It’s been entirely too long since I’ve written about books, so I figured I’d better write something, lest anyone think I stopped reading (horrors! I could never do that). Yep, my (lack of) literature discussion has nothing to do with a lack of reading. My body didn’t get the Sandman Memo last night, so since I’m up, I’m writing. And tonight (this morning), it’s about some of my best friends: books. (Insomnia Silver Lining Moment?)
This is indeed the third post of this kind; for the first two installments, please check out Part 1 here (from May 2009) and Part 2 here (from October 2013). (An average of only one of this type of post every four years or so? I should really write one of these more often.)
Here are my picks, which are just the tip of an iceberg. 😉
(Note: All links are to the Wikipedia entry (which may contain spoilers), unless Wiki’s entry sucked or didn’t exist.)
In no particular order, other than that which I had written them down…
The Hot Zone, by Richard Preston:
At first, this book resembles a novel. It’s that entertaining. It’s not dry, but there’s also no unnecessary drama or anything. It’s essentially a medical documentary, written for the above-average layperson. Richard Preston is an extremely respectable medical journalist who actually did both his footwork and his homework. He interviewed people who were so close to the top that some of them actually asked not to be named or identified. Despite the fact that the book is essentially an anthology of interviews, it does not read as such; this is not a Q & A. Rather, it actually takes the reader through the history of the virus’s discovery and various key outbreaks, including the carriers, transmission, and other factoids. As dry as it may sound, it isn’t.
Yep, folks the Ebola Virus can indeed spread through the air (in the form of aerosolized droplets, despite the adamant claims made by The Officials that it cannot), and scientists, researchers, and people in the field have known this since the early ’80s.
Shampoo Planet, by Douglas Coupland:
Because no book recommendation list would be proper if it didn’t include a Douglas Coupland book. And in terms of book lists and home libraries, “proper” is a virtue. Douglas Coupland is essentially the Salvador Dali of Generation X-themed literary fiction. He combines unlikely words and develops fascinating characters, all of which creates vivid cascades of surreal literary imagery. His writing style is unlike any other. Shampoo Planet is no different in that it is extremely different; this is an author without a predictable formula; every book is unique.
OK, enough fussing and gushing on my part. Like many of Coupland’s books, this one profiles a multi-dimensional Generation X-membered protagonist without an antagonist, unless oneself (or perhaps a situation itself) can be considered an antagonist. The main character’s life is mesmerizing to me, just based on the fact that he travels Europe but lives in a near-ghost-town situated in the rural northern desert of inland Washington State, is fairly apolitical but dreams of working for a defense contractor (and probably has the brains to hook that up), and calls his ex-hippie mother by her first name (Jasmine) at her request. I’m almost wondering if the main character–or perhaps Coupland himself–has an above-average number of Asperger’s traits (?). 😉
Practically any book by Harlan Coben:
If there was ever a good-natured smart-ass, one that you couldn’t help but like, this author–and the main character in his major series (the “Myron Bolitar” series) are shining, jumping-jacking examples. Coben’s niche is the semi-violent, somewhat-intense, but mostly-incredibly-lighthearted swagger he pulls off effortlessly.
His books also have a semi-surreal quality, but in a starkly different way. He writes comfortably within the parameters of the Mystery/Thriller genre, but never got stuck in the rut of anticipatory formula; each book is indeed different, independent, unique, and exciting. The Myron Bolitar series (the light-hearted-get-sensitive, wry, dry-humored introvert of a protagonist) chronicles the friendship between Myron himself and someone who seems to be his polar opposite–a blue-blood, old-money, privileged white Ivy League yuppie who has a completely surprising worldly ace up his sleeve: rather than being boring and hum-drum, Myron’s sidekick friend actually possesses incredible martial arts talent (complete with authentic black belt granted to him by the martial arts elders in Asia), and shows absolutely no fear and hardly any emotion. The novel series takes the reader through the years of this unlikely friendship and their union against various adversaries in their wild and fast-paced New York City world.
Coben also writes stand-alone novels that have nothing to do with the Myron Bolitar series. These are just as–if not even more–surreal-yet-realistic; the plot lines are unlikely to happen in real life, the odds being infinitesimally tiny, but one must admit that they could be remotely possible nonetheless. You may see a few cameo appearances by minor (and colorful) characters from the Myron Bolitar series, but the stand-alone novels are anything but redundant.
One word about Harlan Coben’s books, though: these are not your average whodunits. I have never seen any other book literally twist-and-turn (switchback style) as randomly and unpredictably as Coben’s writing. Even on the last or next-to-last page(s), there’ll be a single sentence that packs a game-changer punch. You can probably read them in bed at night, up to about one-third of the way through; after that, though, they’ll probably keep you awake until the end. Just remember that after the first one-third of the book, you cross a point of no return. You’ve been warned (wink).
State of Fear by Michael Crichton:
A group of Green-Gone-Mad Eco-fringe activists hatches a plot to expose the dangers of global warming/climate change by lining up a series of eco-terrorism events like dominoes in the name of raising awareness and satisfying a little desire for payback upon who they perceive to be perpetrators of the problem. What I particularly admire about this book is Crichton’s lack of bias and thorough, realistic portrayal of both sides of the global warming/climate change argument, backed by margin-footnoted research sources, which are real studies from well-respected medical journals. Given the balanced style of writing, it’s incredibly difficult to tell which position Crichton personally takes. He does fess up about his personal stance on the issue in the Epilogues/notes at the end of the book (which I won’t reveal here) but the book itself is incredibly well-written.
One of my favorite aspects is the origin/roots of the title of the book: the “State of Fear” pertains to:
“the existence of a “politico-legal-media” complex, comparable to the “military industrial complex,” of the Cold War era. Hoffman insists climate science began using more extreme, fear-inducing terms such as “crisis,” “catastrophe,” and, “disaster,” shortly after the fall of The Berlin Wall, in order to maintain a level of fear in citizens, for the purpose of social control, since the specter of Soviet Communism was gone.”
Score! I was hooked. I wasn’t disappointed. You won’t be, either.
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest by Stieg Larsson:
This is an incredible series (with the titles listed in order) that almost didn’t happen; it was discovered, translated, and published, after Larsson’s premature death. A tangled web of complex and gritty, keeping-it-real characters, engaged in an equally-tangled, complex, and gritty plot in which each book would stand on its own, but taken together, they add up to more than the sum of their parts.
The books take place primarily in Sweden, involving a young, angry, hard, and brilliant female goth computer hacker who has been declared mentally ill and mentally incompetent, and is required to have a “guardian” in place at all times, several shady businessmen (one of whom is an abusive and coercive tyrant), a media scandal,mysterious disappearances long ago, governmental corruption and scandal involving the s3x tr@de (purposefully misspelled so as not to attract those looking for the wrong type of love in the wrong places), violence and redemption, and last but not least, enduring bonds of friendship.
For the sensitive, extra-empathic, or traumatized, I will caution that these books contain plenty of trigger warnings, involving sexual assault and abuse and so on. So please do proceed at your own risk.
FunFact: After getting a pretty large speeding ticket a couple years back, I appeared in county traffic court with this book and I really do think it influenced the prosecution to go easy on me. Despite the fact that I had been speeding pretty egregiously (I had been the only car on a straight street in the daytime, so I put no one at risk), I ended up getting deferred adjudication only. (To be very clear, I’m not bragging here; I didn’t do anything to be proud of; I just thought the judge’s reaction was interesting.) ❤
Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand:
A mammoth novel that, despite its thickness and verbosity, would not be exactly the same if a single word were removed, this ahead-of-its-time story traverses across decades of the frog-in-boiling-water syndrome that, if one ponders deeply enough and looks at the situation from a particular angle, draws many parallels with society’s contemporary position, today.
Essentially, this book tells the 1950s edition of a futuristic theoretical world in which a cat-and-mouse game of government-versus-private-enterprise has gone too far and much like a black hole, the two sides have unwittingly conspired to collapse and implode into themselves, sucking everything else with it. Resorting to ever-greater measures of social engineering and population control, the only escape is a carefully-chosen, hand-picked, tight-knit, off-the-grid community that lives in isolation, anonymity, and secrecy. Let’s just hope that if a situation like that ever comes to pass, that an escape hatch like that exists.
Ayn Rand actually grew up in the Communist/Socialist regimes of the Soviet Union during their heyday, and she could not escape fast enough. When she did, she chose the US as her destination, and wrote freely henceforth. Some may regard her as cold and emotionless, but I believe that she is merely operating from a logic-only stance, which I also believe she has earned the right to do; after all, she has lived the nightmare firsthand.
None of these are hot-charting new releases or anything. But I’ve read them all, cover-to-cover, and I’ve enjoyed each of them thoroughly. I hope you enjoy them, too. 🙂