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One Good Thing: The 1970s Children's Book That Envisions an America Overrun by Trash

Nov 16, 2021   |   Vox

[David] Macaulay, a Macarthur fellow who has won numerous awards, including a Caldecott Medal, told me that Motel of the Mysteries was the most fun he's ever had writing a book, and it happened the quickest, mainly because he was just 'playing the whole time,'" reports Vox.

..."What if everything you thought you knew about the past was completely wrong? That's the idea that blew my mind as a 10-year-old in suburban Houston, when I gleaned it from the pages of an oversized blue paperback book. In just 95 black-and-white illustrated pages, that book imprinted itself on my brain and instilled in me a fleeting desire to become an archeologist."

..."When the story begins, it's the year 4022, and Carson has traveled to the desolate country of Usa (haha!), whose entire population was buried under an avalanche of excess mail way back in 1985. Carson is in Usa to run a marathon (stay with me here). Ever the bumbling archeologist, he falls down a shaft and discovers a mysterious door. What Carson and his loyal assistant Harriet believe to be an ancient burial ground, the reader knows to be a standard roadside Motel 6. Their sacred Tomb 26 is, to us, simply the entrance to a crappy motel room."

..."My obsession with the book eventually inspired me to track down, or more like lightly stalk, [Motel of the Mysteries author] David Macaulay himself. I found out he was teaching at the Rhode Island School of Design, and I had a Twitter acquaintance who also taught there. Via DM, I asked if maybe he could connect us. He did, and Macaulay and I have been in contact since 2013. During a recent conversation, I asked Macaulay, who now teaches at Dartmouth, if climate change was on his mind when he was writing and illustrating the book back in the late 1970s. He said, 'Climate change didn’t occur to me. Air pollution? Yes.'"

..."For me, it has stayed relevant all these years because it captures ideas that are eternal: What will happen to our world when it's wiped out by climate change or excess mail or whatever it may be? Are we closer to winding up like those unfortunate inhabitants of Usa? How do we know everything we think we know is right? And what if being 'right' isn’t all it's cracked up to be? What if being wrong is actually more fun?"

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