I hope your summer has been full of wonderful times worthy of scrapbook material (for those of you who know what those are) and overflowing with happy pictures you’ve already posted to facebook, tumblr, instagram, snapchat or wherever else is the latest hot online destination.
For me, summer is a great time to catch up on my long form reading; novels, histories, anthologies and such. I love being able to sit somewhere comfortable with a cold drink and a great book, spending hours racing through words, creating a long and in-depth conversation with the author, losing myself in a world spawned in someone else’s mind, but brought to life in my own.
So far this summer, I have gotten through a number of books and I’d love to share a handful of them with you. I’ll give you a brief review of each and for easy scoring, I’ll be using my own scale shown below.
* Why is this even in print? (I probably wouldn’t finish this book.)
** Not great, but still better than just watching TV or YouTube.
*** Good book. It’s worth your time and energy, but still has flaws.
**** Highly recommended, but not part of the upper echelon of books.
***** Excellent book. Part of my “must reads” list.
- Dave Eggers, The Circle. (*** ½) This was the first book that I read this summer and it was only because it was a relatively new read and was gifted to me by my friend and retired Haverhill High School English teacher, Ms. Barberio. She wasn’t a fan of the book and let me know that I could leave it behind wherever I went on vacation. After reading it, I think I understand why she didn’t like it. Eggers’ narrative is at times slow and repetitive in this book, but I feel that this is done on purpose to force the reader to stop and reflect on how redundant our lives online have become. The protagonist, Mona, is a recent college graduate who has landed a primo job at the hottest computer company on the planet, called the Circle (imagine if Google and Facebook and Amazon had a child, and that child also had gene splices from Apple). Her job and life revolve around being online, being “present” online and making sure others always know she’s “there” by liking, sharing, re-posting, commenting and otherwise “contributing” to the online world. It can become a bit of a chore reading that Mona visited 203 sites, has 51 likes, 23 re-posts, 31 original comments, and has moved up the rankings at her job … but it’s also the kind of precursor world I imagine taking shape before two classic novels, 1984 and Brave New World. There’s also some kind of a love story with a mysterious stranger that defies the other logic of the book, and a corny symbolic translucent shark from the depths of the ocean that eats everything, but other than that a fun first summer read. It gets an extra half book on my rating, just because it really does speak loudly about the ubiquity of technology and our insatiable desire to record and quantify what is happening.
- Fransisco X. Stork, Marcelo in the Real World. (***) Not too many books have a protagonist who is a person with special needs, but YA authors have been more open than other writers to take on the challenge (think Stoner and Spaz, the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night, Freak the Mighty, Stuck in Neutral, Fat Chance, and so on …). In this novel, the reader gets to see the world through Marcelo Sandoval’s eyes (and mind) and he is somewhere on the high end of the Autism-Asperger spectrum. He’s spent most of his schooling life at special schools and will be working the summer before his senior year at his dad’s law firm … in the mailroom. Learning to navigate his way around in “the Real World” is more than just about leaving his protected spaces, for Marcelo it’s also about discovering the ugly truths that all young adults must learn about the larger world. This book is a quick and easy read with an interesting twist and very likeable characters.
- Ronald Kidd, Monkey Town. (***) Historical fiction is one of those genres that can either really take you to another time period or fall flat on its face. This book does a little bit of both as Ronald Kidd invites us to visit Dayton, Tennessee (not Ohio … thanks for catching my error Mr. Jordan) in the summer of 1925. That date and place should ring a bell, for it is the time and the place where a young teacher by the name of John Scopes is brought to trial for having the nerve to teach evolution in science class. Our guide, and protagonist, is a fifteen-year old girl named Frances Robinson whose father owns the local pharmacy and soda fountain bar where the plan to put Dayton on the map was hatched. For Frances, the world is turned upside down and inside out as she is forced to question everything she’s known. Along the way, we get to meet such historical figures as Clarence Darrow, William Jennings Bryan and the curmudgeon, H.L. Menken who befriends young Miss Robinson. For Frances, the twenty something Scopes is dreamy crush who represents the larger world outside of little, provincial Dayton. But she also has pride in where she’s from and she hates that everyone else is calling them Monkey Town. A good read about coming of age set in an interesting period of our own history.
- Cormac McCarthy, No Country for Old Men. (***) I’ve been meaning to read this book for a few years now, but somehow never get around to doing it. Part of the reason is that I violated my own rule about books that have movies made from them and saw the movie before I read the book. This of course meant that every time that Anton Chigurgh (one of the main characters in this book) appears in the action, I couldn’t help but think of Javier Barden. No matter. What really bugged me at first was the irregular spelling and McCarthy’s use of the dreaded “could of” instead of “could’ve”. Needless to say, I had to forgive him since after the first ten or so pages, I recognized that McCarthy knows what he’s doing when he does that (unlike my first year college writing students and the numerous Facebookers and Twitterers who do this). This novel is ultra violent and full of gruesome details that even today can shock a reader, especially set against the otherwise quiet and quaint world of the Texas-Mexico desert land.
- Paul Davies, The Eerie Silence. (****) If the universe is as habitable as we think it is, if it is replete with all the necessary ingredients for life as we know it, if it is teeming with billions of stars and trillions of planets capable of hosting life, then where are all the aliens? That, in a nutshell, is the question posed by mathematician Enrico Fermi back in 1950 and it is the subject of this fascinating book. Physicist, cosmologist, and astro-biologist , Paul Davies, leads the reader through a succinct, yet deep and thought-provoking review of not just what we know about life in general and intelligent life more specifically, but also why we may not have yet detected any signals from extraterrestrial aliens. I love books like this that lead me through complex ideas using easy to grasp language and analogies. Less than three hundred pages, and yet so full of historical background and groundbreaking ideas that have contributed to defining what SETI is and why it is worth expanding. Along the way, the reader will learn about the Drake Equation, von Neumann probes, the Arecibo Observatory, the WOW signal, the Cinderella zone, worm holes, string theory, evolutionary theory, tardigrades and many other fascinating science and math topics that should pique just about anyone’s interest. This book is for anyone who’s ever looked up at the stars and wondered, “are we alone?”
I’ve read other books that I’ll try to mention in my next post, but until next time, thank you for stopping by and I hope you’ve still got a couple of weeks of great summer memories left in you.
Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2015. All rights reserved.