No more diving into pools of chlorinated water lit green from below. No more ball games played out under floodlights. No more porch lights with moths fluttering on summer nights. No more trains running under the surface of cities on the dazzling power of the electric third rail. No more cities.”

This quote begins Chapter 6. The entirety of this chapter is a list of things lost to human history with the collapse of civilization ranging from massive systems to small pleasures. The list honors monumental achievements such as cities, the power grid, and aviation. These things represent the loss of centuries’ worth of human cooperation, work, and development, and characters in the book mourn them persistently. These lost systems also connect to the everyday losses which characters also mourn. The breakdown of the power grid manifests in dark porch lights, empty swimming pools, and broken light switches. By juxtaposing monumental losses with small ones, Mandel elevates everyday experiences and suggests that in many ways, the loss of these hallmarks is as impactful for the characters as the breakdown of vast systems. The phrase “an incomplete list” suggests that a complete list would be impossible given the magnitude of loss.

“His third wife, Lydia, doing yoga on the back patio in the mornings. 

The croissants at the café across the street from his hotel. 

Tanya sipping wine, her smile. 

Riding in his father’s snowplow when he was nine, the time Arthur told a joke and his father and his little brother couldn’t stop laughing, the sheer joy he’d felt at that moment.”

This quote occurs in Chapter 53 as Arthur looks back on his life. He remembers what’s important just before he dies onstage in King Lear. Arthur has lived a big life as a celebrity filled with extraordinary events such as starring in movies and winning awards. However, he only looks back on his attention to celebrity and fame with regret. Instead, what he remembers and cherishes are small, even mundane moments of simple pleasure. These moments include a good croissant or the daily routines of the women he loved. Though Arthur doesn’t know he is going to die yet, the moment still has the tenor of an end-of-life reflection on what’s most important. What Arthur finds is that he cherishes not the exciting or momentous events but rather the small, everyday moments that feel profound, pleasurable, and beautiful. What he regrets most at the end of his life is not being present enough for these small moments to recognize their beauty.

“There seemed to be a limitless number of objects in the world that had no practical use but that people wanted to preserve: cell phones with their delicate buttons, iPads, Tyler’s Nintendo console, a selection of laptops. There were a number of impractical shoes, stilettos mostly, beautiful and strange.”

This quote occurs at the beginning of Chapter 44 and describes the objects that people have brought to the Museum of Civilization that Clark has created. Instead of being involved in the work directly tied to survival, Clark has transitioned to working full-time at the museum. This suggests that the preservation of everyday objects from the past is crucial to Severn City, too. A museum is typically a place that houses sacred or revered objects such as art, artifacts, or historically significant objects. By dedicating the museum to the objects of everyday life that were lost to the pandemic, Mandel elevates these objects as sacred, too. People come to the museum to remember the past, and the simple acts of pressing buttons on a cell phone or slipping on a high heel take on new reverence and significance now that the world in which those objects were useful is now gone.