Dear 100 Hour Board,
What is a book you've read in the last year that you would recommend to others?
- Katya (Hooray! It's alumni week!)
- Till We Have Faces
- Watership Down
- Night Circus
I need to lobby the medical community to verify my very specific form of amnesia where I read a book and then instantly forget everything about that book the second anyone asks me for a book recommendation. Have I read books? Yes. Are most of them a hazy mystery to me? Also yes. Here's what I can say, however:
My number one recommendation is I Contain Multitudes by my number one favorite science writer Ed Yong. It's about microbes, their interactions with each other, where they live (spoiler: literally everywhere), how they could be changing and impacting health and development and society and how fantastic they are. There are lots and lots of overblown, highly dubious discussions about the microbiome right now but Ed Yong does an excellent job going to the sources and scientists and humanizing it all in a fun, exciting way. This is a must-read (and if it matters to you, Bill Gates agrees).
Another great one is the (comic-ish) book Brief Histories of Everyday Objects by artist Andy Warner. The title is pretty self-explanatory, but he takes everyday objects (like, in this example which is in the book, the ballpoint pen) and talks about how it came about. His commentary and illustrations are the best part and it's fascinating and wonderful.
- Rating Pending (who could go on but, no he actually can't. He has . . . let's call it . . . oh, how about libronesia)
Dear Katya ~
You asked for one, but gave me permission for multiple. So I'm checking out my Goodreads for all of the books that I've given 4+ stars to since last April:
- The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer (Disclaimer: I've only read the first two, but I love them so far, and the narrator on Audible is fantastic.)
- Hot Cocoa Hearts by Suzanne Nelson (Disclaimer: This is totally a teenage love story that is all feel goods and totally cheesy.)
- Sage and the Journey to Wishworld by Shana Muldoon Zappa (Children's book, but I love the way it describes wishes to my kids)
- The Prisoner of Cell 25 by Richard Paul Evans (I finally started the Michael Vey series. I surprisingly liked it a lot.)
- The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo (It motivated me to take hundreds of dollars of stuff to DI, and it didn't even make a dent in my house.)
- Persuasion by Jane Austen
- Deception's Princess #1 and 2 by Esther M. Friesner (Can she finish the series please? I have to know what happens!)
- A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith (one of the few 5 stars)
- Wandmaker by Ed Massesa
- One Second After (by William R. Forstchen)
- Alcatraz by Brandon Sanderson (the whole series. But... maybe wait a few years, if you haven't started it yet)
- Secrets at Sea by Richard Peck (for kids)
- Stoneheart by Charlie Fletcher (But not good enough to send me after the sequels yet...)
- Wonder by R.J. Palacio
- The Kingkiller Chronicle by Patrick Rothfuss (I... partially recommend it. Depending on the person)
- With Every Letter by Sarah Sundin (good historical romance with a Shop Around the Corner theme)
~ Dragon Lady
As you know, I recently finished reading Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries by Kory Stamper. It's part memoir, part training manual, part history and all delightful. If you're a budding amateur lexicographer like me, this book is practically perfect. If you're a general lover of words and language, you will probably find it merely wonderful.
If I didn't have so much else going on this week, I'd set a goal to finish Matthew Desmond's Evicted in the next 100 hours so I could recommend it. It's a grueling and personal look at the way evictions and substandard housing both cause and are caused by poverty, and honestly I've been putting it off partly because I don't know if I can stomach it while I'm still in school and frustrated by my inability to actually do anything about the problem. From what I've read so far, it's written with quite a bit of empathy to both tenants and landlords - there are no Good Guys and Bad Guys, and it doesn't sound like there's a silver bullet solution either. But my professors (and the world at large, including this year's Pulitzer committee) seem to love it, and I hear it actually gets hopeful towards the end, so I fully intend to read it this summer and I hope some of you will join me!*
Also, I read Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass as part of my observance of Black History Month this year. He's an example of somebody who's done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more, I notice.
*But seriously, if anyone wants to read the book with me over the summer, shoot me an email at the address in my Board profile. I still try to check it at least once a week, and I could use the help to quit procrastinating.
Please, please, please listen to the audiobook version of Off to Be the Wizard by Scott Meyer, narrated by Luke Daniels. You have to listen to it, you cannot read it. It's simply not the same.
It's very nerdy/geeky and has a lot of said culture inside jokes. (So, if that's not your thing, you might hate it. Sorry, Maven.) I am astounded that this book is not more popular amongst Board writers (specifically looking at you, Hobbes) because it is hilarious. I've found a lot of the more popular fantasy writers (Sanderson, Roberts, Tolkien, Rothfuss, Martin, Lewis, etc.) get recommended over and over again. No offense, they're all great writers, but I've read all of their books (okay, most) and I'm always on the lookout for something new and fresh.
Off to Be the Wizard is new and fresh and since my recommendation from last year clearly did not catch on (except for Mico, thanks! But that was more from Goodreads...), I'm giving it another blazing recommendation. It's hilarious. In fact, all of Scott Meyer's books are hilarious- you should listen to all of them! And Luke Daniels is one of the best narrators out there. Ever.
Now, go forth and listen.
A Grief Observed is devastatingly beautiful, especially if you've previously read a lot of C.S. Lewis and are familiar with his life.
I recently read a collection of narrative essays and re-told myths called Don't Come Back by Lina Maria Ferreira Cabeza-Vanegas, and it's probably the most gripping and enthralling work of non-fiction I've ever come across (I mean technically the myths are fiction but they are very small).
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller is so classic now that you've probably already read it, but if you haven't, you definitely should. It's become one of those books that I sit and think about for long periods of time every couple of weeks or so.
If we're counting graphic novels as books (which I think we should), then I'll also put in a plug for Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi and Feynman by Jim Ottaviani and Leland Myrick.
The Story of Beautiful Girl by Rachel Simon
The Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler
Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson
I Wish My Teacher Knew by Kyle Schwartz
The Children of Húrin by J. R. R. Tolkein
The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson
Here are some books I've really enjoyed that I haven't recommended on the Board before:
- The Partials Sequence by Dan Wells – Post-apocalyptic robots vs. humans sci-fi. It's young adult, so nothing too heavy or technical.
- The Shades of Magic trilogy by V. E. Schwab – Do you like magic, thieves/wanna-be-pirates, parallel worlds, and witty banter? You should read this. Be aware that this is a dark, gritty, language-filled series.
- Vicious by V. E. Schwab – This book is about people with superpowers and the dark side of human nature that justifies atrocities in the name of morality. This is a violent, dark, not-really-happy book, but I loved it.
- Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty – Yes, the book the HBO series was based on (which I haven't seen). This one is a murder mystery/social commentary that will probably be best enjoyed by women with young children. It has content some would find objectionable, but nothing too graphic (abuse, a rape, bullying, some language).
- A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman – It's a cute and moving book about a grumpy, depressed old Swedish man whose attempts at suicide keep getting interrupted by the neighbors. Yes, I know that sounds weird, but give it a chance.
I'm halfway through the last book in a trilogy of novels by Cixin Liu: Three Body Problem, Dark Forest, and Death's End, which are blowing my ever-loving mind.
First off, Cixin is a Chinese national and the books are translated from their original Mandarin. It's fascinating to view the world through the mind of a Chinese citizen and the translator adds footnotes to explain cultural references that would go right over the heads of non-Chinese readers.
Second, the scope and vision of this novel is enormous. Cixin takes on a story and time frame that is staggeringly large, but he does it in such an graceful way that the story doesn't feel contrived or unrealistic. Characters and their decisions feel realstically human despite a series of long-shot premises.
Lastly, Cixin gives insight into the fundamental idea of what it means to be human in a story whose basic premise I can't even begin to explain without ruining the effect of the story on a new reader other than to say that it's in the science fiction genre. I really can't say anything more about it in good conscience, but look me up if you read through it. I'm dying to talk to someone about it, but no one I know has read it and reddit isn't doing it for me.
The Man with a Mustache
O Heavenly Patron, in whose name we glory,
I've been making my way through Walden, which is a book that lots of people talk about but, to our great loss, few ever read. As John Updike says, "A century and a half after its publication, Walden has become such a totem of the back-to-nature, preservationist, anti-business, civil-disobedience mindset, and Thoreau so vivid a protester, so perfect a crank and hermit saint, that the book risks being as revered and unread as the Bible."
Just last night I finished reading The Handmaid's Tale. On a lot of "classic" lists, but nobody's read all of the potential classics.
Anyway, it was horrifying and unsettling and educational and I'm pretty sure I'm going to be thinking about it for a very very long time. And it was free on Kindle for Amazon Prime users!
- The Sabriel series, by Garth Nix
- The Leviathan series, by Scott Westerfield
- Good Omens, by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
- The Hobbit, by J. R. R. Tolkien. It's shameful I hadn't read this before, but I just didn't find it interesting in 7th grade. But it's a great story.
- The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman. Inverse Insomniac agrees that this is SOOOOO GOOD.
I recently finished reading The All-Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion by Fannie Flagg. I'd read Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe because I'm a huge fan of the movie, but I'd never heard of any of her other books until I read TAGFSLR for book club, and now I'm hooked. Any description I give won't do it justice, just read it.
I also recommend The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion. It's about a professor who has Asperger's (but doesn't know he has Asperger's) who is trying to find a wife, but instead gets sidetracked when he befriends a young woman trying to figure out who her biological father is. There are antics. And DNA samples acquired by sketchy means. I loved every minute of it. Say the word and I'll mail you a copy.
You've already seen my list of favorites for 2016, so why don't I just give you some spoilers for a 2017 list?
(And, as usual, I'm on a reading tear, so I've already got plenty to choose from.)
The Association of Small Bombs, by Karan Mahajan
The Sport of Kings, by CE Morgan
A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam, by Neil Sheehan. (I'm reading my way through all the winners of the Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction, and this has been a highlight so far.)
1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, by Charles Mann
In the Darkroom, by Susan Faludi
Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right, by Arlie Russell Hochschild
Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy, by Cathy O'Neil
Dear Non Economist
Religious Literacy by Stephen Prothero. The author notes that Americans are highly religious, but utterly ignorant on the topic-both on their religion and on other world religions. He explains how we got there and his hopes for remedying that.
Why Liberals Win the Culture Wars, by Stephen Prothero. I found this one particularly fascinating. He treats five episodes of liberal vs. conservative fighting in US History, with one of them being anti-Mormons (conservative) vs Mormons (liberal). I learned a lot about culture war rhetoric through history, but what especially intrigued me was his well documented assertion that our modern culture wars were kickstarted by attempts to actually enforce Brown v Board. Prothero shows how all the anti-abortion/drug/welfare rhetoric got underway only after the Carter administration went after the tax-exempt status of all-white schools in the South. This all tied very nicely into another book I just finished, which is
The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander. Makes a compelling case that the War on Drugs is how black people are controlled in a society that is officially colorblind. Police devote an inordinate amount of their resources to looking for drugs in the ghetto, while ignoring rampant and well known drug use among whites (college campuses, anyone? (other than BYU, of course)). Non-violent marijuana possession is class D felony, which means you can lose your right to vote over carrying a small amount of pot.
Tribe by Sebastian Junger. Talks about the societal forces that help people bind together. The author was particularly interested in applying this to veterans coming back into society, I was much more intrigued by the implications for society at large. He noted that in the absence of a common enemy, people start to turn on each other, whereas if there is a persistent external threat, people feel inherently closer to their neighbors. I speculate that this may be part of why our politics are so partisan today--we haven't had an external enemy (USSR, Nazi Germany, etc) for so long, we have turned on each other.
Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow. Read the book that inspired the musical! It's great. I found myself in literal tears as I read Hamilton's dying moments. My wife, on the other hand, found herself quite irritated with the man, because his death (and his son's) were so utterly pointless and unnecessary. Interesting fact: the death of Hamilton's son Phillip in a duel caused one of Phillip's sisters to suffer a mental breakdown that she never fully recovered from. For the rest of her life, she acted as though the world hadn't changed from that moment.
That's a start!
I really enjoyed City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg. At 900+ pages it's definitely an investment, but it was a fascinating read.
Girls to the Front: The True Story of the RIOT GRRRL by Sara Marcus.