Reading Challenge

I’ve been participating in a reading challenge at work. One of my favorite things about working at a university is being able to participate in campus activities geared toward faculty, staff, and students, and meeting so many interesting people with specialties in different areas. This challenge recently made me think about my reading habits and what reading means to me and others. The challenge encourages participants to read books that will promote inclusivity and diverse perspectives. The challenge is split into months and cover the following categories:

  • Read a book about Activism, Advocacy, Antiracism, or Allyship
  • Read a book featuring a character with a [dis]Ability – to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act
  • Read a book in any genre by a Native, First Nations, or Indigenous Author
  • Read an LGBTQ+ book, graphic novel, memoir, or comic featuring an LGBTQ+ character and/or written by an LGBTQ+ author
  • Read a book written by or about a refugee
  • Read a book written by an author of color
  • Read a book written by or about someone that identifies as neurodiverse
  • Read an #ownvoices book set in Mexico or Central America

I have completed 7 of the 8 reading challenges on this list and will be reading the final one before the challenge is done. The recent self-reflection made me realize that although I read a lot and try to read widely, I also fail to venture into certain literary areas or pick up books that would be good for me to experience.

I am absolutely a big fan of science fiction and fantasy and many of my reading decisions sway toward this area. I read “classics” and memoirs and books on science and I try to remain open to all types of books. Granted, my reading list is forever long, but I couldn’t help but notice that there are many areas I should be including. I did take advantage of a few of these challenges to read authors I’d always intended to read but hadn’t yet picked up their work (like Octavia Butler and Viet Thanh Nguyen), but a few of the challenges above steered me toward a few new areas.

Reading, for me, is an enjoyable experience that lets me escape into wondrous worlds, learn new things, and meet great characters. Reading, especially fiction, is a great way to build empathy. I consider myself a highly empathetic person and I credit my enthusiasm for reading as a part of this. That being said, I think I was a bit surprised that my reading habits do often tend to stay on the same highway. One or two challenges above made me make a few pitstops I wouldn’t normally have made, and I realized I need to maybe make more pitstops on my journey through life. I will always read what I love to read, of course, but I think some great experiences may be waiting for me outside my standard fields of interest, and these experiences will likely make me a better person. To put it simply, I realized I need to read more widely than I have in the past. Libraries are great for trying new things.

I hope you examine your own reading habits and perhaps try a few books outside your own comfort bubble. Perhaps you will try some of the challenges above. Maybe you will find a new favorite arena to explore.

Happy Reading.

My Favorite Books This Year (2020)

2020 has been a wild, scary year, but as always, books remain a great way to escape, learn, grow, and find enjoyment. I decided to put a quick “year in review” together of what I read and enjoyed. A few of these items I’m glad to say were on my list of series to read at the beginning of the year. There is just under 3 weeks left of the year, which is plenty of time to read a few more (which I will be doing), but I figured I had plenty to put into a list.

Murderbot Series

The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells
I started the year off going through the first several installments of The Murderbot Diaries. The newest released in May this year, Network Effect, and the next comes out this coming April titled Fugitive Telemetry. This series is simply fantastic and I am glad I now have it on my shelf.

The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew QuickThe Silver Linings Playbook book cover
One of my more recent reads, I really enjoyed this one and go into detail about my thoughts on book versus movie on my post about the book.

Talking to StrangersTalking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell
Gladwell’s newest book delves into how we perceive those we do not know and how a few recent events escalated the way they did. Touching on some dark material while illuminating on how we interact to others subconsciously, this book is a great insight into how we move through society and, unfortunately, how we fall into situations of miscommunication.

The Inheritance GamesThe Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
The great start to a mystery I happily compare to Knives Out, one of my favorite films of yesteryear. Filled with intrigue and questionable family dynamics, I’m looking forward to the rest of the series.

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De ZoetThe Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell
This was one that has been on my shelf for some time. I picked it up after enjoying Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas novel and wanted to read more of his work. I was surprised with this one, but pleasantly so. The story was much different than expected though the prose was beautiful and enticing.

Every Tool's A HammerEvery Tool’s A Hammer by Adam Savage
An enlightening look into the life of a main Mythbuster, this book was a great insight into building and what goes into creating some of the iconic films we all know and many love. I learned a lot about craft and making things and I really enjoyed Adam’s passion for what he does (even when things don’t turn out quite like he wanted). It was great to get to know more about him.

All The Light We Cannot SeeAll The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
This book came as a recommendation and it was a beautiful book to read. The story was interesting as it covered some of the magical, invisible experiences of our world while centered around young characters trying to make it through World War II.

The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe
A series on my list and an author I had yet to read. This series opened me to Wolfe’s work and I am a fan. I enjoyed this four book series and am about to finish a collection of short stories. I wish I would have read him sooner, but I am glad to have found his work regardless. His prose is not for everyone and I liken many of his stories to a veil with an entire universe hiding beneath. I intend to read more, and I will not be surprised if he becomes one of my favorite authors.

Books of the New Sun

Mythologies

Norse MythologyI’ve always loved mythology. My favorite has always been Norse Mythology. I recently began listening to Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman. I’ve read it before but was in the mood for some stories and figured what was better than to have Neil read them himself. It was the perfect choice, and it got me thinking about different mythologies and some I want to learn more about.

Greek & Roman

MythosI know a decent amount about Greek and Roman mythology mainly because they are closely intertwined, taught in school, and likely the most popular mythologies in the world. Everyone knows of Zeus and Poseidon and Hercules and the many others within these pantheons. There have been dozens of movies made based on these stories and characters, but there is still much I’d like to learn. I’ve read The Odyssey but have yet to read The Illiad. I really want to read Stephen Fry’s retelling of the Greek myths in his book titled Mythos. I have a copy and just have to take the time.

Egyptian

Egyptian mythology may be my second or third favorite. I’ve always liked these characters since I was young, but I realized I don’t know too much about their actual history. I hope to find some texts that will give me a better background in this area. Ironically I can’t think of any at the moment.

Celtic

I know very little about these mythologies aside from a few characters and I only recently discovered them. I definitely want to know more and I did pick up one book to help me do so. Celtic Myths and Legends by Peter Berresford Ellis.

Chinese – Japanese – Hindu

Another few mythologies I know very little about aside from a few characters or names. I mainly learned of these characters through shows or video games. I used to play a game called Smite where you played as mythological gods from different pantheons. It was a lot of fun to play with friends and I really liked learning about the different mythologies and characters through the lore provided in the game even if it was brief.

Maori

Kia Ora. I lived in New Zealand for a brief time and was lucky enough to learn a bit about the Maori culture and their creation myths including Papatuanuku and Ranginui. Learning these stories increased my interest in mythologies around the world because there is so much and many of them have similarities despite the cultures never being in contact with each other.

Norse

Norse MythologyBack to my favorite. Of course there have also been modern retellings of these myths as well. Marvel comics (and the MCU) have made several characters popular despite only key elements remaining true to the myths themselves. Thor is my favorite Avenger even though he is quite different in the myths. I’m going through Neil Gaiman’s recent retellings of these myths. I’ve also read Myths of the Norsemen by H. A. Guerber and Snorri Sturleson’s Prose Edda. I still need to read the Poetic Edda and there are surely many stories in this pantheon I have yet to discover. I will eventually.

What are some of your favorite myths? Do you have some recommendations for me to learn more about some of the pantheons I mentioned? Or perhaps some that I did not? I’d love to learn more so let me know with a comment or message me on Twitter at @YarberWrites.

An Alphabet of Authors

Inspired by @WS_Bookclub’s post of alphabetical fantasy authors. I decided to do an Alphabet of Authors myself. These are authors I have read and I was surprised to see several gaps in letters, so please give me some recommendations if you know of any.

I made this list mainly by perusing my bookshelf so it may very well be incomplete. I’ve also only added the authors whose work I have enjoyed (of course) because I figured you may want to read them if you haven’t yet. If you want a specific book recommendation for any of these authors, peruse my list of recommendations I have posted here. Anyway, here we go:

An alphabet of authors (by last name)

A – Douglas Adams with Honorable Mentions: Isaac Asimov, Margaret Atwood, Ryunosuke Akutagawa

B – Ray Bradbury with Honorable Mentions: Edgar Rice Burroughs

C – Ted Chiang with Honorable Mentions: Orson Scott Card, Raymond Carver, Albert Camus, Ernest Cline

D – Philip K. Dick with Honorable Mentions: Emily Dickinson, Anthony Doerr, Alexandre Dumas

E – Cary Elwes with Honorable Mention: Matthew Eck

F – Raymond E. Feist with Honorable Mentions: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Carrie Fisher, Victor Frankl

G – Neil Gaiman with Honorable Mentions: William Gibson, Arthur Golden, Helene A. Guerber, The Brothers Grimm, Malcolm Gladwell

H – Frank Herbert with Honorable Mentions: Robert Heinlein, Joe Haldeman, Aldous Huxley

I – Dave Itzkoff with Honorable Mention: Kazuo Ishiguro

J – Robert Jordan with Honorable Mention: Diana Wynne Jones

K – Stephen King with Honorable Mention: Franz Kafka

L – Ursula K. Le Guin with Honorable Mentions: Stanislaw Lem, Ann Leckie, Tom Lloyd

M – John Marco with Honorable Mentions: David Mitchell, Cormac McCarthy

N – Garth Nix with Honorable Mentions: Phong Nguyen, Patrick Ness

O – George Orwell with Honorable Mentions: Joyce Carol Oates, Nnedi Okorafor

P – Terry Pratchett with Honorable Mentions: Gary Paulson, Robert M. Pirsig, Gareth L. Powell, Edgar Allen Poe

Q – Recommendations Please (I do want to read Matthew Quick’s Silver Linings Playbook)

R – Patrick Rothfuss with Honorable Mentions: Ayn Rand, J.K. Rowling

S – Antione de Saint-Exupery with Honorable Mentions: V.E. Schwab, Snorri Sturluson

T – J.R.R. Tolkien with Honorable Mention: Karen Traviss

U – Recommendations Please

V – Kurt Vonnegut

W – Tobias Wolff with Honorable Mentions: Gene Wolfe, Martha Wells, Danny Wallace, and Andy Weir

X – Recommendations Please

Y – Recommendations Please (I do want to read Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life)

Z – Yevgeny Zamyatin with Honorable Mention: Timothy Zahn

Who Said You Should Never Judge A Book By Its Cover?

Yeah, yeah, there is that old saying (which is true), but I thought I’d list books whose covers I think are beautiful, made me pick the book up initially, or I simply like. There are often several variants to book covers based on editions, reprints, etc. The cover is meant to entice you or else they wouldn’t spruce them up. I’m a sucker for cool artwork too. Here are several that I enjoy.

The Sword of Angels

Sword of AngelsThis cover is actually the reason I picked up this trilogy by John Marco. I saw this cover, thought it looked cool, found out it was the third book in the series, and went on to buy the first book. I need to re-read this series since it has been (I believe) over ten years since I first read it and a fourth book has been released since then that continues the story of one of the main characters.

Exhalation

ExhalationAnother simplistic cover that goes along with an equally simplistic yet mysterious title. This collection of short stories, and one novella, by Ted Chiang is a great read for any SFF fans or if you like stories that make you think.

The Faded Sun Trilogy

The Faded Sun TrilogyI picked up a copy of this trilogy in one volume a long time ago. The cover was of course a factor. I had no idea who C.J. Cherryh was but she has become an author whose work I really need to look into, which of course means I have yet to read this trilogy. I have a lot of books on my TBR and I will get to them eventually. I’ve been trying to read through the books I have and purchase fewer books.

Memories of Ice

Memories of IceMemories of Ice is actually book three of The Malazan Book of the Fallen series by Steven Erikson. This is the first on this list of books I picked up because of the cover but have not yet read. The Malazan series is a larger series and I currently have the first five books. I plan to read them some day, but I just haven’t gotten around to it just yet.

Norse Mythology

Norse MythologyOkay. There are a lot of different versions, retellings, and of course covers of the Norse Myths. The cover I refer to specifically is a recent retelling by Neil Gaiman. I think the cover is fantastic and we get a few versions of it. One for hardback and one for paperback. I have a copy of both mainly because I happened to get an opportunity to purchase a signed copy of the paperback, which honestly is the cover I like best. I think there are a few other variants of the hardback cover (which is different from the paperback version you see here) but they are different color backgrounds including black, white, and red.

Fahrenheit 451

FahrenheitFahrenheit 451There are a lot of different covers for Fahrenheit 451 as it has become a classic and is taught in schools. I particularly enjoy the simplistic 60th anniversary cover as well as the Folio Society version which I recently acquired.

A Memory of Light

The final installment of The Wheel of Time. This cover actually holds more significance because it comes at the end of a long journey and holds the fates of many beloved characters, which makes this cover perhaps the only one on this list linked directly to the story it tells. I’m sure there will be many new covers for the books in this series as time goes on and as the television series releases, but the original (to me) will always have a certain appeal.A Memory of Light

Too Like The Lightning

Too Like The LightningI purchased this book from a big sale my local library puts on every year so I was able to get it really cheap. I picked this one up for two reasons. The cover, and the fact that it made a bit of a wave when it first released however many years ago that was (it was 2016). I believe this is the first of a four-book series by Ada Palmer with the first three currently available, which is a good reason for me to wait a bit longer to read this book as I prefer to read series that are complete since I often need to re-read the first books when a new installment comes out if it has been a while since the initial read.

The Stormcaller

The StormcallerLike The Magician, this cover is for the first of a series that caught my eye. I think the artwork on all the covers is great, but this one made me give the book a try. I read the first three of the series by Tom Lloyd and then stopped as the final two books had not yet released. I plan to return and re-read the entire series some time.

The Magician

Magician Raymond E FeistI remember this one distinctly. I was in high school and about to go on a small trip to visit family when I picked this one up. The version I bought was actually two books in one and was my introduction to Raymond E. Feist’s Riftwar Saga. I have read the saga but have not read much beyond the core books and into the ever expansive world(s) contained in the larger Riftwar Cycle. I picked up the book for my trip because the cover did interest me, especially at the age of 15 with the image of the wizard, and I always enjoy magic.

All Systems Red

Last but not least, The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells. I absolutely adore this series and have also loved the cover art for each book. Network Effect is the fifth installment that was released earlier this year, and we will get the sixth book, Fugitive Telemetry, next year.

Murderbot Series