TGRRL: Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley

When I was a teenager, I was introduced by way of school assignments to George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, which we’ve already covered. This terrifying little novel–terrifying to me, anyway; there may have been novels–is certainly the most well-known dystopian novel; but it’s hardly the only one, or even the first. It’s a bit debatable which dystopian novel is the first of its kind, but certainly one of the most influential is Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.

Brave New World first edition

First edition, as far as I can establish. Not mine.

 

(In fact, the novel has been noted to have directly influenced Nineteen Eighty-Four; making it even more interesting is the fact that Orwell had been, some years early, a pupil of Huxley at Eton, though not in any political or writing-related subject, but rather, in French. The historical connection, however, seems to have little to do with the writings; one novel influenced the other, without much regard for the past history of the authors, as far as anyone can tell from their commentary on the subject.)

It is unfortunate that Brave New World, today, is usually discussed only in the context of comparison to Orwell’s novel. And yet, that comparison does provide the easiest way to understand the book; it’s easier to define what it isn’t than what it is. I find myself wishing I had read Brave New World first, so that I could have appreciated it solely for itself.  Nevertheless, I expect I’m inevitably going to find myself pointing out comparisons as we look at the novel here. I’ll try to keep it to a minimum.

From this point forward, expect spoilers; although, the book is nearly ninety years old, so perhaps it’s not even fair to call them spoilers.

Here we have the story of a world where most human problems have been resolved. That’s what we’re reaching for, isn’t it? Health, happiness, peace, prosperity? Of course we are. Brave New World supplies those things; its people have every need met through a very efficient system of production. Workloads are light and easy. Happiness is practically ensured through use of a consequence-free drug called soma (why is it conventional to italicize non-traditional words like this? I’m doing so here for emphasis, but I’ll drop it henceforward).  This focus on happiness, however, has required the upending of certain social conventions: marriage and monogamy no longer exist; childbirth is mostly nonexistent, having been replaced by birth control and birthing centers with artificial wombs; crime is mostly eliminated–certainly a good thing–by way of a rigid caste system–not so good. However, no one feels the loss of these things, due to conditioning and the effects of soma. Our initial protagonist, Bernard Marx, doesn’t quite fit in; but he is mostly a catalyst for the story rather than a major character. His situation introduces us to the true protagonist, a man named John. John is the illicit offspring of two rather normal and compliant citizens, but through a twist of fate he is raised on a “savage reservation”, a place where the conventions of society are not in effect, and people live as they have lived for years prior to the new order–though admittedly impoverished by their isolation. John is then brought back to civilization, but he is unable to cope or adapt; and in the end, he hangs himself.

This matter of absolute happiness–but at a hidden cost–is common enough in dystopias today. It was unheard of when Huxley wrote; utopian novels were common enough, and indeed he started this project as a parody of utopian novels of his day. The idea that happiness could be obtained, but that it would in turn cost us something fundamental, was new and disturbing. It’s not new anymore, but it is still disturbing, and rightly so. The desire for happiness is deeply ingrained in us, possibly even as a part of our survival instinct. Dystopias like Brave New World acknowledge that, but then counter with a more frightening idea: the idea that we need challenge, pain, difficulty, in order to really be human. If we truly get what we’re chasing, we’ll become less instead of more.

This is a radically different form of dystopia from Orwell’s vision (and here we go!). Orwell predicted a dystopia of fear–one in which the government’s power becomes so absolute as to crush all resistance, inspiring obedience by fear. The problem with that kind of oppression is that it requires endless vigilance; and endless vigilance translates into endless resources. Just how many people does it take to monitor a population of billions twenty-four hours a day, I wonder? How much infrastructure? And that’s on top of the apparatus required for punishing infractions, providing for needs, and other aspects of government. Huxley’s version is much simpler, because it makes every individual complicit in their own oppression. As John’s mother Linda graphically illustrates, people want to be compliant; they don’t have to be pushed to it. After all, they’re endlessly happy; they don’t feel the loss of less tangible things such as challenge or morality. They only feel the soothing of soma.

It’s popular to make comparisons to modern society, and try to decide what kind of dystopia we live in. I’ll be blunt: We don’t, at least not yet. However, I think that if we were trying to make projections about the real world, both versions would be too simplistic. A real-world dystopia would more likely be a blending of the two; it would have some form of enticement for the public, combined with some form of invasive monitoring and enforcement. Carrot and stick, if you will. While I don’t believe our society is at dystopian levels yet, I will say that we have elements of both in place already. We’ve had enough issues with governmental elimination of privacy over the years, and especially with the proliferation of technology and the internet; and we have the same internet serving as our soma, to some degree. (And here I am, posting on the internet! Irony, much?)

But that’s just it: we’re not there yet, and in a purely Huxleyan sense, I don’t think we ever will be. The challenges we face as a species are too great for that. Death is always going to be a thing. Suffering is maddeningly hard to eliminate. Poverty has a way of returning over and over again. Diseases adapt to accommodate our treatments. A Huxleyan dystopia requires that all of these challenges be overcome; we’ve made great strides, but I doubt we’ll ever have the kind of success required for his vision to be true. Nevertheless, we should keep trying. We should work at overcoming those challenges. We exist in a strange space, where we can’t win this fight, but neither is our striving pointless, because we can still improve–even if we never reach the end of the improvement.

This is the second dystopia we’ve examined, and I want to point out something that, in my opinion, distinguishes classical dystopias from the young-adult dystopias that are so popular today. (Not that I’m disparaging those stories; they may be common, but they’re not bad, or at least not by definition.) The YA dystopias usually result in a happy ending for most; the ruling party is overthrown, chaos reigns briefly, then something better takes its place. I think that’s a wonderfully optimistic outlook, but it’s very different from the classics, where the protagonists inevitably lose. A classic dystopia will grind the rebellious protagonists down, and keep on moving without breaking stride. In the end, nothing changes. I find this strange; with the political and social climates we face today, I’d have expected it to be the other way around.

Still, Brave New World is the more hopeful of the two. While one protagonist dies, the others don’t; nor are they greatly changed in outlook–they’re simply sidelined. And in the meantime, millions aren’t being ground down; they remain obliviously happy, but they remain. It may not be much of a chance; but perhaps that’s better than much chance at all. As Huxley never wrote a true sequel (Brave New World Revisited is a non-fiction critique), it’s open to conjecture.

How’s your reading goal coming along? I’ve set a goal of 50 books in 2018 via Goodreads; you can join me here! So far I’ve finished three books: Philip K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly, Brent Weeks’ The Way of Shadows, and Brandon Sanderson’s Oathbringer. You can see my to-read list here.

The Great Reddit Reading List

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TGRRL: Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card

Whenever a recommendation post–and they are fairly common–appears on Reddit’s book-oriented communities, certain books inevitably float to the top. Nowhere is this more noticeable than in comment threads discussing science-fiction and fantasy recommendations. I’m being completely anecdotal here–I haven’t tracked it in any formal sense–but my observation is that today’s book, Orson Scott Card’s famous Ender’s Game, is likely one of the top three science-fiction novels recommended, at least in the past few years. (The others would be Dune, which we’ve already covered, and Ernest Cline’s 2011 debut, Ready Player One. I’ve been hearing about that book since I joined Reddit in 2013, but have yet to read it. Certainly to beat out so many classics of the genre, it must have something going for it; and it’s definitely on my to-read list. It is also on the extended portion of the Great Reddit Reading List–that is, the entries after #200; I suspect it only missed being on the original list by virtue of being very new while compilation was taking place.)

enders game

Ender’s Game, first edition. Not mine, unfortunately.

 

The problem with being such a highly-recommended book is that its reputation begins to supplant the actual book. I would not be surprised to learn that there are many science-fiction readers who know the basic premise of Ender’s Game without having read the book. The 2013 film certainly helped in that regard, but I suspect this was already true prior to the film’s release. I was one such reader; I was loosely familiar with the book long before my friend Cyndera persuaded me to read it (she had recently participated in one of Card’s writing workshops, and was a bit of a Card enthusiast at the time, so I can’t blame her). What I found when I did read it, was not what I expected.

The Ender series, as well as its companion Shadow series (Ender’s Shadow and its sequels), are far less concerned with the science-fiction conventions they portray, and far more concerned with the effect those conventions have on the characters. Many of us–most, even–know by now that Ender’s Game is the story of children fighting a war when they believe they are simply playing a war game. Ender Wiggin’s tactical genius is impressive, but he believes he is only using it for games and training, when in fact he is commanding real fleets in a very real war. That’s clever, and makes for a great twist at the end; but the euphoria of discovering that twist lasts about ten seconds. That’s about how long it takes for the reader to realize that this child has been exploited and nearly destroyed by all the adults in his life, and can never have a normal life in any meaningful sense. Meanwhile, the Shadow series follows Ender’s right-hand man (boy?), Bean, who is a product of genetic engineering. That engineering gives him an amazing and ever-increasing mental capacity, which in the end causes him to far surpass Ender’s accomplishments–but it also condemns him to a painful and early death, as his body continues to grow in pace with his mind. No one gets off easy in this series, and everyone pays the price for their advancements.

I have wondered what Card meant to say in this series. It seems to me that, at least in the first few novels of each series, his goal was to expose the horrors of war by taking them to absurd extremes (there’s little more extreme than child soldiers, after all, whether in the real world or in fiction). The message that comes across, however, is a bit different: It’s a statement of the dangers in rushing into technology, into the future, without looking and counting the cost first. Card doesn’t make the argument that these things are bad by definition; his ships, his weapons, his ansible (a communication device borrowed from Ursula K. Le Guin’s Rocannon’s World, and a contraction of the word “answerable”), his gene tech, are all legitimate technologies, but they are used recklessly and without thought for what they will do to those in their sphere of influence.

With all that said, it’s still a good book. It’s a sort of coming-of-age story, though certainly different from most; it’s a good sci-fi war novel; and it does portray a future that is as fascinating as it is frightening. Reading Ender’s Game is a coming-of-age ritual of its own for sci-fi fans, despite the fact that I was nearly thirty when I read it. I would simply recommend reading it for yourself before getting too involved in its reputation–and that, I think, is good advice for any book and any reader.

How’s your reading goal coming along? I’ve set a goal of 50 books in 2018 via Goodreads; you can join me here! So far I’ve finished Philip K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly, and have begun reading Brandon Sanderson’s Oathbringer. You can see my to-read list here.

The Great Reddit Reading List

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Looking Ahead to 2018: Reading Challenges and Lists!

The year is over! Or, almost. So, how did you do with your reading goals?

I’ve posted on this topic a few times this year, with a few possible reading plans that you can use. I didn’t follow any of them exactly–I came to them by way of the internet, in the midst of the year, long after I had set my own goals–but perhaps some of you have used them. Still, whether you followed a plan, set a number, or just kept a running count, how did it work out for you? There’s no wrong way to read, as long as you’re, well, reading!

I set a goal for myself of fifty books this year, up from thirty-five in 2016. In previous years, I read a lot more than that; but over the last six or seven years, I’ve had a combination of factors that cut back drastically on my reading output (intake? Hmm). Workload, family responsibilities, my own writing and blogging, video gaming (when I have the time), and the general distraction of the Internet, all conspired to reduce my reading time. At the beginning of 2016, I discovered Goodreads’ Reading Challenge feature, which lets you set a goal for number of books to read in the upcoming year. It’s not the most flexible tool; it runs only from January 1 to December 31, without the ability to start your year on a date of your choosing; and it’s difficult to make corrections to its tracked books, as I discovered this year. My list from this year has one book listed twice, but left off another book that I know that I tracked (I finally gave up on fixing it, because the two items cancel out, leaving my count unchanged). At the end of 2016, I decided that, for me, thirty-five books was a weak result, and so this year I raised the goal to fifty–nearly one book per week. I made the goal two days ago, just in time for the end of the year.

None of that is intended to brag, however. This is a competition only with myself, not with anyone else; and we should all be reading because we want to, not for the sake of comparison. And so, with that said, let’s look ahead to 2018!

I don’t usually plan my books for the year ahead of time. In fact, in doing so on this occasion, I’m not trying to suggest that I’ll hold fast to this list; nor am I saying that I won’t add to it. I pick up books as they catch my interest, and I don’t expect that to change. Still, I’ve increasingly found myself running across books that I want to read, but somehow have never made time for them. Well, this year, I want to make the time! To that end, I’ve compiled a completely NON-exhaustive list of books I plan to read in 2018, and I want to share it here.

Before I do, I want to make a few disclaimers. First, I did not compile this list purposefully; it’s not working toward a cohesive goal, other than my fifty-book reading goal (which I’ll be repeating for 2018). These are books I’ve added to my list here and there; I didn’t choose them with a purpose in mind. Second, this list has no political agenda. It’s popular nowadays–and perhaps rightly so–to recommend branching out from the traditional white-male-authored canon of books. Many people have compiled lists of books by people of color, women, authors from other countries, books in non-English languages, etc. etc. etc. I didn’t set out to do anything like that here; but neither did I set out NOT to do so. In many cases, other than just gender (as much as is obvious from the authors’ names, anyway), I couldn’t tell you anything about the background of these authors, because I didn’t choose them for that reason; I chose them because the books interest me. Is there a preponderance of white male authors here? Probably; it’s what I encounter most often. Did I intentionally exclude anyone? Nope. Third, there is definitely a preponderance of older books on here–I very rarely am caught up enough to be reading newly-published books. There’s a bit of bias there; when books have been out for awhile, I feel like I can trust the recommendations more. Still, a few newer books will probably make this list, and my reading goal as well. Fourth, this is list is mostly, if not entirely, fiction–but that in no way means I won’t read nonfiction. I read quite a bit of it, actually, but I rarely know about it this far in advance–I usually discover it while doing research for my own fiction, or else stumble across it at the library. And finally, this list does not supersede my Great Reddit Reading List project–in fact there may be some overlap. I am always working on that project, regardless of what I post here.

So, without further ado, let’s get started!

Title Author Comments
The Night Angel Trilogy Brent Weeks This book has been “in-progress” for me for a long time, and I intend to finish it this year. It’s very good, but very lengthy and dense. It’s actually a trilogy (I’m reading the single-volume edition), so I may ultimately count the books separately.
A Fire Upon the Deep Vernor Vinge Another book-in-progress that I plan to finish. It’s very good, but very slow, and long.
Doctor Who – White Darkness David A. McIntee I’ve been working through the Virgin New Adventures series of Doctor Who novels for my other blog; this is where I left off, a couple chapters in. I will probably read more DW novels during the year, but I won’t list them here.
The Robots of Dawn Isaac Asimov Continuing the Robot series.
Robots and Empire Isaac Asimov Continuing the Robot series.
Deadhouse Gates Steven Erikson Malazan Book of the Fallen, book two. I’d like to read the whole series, but that will take time; it’s lengthy, and so is each book. Gardens of the Moon took months to read, but it was excellent.
Oathbringer Brandon Sanderson Another long fantasy novel, and probably the newest thing on this list. Book three of the Stormlight Archive.
The Lies of Locke Lamora Scott Lynch I picked up this book–the first in the Gentleman Bastards series–at a Starbucks book exchange shelf, but I’d been hearing about it forever. Looks exciting.
The Three Body Problem Cixin Liu Been hearing about this forever, but not much of what it’s actually about. The suspense is exciting.
The Left Hand of Darkness Ursula Le Guin I’ve wanted to read it for years; now is the time.
A is for Alibi Sue Grafton While it may seem my lists are heavily biased toward science fiction and fantasy, I love mysteries and crime novels just as much. Ms. Grafton passed away two days ago, and I wish I had checked out her work while she was alive. She died with one book left to go in her Alphabet series, but I still want to give them a try.
A Savage Place Robert B. Parker I’ve been slowly working through Robert Parker’s Spenser novels, a great classic series of detective stories. This is the next entry. I usually get through a few each year, but I’m only listing the one for now.
The Forge of God Greg Bear I loved Eon, and this looks like a great alien invasion story.
Earth Abides George R. Stewart The book that inspired Stephen King’s The Stand. I started it several years ago, but never finished.
House of Leaves Mark Z. Danielewski Also on the Reddit list, I’ve heard about this book so often that it’s become a bit intimidating to me. Still, I want to be able to mark it off the list, and it does sound interesting.
Cat’s Cradle Kurt Vonnegut I’m a Vonnegut fan, but I can’t remember if I’ve read this one. No time like the present to be sure!
Revival Stephen King I used to read King all the time. With his more recent work, not so much; but this one looks interesting.
Starfire Charles Sheffield Years ago, I read his Aftermath, the story of what happens on Earth after the EMP from a nearby supernova wipes out electronic technology. Starfire is the sequel, set years later, when the slower-moving shockwave of the supernova reaches Earth.
Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets David Simon Came across this while reading another true-crime book, Bill James’s Popular Crime.
Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo, and the Battle that Defined a Generation Blake Harris Video game history fascinates me.
The Mind Parasites Colin Wilson I read this rather trippy, metaphysical novel years ago, but was too young to really understand everything. Have been meaning to read it again for ages.
Market Forces Richard K. Morgan I’ve previously read the Altered Carbon trilogy and Th1rte3n, and enjoyed them all. Recently I picked this novel up for a dollar at a used book shop, and have been looking forward to it.
The Inimitable Jeeves P.G. Wodehouse As I haven’t read any of the Jeeves and Wooster stories–but have had them repeatedly recommended–really I could start with any of them. This is the first, but I believe they can be read out of order.
A Scanner Darkly Philip K. Dick As prolific as Philip K. Dick was, I’ve only read one of his stories so far (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?), and I aim to correct this grievous oversight. Also, free on Kindle with Amazon Prime!

So, there it is. Perhaps not the most eclectic list; but it will do for a starter! And of course I intend to add to it as the year goes on. So, what about you? What books will you be reading in 2018? I’d love to hear your thoughts! And as always, thanks for reading.

You can connect with me on Goodreads here.

 

The Great Reddit Reading List!

Back in September, I posted a reading challenge, which you can find here. It gave categories of books, one for each week over a year, but it didn’t recommend specific titles; it leaves that up to the reader. Today, I want to look at the other side of the equation, and also launch a new occasional feature: The Great Reddit Reading List!

A few years ago, shortly after I joined Reddit, I was browsing the /r/books community when I came upon a post that mentioned the “Reddit’s Favorite Books” top 200 list. A little research took me to the original list, posted in 2010. (See below for links!) This list was compiled from several poll posts, and constitutes a checklist of sorts of the most popular books in the /r/books community. I’ve since expanded it with input from a few more recent lists, bringing the total up to 265 entries. (I’ll add it to the end of this post, and also make it a page on the site with a link in the sidebar.)

I had read about fifty of the original two hundred entries when I discovered the list. Since then, I’ve added approximately another forty. I say “entries” and not “books”, because some of the entries listed will be a series of books rather than an individual volume within the series. That’s an artifact of the standard the original compiler used to create the list; in some cases, both an individual book and the series in which it consists would get high numbers of votes, because there was not much regulation of the entries submitted. No one was trying to enforce any rule that it must be a single volume; therefore series often made the list. With that said, I’ve actually read well over a hundred, if we count all the volumes in a series; but I’m going to count each named series as only one entry.

So, what’s on the list? It’s a surprisingly eclectic mix. There are a number of classics, many of which originated in other languages. There are a large number of newer, popular books, as well, as one might expect given that Reddit’s population skews toward the young adult age group. Fiction is certainly the larger division of the list, but non-fiction is well represented, and even a few textbooks made the list. Science and philosophy are well represented. Books since 2010 are not as well represented, because that is the year in which the original list was compiled; however you will find some newer books in the list post-200, as those books were added to the list in 2016.

Certain authors appear repeatedly (and that’s aside from cases where a series is present). Neil Gaiman is far and away the author with the most entries present; about half of his novels are represented, and at least one of his graphic novels. Stephen King has a number of entries, as do William Faulkner and Neal Stephenson. Ursula K. Le Guin appears a few times. Fyodor Dostoyevsky tops the classical authors, with three entries. Kurt Vonnegut is popular. Male authors far outnumber female, but I think that is less a reflection on the list and more on the state of reading and writing in the world in general—many people, most far more qualified than me, have discussed that at length in other sources, and continue to do so.

books snoo

So, then: A new feature here! I’ve been slowly working my way through this list for a few years. I want to pick up my pace and my efforts, and in the process, post my thoughts about these books as I work through them. I confess that I haven’t been reading these in order; I made an attempt to do so, but it didn’t take long for my attention to wander. Therefore, the entries may not be in order, though we should be good for the first thirty or so. In cases where I’ve previously read the books, I’ll work from memory and research as much as possible; some cases may need a full re-read, though. I expect to get about one post per week from this feature. This post today is already going to be long enough, as the list will be attached; therefore we’ll begin with the next post. (I’ve also included links to the original Reddit posts: Here (original list), here (discussion post), and here (2016 additions)

And so, without further ado, I present the Great Reddit Reading List! How many have you read? What are your favorites? Thanks again, and happy reading!

Title Author
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Douglas Adams
1984 George Orwell
Dune Frank Herbert
Slaughterhouse 5 Kurt Vonnegut
Ender’s Game Orson Scott Card
Brave New World Aldous Huxley
The Catcher in the Rye J.D. Salinger
The Bible
Snow Crash Neal Stephenson
Harry Potter (series, 6 books) J.K. Rowling
Stranger in a Strange Land Robert A. Heinlein
Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! Richard P. Feynman
To Kill a Mockingbird Harper Lee
The Foundation Saga (series, 7 books) Isaac Asimov
Neuromancer William Gibson
Calvin and Hobbes Bill Watterson
Guns, Germs, and Steel Jared Diamond
Catch-22 Joseph Heller
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance Robert M. Pirsig
Siddhartha Herman Hesse
The Selfish Gene Richard Dawkins
Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid Douglas Hofstadter
Tao Te Ching Lao Tse
House of Leaves Mark Z. Danielewski
The Giver Lois Lowry
Crime and Punishment Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Animal Farm George Orwell
A People’s History of the United States Howard Zinn
The Lord of the Rings (series, 3 books) J.R.R. Tolkien
Ishmael Daniel Quinn
A Brief History of Time Stephen Hawking
Lolita Vladimir Nabokov
The Count of Monte Cristo Alexandre Dumas
His Dark Materials (series, 3 books) Philip Pullman
The Stranger Albert Camus
<Various Works> Dr. Seuss
The Road Cormac McCarthy
Lord of the Flies William Golding
The Monster at the End of This Book Jon Stone, Michael Smollin
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas Hunter S. Thompson
A Short History of Nearly Everything Bill Bryson
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Phillip K. Dick
One Hundred Years of Solitude Gabriel Garcia Marquez
The Art of War Sun Tzu
How to Win Friends and Influence People Dale Carnegie
Flowers for Algernon Daniel Keyes
The Hyperion Cantos Dan Simmons
A Confederacy of Dunces John Kennedy Toole
U.S. Dec. of Independence, Constitution, B. of R. Various
Cat’s Cradle Kurt Vonnegut
A Canticle for Leibowitz Walter M. Miller, Jr.
The Odyssey Homer
Fahrenheit 451 Ray Bradbury
A Song of Ice and Fire (series, 5 books currently) George R. R. Martin
The Great Gatsby F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Brothers Karamazov Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Ringworld Larry Niven
A Game of Thrones George R. R. Martin
The Art of Deception Kevin Mitnick
The Little Prince Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Freakonomics Stephen Dubner, Steven Levitt
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress Robert A. Heinlein
The Omnivore’s Dilemma Michael Pollan
Heart of Darkness Joseph Conrad
The Forever War Joe Haldeman
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Mark Twain
Lies My Teacher Told Me James Loewen
Notes from Underground Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Everybody Poops Taro Gomi
On the Origin of Species Charles Darwin
The Autobiography of Malcolm X Malcolm X, Alex Haley
John Dies at the End David Wong
The Communist Manifesto Karl Marx
Contact Carl Sagan
A Clockwork Orange Anthony Burgess
The Prince Niccolo Macchiavelli
Atlas Shrugged Ayn Rand
The Diamond Age Neal Stephenson
War and Peace Leo Tolstoy
The Stand Stephen King
The Dharma Bums Jack Kerouac
The Hobbit J.R.R. Tolkien
Moby Dick Herman Melville
The Unbearable Lightness of Being Milan Kundera
Why People Believe Weird Things Michael Shermer
Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media Edward Herman, Noam Chomsky
Asimov’s Guide to the Bible Isaac Asimov
The Old Man and the Sea Ernest Hemingway
Collapse Jared Diamond
Infinite Jest David Foster Wallace
Don Quixote Miguel de Cervantes
Chaos James Gleick
American Gods Neil Gaiman
Starship Troopers Robert A. Heinlein
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time Mark Haddon
You Can Choose to be Happy Tom G. Stevens
The Geography of Nowhere James Howard Kunstler
All Quiet on the Western Front Erich Maria Remarque
Candide Voltaire
Mein Kampf Adolf Hitler
The Girl Next Door Jack Ketchum
In Defense of Food Michael Pollan
The Dark Tower (series, 8 books) Stephen King
Fight Club Chuck Palahniuk
The Greatest Show on Earth Richard Dawkins
The Making of a Radical Scott Nearing
The Turner Diaries Andrew McDonald
The Scar China Mieville
Steppenwolf Herman Hesse
Going Rogue Sarah Palin
120 Days of Sodom Marquis de Sade
Rendezvous with Rama Arthur C. Clarke
Oryx and Crake Margaret Atwood
Beyond Good and Evil Friedrich Nietszche
Gravity’s Rainbow Thomas Pinchon
Naked Lunch William Burroughs
Childhood’s End Arthur C. Clarke
Of Mice and Men John Steinbeck
The Book of Ler M.A. Foster
The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark Carl Sagan
Johnny Got His Gun Dalton Trumbo
Cryptonomicon Neal Stephenson
Watership Down Richard Adams
Breakfast of Champions Kurt Vonnegut
Civilization and Capitalism Fernand Braudel
Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs Chuck Klosterman
A Fire Upon the Deep Vernor Vinge
The Saga of Seven Suns (series, 7 books) Kevin J. Anderson
American Psycho Bret Easton Ellis
The Mote in God’s Eye Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle
The Chomsky Reader Noam Chomsky
The Panda’s Thumb Stephen Jay Gould
Flatland Edwin Abbot
On the Road Jack Kerouac
The God Delusion Richard Dawkins
The Classical Style Charles Rosen
Here Be Dragons Sharon Kay Penman
An American Life Ronald Reagan
Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space Carl Sagan
The Little Schemer Daniel P. Friedman, Matthias Felleisen
Life in the Woods Henry David Thoreau
Black Lamb, Grey Falcon Rebecca West
Thus Spake Zarathustra Friedrich Nietszche
Sandman Neil Gaiman
The Game Neil Strauss
Good Omens Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman
Mere Christianity C.S. Lewis
Walden Henry David Thoreau
The Collapse of Complex Societies Joseph Tainter
The Cthulhu Mythos (series, varying accountings) H.P. Lovecraft
The Stars My Destination Alfred Bester
The Pillars of Earth Ken Follett
The Prince of Nothing R. Scott Bakker
Perdido Street Station China Mieville
Man’s Search for Meaning Viktor Frankl
The Wasteland T.S. Eliot
The Kite Runner Khaled Hosseini
Pi to 5 Million Places
The Blank Slate Steven Pinker
The Dispossessed Ursula K. Le Guin
Guts Chuck Pahlaniuk
Fear and Trembling Søren Kierkegaard
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest Ken Kesey
Kafka on the Shore Haruki Murakami
Ulysses James Joyce
Macbeth William Shakespeare
Basic Economics Thomas Sowell
Atheism: The Case Against God George H. Smith
The Handmaid’s Tale Margaret Atwood
For Whom the Bell Tolls Ernest Hemingway
Sophie’s World Jostein Gaarder
Women Charles Bukowski
Red Mars Kim Stanley Robinson
We Need to Talk About Kevin Lionel Shriver
How We Die Sherwin B. Nuland
Philosophical Investigations Ludwig Wittgenstein
The Singularity is Near Ray Kurzweil
The Day of the Triffids John Wyndham
The Long Walk Stephen King as Richard Bachman
Blood Meridian Cormac McCarthy
The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are Alan Watts
The Wheel of Time (series, 15 books) Robert Jordan, Brandon Sanderson
The Elegant Universe Brian Green
A Suitable Boy Vikram Seth
Book of the New Sun Gene Wolfe
King Lear William Shakespeare
The Power of Myth Joseph Campbell
The Voyage of Argo: The Argonautica Apollonius of Rhodes
The Baroque Cycle Neal Stephenson
Nichomachean Ethics Aristotle
Long Walk to Freedom Nelson Mandela
Cloud Atlas David Mitchell
The Master and Margarita Mikhail Bulgakov
The Chrysalids John Wyndham
The Occult Colin Wilson
Cosmos Carl Sagan
The Fountainhead Ayn Rand
Hamlet William Shakespeare
The Hero with a Thousand Faces Joseph Campbell
The Name of the Wind Patrick Rothfuss
Speaker for the Dead Orson Scott Card
The Fault in Our Stars John Green
The Sirens of Titan Kurt Vonnegut
The Sun Also Rises Ernest Hemingway
The Da Vinci Code Dan Brown
The Way of Kings Brandon Sanderson
Never Let Me Go Kazuo Ishiguro
The Perks of Being a Wallflower Stephen Chbosky
A Farewell to Arms Ernest Hemingway
East of Eden John Steinbeck
A Tale of Two Cities Charles Dickens
The Things They Carried Tim O’Brien
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo Stieg Larsson
The Sound and the Fury William Faulkner
Alive Piers Paul Read
The Chronicles of Narnia (series, 7 books) C.S. Lewis
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle Haruki Murakami
A Wrinkle in Time Madeleine L’Engle
The Dresden Files (series, 15 books currently) Jim Butcher
The Shining Stephen King
The Wise Man’s Fear Patrick Rothfuss
Where the Red Fern Grows Wilson Rawls
The Martian Andy Weir
The Lies of Locke Lamora Scott Lynch
No Country for Old Men Cormac McCarthy
Neverwhere Neil Gaiman
The Crying of Lot 49 Thomas Pynchon
Ready Player One Ernest Cline
The Picture of Dorian Gray Oscar Wilde
As I Lay Dying William Faulkner
Fifty Shades of Grey E.L. James
The Left Hand of Darkness Ursula K. Le Guin
The Time Traveller’s Wife Audrey Niffeneger
The Devil in the White City Erik Larson
The Ocean at the End of the Lane Neil Gaiman
11/22/63 Stephen King
Great Expectations Charles Dickens
Looking for Alaska John Green
The Man in the High Castle Phillip K. Dick
The Name of the Rose Umberto Eco
Children of the Mind Orson Scott Card
Gone with the Wind Margaret Mitchell
The Once and Future King T.H. White
Love in the Time of Cholera Gabriel Garcia Marquez
The Colour of Magic Terry Pratchett
Anathem Neil Gaiman
The Book Thief Markus Zusak
Salem’s Lot Stephen King
Norwegian Wood Haruki Murakami
The Shadow of the Wind Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Wanted Patricia Potter
Anna Karenina Leo Tolstoy
A Prayer for Owen Meany John Irving
1Q84 Haruki Murakami
Stardust Neil Gaiman
All the Pretty Horses Cormac McCarthy
The Night Angel Trilogy Brent Weeks
Night Elie Weisel
Pride and Prejudice Jane Austen
A Thousand Splendid Suns Khaled Hosseini
If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler Italo Calvino
Under the Dome Stephen King
Old Man’s War John Scalzi
The Trial Franz Kafka

 

Reading Challenge Check-In: September 2017

How’s your reading?

Given that I consider myself a writer, naturally I hope that you consider yourself a reader. After all, here you are, reading this post—and I hope that one day I’ll have books available, which you will also want to read. Reading was a controversial topic in my house, and it can be a controversial topic at large, as well; my parents have always been avid readers, and instilled the habit into their children at a very young age—but at the same time, there was always pressure to “put that damn book down and go out and play!” Eh, well, you can’t win them all, I suppose.

So, let’s check in. How’s it going this year? In my case, I use Goodreads’ Reading Challenge feature each year. In January, you set a reading goal for yourself; throughout the year, as you finish each book, you add it to your read bookshelf, and the site adds it to your total for the challenge. I like the flexibility; I get to set the goal myself. Last year, I set my target at 30 books; but what I found was that I rationalized my time away with this goal, which for me is a little on the low end. I found myself rushing at the end of the year to meet the goal. This year, I thought (and still think) I could do better; and so I raised the goal to 50 books. So far, I’ve read 36. The site is not perfect, and gets the occasional glitch; right now my list is missing one book, but duplicating another, for reasons unknown. You have to ensure that your book includes both a start date and an end date (which you can change manually if necessary), or else it won’t show in your challenge; also, though I haven’t confirmed it, I suspect that the start and end dates must be different.

Books 8

Tracking my reading this way reveals some things about my reading habits. I’m strongly canted toward fiction, as I suspect most people are; I only have two non-fiction books in my list so far, which is unusually low for me. My preferred genres are science-fiction, fantasy, and crime. Thanks to my ongoing review project over at The Time Lord Archives, I have a large number of Doctor Who novels and short story collections in my list (no surprise there). I’m working in more classics; and when I say classics, I mean not only literary classics, but also classics within my preferred genres. I’ve dabbled in horror, action, comedy, and paranormal stories, but stayed away from romance this year (a genre I do occasionally read, but not often). I also tried out a few audiobooks this year, which is mostly a new thing for me.  It’s revealing, and it makes me want to spread out my interests and become a bit more well-rounded.

To that end, I’ll wrap up with a new challenge. Of course we aren’t at the beginning of the year; to which I say this: 1) I will probably repost this and other challenges near the beginning of 2018; 2.) Flexibility is key in any challenge; and 3) you can start anytime you like—52 weeks make a year, regardless of when you start, right? This challenge is designed to stretch your horizons, not simply by changing up the genre of your chosen books, but by changing the sources. What follows is a list of 52 categories (or 51, actually; you can take the last week off as a reward for your perseverance!). You can play in two ways. Easy mode: Every time you finish a book, check off every category that applies to it. Hard mode: Even if a book fits multiple categories, only check off one category per book (for a total of 51 books). If 51 books sounds like too much for you, split the list in half (a book every two weeks) and choose the 26 categories you like most, or make it a two-year challenge. It’s your call! (One last note: To give credit where it’s due, I must say that this list did not originate with me. Credit goes to Redditor /u/tbughi1, and you can read the original listing here.)

Where relevant, I’ve included the books that I’ve read for each category. Feel free to share yours in the comments!

  • 1. Read a book originally published in a language you do not know. The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (Russian)
  • 2. Read a book by an author born in the same country or state as you. Snapshot, by Brandon Sanderson (country, USA; I haven’t read anything by a West Virginian this year.)
  • 3. Read a book from the Horror genre. At The Mountains of Madness, by H.P. Lovecraft.
  • 4. Read a Romance and/or Erotica book
  • 5. Read a book written before 1950. The Stranger, by Albert Camus (1942).
  • 6. Read a book written by a man. Ringworld, Larry Niven.
  • 7. Read a book written by a woman. Six of Swords, Carole Nelson Douglas.
  • 8. Read a book in the Science Fiction genre. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Robert A. Heinlein.
  • 9. Read a book in the Fantasy genre. Gardens of the Moon, Steven Erickson.
  • 10. Read a book labelled as Young Adult.
  • 11. Read a nonfiction book. The Mind Robber: Black Archive #7 by Andrew Hickey.
  • 12. Read a book with a contemporary setting.
  • 13. Read a book written after 1949. Early Autumn, Robert B. Parker.
  • 14. Read a book published this year
  • 15. Read a popular book, with at least 1 million ratings on any one website. (I’m finding that 1 million is an ambitious number; feel free to scale down if necessary.)
  • 16. Read an unknown book, with no more than 100 ratings on any one website.
  • 17. Read a book that was turned into a movie.
  • 18. Finish a series. The Ringworld Throne, Larry Niven, wrapped up the Ringworld series.
  • 19. Read a History book, fiction or nonfiction. A Short History of Nearly Everything, Bill Bryson (still reading it).
  • 20. Read a short story, one with less than 5,000 words. The Nine Billion Names of God, Arthur C. Clarke.
  • 21. Read a short book, one between 5,000 and 100,000 words. The Caves of Steel, Isaac Asimov (89,280 words, according to one site I saw; still reading it).
  • 22. Read a long book, one between 100,000 and 250,000 words. A Fire Upon the Deep, Vernor Vinge (200,00 approximately, best estimate I could find; still reading it).
  • 23. Read an epic book, one with over 250,000 words.
  • 24. Read a self-published book.
  • 25. Read an indie book, where the publisher is a small or niche house and not one of the top 6 publishers. Seasons of War, Declan May, ed. (Chinbeard Books).
  • 26. Read a book published under one of the Big 6 publishing houses. MASH: A Novel About Three Army Doctors, Richard Hooker (Published by William Morrow Paperbacks, which is an imprint of HarperCollins, one of the Big 6. I should note that it’s more correctly the Big 5 now, as Penguin and Random House merged on July 1, 2013.)
  • 27. Read a Biography, whether normal, Auto, or Memoir.
  • 28. Read a book labeled as a Best-Seller from this year.
  • 29. Read a book about Politics and/or Religion.
  • 30. Listen to an Audiobook. The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde.
  • 31. Read a book on paper. Doctor Who: Love and War, Paul Cornell.
  • 32. Read a book that was, or currently is, banned by a government. Brave New World, Aldous Huxley (previously banned in Ireland and India, challenged often elsewhere).
  • 33. Read a book in the Thriller or Suspense genre. It’s a loose definition of thriller, maybe, but The Four Legendary Kingdoms, Matthew Reilly.
  • 34. Read a Mystery book. What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw, Agatha Christie.
  • 35. Read a book labeled as Dystopian.
  • 36. Read a debut book from this year.
  • 37. Read a book by or featuring a character that is LGBT. Looking for Rachel Wallace, Robert B. Parker.
  • 38. Read a book in the Paranormal genre. The Omega Factor, Jack Gerson.
  • 39. Read a book with pictures in it. Popular Crime, Bill James.
  • 40. Read a book for the second time.
  • 41. Read a book that’s been on your to read-list for more than a year.
  • 42. Read a book that features animals.
  • 43. Read a book where the main character goes on a journey. The Eight Doctors, Terrance Dicks.
  • 44. Read a book where a stranger comes to town. Edgedancer, Brandon Sanderson (published as part of Arcanum Unbounded).
  • 45. Read a book labelled as a Satire or Allegory.
  • 46. Read a book from the Self-Help, Health, Travel, or Guide category.
  • 47. Read a collection of poetry.
  • 48. Read the first book in a series. Cat’s Cradle: Time’s Crucible, Marc Platt, the Doctor Who New Adventures series. (I had to cheat a little and go back to the last weeks of 2016–I have a few others, but I’ve already listed them).
  • 49. Read a book that won a literary award.
  • 50. Read a book set in your country.
  • 51. Read a book not set in your country, but exists today.
  • 52. Combining all the letters of all the titles of all the books you’ve read this year, complete the alphabet.

 

Happy reading!