Fullmetal Alchemist

Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood coverIt has been over a month since my last recommendation. This is partly due to my reading slump and other demands on my time, but today I am recommending a story that is one I consider top-tier. This is the manga series Fullmetal Alchemist by Hiromu Arakawa. I first discovered this story via the anime adaptation which has two versions (which I will discuss shortly), but first let’s begin with a quick blurb to see if this is the type of story you are interested in.

“In an alchemical ritual gone wrong, Edward Elric lost his arm and leg, and his brother Alphonse became nothing but a soul in a suit of armor. Their journey to restore their bodies through the power of the Philosopher’s Stone begins here.”

That was taken from the back of volume one of the deluxe edition. There are 18 volumes included in the deluxe edition and 27 in the original version (the deluxe editions combine the 27 into 18 hardcover volumes).

I hope this caught your interest, because as I stated above, this story is incredible. The Elric brothers are alchemists. Alchemy, for a simple explanation, could be equated to magic. The entire system centers on the Law of Equivalent Exchange. For example, by using the right alchemical formula, an alchemist could change water into hydrogen by removing the oxygen. The correct materials are present. They can change the chemical and/or physical makeup of things with alchemy but only if the materials are present. Alchemy cannot therefore create something from nothing. Except perhaps with the Philosopher’s Stone.

Though I recently read the manga series for the first time, I did watch the 2003 adaptation Fullmetal Alchemist and the 2009 adaptation titled Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. The reason two versions exist isn’t simply that the latter is a remake. The first was adapted while the manga was still being written and the show went on past the published material and thus took creative liberties to conclude the series resulting is quite a few differences from the source material. The 2009 adaptation is more accurate as the series had been completed and it therefore stayed true to the source material. This is perhaps why I believe it to be the better version.

What I like about this series is the blend of comedy, drama, ethics, morality, and the questions of what it means to be human and what is the value of a human life. It covers topics such as genocide, so this series does delve into some heavy areas and there are some impactful moments, one of which stands out as a forever “too soon” reference within the fandom. If you’ve read or watched this series, then you likely know what I am referring to.

The series is rich with interesting characters both good and bad. I would even dare to call it timeless due to the nature of the worldbuilding and the fact it centers on those questions that humanity will always be considering despite the fact no concrete answer will ever be possible.

If you’ve never heard of this series, then I hope you look into it either by reading or watching. I of course recommend print format but also the 2009 adaptation if you want to watch it. Both versions are currently available on Netflix. In the spirit of Equivalent Exchange. I thank you for reading my post and I hope you got something from it that you find as valuable as the time spent reading it.

Happy Reading.

Kokoro

Kokoro book coverKokoro by Natsume Soseki was first written in 1914 but it reads as a timeless story albeit tied to a defining era. Published two years before Soseki’s death, this book is threaded with seemingly autobiographical content if you were to explore Soseki’s own life. However, despite the connections that can be easily made, I often think it best to keep the author separate and let the text stand on its own.

That being said, I believe Kokoro is a good book for multiple reasons. The first and foremost being that the story is relatively short but overall is contemplative of life itself. The title roughly translates to, or is meant to mean, “the heart of things” and the story arguably centers around interpersonal interaction, the meaning of life in relation to those around us and those of different generations, the meaning of friendship, of love, and many other aspects of humanity as both singular and as a whole. Thus the title seems very fitting. How can all this be present in one novel, you may ask? Well, a book is simply an independent link between a writer and a reader. The reader brings their own experiences and history to a book. Once the book is out in the world, it no longer changes and the writer’s initial intentions may or may not remain as the text survives them. In other words, the writer is both of the utmost importance to the book but is also immaterial once it takes on a life of its own.

Which brings me to the second thing I enjoyed about this book. Since it was written over one hundred years ago, the book acts as a time-capsule into the past. Not the same as a history book. This story is fiction. Though I said earlier that it reads mostly as a modern novel, partly in thanks to the translation by Edwin McClellan, it is set in Japan in or around 1914 and therefore reflects the era in which it was written. Reading a story that had no concept of our modern day technology can help put our own era into perspective. For example, there are no telephones present in this story because they were not commonly available at that time. Letters were the main form of communication and therefore meant news would take days to reach someone. Something we can readily forget when we are connected or available at a moment’s notice every second of the day. Reading a story where there is no immediate connection or ability to access information at the touch of a screen can be relaxing. If I’m honest, it is a good reminder that we don’t have to be connected at all times and that we should take time away from the screen. Either to contemplate why they exist or to forget them entirely. Another reason to enjoy physical books.

Seeing the world through another lens is often a good thing. It lends perspective and can help a reader learn more about the world we live in or more about themselves and their place in the world. This book I think does both. Which is why I am recommending it. It definitely is a book that you can take a lot away from, but at the same time only if you open yourself to the story. Each person may experience the story quite differently and take away different perspectives. You may read the book and find it boring or insightful. You may not finish it or it may be the best book you read this year. My only hope is that you are at least intrigued enough to consider reading it, especially if you had never heard of the book or this author before now.

Happy Reading.

Start of the Year Reading List

Well, it’s a new year and we are already a few weeks into it. Unfortunately, I spent the first week or so sick and recovering which gave me plenty of time to think about what I want to get accomplished this year. I am maintaining my 50 books per year reading challenge and have already finished three books so far which is a pretty good start. I am technically halfway through two books as well but I will talk about those in a bit.

I plan on getting some writing done this year (finally) as I was unofficially on a writing hiatus as I worked on my MBA. Now that the degree is finished, no more excuses. I’m really excited to attend a convention later this year which I have already registered for. It will be my first time attending WorldCon and I hope that the world is in a much better place and events like this stop being cancelled, postponed, and we are free and clear to actually spend time in groups. I would hate to cancel yet another outing, but safety first especially now that I have a little one that is always on my mind.

But this post is about a reading list for the beginning of the year. So far, I have read We Watch You by N.S. Ford which was a great mystery/thriller. I just finished Negotiating with the Dead by Margaret Atwood where she talks about the craft of writing and more. I am halfway through Blindness by Jose Saramago. I have to admit that this is the first time I’ve deliberately put a book down and taken time away from reading it. There was a scene that was really disturbing. I’ve not finished books before due to lack of interest or put it away to try again another time. This book I do plan on finishing but had to take time away because the disturbing scene in question just put me in a bad state and I needed to give myself time to recover before going back to it. The book is interesting and I think is good overall, and I may end up writing a recommendation for it if that turns out to be true.

The other book I’m technically halfway through is the Sandman comic series which I purchased last year in the Omnibus editions. There are three volumes, approximately 1000 pages each, that contain all the Sandman comics and extras. I am halfway through the second omnibus volume and will get back around to finishing the series. I think I paused this one because I came to the end of a story arc and life got busy and all that jazz. I compare it as the equivalent of pausing a show at the end of a season with the full intention of finishing the series. It was a good stopping point, but I plan to restart soon.

Pity The Reader CoverWith all that out of the way, I will now get to the few books I aim to read in the next few months. I just started Pity the Reader by Suzanne McConnell & Kurt Vonnegut. This book is primarily Kurt Vonnegut’s discussion of the craft of writing and more, but it was compiled and written by Suzanne McConnell who was a student, peer, and lifelong friend of Vonnegut’s. I look forward to digging into this one.

Kokoro book coverNext, I plan to read Kokoro by Natsume Soseki. I came across this book randomly and it caught my attention. It was first published in 1914, two years before Soseki passed away. Kokoro translates roughly to mean “the heart of things” and this book, at about 180 pages and told in three parts, is supposedly his most popular work. I had never heard of Soseki before stumbling across this book but I may explore more of his work if I enjoy this one.

Rendezvous with Rama book cover folio society editionI also want to read Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke. The only book of Clarke’s that I’ve read so far is 2001: A Space Odyssey and this one came on my radar when it was announced it would be adapted into a film by director Denis Villeneuve who directed the recent adaptation of Dune which I enjoyed. I’ve been meaning to read more of Clarke’s work and now this will prepare me for the film as well whenever it comes out.

So these three are what I aim to read in the next several weeks (I’ll probably finish Blindness as well). Of course life continues to be busy and trying to navigate our crazy world can distract from enjoying our hobbies. I hope you find some time for reading or whatever you enjoy doing. If you can’t find time, then make some time. You’ll likely thank yourself later for doing so.

Happy Reading.

We Watch You

We Watch You by NS Ford BannerMysteries within mysteries is what we get with N.S. Ford’s debut novel We Watch You. Everything is not quite what it seems in the small town of Becksley, and the strings begin to unravel when a woman disappears and her three best friends become targets.

The story is primarily told through the eyes of Lauren, one of the three best friends, as she tries to make sense of all that is happening and discover the truth behind the incidents that are more than mere accidents. All while trying to keep a secret of her own. A secret she believes is the reason her friend Tina is missing.

We Watch You is a page turner that has you wanting to know what happened, what is happening, and what will happen next.

It’s hard to talk about mysteries without potentially giving something away, so I’ll just leave you with this: It is always a great feeling to start out the new year with a good book.

Happy Reading.

Ryan’s Favorite Reads of 2021

2021 has been an interesting year for reading. I have been extremely busy which cut into my reading time, but you always have to make time for the things you enjoy and which help you recharge your batteries. I can still proudly say I met and passed my goal of 50 books per year. Here are my reading highlights for this past year.

Library at Mount Char book coverThe Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins

This one may be my favorite of the year and I definitely consider it a hidden gem. I’m just glad I jot the name down when I first heard of it. It is a difficult story to explain simply but it is a mystery riddled with science fiction and fantasy elements that leave you wondering at the true nature of the universe. I absolutely loved it.

Tokyo Ghoul Monster Edition Volume 1 CoverTokyo Ghoul by Sui Ishida

I was a fan of the show and I must admit the manga series is better (as is typically the case). I say this primarily because the show deviates from or does not include some critical information that would have made it that much better. Overall, this story is one that captures my interest so much I was tempted to write a few essays about the juxtaposition of ghouls and humans living in the same world. To put this one in an easier frame of reference, I would almost name it as a modern day classic of horror in the same vein as Dracula. I’m not even a horror fan but I love this series.

The Queen's Gambit Netflix BannerThe Queen’s Gambit by Walter Tevis

I read this one earlier this year after watching the Netflix adaptation. The show does a really great job of following the story in the book, and I greatly enjoyed the show. You can likely skip the book (sounds blasphemous, I know) if you have seen the show because it follows the story that well.

The Parable of the Sower book coverThe Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler

I read this one way back at the beginning of the year. I wanted to read something by Octavia Butler and this did not disappoint. I still want to read more of her work but it will be after I get through a few other books. This one takes place during the decline of civilization, which basically on the brink of entering a post-apocalyptic territory, so it does enter some darker territory. The writing and overall story is incredible though.

MythosMythos by Stephen Fry

Greek mythology is one of–if not–the most popular of world mythologies, and Stephen Fry does an excellent job with his retelling of these myths. He takes things from the very beginning and through to the more well-known stories. He reads the audiobook version which made it even more enjoyable.

Castle in the Air Book CoverCastle in the Air by Diana Wynne Jones

You an never go wrong with Diana Wynne Jones. This was the companion novel to her other book Howl’s Moving Castle which is a favorite of mine, and this one (though not a sequel and barely tied to the first book) was a magical journey well worth the read.