Book Review: Want Not

Jonathan Miles’ novel Want Not came out 4 years ago, and it seems  even more relevant in 2017. It is my book club’s pick this November and I’m anxiously waiting our next meeting. If everyone read it, I expect there to be no lull in the conversation. It’s really good. And it’s good in that non-thriller sort of way. Which makes it really, really good.

It’s a patient book, drawing out three story lines that all circle this notion of over consumption and waste in America. Watching how the waste and excess of things our culture creates affects families, lovers, businesses, and society as whole, is truly thought provoking.

The story bounces back and forth between homeless folks intentionally “living off the land” of New York City, picking through the trash bins, a professor of linguistics having to get rid of all the things left behind from his divorce while dealing with his ailing father and the owner of a credit card debt collection agency, living in a McMansion neighborhood of a few houses, because the rest haven’t been developed.

One of the more interesting parts linguistic professor’s story is his project of having to write the warning signs for a nuclear dump. It’s to be an underground dump full of excess and spent nuclear materials that remain lethal for 10,000 years. So it’s trash that can kill.

But what language do you write the warning in? Very few languages last more than a few thousand years, what will they be speaking in 10,000 years? He and his cohorts debate symbols, colors, art, language and hieroglyphics. With that comes the realization that most of what archeologists dig up is just trash from thousands of years ago.

Jonathon Miles is probably best known for Dear American Airlines. That book was good and made me chuckle. But Want Not was better in a couple of ways. Want Not made me laugh out loud as well as really think about what society is doing to this planet and each other as we over produce a bunch of junk. It’s rare to find a book that makes you laugh while thinking big thoughts.

I give this book 4 out of 5 stars and recommend it to folks who want to meet some really quirky characters dealing with some thought provoking issues. I’m betting it’s going to be a great book club pick for us.

Have you read Want Not?

  • I’ve not seen any other reviews of this book, but it sounds fascinating. I’ll keep it in mind as a possible book club read!

  • It wound up being a fantastic book club read. Parts of the story are in your face & others views are so very subtle, but it stoked strong responses from everyone. Everyone had strong opinions about the characters. If your book club has read something that lead to lively discussion – please share!