Books Read: Quarter 1, 2014

These aren’t all the books I read over the last three months, just the ones that I found most interesting or thought-provoking. Click the covers for full reviews.

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Le Guin’s hypothesis…

Ursula K. Le Guin on the false dichotomy between genre fiction and literary fiction and the endless, meaningless debate over which is better to read: Le Guin’s Hypothesis | Book View Cafe Blog.

If you’re one of those people who never reads genre fiction, you should read Ursula K. Le Guin. She is a better writer than almost anyone I can think of in either realm.

Accidentally reading about reptiles…

srpsnakeI realized with the first two reads of the year, I have an accidental theme going on: reptiles in my fiction! With Swamplandia! it was alligators; then there is a snake in The Burn Palace. Our upcoming book club read is set in Texas, so I wonder if a lizard will figure into the plot.

That got me wondering how many of my past reads featured reptiles, so I did a quick search. Snakes are by far the most common reptiles to show up in my book reviews and summaries. Going back in time, I see there were significant snake scenes in:

As for alligators and crocodiles, there is only Swamplandia! that I can recall. There may have been a crocodile in The Poisonwood Bible.

There are quite significant cosmic turtles in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, from which I’ve read Small Gods, and in It and The Dark Tower series by Stephen King. As for actual turtles, they don’t seem as common, although the Mock Turtle in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland certainly comes to mind.

I also can’t seem to find any books I’ve read with lizards in them, although there are dinosaurs of course in Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton and The Lost World by Arthur Conan Doyle.

Would you be more or less likely to read a book with a snake in it? I’d rather meet one in fiction than in real life, that’s for sure!

Here’s a list of fictional reptiles from Wikipedia and a list of Reptiles in Fiction on LibraryThing, if you’d like to seek out even more reptiles in your fiction.

Reading night…

Last night, my husband and I instituted reading night. We didn’t turn on the TV, and instead read and listened to music during that time. I was worried I would be tired or sleepy to spend the entire evening reading, but I actually enjoyed it. I went to bed relaxed, and I made a good dent in the book I’m reading. It’s easy to get in a rut and just turn on the TV every night. I hope we’re able to keep up reading night, and maybe we’ll also add a game night to the week.

Reading is super.

Thoughts on The Circle…

The Circle coverThe last book I finished reading in 2013 was The Circle by Dave Eggers. The title refers to a fictional company that is quite obviously an amalgam of Google and Facebook. The book is a dystopian view of a near-future, a nightmarish outcome of current trends like living our lives via social networks, and the resulting monetization of our every share, the loss of privacy, and ultimately, loss of freedom.

While Eggers’ symbolism becomes quite heavy-handed, this is a chilling, sinister book that made me immediately want to disconnect my Facebook account. It was also an exciting book to read, because it depicts the world we are living in right now. This book may quickly become dated, but right now, it feels very current. The issues that it raises are issues we should all be thinking about and debating, and the point The Circle makes is that people have a tendency to accept what is new and exciting and convenient without really questioning the unintended consequences.

At its essence, I think The Circle is about indoctrination into a cult, how people can easily be persuaded that giving up fundamental freedoms is actually a good and necessary thing. Except in this case, the cult is global.

I’m not going to call The Circle great literature. But I think it is a thought-provoking read.

Here’s an excerpt from the book published in the New York Times Magazine.

Writers do make a difference…

This is such a moving essay: Stephen King: An Unlikely Lifeline In Turbulent Waters | Tor.com. Even if you are predisposed not to like Stephen King, he is undeniably an author who tells the truth. And an author who tells the truth is an author who can make a difference, especially in the lives of young readers.

I also discovered Stephen King when I was a pre-teen reader, and I have always strongly connected with his books. It’s not the horror and gore that draw me, but the characters, who always seem like very real people, and how they react when the uncontrollable and unfathomable occur in their lives. King shows his readers the horrors of the world and the horrors that live deep in the souls of our fellow humans, but he also shows us what humanity can strive to be.

Currently reading Doctor Sleep.

Scientists recommend Chekhov…

Portrait of Anton Pavlovich Chekhov

Portrait of Anton Pavlovich Chekhov (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is very interesting research. The study found that even reading a few minutes of literary fiction results in a tangible increase in empathy, as compared with popular fiction. Read: For Better Social Skills, Scientists Recommend a Little Chekhov – NYTimes.com.

How To Talk About Books You Haven’t Read

“Non-reading is not just the absence of reading. It is a genuine activity, one that consists of adopting a stance in relation to the immense tide of books that protects you from drowning. On that basis, it deserves to be defended and even taught.”

How To Talk About Books You Havent Read on Brain Pickings is a great piece that helped crystallize some ideas that had been swirling around in my brain. I spend a lot of time thinking about what I will read, what I will read next and whether I should continue reading what I am reading now. My reading time is limited, and I want to spend it in the best way possible for me. Since I’ve become so conscious of what I read, I have consistently read books that I have enjoyed more and that have made me think more.

There is that tinge of guilt that comes with not reading something, especially if it is a deliberate choice. I really ought to read ______ (fill in the blank with important literary work here). Well, this post banished all those guilty feelings. I can read, not read, skim, give up, just read the review in the NYT, as I choose, because it all becomes part of my collective library. Even the books that I don’t read have meaning to me.

The post even provides a system of categorization of unread books: unknown, skimmed, heard about, forgotten. Those books too may be weighted on a scale from an extremely positive opinion to extremely negative. I immediately put this rating scale into practice when going through my library and trying to decide what to read or reread next. A forgotten book associated with an extremely positive feeling got put on my “to read” shelf, while one with a negative or even neutral opinion was placed in the donate pile, as I knew I wouldn’t want to reread it.

I realize that not everyone delves so deeply into their reading life as to categorize books they haven’t even read yet, but it is a comfort to know that I am not the only one to do so. Indeed, there is a whole book dedicated to the subject. To be truthful, I probably won’t read that book, since this summary on Brain Pickings gave me all the food for thought I needed.

Some quotes about books from books…

“A mind needs books as a sword needs a whetstone, if it is to keep its edge.” – A Game of Thrones, George R.R. Martin

“Sleep is good,” he said. “And books are better.” – A Clash of Kings, George R.R. Martin

“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies …. The man who never reads lives only one.” – A Dance with Dragons, George R.R. Martin

“It’s all that reading that does it, Dietrich. It takes a man out of the world and pushes him inside his own head, and there is nothing there but spooks.” – Eifelheim, Michael Flynn

“My gripe is not with lovers of the truth but with truth herself. What succor, what consolation is there in truth, compared to a story? What good is truth, at midnight, in the dark, when the wind is roaring like a bear in the chimney? What you need are the plump comforts of a story. The soothing, rocking safety of a lie.” – The Thirteenth Tale, Diane Setterfield

Fiction allows us to slide into these other heads, these other places, and look out through other eyes. And then in the tale we stop before we die, or we die vicariously and unharmed, and in the world beyond the tale we turn the page or close the book, and we resume our lives. – American Gods, Neil Gaiman

“What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn’t happen much, though.” – The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger

“Books were only one type of receptacle where we stored a lot of things we were afraid we might forget. There is nothing magical in them at all. The magic is only in what books say, how they stitched the patches of the universe together into one garment for us.” – Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury

“The best books… are those that tell you what you know already.” – 1984, George Orwell