Sunday, December 29, 2013

Ten Best Books I Read In 2013

2013 has not been a year of massive reading. It has been a year of massive studying, working, as well as some writing which includes the short story of mine that got submitted into the Garden State Speculative Writers anthology, The Speculations of New Jersey. I did, however, catch up on a modest amount of reading, which includes enough to pick out ten of my favorites. While a few of these books would have not made it onto a top ten list in years past, they have made it onto the list this year and even with a 7/10 rating, they were exciting reads in some way, shape, or form.

I have mentioned that 2013 has been a year of analyzing smaller texts, which is why I will be coming up with overall lists of the greatest short stories and poems I have read as some of my first posts during the new year, which will include some massive fiction writing on my behalf, which may mean a decrease in the amount of posts I submit to my blog. I will, however, do my very best to submit to my blog as often as possible. There are plenty of ideas that are flowing through my mind that I just feel like getting out there.

With further due, here are the ten best books I read and finished during 2013...

#10- Inferno by Dan Brown- I felt this was a 7/10 novel when I first completed it and still believe that Angels & Demons and The Da Vinci Code were the best two novels in Brown's Robert Langdon series. While Inferno struggled with capturing the essence of Dante's masterpiece about an eventful trip through Hell, Inferno is able to quench the eerie idea of how the world is becoming overpopulated and how Zobrist, who is deemed the key antagonist, releases a virus that will wipe out a major part of the population in order to solve the issue of the overpopulation that the world is facing. This kept my attention as the novel progressed and left me wondering about the situation Langdon was facing, the impact on his partner in Sienna Brooks, as well as the other important core of characters.

#9- The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux- This was one of the more vague novels I read toward the beginning of the year. It did, however, provide an image as to what the novel had to offer and what the Lon Chaney film and Broadway play would have to offer as it developed from such a simple idea. This simple idea has to do with the ousting of an individual, because he was deemed as being scary, but more importantly because he did not attract those who judged him. While this novel is often categorized as a work of horror, it can also be deemed a work that carries a message.

#8- Sunshine by Nikki Rae- I thoroughly enjoy reading local authors. Nikki Rae is what is described as an "indie author" by both definitions. The first being an author from a smaller publisher who is just getting started and has to rely heavily on their own means to promote themselves. The second being the fact that they're self-published. Of course, the first and second go together quite well, but the ability to do such a thing along with the right amount of time and blessings hold major success. Nikki Rae will surely find major success. Sunshine has to do about a girl named Sophie Jean who has a sensitivity to the sun and how she meets a vampire in the form of a teenage boy named Myles, who becomes a special figure in her life as time progresses. Sophie and Myles establish themselves to the point that they stray from the everyday new adult series' that include Twilight, for this is the kind of series that could seriously be trapped in the frey that comes with such an idea. Nikki Rae will be an author to look out for in the years to come.

#7- The Last Days of the Romanovs by Helen Rappaport- Rappaport engaged in something so spectacular that it provided us with a different lens as to how we view history. She provided us, the reader, with an account of a totalitarian figure in such a poignant light that we start to question whether or not Nicholas II and his family deserved to die. The position of Tsar became overwhelming unpopular starting in the nineteenth century and by the twentieth century, groups were forming to overthrow the Tsar in favor of a government that provides equality to all. In 1917, the Tsar was finally dethroned and the Bolsheviks (which became the Communists) would take control until eventually, Joseph Stalin would lead this party as a Tsar-like leader. The primary concentration of this book are, as stated, the last DAYS in which the Romanovs (Nicholas II, Alexandra, his four daughters, and his son Alexey) are living in exile in Ekaterinburg as they await their death. Perhaps if it weren't for the rise of Joseph Stalin, we would view the Romanovs differently, but Rappaport writes about the Romanov family as if they are an important family instead of one that held so much totalitarian power that brought out frustration among their country.

#6- How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster- Being an English major, possessing the ability to know as much as you possibly can about grasping the material is always a plus. The different ideas that Foster puts into our heads is absolutely incredible. For instance, he mentions the meaning of each season (spring is birth, summer is livelihood, fall is aging, and winter is death) and how it is used in literature, while popping up of the water is a sign of rebirth or baptism if it means not drowning in that water. Foster uses plenty of examples (especially from Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison) in order to provide us with the ideas he is trying to convey and humor in order to keep the book fun and intriguing instead of wish that we changed our majors (you can stop waving your arms, Math, I am not coming to you!). Then he provides us with an opportunity to take what he taught us and put it to use as we critically approach Katherine Mansfield's "The Garden Party," which begins to make far more sense after implementing the different tips Foster provides.

#5- Destined to Witness by Hans J. Massaquoi- Any work having to do with Nazi Germany and those who struggled during that era (primarily the Jews and any one who was non-Aryan) comes off as fascinating if written well. I held Maus by Art Spiegelman to a high standard and put it as #4 on my "Top 10 Books I Read In 2012" post. I also read The Book Thief and found it to at least be decent. This book takes on a different angle, that of the black man instead of the Jew. Massaquoi was born to a mother who was white and German and a father who was black and African. His father left him and his mother when Massaquoi was young and shook Massaquoi's life. How he explains school brings a feeling of what it's like to be bullied, regardless as to whether or not someone has been bullied. He also discusses the difficulty of joining the military, reuniting with his father who turned out being more arrogant than he thought, his relationships, and the list keeps going on. Massaquoi's life was incredibly intriguing, leading up to when he finally took the opportunity to come to America. Reading and learning about people who came from struggles to obtain success is always fascinating. On many occasions, black people are the subject of such stories and in that case, the story of Massaquoi stands among the incredible.

#4- Touching the Dead by Carlotta Holton- Carlotta Holton is one of the most interesting and overlooked authors that horror fiction has to offer. Holton is known best for writing about the historical and the superstitious, which can be seen in her collection of short stories, Touching the Dead. This collection tends to concentrate on the superstitious, but there are historical elements in the form of how these superstitions came to be. She writes about the irony of a superstition involving a figure that's meant to bring rain with him in order to quench the thirst of the town citizens, she writes about a witch that lives on for centuries as she spreads misfortune. The other stories include a granddaughter using a superstitious stare against her creepy grandfather, how the dying of Easter eggs symbolizes plenty of good fortunes, and as the title states, how "Touching the Dead" is a good omen for staying alive and healthy. Holton does a good job bringing in excitement to the area of superstition and this should definitely not be missed!

#3- The Stranger by Albert Camus- Many of people see The Stranger as that novel they had to read when they were in high school. I see it for more than that. I see it as a novel that was explored at an angle that is rarely ever explored in the world of literature. Most novels either take place in the central character's head or surrounding the character to the point we know exactly what's going on with them at all times. We have absolutely no idea what's floating through Meursault's head. In that case, the title rightfully projects that we're meant to see him as "a stranger." When his mother dies, Meursault just sits there. We just see someone emotionless as they attend the funeral, even if those around him are more emotional (such as an old friend of his mother's). In the turning point, he seems incredibly emotionless to the point that this is how he is judged. The individuals in the story, as well as the reader, have no idea what's going on in Meursault's head and that's exactly what makes this work much more fascinating. This is gold for the reader that wants to dissect a story in every which way they possibly can and is one that can be subject to rereads at any point in time.

#2- The Giver by Lois Lowry- I took a Young Adult Literature class during the fall and I must say that while I read most of the material (including my #3 selection from last year, The Hunger Games), I had never read The Giver and I'm incredibly glad that I finally had the opportunity to do so. I found the content to be so raw to the point that with the decisions we are making, we are seeing a future in which we have sameness to the point that the government has to make people happy to the point that true positive feelings become obsolete. In this instance, Jonas enters his twelfth year and is assigned a role (which every individual is) to meet with "The Giver," who provides him with memories that he will eventually be assigned to possess. This novel explores topics such as totalitarianism, socialism, the impossibility of utopias, "release," climate control, and so much more. I highly urge everyone to read this novel, especially if it wasn't part of the middle or high school reading that came with the class load. Then I highly urge people to do something in order to preserve the natural happiness and the positive things that this world has to offer instead of making such an effort to force government control to the point of suffocation.

#1- Alice's Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll- These two masterpieces go hand in hand with one another, so it's appropriate that I put them together. The story, but especially the characters and concept make up the magic that is Wonderland. As most of us know through the many adaptations of this story, most notably the 1951 Disney film and the more recent 2010 film starring Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter, Alice goes through a rabbit hole and into Wonderland while coming across several interesting sights. In the sequel, she revisits Wonderland from a completely different angle. In her first visit, she comes across a constantly vanishing Cheshire Cat, has a tea party with the Mad Hatter, plays croquet with the Queen of Hearts, meets an eternally depressed Mocking Turtle, and takes part in a court case. In her second visit, she meets Tweedledee and Tweedledum, learns about "un-birthdays" from Humpty Dumpty, and comes across a sleeping king. What's even more fascinating is that these stories provide a sense of the nonsense. While Alice's several encounters provide little logic, how is logic exactly defined? Wonderland may be a dream world, but perhaps life is just a dream. Lewis Carroll does an excellent job capturing the thought process of society as a whole and Carroll was a strange individual in real life as well. If there are any works that require second reads, this is definitely one of them and is definitely near the top.

Here is my Top 10 Books that I read this year. Of course, not all of them were released this year, but that's the way I operate this post and will continue to operate it. One thing I do want to change is the amount that I read. I read plenty of books during the last two years and didn't find as strong an opportunity to do the same for this. Put that on my list of New Years Resolutions for 2014, which I usually do away with due to the fact I'm not fond of holding myself to specific tasks. As for this year, I urge you to pick up these titles, especially those toward the top of the list. I will also warn it that if for some reason the amount of titles I read sees a decrease that's even more drastic, it's probably because I'm rereading Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass to establish myself as a genius in that particular text. Fortunately, I will probably read some work I have not read before (though I do plan on revisiting Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury).

I want to wish everybody a Happy, Healthy, and Safe New Year and I hope to fill this blog with plenty of exciting posts as 2014 rolls around. Up and coming will include lists of my favorite short stories and poems and this will all lead up to the 250th post, which will include a Q&A and giveaway. Happy 2014, everyone!

1 comment:

  1. Speaking of which, I managed to read Fahrenheit 451 during ESY this past summer, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I might revisit it again eventually. I agree with your #1 pick, as this classic combo is a must-read IMO.

    Happy New Year to you too, Caps.