Biography/Memoir Favorites

Another list I’ve put together for this holiday season as recommendations for books to read, gift, or put on wish lists. This list is a double handful of biographies and memoirs I found interesting. Luckily, I’ve recommended most of these books previously so you can find more info about each of them if you are interested.

A Princess Diarist

It is hard to believe Carrie Fisher has been gone for six years now. This memoir reflects on her time filming the first Star Wars movie which would subsequently launch her into fame and fandom as the iconic Princess Leia. The more I learn about her, the more I like her and wish she were still around.

And So It Goes – Kurt Vonnegut: A Life

This biography of Kurt Vonnegut is insightful and I think explanatory of much of his writing as he pulled much of his own life into his work. I am nearing the end of my read-through of all his novels and having read this biography made me appreciate his work more than I probably would have.

Robin

Robin Williams is another celebrity lost too soon. It has been eight years since we lost this fun, compassionate man. This biography by David Itzkoff is thoroughly researched and gives much insight into the man who was Robin.

Reflections: On the Magic of Writing

This is Diana Wynne Jones’s memoir on writing as well as reflections on her childhood and adult life. It was fun to look more into her experiences and who she was.

J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography

This biography by Humphrey Carpenter may be the best one out there on this prolific author. Tolkien has shaped a lot of writers and heavily influenced fantasy and storytelling in general. Love him or hate him, this book is a great look at who he was and the life he led.

In Pharoah’s Army

This memoir covers Tobias Wolff’s experience while a soldier in the Vietnam war. For those interested in Wolff or the war, it is a good read.

As You Wish

This book is Cary Elwes’s memoir during the filming of The Princess Bride and is a great read for the fans of this iconic movie that somehow became a cult classic after flopping at the box office.

Educated

Tara Westover’s memoir about her life in a family that didn’t believe in public education, or health services, is a fascinating read about how some people think. She doesn’t condemn the way she is raised, but ultimately had to decide how to interact with her family after going out on her own to learn about the world.

Amazing Fantastic Incredible

A graphic novel memoir about the graphic novel icon Stan Lee. A quick read that is more a cursory look at his life and work with some obvious bias, but overall a good, fun, book.

Tesla: Man Out of Time

A definitive biography on the enigma that is Nikola Tesla. What more is there to say? Margaret Cheney does a great job putting his life on the page.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Robert M. Pirsig’s philosophical memoir is not for everyone but had/has stirred up a lot of interesting conversations. It may be tough for many readers to get through, but it is an interesting read.

A Moveable Feast

A shorter, fun look into Hemingway’s life in Europe with a event alongside F. Scott Fitzgerald. Great for fans of either writer.

What If Our World Is Their Heaven?

This is actually a transcription of the final interview of Philip K. Dick which is a fantastic insight into who he was, and what he was working on before he passed away. He had a book in-progress that never was finished or published in any way, so what he gives us in this interview is all we will ever get. Sounded good too.

Science Fiction Favorites

I thought I’d put together a few lists this holiday season to recommend books to read, gift, or put on wish lists. This first list is a handful of science fiction books I’ve enjoyed and will likely re-read at a later time. Luckily, I’ve already recommended each of these books so you can find more info about each of them if you are interested.

Dune

Dune by Frank Herbert is one of my favorite science fiction books of all time. I first read it a few years ago upon hearing it is one of the best science fiction books of all time. It was originally published in 1965. It also helps that we recently had a great movie adaptation covering the first half of this book and the adaptation of the second half is coming out next year. I have yet to read the sequels but this first book is great as a standalone story.

The Book of the New Sun

The Book of the New Sun was my introduction to Gene Wolfe who is now one of my favorite authors. This four-book saga is unique and not for everyone, admittedly, but I enjoyed it. Wolfe builds a world filled with mystery without fully giving you a glimpse behind the curtain.

The Murderbot Diaries

The Murderbot Diaries is Martha Wells’s collection of science fiction novellas that follow the fun character who calls itself Murderbot. This story is rich with warnings about how the human race could end up as well as unique views of how we can and should be better. The first in this series is All Systems Red. 

Ready Player One (and Two)

Ready Player One is a fun book all around. The movie adaptation obviously changed a lot but was also fun for me. The sequel, Ready Player Two, was fun but a mediocre follow-up in my opinion.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Douglas Adams’s series The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy might not be the type of humor for a lot of people, but the absurdity of it makes it enjoyable and lighthearted. There are five books in total and, admittedly, some sequels are lacking.

The Library at Mount Char

One of my absolute favorite reads of recent years, The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins is a hidden treasure that gives a unique perspective into how the universe works (or at least who is at the helm of creation).

Project Hail Mary

Andy Weir’s third novel, Project Hail Mary, is another semi-lighthearted-during-life-threatening-situations tale much like his first book The Martian. This story involves a mystery that is causing stars to die much quicker than expected, including the Sun. In an interstellar race against the clock, Ryland Grace needs to solve this mystery before Earth is no longer hospitable for humans.

Cat’s Cradle

Having become a big fan of Vonnegut this year, I felt it necessary to include at least one of his novels and Cat’s Cradle seemed appropriate as we head into winter as it involves the mysterious Ice-9.

The Left Hand of Darkness

Another book with ice as an element (arguable a major character in itself) is Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness. This an important novel containing questions about gender in a world where gender is ambiguous.

Cloud Atlas

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell spans several centuries and goes into a future (or futures) that fall into the realms of science fiction, so I’m including it in this list. I greatly enjoyed this book which I first discovered when seeing the trailer for the movie, which I also enjoyed but mostly because I’d read the book beforehand.

The Rings of Power

LOTR_The_Rings_of_Power_logoNow that the first season of The Rings of Power has ended, I wanted to talk about it. First, I absolutely loved it and look forward to the continuation of this series. Naturally there are those out there bashing the series for simple or idiotic reasons, but I am a fan and hope others are too.

Granted, I am a big fan of The Lord of the Rings and have read some of the supplemental materials used for the creation of this series (primarily The Silmarillion and the appendices). My knowledge therefore made the show much more enjoyable for me due to several reasons. I picked up on a lot of smaller details that other viewers may have missed but which only enriched my own viewing since they were really little “easter eggs” alluding to other events/characters. I was also able to predict certain surprises in the show due to some of these allusions and foreknowledge, although that did not diminish my enjoyment.

The production value is insanely good, similar to Peter Jackson’s original trilogy, leaving each episode feeling like a mini-movie (especially as they were on average 70 minutes). There was mystery and intrigue throughout as we were introduced to a familiar world but in an entirely new era. The Rings of Power takes place thousands of years before the events of The Lord of the Rings. Therefore, we see some familiar locations and only a few familiar characters, most notably elves who live forever, but we are getting entirely new stories. A few even tie directly to the events of The Lord of the Rings.

Let’s begin at the beginning, but before we start I do want to put a Spoiler Warning here as I will discuss a few items that would be considered spoilers for those who have not seen the entirety of the first season. I don’t want to write forever, although I could, so I’ll keep my thoughts concise. Continue reading

Fall Reading Lineup (Part 2)

Well, I actually went through my initial fall book lineup quicker than I thought I would, so here we are with a Part 2. I haven’t returned to Gormenghast however, which was on my last lineup, and I’m not sure if I will return to it or let it go. I’m still very much reading through Kurt Vonnegut’s works and a few will be on this list, but of course I want to put a few others in the lineup to give myself some variety. Here we go (again):

we-are-what-we-pretend-to-beI recently finished We Are What We Pretend To Be: The First and Last Works by Kurt Vonnegut which includes his first novella (previously unpublished) and his final book/novella that was in progress but he never finished.

JailbirdI recently started another Vonnegut book, Jailbird (which I am enjoying thus far), and then I plan to read Slapstick as I work through all of his books. Having just read his biography, I chose Jailbird next as it was considered one of his better books to come from the latter part of his career while Slapstick was not well received and is supposedly a bit of a mess. I will find out for myself of course.

Slade HouseSince it is getting into “spooky” season, I figured I should include a book that might fit into that category. I’ve had this one for a while and haven’t gotten around to reading it, so I’m putting Slade House by David Mitchell in the lineup. It is relatively short so I hope to read through it well before the end of the month.

something-wicked-this-way-comesKeeping along the same theme here, I’ve always meant to read Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury, so I’m adding it to the list for now but it may or may not drop off as the month goes by.

I’m not entirely certain what I’m going to dive into after I wrap up the final few Vonnegut novels. There are a million other books I want to eventually read, but sometimes I go by whatever pops out to me or if something captures my interest and I want to read it next. For example, I’m really enjoying the Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power television series so I may possibly jump back into Tolkien’s world.

Again, I hope you find time to read the books you want to read. Fall is a great season for reading as the weather cools and bundling up with a hot beverage and a good book is the perfect way to spend an evening (or an hour).

Happy Reading.

Banned Book Week

Banned Book Week is this week (September 18-24). I figured a post was in order to discuss banned books and the associated ridiculousness especially since there has been a rise in book bans the past few years. PEN America has been tracking many such bans and have a Banned Book Index available to see what some people think shouldn’t be read by others (with a high likelihood they haven’t read it themselves).

There are common denominators for many of the recent book bans with the easiest to determine being the state where the ban was put in place. The three currently with the highest number of banned books are Texas, Pennsylvania, and Florida. I am not inferring the citizens, or rather politicians, of these states are illiterate (not on purpose anyway). I don’t think any law should dictate what a person can or cannot read. Anyone should be able to determine for themselves what, and why, they read.

Most books that get banned are targeted because they contain an idea or discuss a topic those imposing the ban don’t want others to see. So the question is: Why? The easiest and best example I think is how 1984 was banned in many countries for anti-communist themes in many countries during the 40s, 50s, and 60s. It was also banned for pro-communist themes in some democratic countries and continues to get or remained banned for various reasons. When a book is banned, especially for political reasons, then it often contains ideas that oppose those currently in office or exposes the negative sides they wish to remain hidden.

Many common reasons books are banned is because they contain language or violence and the bans are restricting the books within schools. Some bans are to remove books from a county or state altogether including public libraries. Books have been banned from entire countries. Books have been challenged without being banned, but the rise in bans is absolutely a concern I wanted to discuss.

Again, the first question is: Why would someone want to ban this book? The second question is: What about this book frightens the people who want to ban it? Do they fear children will be exposed to certain horrors of this world (which absolutely exist) too early? Are they trying to protect people from something, or prevent them from gaining a different perspective that differs from their own? The reasoning behind a ban is often ludicrous and should be treated as such.

The questions can go on forever about this topic. Questions should be encouraged. I, for one, see a book ban as a reason to look into a book I may otherwise not have been interested in. Banning a book makes me want to read it, or at least see why people think it would be bad for us to read. I will always advocate for someone’s choice to read and encourage all forms of reading. So this week, I encourage you to find a book that has been banned somewhere or at point in time and read it to discover what reasons someone would not want that book in our society. You may not find any. If so, look up why it was banned and see if you can connect any dots.

Happy Reading.

Here are a few books that have been banned that I have recommended before:

1984
Fahrenheit 451
The Handmaid’s Tale
Harry Potter
Brave New World
Slaughterhouse Five
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
To Kill a Mockingbird