End of the Year “Reading Round Up”

About a year ago, I was doing videos reviewing books that I was reading for a while, and then I stopped.  I’m still reading, and I’ll definitely give you some recommendations, but I didn’t want to do anymore video reviews.  I keep track of what I read when, and things on Goodreads, which I think is a pretty good site to see what you’re friends are into reading, as well as get recommendations or updates when an author you like has published a new book.

Here are all the books I read in 2017:

A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking:

Alright, this is a non-fiction book about science, and it covers a ton, and that alone can be kind of daunting.  What I think can be said about this book, is that arguably the smartest living person, Stephen Hawking, manages to make some of the things he knows accessible to people of average intelligence like myself.  Did I get all of it? No.  Did I learn a lot?  Yes.  And I found it pretty interesting.

The Old Man and The Sea by Ernest Hemingway:

I had to read The Sun Also Rises in high school, and I remember being bored enough, that I didn’t finish it.  Then fast forward 10 or more years, and I had to read several short stories by Hemingway, which I found to all be very interesting.  So I figured out which book was his shortest, hoping perhaps that he was better in a shorter form.  I was rewarded by finding that this book which is considered a novella and not a full novel, is amazing.  I’ve heard people talk about it as boring, but honestly I think it was paced beautifully and kept me riveted until the very end.

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck:

Unfortunately, I waited to long before I read this.  It was a good book, don’t get me wrong, but I had seen so many Of Mice and Men references, and parodies, that I understood largely what was going to happen, and there wasn’t much that was new to me.  Hint: read this book before watching Tropic Thunder (Simple Jack is a parody of this) and there is a Key and Peele sketch about rap battles which gives away the ending.

Side note: I don’t blame any film referencing this book, it’s almost 90 years old, and I hadn’t read it.  It was my fault.

Eloah’s Amulet: Beurie by L.M. Chilcott:

Full disclosure on this, I know the author.  I did a full review on the book’s Amazon page.  It’s Christian fantasy, and I would say that I didn’t relate to a lot of it, but I think that is largely because I wasn’t the target demographic.  I think this book is YA and probably aimed more at females.  Also, I really haven’t read a whole lot of pure fantasy, what I’ve read is considered “Urban Fantasy” which means Earth and real society is interwoven into the fantasy elements.  I could not finish The Hobbit, or Lord of The Rings, or The Chronicles of Narnia, but I was able to find this enjoyable.  So take my word with a grain of salt.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon:

Do you like superheroes? What about WWII history?  This book tells the story of two cousins during the rise of the super hero in comic books, and how it corresponds with WWII.  I don’t think you need to be a fan of either to enjoy it, but if you are, it’s a must read.  This was by far my favorite book I read this past year, and I would put it in my top 5 of all time.

Side note: I looked it up on Goodreads, and one of the reviews gave it one star and it might be the greatest dumb review of all time.  Basically the review is written as a conversation between the author and Ayelet Waldman in which they talk about how original it is to write about the Holocaust and Jewish boys in Brooklyn, and the invention of comic books.  Honestly, it’s the most bizarre review, and it may be some kind of sarcastic art piece of it’s own for all I know.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood:

I just finished this book yesterday, so this is fresh in my mind. The world she has created is very clear to her, and it is amazing when you realize it was published in 1985 how prescient it is, (she talks about a major terrorist attack by Muslim extremists being used as an excuse for the government to take away liberties, as well as people suspecting it was the government and not Muslim extremists in the first place.)

Now, I haven’t seen the Hulu show yet, but I think in many ways, it feels like a blueprint for a TV show, or a film, and not so much its own standalone entity.  What I mean in that is, that there seems to be more emphasis on world building than on story telling.  Which is fine, I feel that way often when I read classic dystopian literature.

 

Reading Event March 18

Hey Everyone,

I just wanted to let you know, that I will be doing a reading from my book, “Everything I’ve Got,” at Tatnuck Bookseller on March 18th from 1-3 pm.  We will have copies of the book available at the event if you’d like to purchase a copy!

I hope to see you all there!

Thanks,
Mike

P.S.  I’ve added an events calendar tab that you can see at the top of the screen, as of right now, with just one event, it seems a little bare, but I’m hoping to do more soon!

Just Keep Swimming

We’ve all heard that sharks have to continuously move forward or they will die—at least some types of sharks (American Museum of Natural History).  When my grandfather retired, I asked him why he was constantly gardening and doing housework, why he wasn’t relaxing, and he explained to me that it was because if he stopped doing stuff he’d start dying.  I was probably eleven or twelve years old at the time, and I didn’t quite understand, but since then, I have seen the truth in it.

What I didn’t realize until recently, however, was that it is not just a matter of physical deterioration, but mental as well.  I spent about six months after receiving my Bachelor’s degree before I began going stir crazy (working a job that didn’t challenge me mentally) and my wife told me that I had to do something else, so I decided to go back for my Master’s.

I’ve been done with school for about six weeks now, and on days when I do nothing, I can feel mental atrophy begin to kick in.  I’m sure you know the feeling, a day when you don’t read, or engage in any meaningful conversation, or get any other mental stimulation, you get a feeling of mental numbness.

I happen to be home watching my nine-month-old son while my wife is at work, so it can be difficult to find time to exercise my brain.  Filling out job applications can tend to further exacerbate the situation, as it tends to eat up time.  What I have to do is, sneak into the other room, and read a couple of pages of a book, or when he’s taking a nap, I sit down and write.  I try to write at least five hundred words a day, it might not seem like much, it’s only about two pages, but it helps with two things: keeping my brain at least mildly stimulated, and also allowing me the feeling as if I accomplished something everyday.

Accomplishing anything extra—when I’m with my son, and I have job applications to worry about— can feel insurmountable but it isn’t.  Five hundred words a day, seven days a week will be 182,500 words in a year.  That’s roughly the length of two novels.  Sure, not every day’s writing turns out to be good, and there is revising and rewriting, but still it’s a feeling of accomplishment, and it keeps my brain stimulated.

Since I’ve begun doing it, I have noticed that my writing has improved, but also, I have found that my brain is firing on all cylinders.  I’m thinking about things to write about, or trying to figure out my way around writing obstacles that I hit the previous day.  I’m doing less random Facebook surfing, and more research into the topics that are interesting me to write about.  I spend almost as much time on Apple Maps as I do on any other app on my phone (currently I’m writing a novel about a road trip). 

Maybe writing isn’t your thing, but I think that you will feel more fulfilled, and accomplished at the end of the day if you find your thing, that thing that makes your brain work (maybe it’s a sudoko puzzle, or maybe it’s a foreign language app) and you will be able to feel your general attitude toward life improving.

So what is your thing that makes you feel as if you’re improving?  Tell me in the comments below.

Essay: My Relationship with Literature

 

I graduated college in 2013 at nearly 29 years old.  All of a sudden, for the first time in years, I had free time.  So I started reading again.  I had been a decent reader as a kid, and here and there as a young adult, but I had never made time for it.  So, now that I wasn’t going to have homework, I thought I’d do some reading.

I had never been into reading the classics, and had avoided reading pretty much all of them, even throughout school.  However, one of the things that I’ve tried to always keep up on, has been cultural literacy.  I knew a little bit, about nearly every genre of movie or music, and could keep up in most conversations, but no literature.  I had no clue.

As I began reading, I knew that just reading the classics, would likely become a daunting task, and that I would probably give up on it quickly.  So I decided that I would read what I considered one fun book, followed by one classic.  I’ll admit that I don’t do a great job keeping up with this rate, because a lot of the books that I consider more fun, end up being part of a series, and I usually read the entire series in a row, but then there is a classic.

I read the Percy Jackson series, then I read The Great Gatsby.  I didn’t expect to like The Great Gatsby, half of the people who had talked about it, seemed to be unimpressed, and didn’t think it had lived up to its classic status.  I loved it.  With Gatsby, I had finished my first classic, and I was feeling good about the undertaking I had embarked on.

I should explain, I also had made a rule for myself, that I would finish every book I started.  I wouldn’t start the next book until I had finished one, this would help me to keep going on books that I didn’t think were going well.

Fahrenheit 451 was the first big hiccup.  It wasn’t that I didn’t like the book.  I found it interesting, but there was something that just wasn’t sucking me in.  I probably didn’t read for nearly a month.  Then I started working on my Master’s and soon I had mandatory reading, and that rekindled my desire to read, and ultimately I finished Fahrenheit 451.  The book got better, and I ended up really liking it.

Because of Fahrenheit 451, I instituted a new rule: If for whatever reason, I’m not into a book, I will force myself to read a page a day, and I could begin the next book.  This worked well.

After a year, I had read Catcher in the Rye, On the Road, The Metamorphosis, and other classics, but none of them were keeping my attention.  By this time, I was nearly thirty, and books like Catcher in the Rye and On the Road didn’t affect me the way they would a high school or college student.  I was feeling burnt out on them, so I began to reevaluate.  Instead of just classics, I would read books that had some other educational or cultural value to them.  This opened up Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time, Into The Wild, and so many other options.

Then I hit my second big bump in the road.  The book that would make me break a rule.  Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace.  I struggled for two months with this book.  Not intellectually struggle, but it didn’t hold my attention, and I didn’t have any desire to keep going.  I would hit a section of the book that would be great, and it felt like it was going to hook me, but these sections never added up to more than two pages.  I thought for a little while, “I’ll just do a page a day minimum until it gets interesting.”  That was a good plan in the past, but after two months I had read about 150 pages of the thousand-page book, and I knew I didn’t want to commit any more time to it.

I’ve seen people write about how great it is, talk on TV and things about how great it is, but ultimately I couldn’t force myself through, and I quickly realized that I didn’t actually know anyone who had read the entire thing for precisely the same reason.  So another new rule went into effect: I could give up on a book over a certain size, after dedicating enough time and effort.

A side rule, not about reading, but about my way of thinking went into effect as well: No matter how good people say something is, if I can’t force myself to read it, I will not feel inferior.  This rule is really important, Infinite Jest may have been the book that finalized this lesson for me, but having read all these ‘classics’ certainly helped get there.  Sometimes a book is a classic because it strikes a certain age group, as I think is the case with On The Road, and Catcher in the Rye, and I was too old, and that’s not a knock on those books just a fact.  Sometimes it may be a generational thing, there are going to be books I cannot appreciate, because I wasn’t part of the generation that it was written for (although so far I don’t think this has happened yet).  Finally, sometimes the popularity around a book is a product of expectations or hype or whatever other influence, and not the book itself, like Infinite Jest—we’re told it’s brilliant, but probably by people who were also told it was brilliant.

I suppose there is a little bit of this same type of thing with William Faulkner, I read The Sound and The Fury, and then quickly after I had to read As I Lay Dying for school.  If I’m being honest, I found both books interesting, and I certainly wouldn’t say I disliked either, but I found his style to be needlessly complicated.  A year after reading these two books, I had to read Toni Morrison’s Beloved, and I loved that book, but I was able to follow along better because it clearly borrowed some of the style from Faulkner.

So basically, this journey through literature—which is ongoing— has taught me a few lessons, and I hope to impart on you.  First, don’t be ashamed of what you like to read, you’re reading and that’s the most important thing.  Second, don’t be ashamed if you hate a book that seemingly everyone else loves, you can both be right.  Keep reading things you love, it’s nice to challenge yourself, and I won’t try to talk you out of it, but switch it up, I’m on my eleventh Rick Riordan book, I’ll be reading The Girl On The Train just so I can justify seeing the movie.  There isn’t really a wrong reason to read!  So subscribe to this blog and keep reading.  Sorry for the shameless plug.