Thursday, March 1, 2018

The Summer Reading List, 2018

Sketch in My Notebook
Though we’ve done book and TV reviews since this blog’s inception, the Summer Reading List Project didn’t formally get its start until 2016.  That first List was very successful, both in the sense that my friends enjoyed participating and because I myself found a bunch of books that I quite enjoyed reading.  I’ve done a few additional Lists in the months since, but none of those have informed my actual summer reading in the same way.  Mostly, they’re just been lists of related books that I put together as part of the Project’s archives.
This year, however, I’m actually looking for something to read.  Like you, I have my favorites.  But it seems like a lot of my favorite authors aren’t publishing right now, and here we are.

This year’s list has been heavily influenced by shows I’ve been watching on TV and/or by authors that have recently been in the news.  Beyond that, my friends came through with an eclectic collection that looks very promising.  
This list is presented in no particular order.

The Summer Reading List, 2018

1. The Expanse by James S.A. Corey.  I tried the SyFy adaptation but didn’t care for it.  Other folks loved it, though, so I decided to try the books and hope that I’d maybe missed something.  The series starts with Leviathan Wakes, and so far I’ve been enjoying it immensely.
It’s a little early to try to summarize everything in its entirety, but what I’ve read of Leviathan makes it realistic science fiction set maybe 400 years in the future.  Humanity has colonized the solar system—Mars, the asteroid belt, and many of the moons above the outer planets—but we remain stuck operating with sub-lightspeed travel.  The first book, then, is a would-be story about colonization and independence, but I’m not sure that’s the way the series as a whole is going to go.
Anyway, acceleration and deceleration play significant parts in this story, so if you care about physics, there’s that.  Mostly, though, this is a political thriller set in a depressingly realistic future.
2. Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan.  I ordered a new copy of Altered Carbon at the same time that I ordered Leviathan Wakes.  In watching the adaptation, I’ve started to feel like I maybe missed some stuff the first time around, and anyway, I want to re-read the rest of the series before the next season debuts on Netflix.  Also, I really want to talk to my buddy Chris about the book, but he hasn’t actually read any of it.  So we’re sharing these; I ordered the first one and will mail it to him when I finish.  He’s gonna reverse that for book #2.
Altered Carbon is a future-noir cyberpunk crime novel.  It’s mostly a murder mystery, but there’s a lot going on, and that’s part of the appeal.
3. Ghost Fleet by P.W. Singer.  My military friends recommend this every time I ask.  It’s been on the list for way too long now.  It’s time I finally crossed it off.  
I honestly have no idea what Ghost Fleet is about, but it comes up repeatedly in reference to the U.S. Navy’s inability to navigate without satellites or GPS, so I assume that somebody gets either nuked or hacked or both.  With any luck, the squids will have to dismount their oars and row.
4. Marvel Masterworks: Black Panther (Volume 1). Slate did a really nice piece about this collection last week, which is how it comes to be on this list.  Volume 1 reprints the original mid-1970s story by writer Don MacGregor (alongside several prominent artists of the era) that serves--very loosely--as the backbone of the new movie.  1970s-era comics can be an acquired taste, but I’m really looking forward to this one.  
Black Panther originally appeared in Marvel's Jungle Action.
I personally like the more literary style that they used back in the day, but not everyone agrees.  Today’s comics are more like “graphically illustrated screenplays,” as often as not created as loss-leaders for would-be major studio projects. It’s no surprise, then, that Hollywood is recycling the old stuff, stuff that was intended to stand unaided on its own merits.
5. The Dragon Blood Collection by Lindsay Buroker.  My buddy Brian says, “I’ve read five of her books in the last month.  I might have a problem.”
The first book is called Shattered Past, and it appears to be a military-fantasy-steampunk-romance.  Not what I’d have pictured from Brian, a full colonel in the United States Cavalry, but then, this is why we ask these questions.  Amazon lists at least eight books in the Collection, so at the very least, Buroker is prolific as all Hell.
6. The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cromwell.  This is the first book in the Saxon Chronicles, historical fiction set in 9th century England at the time of a massive Viking invasion.  It’s also a series on Netflix that has become a favorite of mine since Sally and I finished Ozark.
This is a book with a lot of Vikings
The story follows a Saxon noble whose father and brother are killed by Danish Vikings.  The raiders take him as a slave but eventually raise him as their own, making him both Saxon and Dane.  Or, as King Alfred puts it in the series, he is “the embodiment of what the new England must become.”
7. The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson. This one was recommended by a friend who is an Army chaplain.  Amazon says that it is a Pulitzer Prize-winning account of African American migration out of the South in search of a better life.  I live in Connecticut having fled the South myself, and though I’m not black, these ideas have been much on my mind of late.  Promises to be a fascinating read.
8. Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth.  Another recommendation from a West Point classmate.  The blurb on Amazon begins as follows: “In this instant New York Times bestseller pioneering psychologist Angela Duckworth shows anyone striving to succeed be it parents students educators athletes or business people that the secret to outstanding achievement is not talent but a special blend of passion and persistence she calls grit”.

Grit is supposed to start at Beast Barracks and work its way forward.  I guess we’ll see.
9. Grant by Ron Chernow.  This recommendation comes from one of my father’s friends, Sid, another Army chaplain who’s retired from the 20th Special Forces Group.  Sid is a serious Civil War buff, and he gets props for giving me a book that’s about a Union general, a West Point graduate, and an eminently successful author.  Of course, Grant was president, too.
The New York Times gave Chernow a glowing review when this book was released.
10. Imajica by Clive Barker.  My friend Ben gave me this one.  He writes a blog called Life in Austin and is Internet-famous for drawing robots.
Even after reading the blurb on Amazon, I still have no idea how to describe Imajica.  There’s talk of art forgery, destiny, and aliens from the 5th dimension.  Oh, and the new version is illustrated.  
So this is either amazing or mind-bendingly strange—or both!
11. Elizabeth is one of my very best friends.  I’ve told people that if I had a sister, Elizabeth would be her exactly.  She’s a working freelance writer out of Iowa State and a hugely sarcastic college sports fan.  So yeah, exactly my sister.  But she made a bunch of recommendations for the 2016 version of this list, and… well, it didn’t work out.  I tried two of her books but couldn’t make it through the first chapters, and I fear that I hurt her feelings.
It took some rather insistent urging, but she finally made a bunch more recommendations.  And, I mean, I don’t quite know what to say.  It’s like we’re not speaking the same language.  I’m looking for something to read down at the Boat Club, and Elizabeth wants me to get an MFA in Comparative Literature that incorporates at least half female authors and a sense of gender identity.  Meanwhile, I like plenty of female authors and have put several on this list, but definitely not as part of any affirmative action program in my reading.  I simply like their work.  This, to me, is why you read an author’s work.
Anyway, from Elizabeth’s original list of seven, I’ve culled two:
 -- Bridge of Birds by Barry Hughart.  Amazon describes this as “a lyric fantasy” set in “an ancient China that never was.”  Sounds promising.
 -- The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows.  If I’m reading this right, the book is an epistolary novel set in 1946 as Europe is emerging from the shadow of WWII.  A British writer and an islander from Guernsey exchange letters about their lives.  I’ll own that I’m skeptical—this sounds a lot like the plot for an Oscar award-winning movie that I’d hate—but maybe I can find it at the library.  I quite enjoy epistolary novels as a genre.
12. Leonardo Da Vinci by Walter Isaacson. My buddy Ray recommended this entry.  He is a permanent professor of History at West Point and perhaps the Army’s foremost thought leader on the science of mentorship.  I think he is trying to expand my horizons here.  I appreciate the thought, but I honestly don’t know if I’m up to the task.  On the other hand, this book’s a NY Times #1 bestseller, so maybe I’m just not challenging myself enough.
Bonus: Amazon is selling this book in combination with Grant, so they must know me pretty well at some level.
13.  By Ursula K. Le Guin, who’s been much in the news since she passed away.
 -- The Wizard of Earthsea.  This is the first installment of the Earthsea series, arguably the most famous of Le Guin’s works.  The blurb compares the series to Lord of the Rings or Narnia while following promising something like a Hero’s Journey plotline.  The Harry Potter novels supposedly borrow heavily as well.  To paraphrase Le Guin herself, Rowling “could have been more generous” about the source of her inspirations.
 -- The Dispossessed.  This is Le Guin’s anti-war/anti-government book, written specifically during her opposition to Vietnam.  She herself called it an “anarchist utopia” and noted later in life that a society without laws could actually exist or carry on with anything productive.  I’ve put it onto this list for my libertarian friends, for whom it is supposed to be something of a how-to text, and also because I wanted to add more than one Le Guin novel to this particular mix.
Slate’s obituary offers some additional choices.  Most intriguingly, Planet of Exile lays out something like the full plotline to A Song of Ice and Fire in a sparse hundred pages or so.

1 comment:

  1. Looks like a great list! I am glad my haranguing and epic sisterly guilt led to two my books being on the list! Spoiler Bridge of Birds is one of COLIN'S favorite books of all time as well! Love you Dan! (arm punch) Maybe I'll read some "man books" this summer, to balance out the universe.