What I read in 2015, and what I hope to read in 2016

Writing this post made me realize that I started this blog over a year ago. Although I’ve failed at my goal of weekly blog posts, I’m happy with the number of books I’ve read in 2015, which is an improvement over last year’s number.

2015 was a big year for me. I finished up school, wrapped up two internships, and secured a full-time job after graduation. With fewer assignments to complete, I hope this means that 2016 will be filled with more books, and of course, more blogging. Without further ado, here are the 30 books I read this year:

  1. An African Millionaire, Grant Allen
  2. MaddAddamMargaret Atwood
  3. The Year of the FloodMargaret Atwood
  4. A Prince of SwindlersGuy Newell Boothby
  5. In Cold BloodTruman Capote
  6. Ender’s GameOrson Scott Card
  7. The Perks of Being a WallflowerStephen Chbosky
  8. No NameWilkie Collins
  9. Crime and PunishmentFyodor Dostoevsky
  10. The Count of Monte CristoAlexandre Dumas
  11. The CircleDave Eggers
  12. Blink: The Power of Thinking Without ThinkingMalcolm Gladwell
  13. Outliers: The Story of SuccessMalcolm Gladwell
  14. Raffles: The Amateur CracksmanE.W. Hornung
  15. The Buried GiantKazuo Ishiguro
  16. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Ken Kesey
  17. The Shining, Stephen King
  18. The StandStephen King
  19. Sputnik SweetheartHaruki Murakami
  20. The Amber SpyglassPhilip Pullman
  21. The Golden CompassPhilip Pullman
  22. The Subtle KnifePhilip Pullman
  23. Please Look After MomKyung-sook Shin
  24. East of EdenJohn Steinbeck
  25. Of Mice and MenJohn Steinbeck
  26. DraculaBram Stoker
  27. CandideVoltaire
  28. The Little Stranger, Sarah Waters
  29. The MartianAndy Weir
  30. The Time MachineH.G. Wells

I read the majority of these books on my handy dandy Kindle, which I received as a Christmas gift last year. It’s honestly the best gift I’ve ever received: something useful to my lifestyle that I would never have considered purchasing on my own. If you’re on the fence about buying an e-reader, I’d highly recommend it, despite how much I love paper books.

My favourite book this year by far was Steinbeck’s East of Eden, although the book that I most connected with on a personal level was Kyung-sook Shin’s Please Look After Mom. There were some classics I read this year that were so highly praised that they ended up disappointing me (see Dracula). But East of Eden simply has everything I look for in a book: enriching prose, multi-faceted characters, and the ability to keep me thinking about the characters and their morals long after I’d finished reading. Some classics are definitely less impactful today than they were upon original publication, but East of Eden is still a masterpiece.

I’m  happy with how many books I managed to read this year in a variety of genres, but I’m disappointed that I only read three female authors this year! I suppose it’s because I focused on reading a lot of “books I should have read already” (ie. classics) this year, but to be honest, that’s no excuse. I’m planning on reading more works by female authors next year, “because it’s 2015”, in the words of our new Prime Minister, or rather, 2016. I’d also like to read more works from outside the U.S. and U.K., as well as more contemporary fiction.

Happy New Year, and hope your 2016 is filled with lots and lots of reading!

Book Review: Ender’s Game

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He had no control over his own life. They ran everything. They made all the choices. Only the game was left to him, that was all, everything else was them and their rules and plans and lessons and programs, and all he could do was go this way or that way in battle.

Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card

Ender’s Game is one of those novels I’d heard about for years but never picked up until now. It’s probably because it’s usually branded as “military” science fiction, and I’ve often found myself bored by military fiction…although I of course acknowledge the importance of novels about war and its implications, I find myself bored by descriptions of lengthy battles and the tactics used to win them.

In Ender’s Game, the battles are more engaging. The concept of children fighting in zero-gravity environments, kind of reminiscent of laser tag, is at first horrifying, fascinating, and refreshing. But as the novel drags on, the battles remain mostly the same, only increasing in frequency and difficulty as Ender rises in the ranks and is faced with fresh challenges. As a reader, I acknowledged that Ender was facing more difficulties, but I knew that he would simply rise above them, as he always had.

Ultimately what I found interesting about the novel was Ender himself. Near the end of the novel, after Ender has completed his final mission, Graff claims that Ender was the perfect commander due to his empathy: “We had to have a commander with so much empathy that he would think like the buggers, understand them and anticipate them. So much compassion that he could win the love of his underlings and work with them like a perfect machine, as perfect as the buggers.”

But is Ender empathetic? Is he sympathetic or relatable? As I read the novel, I recognized that the situations Ender undergoes are unfair, but I didn’t necessarily feel sorry for him, even on account of his age. At the beginning of the novel, Ender is only six years old, yet he is capable of thought and language far beyond his years, like all of the children in the novel. Although Peter and Valentine remark that they are not like normal children, so few normal children appear in the novel that it becomes easy to assume that all children are as competent as Ender’s peers.

Although Ender is able to understand others’ feelings, it’s unclear whether he actually cares for other people. He seems to long for companionship from characters like Valentine and Alai, but his actions are always calculated to achieve certain effects on other characters and don’t seem to come from genuine compassion.

Even Valentine, to whom the peaceful side of Ender’s nature is attributed, admits that she uses her powers of persuasion to manipulate others and their own desires. While Valentine and Ender care for each other, their relationship with each other (and with every other character) is one of control and manipulation. While I admired Valentine and Ender’s intellect and desire to save humanity, they simply weren’t likeable characters.

In Ender’s case, too, I found it difficult to be sympathetic to Ender because of his violent nature. Being that it’s a novel about war, Ender’s Game depicts violence often, but the most troubling occasions of war are those outside the Battle Room, in Ender’s encounters with Stilson and Bonzo. While Ender feels remorse for these encounters after they’ve happened, it was difficult for me to see him as a child rather than a violent killing machine, especially in the encounter with Stilson, which happens before his training at the Battle School. Violence is everywhere in the novel, but the first instance of it made it hard for me to ever sympathize with the protagonist.

YES OR NO?: YES. Despite my lack of sympathy for Ender, I simply couldn’t put this book down. And although the plot of the book can get repetitive, with Ender simply overcoming obstacles, winning battles, and rising in the ranks again and again, I found that the characters: Ender, Valentine, and Peter especially, were written in a complex enough way to keep me engaged.

Book Review: The Time Machine

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I grieved to think how brief the dream of the human intellect had been. It had committed suicide. It had set itself steadfastly towards comfort and ease, a balanced society with security and permanency as its watchword, it had attained its hopes—to come to this at last.
The Time Machine, by H.G. Wells
Why are we so attracted to science fiction? Maybe it’s a testament to the imagination of the writer. In addition to crafting the fictional characters and plots that all novels consist of, science fiction writers must also fabricate new worlds, lifestyles, and technologies. And unlike fantasy, well-written science fiction usually retains just enough of our current world and current lifestyles to scare us, a tiny bit.
Margaret Atwood was once quoted rejecting the “science fiction” label for Oryx and Crake, instead dubbing it “speculative fiction”. “Science fiction has monsters and spaceships; speculative fiction could really happen,” she famously told The Guardian. Science or speculative, I love this type of fiction, especially those written years ago. It’s fascinating to see what authors predicted decades if not centuries ago, and how many of their predictions came true.
The Time Machine was first published in 1895, more than a century ago. While our society hasn’t transformed into the world of the Eloi and the Morlocks visited by the Time Traveller, the musings of the Time Traveller are still relatable. And, of course, the novella explores the idea that transgressing human boundaries in the pursuit of too much knowledge is ultimately harmful.
The Time Machine follows in the tradition of older science fiction works, namely Frankenstein and Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, in that it is a layered narrative. The unnamed narrator is a guest and friend of the unnamed Time Traveller, who narrates the majority of the story. This allows the reader to see the Time Traveller’s story through another pair of eyes. It also distances the reader from the actual science of it all. Maybe if the work was actually narrated by the Time Traveller, the reader would see more clearly into the Time Traveler’s mind, the scientific workings of his Time Machine, and his motivations for time travel.
But instead, we’re distanced from the Time Traveller, who is clearly a likeable character, yet not instantly relatable. What I took away from the story was its cautionary element: cautioning not only against the divided society of the Eloi and Morlocks, but also of the Time Traveller’s relentless pursuit of knowledge. The Time Traveler reaches untested realms of human achievement, but doesn’t really gain from it in any way…again, much like Victor Frankenstein and Dr. Jekyll.
YES OR NO?: I would say YESThe Time Machine is a quick, entertaining read, although I found the portion prior to the Time Traveller’s adventures a bit boring. Although far-fetched, it also provides some food for thought around advancements in technology and the future of the human race.