[Book Review] 5 Books I Read in 2018 and Loved- 5 minute read
1. The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham
A post-apocalyptic sci-fi that deftly describes how humanity gets itself nicked by an alien species of plants.
This book never dwells on one situation for too long as it describes events before, during, and after society’s downfall. The story is told from the point of view of a biologist, who makes logical decisions throughout the different phases of the apocalypse, as well as poignant observations about society and humanity. I still think about the protagonist’s words on loneliness.
If you’re a fan of zombie films, but weary of the zombie monster, then the triffids are worth a read. The triffids are a unique monster, and crafted so as to be fairly scary in their own right. A lot of the tropes from zombie stories are present here too. In fact, several of 28 Days Later’s plot points seem to be heavily influenced by those in this novel.
2. Stoner by John Edward Williams
An American novel that details a man’s underwhelming life, from a young age, through his career and marriage, until his death.
The concept is questionable, but after finishing it, this book immediately became one of my favorites. I think the fact that I was considering the man’s life “underwhelming” is part of the point of the story. The protagonist’s patient, uncomplaining, and enduring attitude throughout his life was something to behold, and has stuck with me. It’s an exploration of the values found in Stoicism.
This is a short read that is unassuming throughout, but sneaks up on you with a very specific emotion that I hadn’t yet encountered before this book. I’d recommend it to anyone that could use a wise perspective on life.
3. The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
A historical fiction about 12th century English monks building a cathedral.
This was written by thriller author Ken Follett, who had a hobby of visiting European cathedrals and decided to write a page turner about the building of one. I had no prior knowledge about any of the subjects in this one: the world of the 12th century, monastery life, monarchical politics, cathedrals. You get a lot of the same feelings that you get when you explore the world of any other fantasy novel, except this one is grounded in a well-researched historical England.
If you’re a fan of Game of Thrones’ style of following several characters of different backgrounds throughout their lives, or its political intrigue, then this one is for you. And even though the plotlines were engaging in their own right, it was the detailed asides on logistics, engineering, and construction that really kept me going.
4. Strangers In Their Own Land by Arlie Russell Hochschild
A Berkeley sociology professor travels to Louisiana to try to understand the worldview of supporters of the Tea Party Movement.
This one was especially relevant for me. Having grown up on the west coast and lived in expressly liberal cities throughout my life, I had very little prior exposure to the type of people featured in this book, and gaining an understanding for their viewpoint had been a goal of mine.
I believe that American political and social discourse has become very toxic in recent years, and I believe that a central component of that toxicity is a misunderstanding for each other and an unwillingness to listen to the reasoning behind viewpoints with which we disagree. If this sentiment rings true for you, and you believe you could use an understanding of American right-wing politics, then this book is a good starting point.
5. Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke
A sci-fi where peaceful aliens land on Earth and bring about a utopia for humanity.
What initially drew me in was an interesting question: What would happen if humanity’s problems were solved by an outside force? Would they retain their agency, their creativity? In addition to the above questions, Arthur C. Clarke crafts quite the mystery with the aliens in this book. There are several questions set up throughout the book, and every one of them has a satisfying resolution. This one is full of wonder and really hooked me into the sci-fi genre.
This one is a precursor to 2001: A Space Odyssey, so if you enjoyed that movie (or book), I highly recommend this one by the same author. Some themes are similar, but I consider Childhood’s End to be a better delivery.