Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Five Best Books I Read In 2014

For the last three years, I ranked the ten best books I read from each year. This will obviously lead some of you to wondering why I am only selecting five for this year. It is true that I have not read as much as I did during 2011 and 2012 when I was not juggling both classes and work, but I have also been intensely studying individual works that not only include novels, but also short stories and poems. I did an intense close reading of Narcissus & Goldmund by Hermann Hesse in order to complete a paper for a cornerstone class for my English major. Hesse has been an author that has interested me with his "east to west" philosophy and how it plays an impact on train of thought. I have also been intensely studying Robert Frost's poetry and different works that we have went over on Literary Gladiators, which has currently released sixteen episodes with a seventeenth that may be up before the year comes to an end. At the moment, we have eighteen subscribers and close to 1,500 page views.

As for what I read this year, the five books that I selected are CLEARLY the five best that I read this year. My goal was to introduce myself to some new writing while continuing to explore the authors that I have adored for the last few years. This is reflective in the selections that I am making and will not include works that I found to be somewhat mediocre. If I mention it on this list, I highly suggest that you check them out in any which way you are able.

Here to go...

#5- The Shining by Stephen King- Looking at King's career chronologically, this is his third book that was released only after Carrie and Salem's Lot. I was not fond of Carrie and Salem's Lot is one of those novels that I admit that I have to revisit after reading it when I was in the eighth grade. The Shining, I must say, delivered fear to me with an intensity that only Pet Sematary has been able to exceed. It interfered with the occurrences I have had when I was dreaming throughout the night, so this definitely means it had some kind of response. In the novel, Jack Torrance and his wife, Wendy, and son, Danny, move to Colorado when Jack agrees to take a job overseeing the haunted and deserted Overlook Hotel. Jack is a recovering alcoholic who lost his job as an instructor due to striking a student that make steps to sabotaging him. While this novel concentrates on the demons that Danny comes across while staying with his parents at this hotel, concentration is made most on the demons of Jack Torrance. Jack is the crucial monster in this novel that is dealing with the affects of his alcoholism, his history of abuse that was inflicting upon him and he has passed along, and how he psychologically gets to Danny as one that wants to help at one moment, but hurt at the next. This novel carries along with it themes in many of Stephen King's novels (a subject who works as either a writer, instructor, or both, a young child with a crucial role, someone they meet who is really easygoing and has come across the particular demon, among others in short spurts) and they are completed with the same kind of care as in other works. Some may argue otherwise, but I feel that The Shining is the novel that established Stephen King into an individual, original mind that contributes to the genre of horror fiction. While his other two novels are respectable to his readers, they contribute to the possessed and vampire genres in some way, shape, or form. Of course, there is so much that could come about in that particular discussion, but The Shining is like something that has never been written and reflects the genius of Stephen King.

#4- The Fault in our Stars by John Green- Everybody I come across: book bloggers, fellow English majors, literature club members, friends... they were all talking about The Fault in our Stars and how brilliant this novel was. I finally had to pick this up and read it at the beginning of the semester. It was so good that I read the last 150 pages all in one sitting in about three hours time. What I find even more brilliant is that John Green is not just a fiction writer, he is also a YouTube vlogger who is one half of the VlogBrothers with his brother, Hank. He also has a YouTube channel called Crash Course where he holds fun lectures in educational topics (such as history and literature). The Fault in our Stars explores the harsh, but very real world of those with cancer. Specifically, that of Hazel Grace, who is sixteen years old and has a terminal form of thyroid cancer. Since it has spread to her lungs, she is required to carry around an oxygen tank. Her overprotective mother forces her to attend support group sessions, which is where her life chances and she meets Augustus, who has a form of bone cancer that led to an amputation. He is currently in remission. The two begin to form a bond and he creates this image of being an ideal significant for someone that is not in the greatest circumstances. Hazel and Augustus take a trip to the Netherlands in order to get results from a novel Hazel enjoyed, but this strengthens the bond between the two and leads to a conclusion that creates those poignant emotions that are bound to affect anyone. The reason this novel is so brilliant is because it caters to today's generation. These characters have personalities and humor that is understood best by those in today's generation. The way that Hazel tells the story and uses the word "like" just as many individuals today use is a testament to the culture in today's society. The most important thing, however, is that it succeeds in addressing the humanity of those who are victims of cancer. What these characters go through is identical to what cancer patients go through and the honesty is what is most important in driving this thing home. At the moment, this is all I read from John Green, and perhaps I will be exploring more of his work in the near future.

#3- The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie- Sherman Alexie succeeded to addressing the life of those in Indian tribes just as successfully as John Green addressed the lives of those diagnosed with cancer. This novel follows the accounts of Arnold Spirit Jr., who is referred to in this novel simply as "Junior," and is based on the real accounts of Alexie's very own life. Junior is from the Spokane Indian Reservation, but decides to go to Reardan school, which is a school made up of the vast population of Americans instead of the select few Indians that live within the reservation. Throughout the novel, Junior submits blunt accounts of the hardships that he goes through, the struggles of being an Indian taking the steps toward establishing himself instead of following the steps toward the ordinary life that those within the tribe have moved toward, and shared some clever illustration as if we were actually looking through a real diary. This novel shows both ends of how it feels to be a teenager AND how it feels to be a teenager that has to earn his way out of being segregated from the rest of his peers. This is one of the most clever and honest works I have read in a long time and it has enlightened me on the ways of the Indian tribes, so I highly suggest seeking the same kind of enlightenment of what this work has to offer. This would be the "go-to" novel if you are interested in something that is light, but explanatory of life within the reservation and exploring the possibilities of making a name from this platform. I am also sure that you will laugh at the wit that is used in executing this work.

#2- Jakob von Gunten by Robert Walser- Hermann Hesse once said that "if Robert Walser had a hundred thousand more readers, the world would be a better place." I could not agree with Hesse more. Walser was a Swiss writer that would most likely fall under the genres of absurd or existential fiction. He wrote novels, short stories, poems, and accounts before being institutionalized for Schizophrenia. After writing some accounts on small pieces of paper, he gave up writing and remained in an institution until dying twenty-five years later, well into his seventies. Walser is such an enlightening writer and will cause you to question "why" before moving on to questioning "how." Jakob von Gunten is a testament of what he has aimed for and successfully explained. The title character runs off to the Benjamenta Institute in order to become a servant. The college is outright purposeless, where instructors do nothing but sit around, while the only active class is "How A Boy Shall Behave," which is the central reason to them being there. Jakob spends the novel figuring out his purpose and examining this world around him, until a meaningful thought strikes him and confirms his train of thought throughout life. The reason this novel is ranked as the second best that I read throughout the year is because it created the second strongest emotion in how I was thinking. Walser's purpose is to enlighten and this is something he truly did with creating a backdrop of who served which purpose to those around him and whether or not it really mattered, for their key purpose was to develop Jakob's grasp to the meaning of life.

#1- Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury- The second time proved to be the charm when it came to exploring a novel that I read back in high school. While I did not immediately connect with this novel, I connected to Ray Bradbury and his stroke of genius. I did my research paper on him during my junior year of high school and continued to explore his other novels and short stories. Both Farewell Summer (#5 in 2011) and The Martian Chronicles (#7 in 2012) have appeared on my top ten lists, but after rereading Fahrenheit 451 for a second time, I could argue that this was his signature work and answers the question regarding "what kind of writer is Ray Bradbury?" Bradbury is often deemed an author of science fiction, but I consider him to be a master (along with Richard Matheson) of speculative, but more specifically situational fiction that asks "what if?" Fahrenheit 451 asks the question, "what if our government went about censoring its citizens by destroying any evidence of what really happened, in the way of burning books, and create a thoughtless environment that looks at rewritten history, but cares more about watching television shows that allow them to grow involved?" Long question, but exactly the fact of the matter. Instead of introducing a character that is instantly against the transition, Bradbury creates a protagonist that is actually a contributor to these changes. Guy Montag is one of the firemen that starts fires to burn books (and in this rewritten society, Benjamin Franklin created the fire department to do just this). It is when he meets a teenage girl named Clarisse that his views start to transition and he begins to question those thoughts of his boss, Beatty, and the jaded mind of his wife, Mildred. As the novel progresses, so does Guy's trek into a dangerous situation, but it all contributes to the idea that even in times where obedience will lead to the idea of a tyrannical utopian society, there are people that are opposed to this idea and are ready to revolt against it. Interesting topic points do not only include ideas of censorship and tyranny, but also a world of physical copies versus electronic copies and which proves to be more reliable in asserting its statement of how things should be. While this novel heavily sees television as its expanding factor as it was the most extraordinary, impacting possession of 1953 (smartphones and e-readers seem to be gradually taking over), it is just as relevant then as it is now for the fact that they are inventions that can easily be used to assert control and decrease one's will to challenge authority. I would definitely rank this among the five best novels I have read and may even place it second or third within my list of all-time favorite reads. This is definitely a novel that everyone needs to pick up, read, and learn from, and Ray Bradbury is an author that everybody should read and I am sure those readers will enjoy.

Of course, as is the case with each of the other years, not all of these books (and none of these) were released this year. This is just the best among those that I read throughout 2014. I am also quite happy that five reads evolved into creating a solid top five that I could talk extensively about and wholeheartedly recommend to those who are reading my blog. Each of these authors that I mentioned (King, Green, Alexie, Walser, and Bradbury) are authors that I want to continue exploring and am sure that you will want to explore as well. They are all geniuses in their own right.

2015 is a year that I want to push myself even further in accomplishing goals regarding reading, writing, blogging, and moving forward with my web show. With regard to my reading goals (which I am 90% sure will specifically change), I want to continue with Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami, while explore a hodge-podge of different areas, not just novels, but also short story and poetry collections. With short stories and poetry, I tend to dart around, which may mean less submissions. I will be graduating from college in May, so from there, I hope to tackle a larger work: my front-runners being Les Miserables by Victor Hugo and Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. At the same time, we are thinking about discussing Ulysses by James Joyce in a future episode of Literary Gladiators, so that may be a long work we explore. I am already doing my best to exercise a planner as part of my resolution, so I hold high hope that it helps.

Since this is generally the last thing I post each year, I want to wish all of my readers a happy, healthy, and safe new year and I am excited to share with you much more material come 2015!

1 comment:

  1. Great post Josh :) I'm glad you liked so many books this year. I also really, really loved The Fault in Our Stars. <3 Just so so good. Happy almost new year :)