Five weeks into 2012, and I'm already ahead of the game! Following a year where I only read four books, I'm looking to increase my pace to a one-a-week schedule. During weeks one through five, I managed to finish a total of eight books. The following is a brief, spoiler-free review of what I've been reading the past few weeks.
Of the four books I read in 2011, three of them were young adult fiction. Just about everyone has read the Hunger Games trilogy by now, and I'm no exception. On the heels of these books, which I enjoyed greatly, it was recommended that we try the Maze Runner series as well. The general feel of the series is very similar to that of The Hunger Games. Thomas, a teenage boy, wakes up in an walled-in glade with forty or fifty other boys. None of them remember how they got there, and they are surrounded on all sized by an enormous maze. They have spent the last two years trying in vain to solve the maze when Thomas shows up. In the days following Thomas' appearance, though, everything changes forcing them to up their efforts very quickly.
If I hadn't read The Hunger Games, I might think more highly of this series. The idea in general is an interesting one, it just felt very poorly executed. Don't get me wrong, it's a very engaging series, and I read through it very quickly. All three books are a very easy read, but easy isn't always good. The best way I can describe the series is that it was a great idea that I wish a better author had tackled. That said, the author is working on a fourth book -- a prequel -- and despite my lukewarm feelings about the series I will probably read that as well.
It's no secret that I like depressing books. This is my second time reading this book through, and I can absolutely say that it has become one of my favorites. It's the story of a father and son in post-apocalyptic America, trying to make their way east to safety. If you're reading the book just for the facts of the story -- the state of the world they are in and the events that happen to them -- it is incredibly dark and depressing. What I love about this book is the bond between father and son and the father's steadfast determination to watch out for his son and get him to safety, no matter the obstacles. Even in the face of near death and starvation, over and over, he puts the wellbeing of his boy before his own. While it is absolutely a sad story, I always find a strong element of hope that there exists something in our human nature that can push good to the forefront even in horrible circumstances.
The Road, by Cormac McCarthy -
This one is a minor cheat. I started reading this in early November, but put it on the back burner a month later, only to return to it this past month. A Short History of Nearly Everything, by Bill Bryson, it a fairly comprehensive view of the history of everything we know about the world we live in, from a layman's perspective. Bryson points out that we grow up knowing about the layers of the earth, volcanos, evolution, space, atoms, etc. but there are so many things that go unanswered. Like, how do we know how old the universe is? What causes ice ages? If an atom is made up of mostly empty space, how does everything hold together?
I enjoyed what I learned from this book, but as you might expect from a book with such diverse subject matter, there were parts that I had to force myself to read through. I found myself really enjoying the parts about geology, space, and our universe's origins, while barely staying awake during the parts dealing with quantum physics, atoms, and molecular studies. Regardless, the fact that a non-scientist like Bryson dedicated some serious time to answering these questions for other non-scientists is greatly appreciated. It's a bit of a commitment, but it's worth a read if you're at all curious about the state of science and how we know what we know about the world today.
A Short History of Nearly Everything, by Bill Bryson -
After lagging behind January on several books, we decided that we would pick a book and read it at the same time. When I finished up A Short History of Nearly Everything, January still had a day or so on her current book. I sorted my "to read" list on Goodreads by length to pick out the shortest one, and Of Mice and Men turned out to be it. It's the story of two migrant field workers, George and Lennie, who travel to various farms to make a living hoping to one day save up enough money to buy a little place of their own where they can "live off the fatta the lan'." Lennie is a mentally disabled oaf of a man, and George does his best to look after him as they travel around working the fields. It's a great -- but not happy -- story and at barely 100 pages it really should be on everyone's reading list.
Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck -
I loved this book. I recently realized that, when rating books, I have a tendency to be a little too generous with five-star ratings and almost never dole out one- or two-star reviews. Consequently, I have decided that I won't give a five-star rating to any book that I have only read once. That said, I think The Night Circus could one day be a five-star book for me. I knew almost nothing about the book when I started reading it and I'm glad I didn't spoil it by reading the dust jacket intro. In that spirit, I won't say much except that it's the story of an extraordinary circus at the turn of the 20th century which is the site of a battle between two magicians and their students. The Night Circus was as magical and enchanting as you would expect a book about a magic circus to be. I believe this is Erin Morgenstern's first novel, which is very impressive given the quality of the writing. I will say, though, that the last 10% of so of the book lost me a little. I'm not entirely sure I'm on board -- or even very clear -- with the resolution, but the first 90% was so enjoyable that I'm sure I'll be back for a second read before too long.
The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern -
Life moves a little slower when you add a child to the family. I like to get my annual photo slideshow out right around the end of the year -- preferably a few days before, but usually shortly after. This year's took a little longer to get together, but the result is a pretty solid look at the first year of our larger Team Soell collective. Enjoy!
We all get it. SOPA is bad. If you're unfamiliar with it, SOPA is the bill put before congress that, in an attempt to combat piracy, would have a hugely negative impact on the Internet. Today is the day that lots of sites, including Wikipedia and Reddit are apparently protesting this bill by going dark.
I appreciate a good protest, but this one seems somewhat poorly targetted to me, especially in light of the fact that the SOPA bill was officially shelved late last year.. But that's not the point of this post. I ran up against my first roadblock on Wikipedia this morning and was unable to view some content that I was looking up. I quickly found an easy way around it, and I wanted to share in case anyone else actually needed to use the Internet today.
So if you need to read something on Wikipedia today, just drag the bookmark below up to your toolbar. Whenever you run into one of the extraordinally annoying "SOPA is awful, please contact your congressman" messages, just click it and you'll have your content back.
Or, if you're a Google Chrome user, you can use this extension -- courtesty of Vivek Gupta -- to do the work automatically throughout the entire Wikpedia site. Enjoy. And, of course, be sure to contact your congressman.
I've never been one for New Year's resolutions, but I do like to set goals for myself from time to time. Ever since our trip to Prague last Fall I've been on a pretty good tear with my Kindle, reading my way through the Hunger Games series as well as Haruki Murakami's latest epic 1Q84. That's four books in around twelve weeks. That's pretty good, but I can do better. In 2012, I'm making it a goal to read 52 books. One every week.
I've already given myself a little bit of a head start, as I'm going to count a couple of books I technically started last year, but finished this month. I'm dangerously close to the end of Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything, and last week I finished up a re-read of Cormac McCarthy's dystopian masterpiece The Road. At January's prompting, I also started reading the Maze Runner series last week and I'm already into the second book. So I'm here at the beginning of week two, and I'm already close to checking four books off my list.
I know that this ambitious timetable probably won't allow me to read many books of much depth or length, but I still think it's attainable. I'll try to post monthly updates with where I'm at along with mini reviews for what I've been reading. In the meantime, why don't you join me? It doesn't have to be 52 books. Maybe 10 is more reasonable for you. I don't think the number is important, just the idea of challenging oneself is half of the point of this exercise.