Books, A Year In Review 2posted in Books on Jan 2, 2008
Last year on January 1st, I gave you all a list of the books I read the previous year. Well guess what? It’s January 1st once again, same day, different year, and I’ve read quite the bounty of novels. So let’s begin.
- Survivor by Chuck Palahnuik
I’ll just quote what I’ve written in the past about Survivor:
…it’s about one of the last surviving members of a old religious cult whose members have been slowly committing suicide (in normal cult fashion). As one of the last members, the book follows his life outside of the cult in the real world, where people are brainwashed by media and the want for quick everything: food, cars, salvation. It’s interesting to see what happens to the main character as the book progresses, because, you know, he was a weirdo cult guy. There is a lot of dark humor in the novel, which is good because some of the situations are kind of outlandish, and any author trying to pull off some of the things in the book in a serious manner would just be silly.
- The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides
Again, excerpt from an old post:
The Virgin Suicides is simply about five girls who end their own lives. Don’t worry, I’m not spoiling a thing; the first page gives this information straight out. You know it’s going to happen the entire way through. The more complex view is that it’s almost not about the girls at all, but about everything that surrounds them…I won’t delve any further into discussion about the book in case you wanted to read it (and you should). I will say this, though, that on the whole I enjoyed Middlesex better, but I would recommend this novel to anyone as well.
- The Jungle by Upton Sinclair
Excerpt from this post:
The book follows Jurgis (yoor-ghis) Rudkus and his immigrant family as they come to America from Lithuania at the turn of the century. Hearing about how great everything was in America, how a person can be free to thrive as he chooses, convinced the family to make the journey. What they end up facing, though, is a torrent of hardships arrising soon after locating themselves in turn of the century Chicago. Jurgis, begins working for a meat packing company in the city, and everything pretty much goes downhill from there.
If you’d like to see a video discussion of the book, look here
- Snow Crash by Neil Stevenson
Yeah, I’m going to quote another post:
Snow Crash tells the story of Hiro Protagonist, a pizza delivery man. Not only does Hiro have the greatest name of any character ever, he is a hacker and is proficient with a katana. The world in which Hiro lives is in the nearish future, where the United States no longer has unified states and there is an enormous online world that parallels our own. Instead of states and a national law system, now there are smaller nations that are completely separate from each other and have their own laws. The policing forces in the world are mercenaries that are hired to protect these small nations, so the rules can change quickly and drastically while traveling.
Video review here.
- Day Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko
Brought back in Day Watch are Anton and the gang of the Night Watch, but as the title suggests, we get a very good view of the inner workings of the Day Watch. Mirrored to Anton, a second level Light magician, Edgar is a second level Dark magician for the Day Watch. Zabulon, the normal Day Watch head honcho, leaves Moscow mysteriously and leaves Edgar in charge, and we get to see how the world works through the Dark Others’ eyes. The Night Watch may not be as good as we had previously thought.
- Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller
Religion. Anyone who knows me well knows that generally I find religion to be a topic I’d rather skirt than anything else, although I’ll get into a debate here and there just for fun. Organized or otherwise, I can’t seem to find any religion that speaks to me as something I need to invest my time in because due to my logic or how most churches seem entirely fake or whatever it may be, I have problems with saying I’m a “This-tian” or practice “Whatever-ity.” Some of the problems I face with much religious thought are brought up in Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller. He’s a Christian, yes, but a lot of the hypocrisies I find in religion he faced as well, so I found the book easier to digest as an outsider looking in.
- Snow by Orhan Pamuk
Yet another excerpt:
In Snow, Ka, the novel’s main character and fillip for all activity contained within the pages, is a poet from Turkey who, as I just mentioned, was away from his country as a political exile. Now, some years later, he returns to the country and finds himself in Kars, a town currently riddled with strife and religious/political instability over a breakout in young female suicides caused by a recent law banning the wearing of head scarves in school. Ka’s main goal in the start of the novel is to figure what is behind all of this suicide business and to take that information back to the West. Ultimately, though, he is caught up in all of the political struggles in addition to finding an old flame. And for the first time in years, poems begin to flow from his hand with an ease he had never before experienced.
- A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Housseini
One last quote:
This is Khaled Housseini’s second novel, and like The Kite Runner, its setting is in Afghanistan during tumultuous times. A Thousand Splendid Suns follows two Afghan women through their lives in a country that, for lack of better words, fails to provide its people with much stability to fall back on. No one person or group of people have power in the country for any long stretch of time, creating a shifting political landscape that can one day provide hope with the next instilling hardened fear. It’s a world that we, as uppity Americans, will probably never see in our lifetimes.
- Twilight Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko
Twilight Watch, like Day Watch, continues the story of the light ones and the dark ones as they try to keep a nice balance between “good” and “evil.” By now that line is so blurred it’s hard to say they’re trying to balance anything, but they still are. There’s still one more novel in the series, so while this does make a good closer to the three, there’s still room for expansion. Also, as an aside, if you saw the movie Day Watch, it’s nothing like the book. Still interesting, but nothing like the book.
- The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon
Kavalier & Clay is a story about two Jewish boys who decide to get into the comic book business during the early ’40s, smack-dab in the middle of the war. The two main characters just happen to be cousins, and at the start of the story Clay lives in New York while Kavalier in Europe. When Kavalier’s country begins to get pulled heavily into combat, his family sends him to America to live with his cousin. From here the story gets even more interesting, and it definitely deserves the Pulitzer the author won. Video review here.
- Battle Royale by Koushun Takami
I’m not going to write a lot about this novel because it’s too awesome, so here’s the long and short of it: Somewhere around 40 students are thrown onto an island and told to battle to the death. The last one standing wins. Awesome. Also, it’s set in the Japan. Double awesome. Video review here.
- Ishmael by Daniel Quinn
What’s better than telepathic gorillas? Seriously, ask yourself. The answer, of course, is nothing. And the gorilla in this novel not only is telepathic, but knows a little bit about how humans are destroying themselves. This is an interesting take on the human race, told by one of our closest kin. Though the book is fairly short, there’s a lot of ideas that are good for some deep conversation if you happen to be in the mood. Deep conversation video here.
- Winkie by Clifford Chase
This novel is not good. Don’t let all the praise on the side of it fool you. Basically, a teddy bear gets arrested and charged with terrorism, and it’s the story of the bear’s life and how it became full of life. It’s too bad the book is full of boring. I’m done talking about this book. Scathing review here.
- Choke by Chuck Palahniuk
Choke reads like other Palahniuk novels: quick and crazy. This isn’t a bad thing, however, because they’re usually pretty interesting. Here, the main character fakes choking in restaurants to help his mother that lives in a hospital. Don’t ask me how all that works, you’ll just have to read it; just be sure to not be scared of a lot of sexual activity and cussing. Vid-review.
- The Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Michael Chabon
In Chabon’s first novel (written to his doctorate, or something like that), the main character, just out of college, has one summer to screw around before entering the real world. If you’re between 22 and 26, there are some things in here that might touch home a little, but there’s also a ton that probably won’t. I doubt that’s the best way to sell anyone on the book, but it’s a good read, and very impressive for a first novel. Video discussion here.
- Blindess by Jose Saramago
If you’ve won the Nobel Prize for literature, you’ve probably written some good books. Saramago just happens to hold such a title, and that’s why I picked it up. It’s about a mysterious epidemic that has stricken a city with random blindness. The government decides to isolate the blind people in an old hospital, and the blind internees are forced to create a society within the walls of the building. The novel is pretty much a study on human nature when we are forced into situations beyond our control, not unlike Lord of the Flies, but for adults. Review in the video form that blind people can’t watch.
- The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
A teenage girl gets raped and murdered by a local creepster, and her family is left not knowing who did it. If this sounds like interesting to you, The Lovely Bones may be worth a read. But let me elaborate: the narrator of the story is the girl who was killed. From her heaven, she watches over the community, her family, and the killer as the years pass. It’s a very touching story, to be perfectly honest, and one that has a certain angle that feels like nothing you’ve ever read before. It’s hard to describe, but it’s really good. Real live video here.
- Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
There’s a lot to be said about a Vonnegut novel, but I’m going to make this as quick as possible. Basically, after what I like to call “The Manhattan Project,” one of the scientists who worked on the project creates a very volatile substance called Ice-9 that can freeze any semi wet substance. If it happens to touch anything, though, it will create a chain reaction that basically destroys the world. Also there’s a religion called Bokononism. You can’t beat that.
- Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami
Set in Japan, HBDatEofW tells the tale of a gentleman who is able to compute numeral data in his head. His brain has been augmented to allow him to do so, though; duh. And when the story isn’t discussing this guy and how he’s messing around with numbers and having adventures, it’s talking about a small village that has unicorns. It’s up to you to figure out how these two places work together. Unicorns. VIDEO!
- The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum
Set in the early ’80s, a man is on a boat and whoops the living crap out of everyone around before getting shot and dumped overboard. When he wakes, he has no idea who he is or why he’s on a tiny island all patched up. If this sounds super different that what you know the Bourne Identity to be, it’s because the book and movie are very different. It is a pretty good thriller, though, so if you want some espionage, give it a try.
- Bone by Jeff Smith
This is a super bitchin’ graphic novel in which three bone cousins from Boneville get lost in a medieval-esque countryside, complete with dragons. The entire series comes it at about 1,300 pages, but it’s readable in a day or two if you really just want to. This is one of the best stories I’ve read all year. It’s just great. More thoughts here.
- The Bourne Supremecy by Robert Ludlum
Again, nothing like the movie, but suspenseful nonetheless. This time, it’s personal.
Ok, now I don’t have anything to link to anymore, so there will be no more quotes. I actually have to write something new. This might be bad news.
So there you have it. A little over twenty novels read last year, to the tune of 8181 pages (excluding Bone). Everything on this list is pretty good to damned good except Winkie, which should be avoided like mad. Here’s to a new year!