I saw a friend of mine share a post of all the books he read in 2018. He did it to encourage himself to read more, and I thought it was a great idea! I’ve decided to do it now. Of course, all of my casual reading will be via audiobooks. I’m sure there are some of you who may not consider that actually reading. I really don’t care. I’ll save the reading for my research.
I really want to read at least 10 books. I’ve got a list of ~15 ready to tackle, but I often find my tastes change fairly quickly. Part of what keeps me from reading is that I listen to days worth of podcasting every month. I tend to alternate between podcast binging and audiobook binging, and sometimes a lot of music. My goal is to fit in a decent amount of books this year. Furthermore, my goals are to read more new books. There are a lot of books I love to reread. Harry Potter is the most common; I’m currently on book three again. While I read, I hope to make note of how I enjoyed (am enjoying it). I also really want to make sure I expose myself to a broad field of fun reads to books that make me think.
1. Firestarter by Stephen King – 1/29/19 – ★★★☆☆
Start late 2018
I begin the year reading Firestarter in December 2018. I read a lot of Stephen King, including most of his major hits. I decided to try Firestarter on a whim. I’m about 2/3rds of the way through. Its enjoyable but nothing exceptional. At first it had me excited, so much so that I decided to watch the film staring Drew Barrymore. The film follows the book pretty closesly. It was an old film, but fun. My problem moving forward is I don’t think the book adds anything special. Some books are great, even greater than the film or greater in a different way, but I don’t think this is one of those books. It really speaks to the mediocrity of the book. I want to finish it because 2/3rds is pretty far not to finish, but its more a job now than something I really enjoy.
I’ve finished the book. I enjoyed it. It did have more than the movie. I think it had more room to tell what was essentially the same ending in a more logical manner. That said, this was not exceptional. Stephen King has so many great book; if I was going to be suggesting one, it wouldn’t be this one. 3/5
2. The Time Travelers Wife by Audrey Niffenegger – 01/30/19 ★★★★☆
Start late 2018
Considering my feelings toward Firestarter, it may not be that hard to understand why I decided to start the next book and flip between the two to change it up while I finish the first. I’m about 1/3rd of the way through The Time Travelers Wife, and I’ve got a lot to say, and not a lot of it is good.
I’m a huge time travel fan. I’ll read or watch the shittiest of stories just because of my love for time travel. Still, I was hoping for better with this one. The story isn’t dull. I don’t mean to suggest that. It’s fun and enjoyable. Maybe thats why so many lists suggest its the best time travel story, or maybe its merely popular because of the film by the same name. I think a saw it a long time ago. I don’t remember much, so I’m sure I will rewatch it when done.
However, my problem with the book so far is how the author handles several issues in the book. Let’s start with the basic premise: a time traveler falls in love with a girl, who first meets him at the age of 6, and who he first meets at ~28. This sort of estranged love story makes for a nice fantasy, but the author tries to lend it with a level of realism that leaves it feeling more like Woody Allen marrying his adopted daughter. This girl knew him from when she was a child. I get there are problems with him being moved around time, but if he really wanted a relationship with her you don’t begin it with her as a young child. Its creepy, and the book just ignores this. Some may call it a necessary problem, but I already said the easy way of avoiding this is by living afar, not exposing yourself to her. Even then, there are problems here, but it is a fantasy love story after all.
I wish I could say the problem ends there, but I think that is just the first way in which the author decides to avoid addressing any serious topics in any serious manner in this book. When Henry, the main character, hits puberty, there is a scene in the book where he at two different stages of the age 15, briefly contemplate exploring their bodies before his dad walks in and then storms off. His father won’t speak to him for 3 weeks. He and his father never seem to discuss it or his sexuality, nor does Henry really delve very deeply into it himself. Just before his dad walks in, Henry is describing the scene to the reader when he makes it very clear, “I’m not gay!” On its own the scene feels somewhat minimal, but then there are multiple times where his sexuality comes into question. One man calls him a fag because he time traveled without clothes and so was nude. Henry processed to go ballistic, beating the guy to a bloody pulp and sending him to the hospital. The book moves on without addressing this obvious insecurity with his sexuality or the underlying anger issues this speaks to.
I can see so many people reading this (assuming people actually read this) and think I am just being too sensitive. Books are a way of addressing difficult topics, and great science fiction does by interlacing that discussion with a fun and unique idea. This is a unique idea, but the story is superficial and lacks any real depth. In the end, it is just another mediocre story.
UPDATE – 1/29/19
I’m enjoying the book. I can still recognize the antiquated ideas of the author seeping through. That aside, it is a fun book, and the author isn’t afraid to put her characters into pretty bad situations. I’m about 2/3 of the way through.
Finished – 1/30/19
I finished the book, quicker than I was expecting. The first thing I would like to say was that I enjoyed the ending. The story is essentially the life of Henry, told from different perspectives of his self and his wife. While he may be a time a traveler, the story stuck to a standard outline. That being said, I don’t think it is a spoiler to say the ending revolves around his ultimate death, and it is a depressing death. Things get dark towards the end. I really enjoy it when a writer isn’t afraid to touch darker tones.
I won’t say anything more about the ending, so as not to spoil it. Going into it, I felt it deserved maybe 3.5 stars, rounding down to 3. I’m inclined to round up now because of the ending. My biggest issue with that is how poorly the author handles the various issues I’ve mentioned. They are not obvious throughout the entire book, but they are pervasive. Even to the end, I noticed questionable actions without really addressing it. For instance, Henry and his wife are going through a rough patch. Henry (at age ~40) meets 15 year old wife and becomes unfairly mean towards are. He feels rightfully bad about it, and kisses her to make up for it. To which she says, “you’ve never kissed me before.” His response is over his own recklessness of forgetting and much less about the oh I’m 40 and kissing a 15 year old. Fact is she may become your wife (Mr. Woody Allen) but she’s a child with a child mind. That mind is warped to be enamored with a man more mature than her, but that isn’t consent. A similar problem arise on her 18th birthday, where they have sex, for her first time. His thoughts are of course on the legality of the situation.
I’m saying all this a couple days after finishing, so my thoughts are a bit muddled. Nevertheless, I can’t separate the problems I have with their entire relationship from how I perceive the book. It is a fun book, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I still cringed in a lot of places. Nevertheless, I rate it 3.5/5, rounding up.
End of January Update
I’m nearly done with The Time Traveler’s Wife, and I finished Firestarter. That puts me well on track to finish 10, but not quite the 15 I’m hoping for. I may need to find more times to listen. The problem is I listen to a lot of podcasts, and I don’t really want to stop. I listened to a bit of Harry Potter too (guilty pleasure); that’s something I’m trying not to do. I could listen to something new. Plus, Harry Potter is a slippery slope. A chapter turns into a book, turns into a rewatch of the entire series. It’s a tough one for sure :-p.
Religion and Science by Bertrand Russell – READING
This is a short read, but as I am reading via audiobooks, I may end up rewinding it quite a bit. I have very strong beliefs about religion and the nature of science and skepticism. My favorite book on the subject being The Demon Haunted World, by Carl Sagan. I’m excited to start Religion and Science.
The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North – READING
With the ending of one book, I am starting another. I have already explained my fixation with time travel, so maybe it is understandable why I would choose this as my next book. It was also nominated for a series of literary awards (e.g. Arthur C. Clarke Award).
Another reason that contributes to my decision to read this is that I became aware a couple years ago that I have a tendency to read more male authors than female (not including rereads of harry potter 😉 ). I would go on spending the next year only reading female authors to try counteract that bias. I ended up reading some of my all time favorite books (Kindred [another time travel story] and I know why the caged bird sings). I no longer restrict myself to that same rule. Although, I am acutely aware of this bias and try to overcome it. Let me be clear, this isn’t me saying equality demands I read both sexes equally. I do it because I might otherwise overlook an entire suite of potentially amazing books hitherto unknown to me.
I am about ~13% in, and I am enjoying it. It’s similar to ground hogs day. Another book I really enjoyed was Replay. It wasn’t an exception book, but it was a thrill to read. It told the story of a man who died, and woke up in his body ~25 years earlier. He gets to relive his life than he does it again. Another book this reminds me of is, Life after Death. I enjoyed that, but not as much. It was much more a story of a girl who lived through the world war (or one of them) who would die and start over, beginning to have vague recollections of her past life. I’m not a big fan of war stories, and I also love a book that leans in to the time travel. I think this book does that.
I came in expecting it to be a story of one life after the other. It’s not quite as direct in its storytelling which is interesting.
The Dry by Jane Harper – READING
This is a thriller novel set in Australia. I don’t know a lot about it. I am reading it as a part of a book club some of us in my department are participating in. I’ll admit, I am hesitant. There are so many books I’d like to read either because they satisfy a certain niche of mine or because it seems to be receiving a lot of praise (i.e. awards) or both. I haven’t even heard this one.
To do list (books I am currently hoping to read this year)
I have a list of ~15 books I am hoping to read this year, organized and ready to go. My goal is to read fun books, though provoking books, and educational books. I’ve tentatively ordered them to keep myself from growing tired of one.
- God is not great, something I started and never finished
- Just after sunset, Stephen king novellas that I may have already read
Time Travelers Wife
- Religion and Science (started)
- To Say nothing of the dog (book two of Oxford time series; very long; highly regarded)
- Rocks of ages: Science and religion in the fullness of life
- The first 15 lives of Harry August (started)
- Insomnia (another SK)
- Tommyknockers (another SK)
- The mismeasure of man
- Poisonwood Bible
- The fabric of the cosmos
- Black out (book 3 oxford time series; also highly regarded)
- A short history of nearly everything
- All Clear (book 4 OTS)
- Just One Damned Thing After Another (another time travel)
- Pet Sematary (SK)
- The red Tent
You might ask, how does one come up with such a list and why. That is a good question. I think I have 200+ books marked as wanting to read on goodreads for a variety of reasons, and that can be intimidating. I just ask myself, which books do I 1) am intrigued by and 2) be uniquely thought provoking. My assessment is sufficiently hand wavey that it is very subject to change.
My attempt to work in some science books is already being undermined by my choice of The 15 lives of Harry August. Even Religion and science was a lazy choice being super short. I also don’t know if I’ll be able to manage several of this non SK fiction stories for the simple fact that I only have so much attention with an audiobook. I suppose that list is more than 15, but I throw in extra SK as something to fall back on in if I feel tired of books that make me thing :-p . Another common theme is my desire to finish the OTS. It was one of the highest regarded scifi stories, every book winning a nebula I think with Connie Willis being one of the top sci fi writers (and of the few major female scifi writers, see Octavia Butler as an even rarer black women scifi writer).