Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Books I Read in 2015

Extreme: Why Some People Thrive at the Limits - Emma Barrett and Paul Martin (Audio Book)
My reading list always has some bizarre titles on it. I this one was a recommended book on Audible, which is my service for audio books. The author's British accent is delicious and worth the price of admission, smoothly recounting harrowing accounts of explorers freezing to death at the poles or dying at crushing depths. The conclusions are fascinating, although it seems like the analysis is mainly based on anecdotal evidence, rather than clinical trials. Each story seems more like a plausible launching point for more research, rather than the basis for conclusions, but hey, I am no expert here. I think I still haven't quite finished it off, but there is no over-arching narrative here, so I don't think that I missed a surprise ending or anything.

The Rent Collector - Camron Wright
This is the second book I have read about a family that experienced great hardship in Cambodia (the other book was To Destroy You is No Loss about the Khmer Rouge's seizure of Phnom Penh). This book didn't have a harsh Marxist Dictator oppressing everyone, but life in the dump seemed pretty harsh on its own, and it was fascinating to think about how a family could adapt to this situation and have deep and meaningful relationships, despite the backdrop. Good book.

1177 BC: The Year Civilization Collapsed - Eric H. Cline
This book discusses the causes of the end of the Bronze Age in the Mediterranean, which is a topic I previously knew nothing about. The book is perhaps more scholarly at times than I really required, but it was fascinating to learn how a sophisticated and very interconnected world like that could suddenly collapse in the face of a series of disruptive challenges, including drought, mass migration, and interrupted trade routes. The lesson is that nothing lasts forever, and because there really isn't one factor that causes this sort of collapse, it is hard to say what it might take to have another one.

The Martian - Andy Weir
I hadn't even heard of this book or the Hollywood movie that was based on it until a friend at work mentioned that he had just read it and really enjoyed it. I devoured the book in the course of just a few days and then watched the movie about a week later. My personal preference would be to have less cussing, but I have nothing but good things to say about this story. The bulk of the book, especially at the beginning, is just the protagonist's log entries of his effort to survive, and that is the best stuff. On a literary level, those parts read like a good friend of yours sending you a really long email, but that doesn't mean you can't love it. I wish more of my friends would send me gripping emails like this from Mars.

Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie - Jordan Sonnenblick
My sister Allyson and I share a Kindle account and this popped up from her side of the library. It looked like something targeted at her teenager kids, but I am not above such things. I really enjoyed it. I think the author tried a bit too hard to have a teenager's voice, and I think the resultant word choices were sometimes distracting, but overall the story about being an awkward teenage boy coping with the family strain of a sick younger brother was compelling and heart-wrenching. I learned later that the author is a school teacher and the story is inspired by the experience of one of his students. I recommend it.

The Watch That Ends the Night - Hugh MacLennan
I had ordered a used copy of this book off Amazon and it sat in my bedroom for about a year or more, until I couldn't remember why I had decided to order it. It was published in 1959 and I had an old hardcover library copy that had been signed out only twice. I read the whole thing on our anniversary trip to Mexico and it is the best book I have read in a long time. I particularly appreciated the historical setting in English Montreal during the 1930s - 1950s, which happens to cover the short period when my grandparents lived in Montreal and my mom was born. There are a lot of symbols and parallels and I can't say that I quite grasped the significance of each one but the author spends some time wrapping it up for you at the end. Individual people, married couples, nations and civilizations all show the ability to have growing pains, crises of faith and ultimately a spiritual rebirth, but all this take place within an accessible narrative that was pretty engrossing. No wonder this book was twice honoured: 1) Canadian Governor General's Award for literature in 1959; and 2) A Tragically Hip Song in 1992 called Courage (for Hugh MacLennan). I am pretty sure that I was sparked to buy this book by reading about the lyrics of the Tragically Hip song, which paraphrases this passage: “But that night as I drove back from Montreal, I at least discovered this: that there is no simple explanation for anything important any of us do, and that the human tragedy, or the human irony, consists in the necessity of living with the consequences of actions performed under the pressure of compulsions so obscure we do not and cannot understand them.” This book is not even considered MacLennan's finest. There is more reading here for me to do.

Tunnel in the Sky - Robert A. Heinlein
In the Q&A at the end of The Martian, author Andy Weir said that his favourite book growing up was Tunnel in the Sky (published in 1955). I had never heard of it, but I figured that was a good enough reason to give it a try. Fantastic book. The futuristic setting is explained quickly but with enough detail that the rest story can stand alone without the reader constantly questioning the framework. The beginning reminds me a little bit of reading the book Hatchet when I was a kid, except in a much more menacing environment, with a Lord of The Flies dynamic going on. I learned later that this book was published just one year after Lord of the Flies. Really good. Highly recommend for young readers.

1 comment:

mom said...

I absolutely LOVE LOVE LOVE reading your "book reports"!! Keep them coming, please!