Friday, March 14, 2014

14 Books for 2014

The other night I was sleep-deprived and stressed (HAHA that's every night!) and I decided to pick 14 books from my shelf that I am required to read this year.  My shelves are a mixture of young adult literature, classical literature, adult literature and non-fiction memoirs and histories. In order to keep this balance, I chose a couple books from each genera.  Here are my choices.

Adult Literature

I Love You, Beth Cooper by Larry Doyle
Denis Cooverman wanted to say something really important in his high school graduation speech.  So, in front of his 512 classmates and their 3,000 relatives, he announced: "I love you, Beth Cooper." It would have been such a sweet, romantic moment.  Except that Beth, the head cheerleader, has only the vaguest idea who Denis is.  And Denis, the captain of the debate team, is so far out of her league he is barely even the same species.  And then there's Kevin, Beth's remarkably large boyfriend, who's in town on furlough from the United States Army. Complications ensue.
Written by a former writer for The Simpsons, this novel is sure to be hilarious.  It's also a fitting read as I will be graduating as well in a couple months.  Plus, after I read it, I can watch the movie starring Jason Segal.

Revolting Youth: The Further Journals of Nick Twisp by Cd Payne
In the wry and subversive further journals of Nick Twisp, we reunite with America's most literate teen diarist as he accidentally ignites criminal mayhem, seeks union with his love, Sheeni Saunders, and still has to live as a girl to avoid the police - an absolute must-read for all fans of the oddball humor of Youth In Revolt.
Youth In Revolt was one of the first books I read upon becoming a teenager and I love it.  It was amazing and taught me so much about the male psyche!  I never knew there was a sequel until about a year ago and can't believe I haven't read it yet.  I'm incredibly excited to reunite with Nick.

High Fidelity by Nick Hornby
Rob is a pop music junkie who runs his own semi-failing record store.  His girlfriend, Laura, has just life him for the guy upstairs, and Rob is both miserable and relieved.  After all, could he have spent his life with someone who has a bad record collection? Rob seeks refuge in the company of the offbeat clerks at this store, who endlessly review their top five films, top five Elvis Costello songs, top five episodes of Cheers.  Rob tries dating a singer whose rendition of "Baby, I Love Your Way" makes him cry.  But maybe it's just that he's always wanted to sleep with someone who has a record contract. Then he sees Laura again.  And Rob begins to thing (awful as it sounds) that life as in episode of thirtysomething, with all the kids and marriages and barbecues and k.d. lang CDs that this implies, might not be so bad.
High Fidelity starring John Cusack is one of my all-time favorite films and when I learned it was adapted from a book, I had to check it out.  It will be interesting to see the differences between the two and which I will enjoy more.

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
Richard Mayhew is a young man with a good heart and an ordinary life, which is changed forever when he stops to help a girl he finds bleeding on a London sidewalk.  His small act of kindness propels him into a world he never dreamed existed.  There are people who fall through the cracks, and Richard has become one of them.  And me must learn to survive in this city of shadows and darkness, monsters and saints, murderers and angels, if he is ever to return to the London that he knew.
I have read two of Gaiman's books before, The Ocean at the End of the Lane and American Gods, and found his mixture of fantasy and reality deeply engaging and entertaining.  On top of that, Gaiman is an amazing writer who takes the reader on a journey though a fantastical realm through the eyes of the most average characters.

Classic Literature 

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
At the heart of Catch-22 resides the incomparable, malingering bombardier, Yossarian, a hero endlessly inventive in his schemes to save his skin from the horrible chances of war.  His efforts are perfectly understandable because as he furiously scrambles, thousands of people he hasn't even met are trying to kill him.  His problem is Colonel Cathcart, who keeps raising the number of missions the men must fly to complete their service.  Yet if Yossarian makes any attempts to excuse himself from the perilous missions that he is committed to flying, he is trapped by the Great Loyalty Oath Crusade, the hilariously sinister bureaucratic rule from which the book takes its title: a man is considered insane if he is willing to continue to fly dangerous combat missions, but if he makes the necessary formal request to be relieved of such missions, the very act of making the request proves that he is sane and therefore ineligible to be relieved.  Catch-22 is a microcosm of the twentieth-century world as it might look to someone dangerously sane.
Catch-22 is one of those books everyone has read in high school which I will miss out on due to my choice to attend a charter school. Therefore, I feel the need to read this book to become a part of the collective consciousness in the United States.   Prior to writing the previous paragraph, I had no idea what this novel was about and now I'm intrigued and excited about starting it!

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
At once naturalistic epic, captivity narrative, road novel, and transcendental gospel, Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath is perhaps the most American of American classics.  Although it follows the movement of thousands of men and women and the transformation of an entire nation during the Dust Bowl migration of the 1930s, The Grapes of Wrath is also the story of one Oklahoma farm family, the Joads, who are driven off their homestead and forced to travel west to the promised land of California. From their trials and their repeated collisions against the hard realities of this new America, Steinbeck creates a drama that is intensely human yet majestic in its scale and moral vision, tragic but ultimately stirring in its insistence on human dignity.
I recently read Steinbeck's East of Eden in class and, while I enjoyed the writing and characters, found it lacking in symbolism and deeper meaning.  When talking to my English teacher about this problem, he suggested I try The Grapes of Wrath as people usually like one of the two and dislike the other.  I am currently about 60 pages into The Grapes of Wrath and liking its subtly and characters much more than East of Eden.

The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky (translated by Pevear and Volokhonsky)
After his great portrayal of a guilty man in Crime and Punishment, Dostoevsky set out in The Idiot to portray a man of pure innocence.  The twenty-six-year-old Prince Myshkin, following a stay of several years in a Swiss sanatorium, returns to Russia to collect an inheritance and "be among people." Even before he reaches home he meets the dark Rogozhin, a rich merchant's son whose obsession with the beautiful Nastasya Filippovna eventually draws all three of them into a tragic denouement.  In Petersburg, the prince finds himself a stranger in a society obsessed with money, power and manipulation.  Scandal escalates to murder as Dostoevsky traces the surprising effects of this "positively beautiful man" on the people around him, leading to a final scene that is one of the most powerful in all of world history.
I love Russian literature.  I could read Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, and Chekov for days and have frequently. However, the main reason I picked up The Idiot is that for the past two years I have had a giant Russian novel assigned as summer reading at my school and loved reading these works.  The Idiot will serve as my choice to continue this reading assignment alone this summer.  I chose The Idiot as I read The Brothers Karamazov last year and am interested in learning more about Dostoevsky's image of a perfect man which I am told he portrays in The Idiot.

On the Road by Jack Kerouac
During three weeks in 1951, Jack Kerouac wrote the first draft of On the Road - typed as a long, single-spaced paragraph on eight sheets of tracing paper, which he taped together to from a scroll. Representing the identifiable point at which his vision and narrative voice first came together in  sustained burst of creative energy, this scroll is the "uncut" version of Kerouac's masterpiece - rougher, wilder, and more sexually explicit than the edited work that appeared in 1957.  On the Road: The Original Scroll is Kerouac's signature achievement - and one of the most significant, celebrated, and provocative documents in American literary history.
I am really interested in reading On the Road.  I really want to understand what the Beat Generation was trying to accomplish and their style of free writing so I figure On the Road is a great starting point.  I'm slightly intimidated by reading Kerouac's huge first draft but hey, go big or go home!

Young Adult Literature 

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
It is 1939. Nazi Germany.  The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will become busier still.  By her brother's graveside, Liesel Meminger's life is changed when she picks up a single object, partially hidden in the snow.  It is The Grave Digger's Handbook, left there by accident, and it is her first act of book thievery.  So begins a love affair with books and words, as Liesel, with the help of her accordion-playing foster father, learns to read.  Soon she is stealing books from Nazi book-burnings, the mayor's wife's library, wherever there are books to be found.  But these are dangerous times.  When Liesel's foster family hides a Jew in their basement, Liesel's world is both opened up and closed down.
I know, I know, it's basically sacrilege to have not read this book. I have read Zusak's work before and loved it but had yet to begin The Book Thief simply because I know that it's sad.  I already cry at any WWII movie and knowing that this book has reduced some of the least susceptible people I know to tears makes me unwilling to read this book.  However, I feel the need to get through this book.  I'll just keep a box of tissues handy.

Between Shades of Grey by Ruta Sepetys
Have you ever wondered what a human life is worth?  That morning, my brother's was worth a pocket watch.  Lithuania, June 1941: Fifteen-year-old Lina is preparing for art school and looking forward to summer.  In the dark of night there is a knock at the door and life is forever changed.  Soviet secret police arrest Lina, her mother, and her younger brother, tearing their family apart.  The three are hauled from their home and thrown into cattle cars, where they soon discover their destination: Siberia.  Separated from her father, Lina embeds clues in her drawings and secretly passes them along, hoping they will reach her father's prison camp.  In this dramatic and moving story, Lina desperately fights for her life and the lives of those around her.  But will love be enough to keep her alive.
Like The Book Thief, I have been meaning to read this book for years but I've been unwilling due to the harsh subject matter that could reduce me to tears.  However, I am extremely excited to read Between Shades of Grey as it is supposed to be amazing and takes place in the USSR which is a nation whose history and choices I find incredibly interesting.

Non-Fiction Novels

The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon by David Grann
In 1925, the legendary British explorer Percy Fawcett ventured into the Amazon jungle, in search of a fabled civilization located deep in the deadly wilderness.  He never returned.  In this masterpiece of narrative nonfiction, journalist David Grann tells the epic story of Fawcett's quest for this"Lost City of Z," as he unravels the greatest exploration mystery of the twentieth century.
I love exploration.  I love the idea of venturing into the wild uncertain of what one will find.  I also love mythology and learning about non-Western civilizations.  Due to this, The Lost City of Z ticks all the right boxes for me!

Hiroshima by John Hersey
On August 6, 1945, Hiroshima was destroyed but the first atom bomb ever dropped on a city.  This book, John Hersey's journalistic masterpiece, tells what happened on that day.  Told through memories of survivors, this timeless, powerful and compassionate document has become a classic "that stirs the conscience of humanity."
I find atomic/nuclear weapons an incredibly intriguing subject.  I hate the fact that since the end of the Cold War the horrible power of this bomb and the necessity to rid the earth of this power has faded from public consciousness.  I think it is really important for people to learn everything about this destructive power we now have in order to go about its own destruction in a correct manner.  Reading this historical account of the bombing of Hiroshima is a way for me to expand my knowledge on this subject.

The Serpent and the Rainbow: A Harvard Scientist's Astonishing Journey into the Secret Societies of Haitian Voodoo, Zombis, and Magic by Wade Davis
In April 1982, ethnobotanist Wade Davis arrived in Haiti to investigate two documented cases of zombis - people who had reappeared in Haitian society years after they had been officially declared dead and had been buried.  Drawn into a netherworld of rituals and celebrations, Davis penetrated the vodoun mystique deeply enough to place zombification in its proper context within vodoun culture.  In the course of his investigation, Davis came to realize that the story of vodoun is the history of Haiti - from the African origins of its people to the successful Haitian independence movement, down to the present day, where vodoun culture is, in effect, the government of Haiti's countryside.  The Serpent and the Rainbow combines anthropological investigation with a remarkable personal adventure to illuminate and finally explain a phenomenon that has long fascinated Americans.
Again, I find exploration and mythology incredibly interesting.  A personal adventure mixed with the unraveling of the zombie story is like a dream come true to me.  Also after buying this book, I was informed that it is a renowned book in the world of anthropology which is a field I am interested in studying in college.  I cannot wait to learn what Davis uncovered in Haiti.

Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir of Food and Longing by Anya von Bremzen
With startling beauty and sardonic wit, Anya von Bremzen tells an intimate yet epic story of life in that vanished empire known as the USSR - a place where every edible morsel was packed with emotional and political meaning. Born in 1963, Anya grew up in a communal Moscow apartment where eighteen families shared one kitchen.  She sang odes to Lenin, black-marketeered Juicy Fruit gum at school, watched her father brew moonshine, and, like most Soviet citizens, longed for a taste of the mythical West.  It was a life by turns absurd, drab, naively joyous, melancholy - and ultimately intolerable to her anti-Soviet mother, Larisa.  When Anya was ten, she and Larisa fled the political repression of Brezhnev-era Russia, arriving in Philadelphia with no winter coast and no right of return.
Now Anya occupies two parallel food universes: one where she writes about four-star restaurants, the other where a taste of humble kolbasa transports her back to her scarlet-blazeed socialist past.  To bring that past to life in its full flavor, both bitter and sweet, Anya and Larisa embark on a journey unlike any other: they decide to eat and cook their way though every decade of the Soviet experience - turning Larisa's kitchen into a "time machine and an incubator of memories." Together, mother and daughter re-create meals both modest and sumptuous, featuring a decadent fish pie from the pages of Chekhov, chanakhi (Stalin's favorite Georgian stew), blini, and more.
This book combines my love for personal memoirs and learning about the USSR.  Plus it's absolutely gorgeous.  Nothing could make me not love this novel.

I'm incredibly excited to read all of these great books this year.  Reading always leaves me feeling fulfilled and satisfied in a way movies, television, and the internet never do.  What's on your reading list this year?

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