Summer reading list 2018

Here we go again.

Two years ago, I came up with what I thought was a great idea. Inspired by the summer reading lists I had to suffer through in school, I created a simple reading challenge. So, now that the unofficial start of summer is upon us once more, let’s try again, shall we?

As in the previous installments, the whole thing is unofficial. It’s just for fun. There aren’t any prizes, you won’t have to write any book reports, and you get to pick what you read. That said, there are a few general rules:

  1. The goal is to read 3 books between the US holidays of Memorial Day (May 28) and Labor Day (September 3). These are considered the “unofficial” endpoints of summer, and they roughly match the months when school isn’t in session. (If you’re in the Southern Hemisphere, it’s a winter reading list, but I can’t help that.)

  2. A “book”, for the purposes of this challenge, can be just about any non-periodical. Use your best judgment. Graphic novels are okay, but comic books probably aren’t. Just be honest with yourself. That’s what counts most.

  3. One of the books should be nonfiction. Doesn’t matter what kind, as long as it involves actual events and people. History, biography, true crime, and even technical manuals all work for this, though historical fiction obviously doesn’t.

  4. (Writers only) One book should be of a genre you don’t normally write in. For example, a fantasy author should give, say, science fiction a shot. This is your chance to step outside your comfort zone. Of course, you can count the nonfiction book from Rule 3 for this, too.

  5. (Writers only) You can’t count anything you wrote. Not even if it’s under a pen name. That one’s pretty simple, and it’s mainly because, if I didn’t put it in there, I would be tempted to use my own works.

So that’s it. That’s the challenge. I’m crossposting this to both my Patreon and my blog. Feel free to spread it wherever you like. If you’re one of those who likes to put everything on social media, let’s see if we can stake a claim on the hashtag #SummerReading. I don’t go in for Twitter or Facebook, but I have recently created an account on Mastodon, so you can follow me or check my progress there. I’m @mikey@toot.love right now, but I’ll probably move somewhere else later on.

Have fun, everybody. And have a great summer.

Summer Reading List 2017: The End

So it’s Labor Day. (And it really is. For the first time in a long time, I’m writing a post just before it’s posted, rather than weeks or months in advance.) If you remember a while back, I announced something called the Summer Reading List. Well, today’s the day to put the books down and take stock of what we’ve accomplished through the summer. Here’s mine.

Fiction

Title: Bands of Mourning
Author: Brandon Sanderson
Genre: Fiction/fantasy
Year: 2016

This is the third part of Sanderson’s second Mistborn series, and I initially thought it was the finale. (Trilogies are usually 3 books, right?) Apparently, he had a bit of a Douglas Adams moment with this one, though, because it’s actually supposed to be 4.

Anyway, on to the book. It was good, I’ll admit. The not-quite-steampunk setting turned out to be a lot more fun than I expected, and the various ways it connects with the original Mistborn trilogy bring about some fond memories. The action is often cinematic, and the characters are…quirky. Not the word I want, but the one I’ve got. Some of the story elements are pretty bizarre, especially in the final third of the novel. All in all, it’s a good read, a good continuation of the story, and it left me eagerly anticipating the next book in the series.

On the other hand, Bands of Mourning wasn’t without its flaws. Chief among these was the prose, which sometimes felt off. Maybe it was my copy, and maybe it got fixed in a later edition, but the prologue was especially hard to read. I’m the last person to give myself praise, as you probably know, but I’d say that I could write that part of the story better. But I’ll have a post talking about that later in the year, so let’s move on to our next contestant.

Nonfiction

Title: Apollo 8
Author: Jeffrey Kluger
Genre: Nonfiction/Space History
Year: 2017

Space has always fascinated me, and it always will. In the absence of interesting missions today (and for the last 40+ years), I don’t mind delving into the history of spaceflight for a good read. Kluger, as you may know, was the co-author of Apollo 13 (or Lost Moon, as it was titled before the movie came out). You wouldn’t think the sequel would back up five numbers, but there you go. Apollo 8 was the first manned mission to reach the moon, and it was a great tale even before Kluger got his hands on it.

The book itself is good, but it’s inevitable that it would be compared to its predecessor, and there, I think, it falls short. Apollo 8 didn’t have the action, the danger, the frantic scrambling for solutions of 13. So that makes this book more of a character drama, in my opinion. The fact that they’re throwing together a mission to the moon seems almost secondary at times. And even among the early astronauts, living as they were in what was already becoming an outdated notion of society and character, Frank Borman is not the most interesting subject. (But the same author’s already done the same story from Lovell’s point of view, and Anders is forever in a supporting role, so there’s not much choice.)

Still, if you like space, especially the early years of exploring space, this one’s worth your time. And some of the backstory elements were more than worth it, like the deeper look at the Apollo 1 fire investigation. Also, the mission itself really was grand. I mean, they went to the moon. They orbited it for a day. On Christmas Eve, no less! With manned spaceflight in the eternal holding pattern of low-Earth orbit, looking back is all we’ve got, so let’s look back to our best, right?


Title: The Last Stand
Author: Nathaniel Philbrick
Genre: Nonfiction/Military History
Year: 2010

I’ll just go ahead and say this right now: Nathaniel Philbrick might be the best author of American history alive today. He’s certainly one of the most accessible. And this is one I didn’t even know he wrote until I saw it on a…certain virtual bookshelf.

If you read (or watched!) In the Heart of the Sea, you’ve got a pretty good idea of Philbrick’s style and content. The Last Stand takes a single event in American history, Custer’s Last Stand, and dissects it, takes it down to its very core. And, unlike so many historians, he does it for the other side, too: Sitting Bull and his warriors get their day in the sun, too. Of course, like any good popular history book, the battle itself doesn’t get started until halfway through. We don’t so much as see the Little Bighorn for quite a few chapters. And the worst of it’s over quickly, just as it was in reality.

I’m not well-versed in the history of 19th-century America, especially that of the Wild West, so I can’t really tell you how accurate the book is. But we’re talking about an author who is very meticulous when it comes to his research, so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. And it’s always nice to see the “real” truth behind a legend, particularly one you’ve never considered before.

That’s how I was here. The last time I so much as thought about Custer and his doomed stand was when he made a brief appearance at the end of Hell on Wheels. It’s not a period of history, or a person from history, that I’d go out of my way to research. But I thought the same of the Essex and Charles Wilkes, so there you go.

Next year?

For most of the summer, I was busy reading my own books, writing and editing and revising them. By my own choice, I barely had time to read the three I named above. But that’s the point of the Summer Reading List challenge. It’s a challenge. It’s supposed to be more than you’re used to.

So I think I’ll keep doing this in the future. Maybe you won’t, but I will. It’s fun, and it’s a great excuse to read something you probably wouldn’t otherwise. And if it means staying out of the vicious heat of summer, then so much the better. Bring on Memorial Day 2018, I say.

Summer reading list 2017

Last year, I had what I thought was a great idea. It was a simple thing, really: read three books between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Now that we’re working our way through 2017, and we’re at that time of the year, let’s give it another shot.

Unlike the summer reading list of school, this one is all in fun. There are no tests, no book reports, and no assigned texts. No, this is something far more informal and (I hope) fun. As before, you can’t have an actual challenge without rules, but I’ve tinkered with them slightly. Here’s what I’ve got for this time around:

  1. You have to read three (3) complete books between May 29 and September 4, 2017. Giving up halfway doesn’t get you partial credit, so make sure you pick something you can stand to finish.

  2. One (1) of these books should be nonfiction. Any kind of nonfiction will work, whether history, biography, self-help, technical manual, or even a collection of witticisms, but it has to be real. (Historical fiction doesn’t count for this, by the way, even if it is set in the real world.)

  3. Graphic novels count, but comic books don’t. The distinction is subtle, I’ll admit. I’d say a comic book is a short periodical, usually in magazine-style binding, while a graphic novel is a longer work presented in the same way as a text-only book. You can be your own judge, as long as you’re honest with yourself.

  4. If, like me, you’re an aspiring fiction writer, then one (1) of the books must not be from your preferred genre. For example, a fantasy writer should read a non-fantasy book, perhaps sci-fi or a modern detective story. The idea is to branch out, to dip your toes into some other pool for a while.

  5. If you’re a writer, then books written by you don’t count at all. It doesn’t matter what they are; if your name’s on the cover (or in the metadata, or whatever), then you can’t use it.

Like last year, this is all in fun. The only prize is the satisfaction of a job well done, and the knowledge that comes with broadening your horizons. Also, it’s not meant to be anything serious. Don’t get discouraged if you can’t pull it off, but there’s no reason to boast about going above and beyond, either. If you want to share what you’re reading on Facebook or anywhere like that, there’s nothing stopping you. I’ll be doing the same here, and probably on my Patreon, too. (By the way, I’ve got quite a few books up over there. Nothing stopping you from using one, you know.)

Most of all, enjoy yourself, enjoy your books, and enjoy the summer. That’s what it’s all about.

Summer Reading List 2016: Wrap-up

So it’s Labor Day, and we’ve reached the unofficial end of another summer. Last month, I posted my progress in my Summer Reading List challenge. I had read 2 out of 3 then, and I’ve since finished the third.

Literature

Title: New Atlantis
Author: Sir Francis Bacon
Genre: Fiction/literature
Year: 1627

Yes, you read that year right, this is a work almost four centuries old. You can find it at Project Gutenberg if you want to read it for yourself. That’s where I got it, and I’m glad I looked it up. Genre-wise, I’m not sure what to call it, so I went with the catchall of “literature”.

New Atlantis is what we’d call a short novella today, but that’s mainly because it was never truly finished. It’s also an incredibly interesting text for its vision. Written like many old stories purporting to be travelers’ tales, it describes the utopian land of Bensalem, supposedly located somewhere out in the Pacific. The inhabitants of that land are far advanced (compared to the 17th century) and living in a veritable paradise of wisdom and knowledge.

By my personal standards, however, it reads more like a dystopia: despite professing a very progressive separation of church and state, for example, Bensalem is hopelessly rooted in Christianity, to the point where even the Jews living there (the narrator meets one) lie somewhere in the “Jews For Jesus” range. The whole place seems to be governed in a very authoritarian manner, where societal norms are given force of law—or the other way around. Yes, Bacon describes a nation better than any he knew, but I would take modern America, with all its flaws, over the mythical New Atlantis every time.

But people today rarely look at those parts of the text. Instead, they’re more focused on what the scientists of Bensalem have done, and this is described in some detail at the very end of the work. Bacon’s goal here is to overwhelm us with the fantastic creations, but they read like a laundry list of the last hundred years. If you read it right, you can find airplanes, lasers, telephones, and all kinds of other things in there, all predicted centuries ago. And that is the real value of the book. It’s further proof that earlier ages did not lack for imagination; their relatively unadvanced state was through no fault of their minds. As an author myself, I find that information invaluable.

Next year?

I had fun with this whole thing. I read something I never would have otherwise, and I pushed myself outside my normal areas of interest. I’m not sure I’m ready to make this a regular, annual occurrence, but it seems like a good idea. I hope you feel the same way.

Summer Reading List 2016: halfway home

We’re halfway through the official summer, about two-thirds of the way done with the unofficial season we’re using for our Summer Reading List. I don’t know about you, but I’ve got two out of three.

Fiction

  • Title: Shadows of Self
  • Author: Brandon Sanderson
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Year: 2015

This is the fifth book in Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series, the second of the second trilogy. It’s a pretty good one, though I feel it’s a bit weaker than some of the previous four. Compared to its predecessor, The Alloy of Law, it’s a bit lighter on the action, but far heavier on the worldbuilding. That’s fine by me. If you haven’t noticed, I love worldbuilding, and Sanderson is one of the best there is when it comes to it. I’ll definitely give this one high marks, and I can’t wait to read the trilogy’s finale, The Bands of Mourning. (It’s already out, by the way.)

Nonfiction

  • Title: A Million Years in a Day: A Curious History of Everyday Life
  • Author: Greg Jenner
  • Genre: History
  • Year: 2016

I found this one not too long ago (somewhere…), and I’m glad I did. It’s a fun look back through the history of everyday things and activities, following and relating to one modern man’s Saturday. I love history, and I especially love those smaller, less popular bits of it. History is not all about wars and religion and politics and race. It’s about people living their lives, and those lives never really change that much. And that’s the message of this book. Definitely worth a look, especially from a worldbuilding perspective. (Funny how that works out, huh?)

And one more…

I haven’t decided what the final book on the list will be, but I’ve got another month, so I should be okay. I hope you’re playing along at home, and that you’re having fun doing it.

Summer reading list 2016

In the US, Memorial Day is the last Monday in May, and it is considered the unofficial start of summer. Time for the kids to get out of school, time to fire up the grills or hit the water. Although the solstice itself isn’t for three more weeks, late May feels like summer, and that’s good enough for most people.

But there’s one hint of school that stays with us through these next glorious weeks of peace: the summer reading list. Many will remember that awful thing, the educational system’s attempt to infringe on a child’s last refuge. I hated it, and you probably did, too. The books they chose were either awful (Ayn Rand’s Anthem) or tainted by association with school (Into Thin Air, by Jon Krakauer). Just like the reading assignments of the other nine months, the summer reading list seemed designed to suck all the enjoyment out of a book.

Now that we’ve outgrown it, things are different. We no longer need to read to please others. But that doesn’t mean we stop reading. No, we instead choose our own path.

So here’s a bit of a challenge for you. Read three books between now and Labor Day (September 5). That’s roughly one a month, so it shouldn’t be too hard. There won’t be any reports due, so you don’t have to worry about that, either. Remember, adults can read for fun rather than work.

It wouldn’t be a challenge if there weren’t rules, so here they are:

  1. You have to read three (3) complete books between May 30 and September 5 of this year. (For following years, it’s the last Monday in May to the first Monday in September.) Giving up halfway doesn’t get you partial credit, so make sure you pick something you can stand to finish.

  2. One (1) of these books should be nonfiction. It can be anything from history to self-help, but it has to be real. (Historical fiction doesn’t count for this, by the way.)

  3. If you’re an aspiring fiction writer, then one (1) of the books must not be from your preferred genre. For example, a fantasy writer should read a non-fantasy book, perhaps sci-fi or a modern detective story. The idea is to branch out, expand your horizons.

  4. Graphic novels count, but comic books don’t. The distinction is subtle, I’ll admit. I’d say a comic book is a short periodical, usually in magazine-style binding, while a graphic novel is a longer work presented in the same way as a text-only work. You can be your own judge, as long as you’re honest with yourself.

And that’s it!