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We Are What We Pretend To Be: The First and Last Works by Kurt Vonnegut which includes his first novella (previously unpublished) and his final book/novella that was in progress but he never finished.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

And So It Goes

And So It GoesChris J. Shields’s biography And So It Goes – Kurt Vonnegut: A Life is a deep look into the incredible life of Kurt Vonnegut Jr. By incredible, I don’t necessarily mean great, good, or terrible. I mean Kurt experienced a lot, both good and bad, and approached life valiantly while notably having his own shortcomings. I had known he was a POW during WWII and was held in Dresden when the city was destroyed. This much is mentioned many times in discussions, intros, and summaries of his novels (especially Slaughterhouse Five). Much of what he wrote about does go back to his experiences during that time. There are snippets of Vonnegut’s personal life in his novels but more so on their jackets, so some of the major events within this book (i.e. of his life) were known ahead of time, but what was offered in those snippets were unfocused facts and this biography gives them clarity.

Reading more about Vonnegut gives a different perspective for his novels. Certain things seem more personal, or significant, than they had been previously. Much of what he covers in various stories seem sourced directly from his life. Many of his short stories were written earlier in his career, and many of his novels written later with the exception of his more popular books. For example, his first book Player Piano was published in 1952, then Sirens of Titan (1959), Mother Night (1961), Cat’s Cradle (1963), then his fifth and most famous novel Slaughterhouse Five released in 1969. He wrote a total of 14 books and many other articles, short stories, essays, speeches, etc. all the way up until his death in 2007 with several publications being posthumous including an in-progress novel he had been working on.

The world Vonnegut was born into in 1922 was completely different than the one we know today 100 years later (perhaps it is by more than chance I’ve come to Vonnegut at this century marker). The world we know today is already completely different than the one he died in back in 2007. The world is ever changing while human societies seem to change at a much slower rate. There is a quote from Vonnegut in this book that goes something like “take the world seriously, but none of the people in it.” I think that is sound advice.

Vonnegut was a prolific writer who enjoyed much of the fame he had heaped upon him in his later years, and he enjoyed most of this fame while disliking some of it. The Vonnegut many readers imagine in their minds, derived simply from his books, is quite different from the man who wrote those books. Not having known him myself, I rely on this biography and other anecdotes I’ve read by others to build a better picture of the man himself. This biography does a phenomenal job and may be the most extensive record we have of his life, but an entire life is ~425 pages is still a small window.

Vonnegut was no doubt a great writer, but he was an absent father and poor husband. He was married to Jane for 34 years and likely would not have become the writer he was without her support and without her taking on the role of singular parent to six children. Granted, Kurt took in three nephews when his sister and brother-in-law died tragically within days of each other. Much of what Kurt did was aimed with good intentions except of course his infidelities which lead to the eventual end of his first marriage. His second marriage seemed almost to include a little karma for his shortcomings in his first. I’m not one to judge solely from one perspective, but I believe Chris J. Shields did a phenomenal job presenting the facts of Vonnegut’s life and had the extensive research notes to support them. Essentially, Kurt’s second wife was an apathetic, overly-ambitious bitch who treated him poorly especially at the end of his life.

Kurt Vonnegut Jr. had a long, incredible life rife with blessings and curses. He wrote stories that bombed and stories that were immensely successful. He remains a prominent author today and is read widely, and I think as a society we still don’t know how best to categorize his work. He “began” his career being placed in science fiction due to the use of some themes of that genre. Later, he was deemed “black humor” and of course each book has its own elements that would sway things one way or another. I think his work has come into its own and is simply referred to by his name. Vonnegut is Vonnegut whatever that means for each of us.

I for one have come to enjoy Vonnegut’s work and will continue to read through his novels (and likely re-read a few I hadn’t fully appreciated early on). Knowing more about him as a person, I likely will read his books with a little more insight and understanding. I think anyone who is a fan of Vonnegut should read this book to better understand who he was as it differed in many ways from what is gleaned from his novels.

Happy Reading.

Five Star Books

I thought it would be interesting to go through the books I’ve given a five-star rating. I use Goodreads mainly to encourage and track my goal of reading at least 50 books a year, so it is just a way to encourage myself to keep reading and not fall into a slump. Reading is relaxing and restorative for me, and sometimes I need to remind myself that it relieves stress and read regularly to keep myself balanced.

When going through my list of books I’ve given five stars to on Goodreads, I was surprised at how many made the cut. I typically follow the rating system of three stars means I liked it, four stars means I really liked it, and five stars means I loved it. I think I’ve given one two star rating, and I have never given a one star rating. This is because I often won’t finish a book I don’t like and I always look at a book objectively and won’t let one bad thing ruin the entire work. I also rate the book right after finishing so my feelings about it are fresh, which I hope gives a more accurate rating about how I felt about the book.

Anyway, here is the list of books I’ve given five stars to throughout my use of Goodreads. Some of these are representative of a series, so I may love the series as a whole while not necessarily giving all individual books five stars.

Howl’s Moving Castle was my introduction to the work of Diana Wynne Jones. It remains my favorite Studio Ghibli film and is a great novel I look forward to reading to my children.

Magician is the first book of The Riftwar Cycle by Raymond E. Feist. I first read this in high school and loved it. I only read the primary saga and a few books that followed, so I have not read the entirety of the (I believe) still growing series.

A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs is the start of the John Carter of Mars series. I read the initial trilogy after seeing the 2012 movie that I enjoyed despite it being considered a failure. The movie doubled as a celebration of 100 years since the first book was published. It also was the only reason I learned about the books. There are 11 in total and I read book four and part of five but failed to remain interested at the time. Overall, it is a great, earlier scifi series that influenced much of the scifi that became popular later on.

On Writing is a much loved book about the craft of writing, but it also gives an autobiographical insight into Stephen King. I haven’t read this one in a while, so I may need to return to it and read it with more experienced eyes. I will likely enjoy it that much more.

The Queen’s Gambit is a more recent read. Written by Walter Tevis and turned into a mini-series by Netflix (how I first discovered it), I thoroughly enjoyed this book and it was adapted extremely well.

The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan is the only series I wrote a corresponding series of posts about. I essentially wrote about each book as I read it, all 15 in the series, and discussed what surprised me and what I predicted would come next. It is a great series for fans of fantasy. I did give two of the 15 books five stars.

The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. I’ve been a huge fan of this series since I first read these books when I was quite young. I’ve only read the series two or three times and it has been a long time since my last readthrough. I’ve been meaning to re-read it.

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden. I read this well after the big craze when the movie came out. I picked it up at the annual book sale of our local library. It was surprisingly good. I have yet to see the movie though.

Our Story Begins is a collection of short stories by Tobias Wolff whom I admire as a writer. He is able to create such intimately human moments in his stories that exemplifies the art itself.

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. This book I first discovered by the trailer for the movie. The trailer intrigued me so I read the book which allowed me to better understand and appreciate the movie when it came out. A lot of people were confused by the movie which is understandable given how it intertwines several storylines across a vast timeline. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The Little Prince by Antione de Saint-Exupery is a fantastic little book that I came to as an adult. I’m curious if I would have loved it as a child but I think I appreciate it more as an adult.

The Name of the Wind is the first book of The Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and the sequel A Wise Man’s Fear. The third, and I believe final, book of the series is rumored to be released this year. Pat read the prologue of The Doors of Stone for a charity event earlier this year so it may very well be released later this year or early next year. I also gave the peripheral novella five stars as well. Titled A Slow Regard for Silent Things, the novella is a week in the life of the character Auri from the series. I think this may be the only series that has five stars from me for each book (the three mentioned here).

Harry Potter is a series I grew up with and have enjoyed for a long time. I haven’t read the series in quite some time, but ironically my least favorite book when I was younger turned out to be one of my favorite movie in the series. This series was one that I can vividly remember getting the next book the day it released. I gave a few books in this series five stars.

The Stranger by Albert Camus was a novel I read in college and enjoyed more than I thought I would. It was my first reading of Camus. I need to read more of his work but have only read one other book, The Myth of Sisyphus. 

Dune by Frank Herbert has become a favorite of mine. I have only read this first book in the series but I loved it as a standalone novel. The recent film adaptation was great and I look forward to “Part 2” which I think is releasing next year.

Triple Zero by Karen Traviss is the second book of the Republic Commando series of the Star Wars universe. I read a lot of Star Wars books when I was younger and this series was my favorite. There was a Republic Commando video game I also really liked. The story focuses on a few squads of clone commandos and delves into what these clones lives were like. They were mentally 10 years old in 20-year-old bodies and created to fight a galactic war. There is a lot of cool things in this series aside from it being part of the Star Wars universe.

Catching Fire is the second book in The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins. I enjoyed this trilogy and the second book was my favorite.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline is a great book. The film adaptation was great and understandably changed quite a bit of the story while keeping the overall main story thread the same. I read Ready Player Two when it was released and enjoyed it also, but not as much as this first book.

Fullmetal Alchemist is a manga series by Hiromu Arakawa. I first encountered this series as the anime adaptation and was swept up into the lives of the Elric brothers. I read the series this year and the “redo” of the anime series, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, is a faithful adaptation to the series and is fantastic. This story is incredible overall and will always get five stars from me.

The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins was a happy surprise for me when I read it last year. I consider this book a hidden treasure since I haven’t come across many people discussing it.

Norse Mythology with this being Neil Gaiman’s retelling of several Norse myths. I am a fan of mythologies and the Norse myths are my favorite. It is an added bonus that Neil wrote a version and narrated it himself. Definitely worth a listen/read.

Tokyo Ghoul by Sui Ishida is a manga series I first encountered via the anime adaptation as well. There is a lot I enjoyed in the series that was omitted in the adaptation and overall I have a fascination with the series despite some shortcomings. It almost didn’t make this list but it is one of those series that is greater than the sum of its parts.

Network Effect is a novel that is part of The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells. I enjoy this series immensely for many reasons. This novel ironically is a “side quest” of the series which is currently comprised of five novellas. Murderbot is a great character and the universe they inhabit is both chilling yet hopeful for humans.

Art Matters is a little book by Neil Gaiman illustrated by Chris Riddell. This little book is a great, quick read about why art is important and that we should “make good art” if we feel so inclined. I recommend giving this a read (should only take an hour at the most) just to get the message and inspiration that pours from this tiny volume.

That is my list of books I’ve given five stars to as of this date. Many I have not read in some time but I think I would still enjoy them if/when I give them a re-read. Perhaps some of these may become favorites of yours if they aren’t already. Perhaps you disliked several on this list that I enjoyed which is absolutely valid as reading is subjective. Regardless, I hope you find something fun to read.

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

Player Piano

Player PianoAgain I return to Vonnegut and am now recommending his first novel Player Piano. I was pleasantly surprised with this one. This is an incredible debut novel first published in 1952, making it now 70 years old this year. The story follows engineer Dr. Paul Proteus through a world that is near full-automation. Machines run practically everything and only a handful of engineers are needed to maintain the system alongside a group of managers. These managers and engineers believe themselves to be the elite while all others are employed by the government via joining the Army or by joining an organization called the Reconstruction and Reclamation Corps playfully called the Reeks and Wrecks.

Being 70 years old, and Vonnegut himself passing away in 2007 mere months before the first iPhone was released, there was no way this novel could have predicted the development of the technology we know today. However, it does imagine a highly technical, although mechanic, world where humans are quickly replaced by machines to complete their work which leaves them few options and little excitement or pride in their lives. Everything is studied/surveyed en masse prior to anything being produced so everyone gets pre-fabricated houses with the same appliances and all entertainment is generalized and must fit pre-determined guidelines.

People take exams when they graduate/reach adulthood and are given a score that prescribes their future. The score, highly focused on IQ level, essentially tells them they can go to college to be an engineer or will have to choose either the Army or Reeks and Wrecks. Their IQ is public record and cannot be changed. Any discussion of anti-automation is considered treason. The word “saboteur” holds a special meaning and is considered the worst offense.

There is a lot packed into this one novel and it still speaks to much of what society grapples with today. Though machines may not be as prevalent, we have computers that can replace what were once people-operated jobs. The surveying of the public is now market research and we all have experienced the dreadful targeted ads. The Reeks and Wrecks would be considered Socialism and railed against politically, and many people are working multiple jobs for demeaning wages. This book was written at a time when the nation’s wealth was more equally distributed, so it is hard to imagine what Vonnegut would have had to say about the number of billionaires today who pay their frontline workers so little they need to utilize food stamps. But that is a rant for another day.

I think this novel holds up quite well now 70 years later. In fact, it may be one of Vonnegut’s best novels though it doesn’t get discussed as much as Slaughterhouse Five, Sirens of Titan, or Cat’s Cradle. Vonnegut focused much of his work on societal observations and problems people faced or society faced as a whole. Player Piano seems to be the most direct that I’ve read yet. There are more I still need to read, and I will get to them eventually.

Happy Reading.