form our own little revolution of listening. Create art not out of, but instead of atrocity.

 

 

 

 

If it was a place

fortitude

If it was a place —
cognitive dissonance, it
would be here, Israel.

Where in one swift shift
I move from embarrassment
(I forgot about swimming

lessons) to fear of
war. Shame I forgot about
it; murder and them

(those who can’t forget
except in dreams which aren’t real)
and yelled at my son

for telling me he
was bored on the second day
after school ended.

If it was a place —
cognitive dissonance, it
would be here, Israel.

Where over coffee
I compose long to-do lists
grateful in a way

to be a mother
with room in my heart for lists.
For tomorrow’s plans.

If it was a place —
cognitive dissonance, it
would be here, Israel.

Where over bacon
(made from turkey) I slowly
savor the almost flavor

of America,
and imagine I lived there
again. Would the world

be less dissonant?
More in tune with my inner
rhythms? harmony?

If it was a place —
cognitive dissonance, it
would be now, this, we.

It would be — it is —
the surreal surrender in
waking, in spite of.