30 Days of Books – Day 30 – Your Favorite Novel of All Time

I was all set to write down a tidy little answer like “To Kill a Mockingbird” or “White Oleander” when I realized that no tidy answer would really be accurate. I don’t have a favorite novel, I love many different novels for as many different reasons. Can’t give you one, but I can give you my top ten in no particular order:

  1. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
  2. Feed, M.T. Anderson
  3. White Oleander, Janet Fitch
  4. Rats Saw God, Rob Thomas
  5. World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, Max Brooks
  6. A Separate Peace, John Knowles
  7. House of Mirth, Edith Wharton
  8. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Sherman Alexie
  9. Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck
  10. The Belly of the Atlantic, Fatou Diome

Looking at this list, it occurs to me that I like novels about people who don’t belong, or those who have a foot in two different worlds without having a place in either.

Edited to add: This list just didn’t look complete without It, by Stephen King. Couldn’t bear to eliminate any of the top ten for It, so I guess it’s top eleven.

30 Days of Books – Day 29 – A Book Everyone Else Hated but You Liked

We have nearly reached the end of this fine, fine meme…and I just realized that it is Tuesday and I should go check what the Top Ten Tuesday theme is for this week.

Some of my most lasting impressions from my K-12 days are the days we would get a new book for class. I would go straight home and often read the whole thing that night (neglecting all other homework), ensuring weeks of discussions in which I would try to participate without talking about stuff the other students hadn’t read yet.

Many of my fellow students hated the books purely because they were books, which must be read.

Lord of the Flies by William Golding was a book that I loved, which my peers seemd tormented by. When they weren’t confused or utterly disinterested, they were disgusted with descriptions of the littleuns getting diarrhea from too much fruit, or tittering over Jack running around naked as a jay-bird.   

To be fair, their disinterest may have been the fault of our teacher. She was heavily into symbolism and I’m not sure that a forty-five minute lecture on Simon as a Christ-figure was ever going to light a fire in rural 8th-graders from an orchard town.

I, on the other hand, seriously dug the novel. Novels that examine “civilization”, its creation and collapse, its interdependent human systems, continue to be my favorites. Much like Stephen King’s Under the Dome or O.T. Nelson’s The Girl Who Owned a City, Lord of the Flies always felt very true to me. That’s just what would happen.

The novel is a “what-if”: “What if a plane full of British schoolboys crashed on a deserted island and they were forced to fend for themselves with not an adult in sight?”. The boys begin attempting to emulate the type of civilization they were raised in, but more extreme personalities in the group soon sieze the opportunity to indulge their more uncivilized impulses.

As things spin swiftly out of control the novel deftly explores what it is that civilization preserves and masks. The youngest children represent the general population: their interests are food, shelter, safety, and pleasure.  Ralph is a natural-leader type, willing to take up the mantle of leader because he can see a way for everyone to get along in relative comfort until rescue arrives, if only they will all pitch in. Opposing him is Jack, a boy seduced by the idea of power, willing to threaten safety and promise comfort without work in order to obtain it.

The other major players divide along lines based upon their need for civilization. Piggy is a creature entirely dependent upon it: he wears eyeglasses and has asthma, he exists by the grace of civilized society. Naturally, he supports Ralph. Just as naturally, when their island-society crumbles Piggy is no longer afforded the grace needed to survive. Simon, stand-in for religion and philosophy, is the first sacrifice the boys’s  primitive natures. Those complex systems of belief, those graces, prove all too fragile in the face of base instinct.

Backing Jack we find Roger, a boy with a nature too violent to fit properly into civilized society. He needs their civilization to crumble as much as Piggy needs it to stand. With these carefully crafted players in place, Golding lets the novel unwind along with the boys’s social programming, more shocking with every page.

30 Days of Books – Day 28 – Your Favorite Title

I rather like the title of the novel that I am currently reading to my husband whenever we take long drives: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. The title really gets at the 80’s geek-culture theme of the novel while evoking that feeling of heightened senses, that hyper-alert readiness one feels when about to begin playing (or in my case, losing) a video game.

We’ve just begun the novel but the basic idea is that an impoverished gamer-geek in a dystopian future stumbles onto the first clue in a decades-old puzzle left by the designer of the virtual world most people now spend large chunks of their lives logged into. Willy Wonka style, whoever solves the puzzle gets the keys to the kingdom: the video-game mogul’s vast fortune and a controlling share of the stock in his company, which controls the OASIS (the aforementioned virtual world).A lot rides on that controlling interest: the privacy of every gamer using OASIS, its accessibilty to all regardless of financial status, the OASIS refreshing lack of in-game advertising.

Upon his death, the tycoon left an 80’s-reference-packed video announcing this contest. Decades later many have lost interest in the hunt for that first copper key which is hidden somewhere in OASIS, his magnum opus. Those keeping the flame alive study 80’s film, television, video games, and cultural paraphernalia with a religious fervor.

The title is a reference to those early coin-op favorites that alerted competitors to the start of gameplay with the phrase “Ready Player One”. Fitting, because once the narrator unearths that first key, he’ll have to be on his game.

30 Days of Books – Day 27 – The Most Surprising Plot Twist or Ending

The kinds of novels I read aren’t really given to plot twists or surprise endings, and non-fiction certainly isn’t.

The only book I could think of for this one was Mockingjay. I don’t know if it was completely surprising but it was like “Damn, Suzanne Collins. You went there.” It actually felt like how things had to end for Katniss, honestly, but so many authors would have tried to soften it. Pulled up at the last moment. I was surprised that she so unapologetically wrote what needed to be written.

I am deathly terrified to spoil anything for those who have yet to finish the series, but for those who have read it I will clarify to what “twist” I am referring. The entire segment of the novel from sewer lizards to Coin’s speech.

A lot of people found this book a disappointing conclusion to the series, and I have to say I don’t get that. I found it completely fitting. My only guess is that they hoped for a happy ending, or thought Katniss was strong in a way that she wasn’t and were disappointed to find she was only human (and a very damaged one at that). The third Hunger Games novel was heartbreaking, but it was never a fairy tale to begin with.

30 Days of Books – Day 26 – A Book That Changed Your Opinion About Something

It may be a seemingly inconsequential opinion, a preference for summer birthdays like my own over a too-close-to-Christmas winter birth, but Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers convinced both me and my similarly summer-born husband that we would be doing our future children a favor if we aim for February.

Outliers is a sociology-meets-economics text in the vein of Freakonomics that takes an in-depth journey through some of the factors that contribute to success. Gladwell argues that it is circumstances surrounding the successful (ranging from birth month to culture and generation) that lead to success far more than the traditionally valued intelligence and “natural talent”. An early chapter points out a direct link between athletic stardom and birth month: a result of athletic league cutoff dates, rate of physical maturation, and the process for identifying and nurturing athletic talent. Other chapters deal with formality in communication, social class versus intelligence level, linguistic happenstance, and meaningful work as contributors (or hindrances) to success.

The book is a fun and interesting read, cleverly laid out to keep even the most casual reader engaged to the last page. I would recommend it to any human being.

It’s winter babies all the way!

30 Days of Books – Day 25 – Character You Relate to Most

Well, now I wish I hadn’t used Astrid. This is what I get for not reading ahead. There could have been a lovely little spreadsheet with pre-determined titles for each day keeping my posting schedule humming along.

Who am I kidding?

Other than good old Astrid, I find that I can really relate to Luna Lovegood, of the Harry Potter series. Luna has nearly unwavering faith in her father (a crackpot who speaks with self-granted authority on almost every subject), which leads her to support some pretty weird theories at times. Her belongings are stolen and she is mocked for being who she is, and none of this really influences her to try and be something more socially acceptable. She also loves pudding. And radishes.

Me, too.

Luna’s fundamental contentment with who she is means that she spends a lot of time alone, being snickered at by her classmates, until she happens to cross paths with people equipped to appreciate what she brings to the table. Much like Luna, I found that this point came in mid-to-late high school (she makes friends with Harry and crew in the fifth year, when she would have been fifteen). She speaks the truth as she sees it, often so bluntly that it makes those around her uncomfortable. Even as part of a group of friends, she still exists at the periphery doin’ what she does. Yup. I even had an alliterative name that was used to create an insulting nickname, much like “Loony Lovegood”.

Luna and I, we’re tight.

30 Days of Books – Day 24 – A Book You Wish More People Would Have Read

All of them. All the books. I wish more people would read more books.

This is the absolute truth, but perhaps not the most satisfying answer?

How about…Interstellar Pig by William Sleator?

It was really hard to narrow it down to just one William Sleator novel, because I’ve loved pretty much every one I’ve read, but Interstellar Pig definitely sits at near the top of the heap (again, don’t cry, I don’t store my books in heaps any more than I store them in barrels). For the unfamiliar, Sleator was a writer of bite-sized YA science fiction novels, generally informed by his studies in psychology and physics. In later years he began to dabble in metaphysics. This is all past tense because he died last year. I was terribly sad.

Interstellar Pig is a novel about a rather average teenage boy, Barney, stuck at a historical rental house with his parents for the summer. When some charismatic new neighbors move in, they ask for a tour of Barney’s rental and their interest draws him into a mysterious competition he doesn’t quite understand. It seem to center around his neighbors’s favorite board game, Interstellar Pig, which pits fantastical alien species against each other in a race to ensure their planet’s survival. And only one planet will survive

It’s a quick read, and great fun. Everyone should give it a try, even if sci-fi isn’t normally your thing. The science in this particular Sleator novel isn’t too dense or challenging, just a bit of flavor.