Monday, August 9, 2021

Fifth 10 Books I Read in 2021

 Reading Period: August 3 - December 17

1. Stoner, by John Williams


    After crushing my reading goal of 40 books in 2021, I couldn't help myself and continued on. Since I'm spending most of my waking hours working or studying, audiobooks are proving to be a godsend, a chance to listen to books while I work out, drive, and shower. I decided to continue with the fiction route for audiobooks, to listen to things I might not have the patience to read word for word. Surprisingly, this book, Stoner, is one of the best books I have ever read. 

    The book follows the life and death of William Stoner, a college literature professor. It sounds boring, but trust me, it is. Stoner leads a plain, uninteresting life. He doesn't fight for much. He has basic conversations with basic people. Of all the books I have read, the main storyline of this book is by far the most boring. Why then, was the actual reading captivating? I think it is because John nails the human experience to an unparalleled extent. The menial tasks, the indifference of nearly everyone towards nearly everything. I honestly hated pretty much every single character, I hated their pettiness, their boringness, and most of all, their indifference. But they didn't care what I thought of them, they cared very little about anything. John paints such a realistic portrait of life, and then life ends, leaving the reader to wonder about the meaning of any of  it. Tedious, depressing, and well worth the read.

2. Three Men in a Boat, by Jerome K. Jerome


    Likely my last book for 2021. My audiobook craze lasted for about a month, but I am likely back to reading print versions of everything going forward. This is quite the turn of events, given how much I raved about audiobooks my past two reviews. It is too hard to pay attention to the storyline, and this book was so hilarious that it would have been nice to re-read or highlight sections. So after four audiobooks (my only audiobooks ever), I have canceled my Audible subscription.

    This book, really, is hilarious. I would say probably the funniest book I have ever read. Jerome, George, and Harris are unforgettable characters. It is strange to me that many comedy movies do not hold up after 30 years, but this book is still funny 150 years later. Many of Jerome's relatable insights stand true to this day, and the overall wit and silliness deserves high praise.

3. The Way of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson


    The Way of Kings is my favorite fantasy novel of all time. There are very few books that I obsess over and scramble to finish, reading 200 pages a day for multiple days. This is one of those books. One of those books where I realize my eyes are getting dry, because I haven't blinked in quite a while due to how focused I am. Brandon has a specific way of writing stories, popularly called a "Sanderstorm." He has a collection of characters with independent storylines, and each chapter switches off between the list of characters. Around the last quarter of the book, these storylines converge. Every loose end that can be tied up is wrapped in a bow. Every storyline is closed in an immensely satisfying way, but in a way that is unpredictable and novel. Some of the characters interact, and they interact in a very sensible and coherent fashion. This is Epic Fantasy, and indeed this story is epic.

    Brandon is likely the best world-builder around, and the world he has constructed in this first book of The Stormlight Archive is masterful. As with any story by him, the magic system and the storyline take the front seat. His weaknesses as a writer are very clear and predictable. His prose is nothing special, which is fine, but there are times when his characters speak in a way that is very, I don't know of a better way to say this, but very corny. This can ruin the immersion a bit. You have to expect that these are stories of good versus evil, and good will win. Try not to think too much when reading. Sit back, enjoy the ride, and you will love this book.

4. All Systems Red, by Martha Wells


    This was a solid novella. The story and the main character were surprisingly intriguing for such a short book. Murderbot, the main character, is a half-human half-robot with social anxiety. This makes for some hilarious moments, as they begrudgingly are forced to interact with humans throughout. I think the storyline was a very predictable, but it's hard to complain about a novella that is meant to be short and fun.

5. Golf is Not a Game of Perfect, by Bob Rotella


    Golf is not a passion of mine. However, I was told this was the absolute best book on golf around and that the lessons taught could be applied elsewhere in life as well. The differentiating factor for high level performers is all mental, and thus you as a golfer your mental strategy matters just as much as your talent and skill. This book discusses the ideal mental game. Treating every shot as independent, being conservative, playing with confidence, etc., are all aspects discussed at length. Really, the overall message of this book is simple: the perfect is the enemy of the good. Being decisive is more important than being correct, and you have to realize you will make mistakes and avoid dwelling on them. Overall, probably not worth the read unless you are passionate about improving your golf game. Still, a very well put together book.

6. The Myth of Sisyphus, by Albert Camus


    "There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy. All the rest— whether or not the world has three dimensions, whether the mind has nine or twelve categories—comes afterwards."

    This might be my favorite opening to a book. Albert tackles the most important question: is life worth living? As a human, you can either commit suicide or be condemned to die at a later, unknown date. This book reflects on this topic, drawing from a range of authors to explain and defend Absurdism. Absurdism is Albert's philosophy, as he endorses living in spite of the absurd contradiction between the human desire to find the meaning of life and the apparent absence of any meaning in life. The simplest example is that of Sisyphus, who was condemned to push a rock up a hill for eternity. Once the rock reaches the top of the hill, it rolls back down, and Sisyphus must walk back down the hill and push the rock up again. This eternal repetition seems meaningless, but Albert asks us to imagine Sisyphus as happy, walking down the hill with a grin.

    The overall summary of this book is very intriguing, but I was very confused at the execution. It could be that I do not understand the references of that time, but the most frequent example of the "absurd man" is notorious womanizer Don Juan. It could be that I am missing something, but the examples and defense of Absurdism do not make any sense. Living in spite of the universe does not give someone's life meaning, and I can't seem to find Albert's argument against the idea that "everything is permissible."

7. The Shadow Over Innsmouth, by H.P. Lovecraft


    A surprisingly good horror story. I've never read a Lovecraft novel before, and I can understand what all the rage is about. This was a quick tale of a traveler who visits a creepy, mysterious fishing town in order to chronicle its architecture. As you can imagine, things go sideways and he is forced to spend the night. Overall, a nice quick read that made me add a few more Lovecraft books to my reading list.

8. Grave Peril, by Jim Butcher


    Probably my last Dresden Files book. I decided to read the first three books in the series, and they have all been disappointing. This book was leagues better than its predecessor, Fool Moon, but it was still clunky and the writing in some parts was, well, just bad. Like Brandon Sanderson says, you want your characters to be smart. You want them to be able to solve problems as you would, as it is frustrating to read dumb characters make dumb decision. The main character's girlfriend, a reporter, sneaks into the vampire headquarters in order to get the "inside scoop," accompanied by a bag full of garlic. I wonder how long it takes to write a book this elementary. The overall plot lacks anything of substance or intrigue. Well, at least I can say that I tried.

9. Recursion, by Blake Crouch


    Exhilarating book. Without getting into the details, this is an awesome mind-bending sci-fi book that doesn't pull any punches. My only complaint is that it is pretty similar in style to Dark Matter and Replay, two other books that I read this year. Regardless, Blake takes the reader on a thrilling, mysterious ride through time, memory, and death. I really enjoy these action packed books that have a philosophical twist. I think this novel contains everything I want in a book, and I'm likely going to add a few more like this to my list.

10. We are Legion (We are Bob), by Dennis Taylor


    Coming in at book #50 of the year, We are Legion was a fun Sci-Fi book about a man named Bob who gets turned into an artificial intelligence. He then gets implanted into a space ship and is tasked with colonizing other planets and saving what is left of humanity. This was an fun, young-adult level audiobook, and a damn good one. I was expecting a bit more of a hard science fiction book, but now that I know Dennis's writing style I think I'd enjoy the next books in the series more.