The Road – Bookcast #17

The Road (2006) by Cormac McCarthy

The Road is Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about the journey of a father and his young son through a dying post-apocalyptic world.

The Road is about the depravation of humanity and the reasons we continue in the face of despair. This novel is brutal and devastating, but it’s also about the rarest of all miracles: Hope.

Read and listen to “The Road” on Amazon!

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“The Road” Show Notes

0:00 – Intro to “The Road”

  • McCarthy wrote this novel as an unflinching meditation on the worst and the best parts of humanity. He forces us to confront horrible truths but he also shows us how to keep going even when everything looks hopeless.
  • Intended audience: Anyone who struggles with existential angst, anyone who is (or wants to be) a parent, and anyone who likes dark, brutal stories with incredible writing and great characters
  • Who won’t like it: People who need an upbeat story, people who don’t like poetic, descriptive writing and people who can’t handle explicit descriptions of cruelty and depraved behavior

5:30 – How easy is the book to read?

  • Difficult. The reading itself is easy; the subject matter is not at all. You’re going to go through some dark, painful experiences reading this book. This is a HORROR novel.
  • Print: 287 pages (6-8 hours to read)
  • Audio: 6 hrs 37 minutes

6:00 – Reviews and significance of “The Road”

  • 6,110 reviews — 4.2 Stars (Major critique: Readers couldn’t handle the bleak, depressing tone and explicitly cruel behavior of certain characters)
  • Currently: 
    • #29 Amazon – Contemporary Fiction (entire category)
    • #100 Amazon – Literary Sagas
    • #110 Audible – Science Fiction (entire category)
    • #124 Audible – Literary Fiction (entire category)

7:00 – Book-to-Movie Translation

  • Matt: Amazing actors, cinematography and tone of movie very much what I imagined
  • Jay: The story is intensely personal and subjective, mostly happening inside the mind of the protagonist. A movie can’t capture that experience. I don’t recommend the movie.

8:30 – Bio of Cormac McCarthy

  • Charles McCarthy, Jr, is an American novelist, playwright, short-story writer, and screenwriter
  • Born 1933 in Rhode Island (He’s currently 87 years old), third of six children
  • Renamed himself “Cormac” after the Irish king
  • He saw no value in school (although he enjoyed dozens of hobbies) and he dropped out of college twice – first to join the Air Force, then after the Air Force he went back and he quit again. He never graduated.
  • Spent two of his four years in the AF in Alaska where he hosted a radio show
  • After college he wrote his first novel, The Orchard Keeper, while he was working as an auto mechanic. It was published when he was 32
  • Although they had varying degrees of critical acclaim, none of McCarthy’s first five novels sold more than 5k hardcover copies.
  • Even though he made almost no money for several decades, he did receive multiple writing grants (including a Mac Arthur “genius” Fellowship in 1981 for $236,000) which helped finance his writing and enabled him to travel throughout the US and Europe
  • His first commercially successful novel was All the Pretty Horses (1992) which sold 190,000 hardcover copies. McCarthy was 59 years old.
  • McCarthy speaks Spanish fluently, which he learned while living in Ibiza, Spain
  • Quit drinking alcohol more than 30 years ago. “’The friends I do have are simply those who quit drinking,’ he says. ‘If there is an occupational hazard to writing, it’s drinking.”
  • He does all his writing on an old-fashioned Olivetti electric typewriter
  • He is known for his bleak style of writing in all his novels. As a result, he has been labelled the “great pessimist of American literature.”
  • He’s written ten novels, including No Country for Old Men (which was made into the classic Coen Brothers movie that won 4 Academy Awards). The Road (2006) is his most recent novel. He’s also written two screenplays and two stage plays.

12:00 – Major Themes of the Book

  • Good vs Evil
  • Morality vs Amorality vs Immorality
  • Death and dying
  • The purpose of existence

16:30 – Jay’s Perspectives

  • What did you like best about The Prince? 
    • Beautiful. Horrible. Hard to read. Uplifting. Made me cry some manly tears at the end.
  • Share a favorite quote (maybe 2). Why did this quote(s) stand out?
    • “All things of grace and beauty such that one hold them to one’s heart have a common provenance in pain. Their birth in grief and ashes. So, he whispered to the sleeping boy. I have you.”
    • All of his books have violence as a central tenet. According to McCarthy “There’s no such thing as life without bloodshed. The notion that the species can be improved in some way, that everyone could live in harmony, is a really dangerous idea. Those who are afflicted with this notion are the first ones to give up their souls, their freedom. Your desire that it be that way will enslave you and make your life vacuous.”
  • What did you learn from this book / How did this book change you?
    • No matter how dark things are, if you keep going you can make it better. That’s the definition of hope – When you keep going and believe that something better is coming, even if you don’t know what it is or when you’ll find it.
  • What did you like least (critique)?
    • To me this isn’t the kind of book you criticize. If you don’t like this book, it’s not the book that you don’t like, it’s the dark things it shows you about yourself.
  • What question(s) would you ask the author?
    • How hard was this book to write for you, emotionally speaking? Did you get depressed writing it?
  • Any other related/connected books that you’d recommend to others?
    • The Walking Dead graphic novel series by Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard and Tony Moore

24:00 – Matt’s Perspectives

  • What did you like best about this book? 
    • Juxtaposition of the different moral characters in this book – Why do you have your moral outlook on the world?
  • Share a favorite quote (maybe 2). Why did this quote(s) stand out?
    • “Just remember that the things you put into your head are there forever, he said. You might want to think about that.
    • You forget some things, don’t you?
    • Yes. You forget what you want to remember and you remember what you want to forget.”
    • “Keep a little fire burning; however small, however hidden.”
  • What did you learn from this book / How did this book change you?
    • Most post apocalyptic stories have a somewhat “happy ending” – this book doesn’t. The question is how you find the will to survive and how morality plays a critical role in your survival.
  • What did you like least? (critique)
    • Very gritty and depressing backdrop – on the surface the story is all about suffering and misery
  • What question(s) would you ask the author?
    • Do you think there is morality in a bleak and dying world?
  • Any other related/connected books that you’d recommend to others?

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