by Colson Whitehead, 2019
It’s 1962 and Elwood Curtis is on the move, at least as much as that can be true for a black boy growing up in the Florida panhandle. Put in the care of his grandmother after his parents have decided that raising a child isn’t in their plans, Elwood is a smart, precocious child who shows promise in his schooling, work, and character. He reprimands his peers for stealing candy from the shop where he is employed, he has aspirations of going to college, and the ideas put forth by a young reverend preaching for equality so infect him that even his overly cautious grandmother finds herself swept up by the lunch counter protests and bus boycotts. All that changes when Elwood, however innocent, is caught at the wrong place at the wrong time and is sentenced to the Nickel Academy, a reform school for wayward youths. It is here that Elwood will realize that all he had dreamed of, all of the thoughts Dr. King has put in his head, will be his undoing.
by Maryanne Wolf, 2018
Ten years after the publication of Proust and the Squid, Maryanne Wolf returned to the subjects of reading and the brain to wring her hands even more over a subject that she only introduced in her first work: the internet and its impact on reading and the developing brain. “Young reading brains are evolving without a ripple of concern by most people, even though more and more of our youths are not reading other than what is required and often not even that: ‘tl; dr,’” she writes. However, young people are not the only ones on the hook here: “In a milieu that continuously confronts us with a glut of information, the great temptation for many is to retreat to familiar silos of easily digested, less dense, less intellectually demanding information. The illusion of being informed by a daily deluge of eye-byte-sized information can trump the critical analysis of our complex realities.” In short, digital reading is on trial here, and Wolf concerns herself not so much with the reality that it is here to stay, but with the potential changes it will leave it in its wake.
by Ling Ma, 2018
In 2011, the mysterious Shen Fever has taken over New York. Transmitted by breathing in fungal spores that originated in factories in China, the fever first presents with cold-like symptoms, then turns into something nastier. The infected seem to lose conscious control of their actions, mindlessly mimicking routines and gestures they are thought to have performed over decades. They are reduced to an almost primitive existence, going through simple motions without any clear thought. Candace Chen is the last person in New York. When the book opens, she is with a group of seemingly immune people who have banded together on a trek to a supposed Facility outside of Chicago. Their main objective is to survive, but the fight to maintain their sense of humanity will prove to be even greater.
Time for my annual review of books! In 2019 I read a total of 67 books, which seems to be pretty average for me. I’ll continue to set my reading goal at 52 books, as I find it to be an achievable and fairly respectable number. I have hopes that one day I’ll complete the elusive 100 books, but as long as I average about one book per week, I’ll be happy with my efforts. Here are some pretty charts with data on what I read:
by Becky Chambers, 2014
Rosemary Harper has just boarded the Wayfarer to join its motley crew of space adventurers and serve as the ship’s administrative clerk. Among the ragtag band of travelers are fellow humans Captain Ashby Santoso, mechanic Kizzy, short-statured engineer Jenks, and algae specialist Corbin. The non-human shipmates include a scale-clad, feather-adorned, physically affectionate Aandrisk named Sissix who pilots the ship; a multi-limbed, caterpillar-like Grum who serves the ship in ways both medical and culinary and goes by the a propos name of Dr. Chef; the blue-furred navigator Sianat Pair Ohan; and the ship’s artificial intelligence system Lovelace, whom the crew fondly refers to as Lovey. Their mission: to punch tunnels through space to create easier modes of transport between different galactic territories. Call them a sort of road construction crew, but on a much grander scale and with greater danger awaiting them. While the plot centers around the team building a tunnel to the capital planet in Toremi Ka territory in effort to further unify the Galactic Commons, this is actually the least interesting part of the novel. Sure, the group faces invasions by enemies, tense bomb disarmings, and unexpected resistance in warring space territories, but this is really just a structure upon which to set a much more important story.
by Dale Carnegie, 1936
I know what you’re thinking: What a cheesy book to read. I thought so, too, and I resisted reading it for a long time. However, because so many personal development advice givers trot it out as the standard for learning how to better interact with others, I decided to finally read it for myself and come to my own conclusions. It only seemed right, after I had recommended it (with the caveat that I hadn’t yet read it, of course) to a student who wanted to change her own antisocial behaviors. The verdict on this eighty-year-old manual? The bones are still good, but the meat, well, it’s a little past its prime.
by Maryanne Wolf, 2007
“I’m reading this book about the brain’s effect on reading,” I said to my roommate one weekend morning. “It’s very meta, I know. I just read a section where the author explains the reluctance Socrates felt about literacy. He was afraid that the transition from an oral culture to a written one would mean that people would no longer have to really know information. They’d have it immediately available to them and wouldn’t have to question what things really meant. The author compares it to our current worries about the impact technology is having on knowledge and education and the idea that information is so available to people that they don’t have to examine it.”