I think Alexander the Great: The Hunt for a New Past gives an excellent and unbiased view of the life of Alexander the Great. It examines what sources are available and talks about both positive and negative interpretations before going into the author’s own views. The book presents a comprehensive historical overview with the appropriate contextual elements woven into it. It draws a lot from historical sources and makes very insightful conclusions. Every aspect of Alexander’s life is broken down into a chapter (for example: “Alexander and the Persians,” “The Divinity of Alexander,” etc.) and explored in depth, with references to events described earlier. Overall, I think this is a great picture of Alexander’s life that not only gives the reader an in-depth introduction to the man himself, but also to the historiography and controversy that surround him. For anyone interested in Alexander, this is a must read. Even for those without any great interest in history, this book presents a case where fact is often much more fantastic than fiction in a well-written (if occasionally very academic) way.
Almost anything from Margaret Atwood is a good read. The world is heading in this direction. Fictional, but possible future if we keep messing around with DNA, GMOs and cloning while killing off species with our foolishness and need for more.
Editor’s note: Oryx and Crake is the prequel to The Year of the Flood.
This book is pretty much the definition of a summer read. The story, written by the writer of When Harry Met Sally and Sleepless in Seattle (two of my favorite movies) follows Rachel, a pregnant mother of a two year old, as she tries to piece her life together after finding out that her husband is having an affair. While the story made me laugh, it also made me think. For the first time, I really began to think about what women give up to have a career and what women have left without the lives they built with their husbands.
What makes this book well worth the read is the way Ephron writes about food. In the novel, Rachel is a cookbook writer and her descriptions of food had my mouth watering from the first page to the last. Through the story, Ephron also works in actual recipes almost all of which I would be more than willing to try.
Ephron has a gift for telling a touching story in a way that makes you laugh.
The author of this memoir holds MFA from Sarah Lawrence University and teaches at SUNY Purchase. She also worked for four years as a professional dominatrix in New York City and was a heroine addict while earning a degree from the The New School University.
This fascinating memoir is challenging to read and definitely not for everyone. But the story was not written simply to shock. The author has interesting and provocative insights about the men she saw in her work and whose fantasies usually consisted of them role-playing as women. And she confronts her own fantasies and obsessions. As is often the case, the clients in the “dungeon” are mostly middle and upper middle class men, and the other “dommes” are educated women.
The story of how the author gets off drugs and finally leaves sex work (a line of work where the women rarely take off their clothes or have sex) is mostly a story of Febos learning about her own struggles with the need to control. She has written recently for the Chronicle of Higher Education and was a guest on NPR’s “Fresh Air” in March.
As noted above, this book is not for everyone. It is explicit in parts, and deals with the work of a dominatrix and of drug addiction in gritty detail. It was a risky, and honest, book to write as Febos begins her academic career.
Organic Manifesto: How Organic Farming Can Heal Our Planet, Feed the World, and Keep Us Safe is a must read for anyone who wants to live on this planet. Cigarette packages come with a health warning on them. After reading this book, I think all chemically grown food should too.
Maus tells the story of Art, a Jewish mouse, attempting to create a comic about his father, Vladek, a WWII survivor. There are so many gripping aspects to this story that it is it difficult to know where to begin. The most visually striking aspect is that the true story of Spiegelman’s father is told through Jewish mice, Polish pigs, and German cats. There are times when Vladek is pretending to be Polish to escape the Nazis, and he wears the mask of a pig, highlighting ethnicity as little more than a disguise. There are even moments when the reader sees the author, Spiegelman, drawn wearing a mouse mask.
But far beyond the visual effects, the story itself is equally striking. Vladek’s story shows human ugliness in all forms and the overwhelming strength. The story is not meant to create Vladek as a hero, but rather to show his struggle, and the lifelong effects of that struggle.
While reading both parts of this book, I had to constantly remind myself that this is a true story. The things a person will do to survive, both “good” and “bad” are absolutely extraordinary. A story like this is important, not only to tell the story of those who survived, but also so we never forget the story of those who didn’t.
I am a sucker for stories about peoples’ lives: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is my favorite book, and Forrest Gump is my favorite movie. The Time Traveler’s Wife does not disappoint; not only does this novel chronicle the lives of Clare Abshire and Henry DeTamble, but it does so tastefully, imaginatively, and, despite the science fiction aspect of the novel’s central theme, believably.
Henry suffers from a genetic disorder that causes him to time-travel, unexpectedly leaving his present and arriving in different times and places in his life, naked; as a result, he spends most of his time pick-pocketing, searching for clothes, and running from the police. It is only when, in his mid-30s, Henry is able to travel back to his wife Clare’s childhood that he is finally safe. From the ages of 6 to 18, Clare secretly meets her future husband in her backyard, hiding him from her family and getting to know a little more about him with each visit.
When they finally meet again in their 20s, Henry has no knowledge of Clare, although Clare has grown up with Henry. The book chronicles their lives together; the frustrations of time travel on Clare’s end, and the excitement on Henry’s. They face many challenges, including the fear of the unexpected, problems with conceiving a child, family struggles, and ultimately, the grave consequences of time travel.
This was Niffenegger’s debut novel; her second novel came out last year. Not only was this novel beautifully-written and fascinating, but it really made me reflect on aspects of my own life and how I can better appreciate what I have and accept the things that I don’t. This is a must-read (and not a “chick” novel, even if the 2009 movie version is)!
Jean-Dominique Bauby was the editor-in-chief of Elle magazine in France when he suffered a stroke in 1995 that landed him in a coma. When he awoke 20 days later, he found himself in what he describes as “locked-in syndrome,” where he was completely paralyzed albeit some eye movement. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly chronicles Bauby’s daily life, from his thoughts about family and coping, to how people treat him and the strong memories of his past.
Early in my reading, I wondered how Bauby was able to write or even dictate the memoir to somebody. My questions were answered halfway through the book; the entire book was written by Bauby blinking his left eyelid using “partner assisted scanning,” in which the transcriber repeatedly presented a series of letters to Bauby, with Bauby blinking at the correct letter. The average word took two minutes to write, and, in all, the book was written by ~200,000 blinks.
More than anything, I was amazed by the complexity of the sentences Bauby was able to produce; the patience and memory it must have taken to compose the memoir is mind-blowing. It was fascinating to be in the mind of someone facing such a debilitating condition, and I read the book in one sitting.
Sadly, Bauby died from pneumonia just two days after publication. I highly recommend this quick read; if not for the content, one can at least appreciate its mode of composition.
My boyfriend’s best friend asserted that The Name of the Wind was the best book he’d ever read. When I read a review online that described it as “Harry Potter for adults,” I knew I had to check it out for myself. Although a longer read, the book captivated me. It was very easy to become engrossed in the characters’ lives, especially Kvothe, the main character who is forced to grow up faster than any child should be allowed; I was shedding tears before page 100. Although I wouldn’t consider myself well-read in the fantasy genre, I would have to agree that this book ranks with some of the greatest out there.
The Name of the Wind is the first of what will be a series of three books, The Kingkiller Chronicle. The second will be available in early 2011, delayed due to writer’s block, according to Patrick Rothfuss’ blog on his official website.
This book was exciting, well-written, and although I am a slow reader, my boyfriend gobbled it in just 3 or 4 days. I can’t wait to see what else Patrick Rothfuss has up his sleeve for Kvothe’s life; after all, Book 1 only covers a few years of his childhood!
Elizabeth Hay’s wonderful novel Late Nights on Air takes the reader on an ultimately haunting trip to the dauntingly barren but breathtaking reaches of the Canadian North in the mid-1970’s, where a finely-drawn ensemble of characters are brought together in the minuscule town of Yellowknife. Hay’s talent is to create authentic, recognizable people and situate them in a place that may be exotic in its way yet one that very few of us would choose to visit for very long. For many of the characters, Yellowknife is a brief stop on their way through life, a place of possible escape where they’ve somehow landed after a disappointment or professional failure has sent them to this lonely town way off of the beaten path. Others have settled in the town years ago and decided that it would be as good a place as any to call home. The story is centered on a radio station, a nearly forgotten Canadian Broadcasting outpost that may or may not survive the coming of a new television station. An oil pipeline is also in the works causing much debate among the residents.
Although the physical setting of the book, the town and the vast natural wilderness surrounding it, is virtually a personage unto itself, the human characters that Hay has so vividly brought to life are the book’s, and Hay’s, greatest achievement. The people and the place stay with you and that, to me, is the highest praise that I can give to a book. If my description of the plot, such as it is, sounds like thin gruel, this may not be the book for you. But if you value writers who can survey the inner workings of a disparate group of individuals and plant their stories unforgettably in your mind, Elizabeth Hay is one to be cherished. This is the first book of hers that I’ve read (thank you Celia for the recommendation) but it will not be the last.