As the year 2015 draws to a close, I can’t help but reflect on the wild ride that came of it. Personally, I quit my unsatisfying desk job, and decided to move to Beijing for 5 months, ineffectively flailing my limbs as I taught English in a Chinese boarding school. That brought on a whole new tidal wave of challenges, with my learning a foreign language from scratch being the most prominent.
However, something that has remained consistent throughout these new experiences has been my hunger for truly memorable books. No matter where I am, no matter how isolated I feel or how difficult life seems, I can isolate myself even further, locking myself into a book, and use the pages as walls to barricade me from reality. Not that reality is something to be avoided entirely, but it needs to be witnessed from another perspective at times, a perspective that can be found in amazing universes created by gifted authors.
So, with my busy slice of reality, I didn’t take my 2015 reading challenge lightly when I chose to read 20 books. After completing my 20th novel yesterday, I wanted to reflect on the year of literature I’ve experienced; fiction and non-fiction, classics and contemporary, well-received and shunned. So, here is my list for 2015:
- Philosophy for Everyone – Matthew Chrisman
- The Return of the King – J.R.R. Tolkien
- The Dorset Disaster – Alexander Sidar III
- Firestarter – Stephen King
- Magician – Raymond E. Feist
- Silverthorn – Raymond E. Feist
- A Darkness at Sethanon – Raymond E. Feist
- This House of Grief – Helen Garner
- Full Dark, No Stars – Stephen King
- Mr. Mercedes – Stephen King
- Finders Keepers – Stephen King
- The Martian – Andy Weir
- Our Final Invention – James Barrat
- Ready Player One – Ernest Cline
- The First 20 Hours – Josh Kaufman
- Fear and Trembling – Søren Kierkegaard
- Blood Meridian – Cormac McCarthy
- The Time Machine – H.G. Wells
- The Name of the Wind – Patrick Rothfuss
- The Wise Man’s Fear – Patrick Rothfuss
Quite a lot to discuss, so I will only summarise the best of some distinctive genres!
It has been a great year for richly described worlds, told in the all-too-comfortable trilogy format. The three trilogies that I’ve touched upon are spread out over quite distinct generations. Tolkien, the man who created the very genre; Feist, who arguably revived it in the early 80s; and Rothfuss, who is a more recent writing mammoth, currently writing the final book in his trilogy. What a time to be alive, when you can cast aside your troubles and dive head first into such richly described universe, with enough depth to be adrift in the hundreds of poetically written prose.
While Tolkien can be quite difficult to read, with some outdated expressions and misplaced perspectives, he is still an important author to see where many of today’s tropes come from. Countless expressions, story structures, and character traits would not exist today if it weren’t for him. I can only imagine a bleak and unimaginative world if Bilbo Baggins never set out on a most wondrous adventure.
Feist painted such a beautiful tapestry of several worlds with The Riftwar Saga in the 1980s, that he had renewed the interest of fantasy readers and writers alike. So much has been adapted from his first book, Magician, that when you read it even today, it feels like it hasn’t aged at all. If you’re a fantasy enthusiast, Feist is most definitely an author to tick off the list.
Finally, Rothfuss was a surprise packet for me at the end of the year. I hadn’t heard a thing about him until my friend gave me the first two released novels. After only a couple of chapters, I was hooked. The series is told from the protagonists perspective as he recounts his multitude of exploits from an early age, giving his side of the countless rumours that surround his legend to the present day. With the final book to arrive in 2016, and a movie adaptation planned, it is a must read!
The several non-fiction books in this list are all different from each other, but important eye-opening accounts nonetheless. This House of Grief is a chilling report of a criminal trial where a father is being convicted of a horrible crime. One late night, while driving home with his three sons in the car, he veers off the road and lands in a dam. He escapes, but his three children drown. What follows is the court case viewed from the perspective of a brilliant fiction author. It’s a thrilling account asking “did he guilty of doing this on purpose?” all while told in an amazing writing style.
Our Final Invention is a book I implore everyone to read, given the direction of advancing technologies. It is a sobering analysis of where the development of Artificial Intelligence (AI) could lead, if it is not carefully preceded with morality and ethics inbuilt into it. What happens if in intelligence becomes smarter than us, without the need for basic human necessities like food or sleep? It could continue to improve itself, to the point it could escape our comprehension. What happens next is not entirely a pleasant view of the future.
Thrills in my Grill
Ready Player One takes the cake for this year, with the thrilling tale of a young man in the near future, who spends almost all his time in the massive online virtual reality universe OASIS. He, along with almost all of the millions of worldwide players, has been trying to decipher all the 80s pop culture references and clues left behind by the OASIS’s creator, who announced a giant easter egg and reward upon his death. Will he be able to keep his newfound clues to himself? Will he reach the reward before others with malicious intent do? So many well crafted cliffhangers, you won’t but this down.
The Martian is also an amazing read, and faithfully adapted into a movie of the same name, starring Matt Damon. Quite a lot of scientific lingo, but it is an Engineer’s dream, and while the protagonist is stuck on Mars and trying his best to calculate how to stay alive, you never lose hope, no matter how much the desolate world throws at him.
Finally, I needed to get my King fix. The best King books were Mr. Mercedes and Finders Keepers, which stray from his normal genre and veer into crime thriller. Also, they are two in a series, something mostly unheard of for King (other than the Dark Tower novels). Brilliantly done, with the third and final of the series to hit the shelves soon.
Fumbling through Philosophy
Philosophy has been a recent interest, and I’ve been slowly amassing a collection of philosophy books to burn through at a slow pace. Philosophy for Everyone was a tie-in book for a Coursera course, and it did an adequate job of briefly summarising thought concepts over the ancient years up until present day.
One of the philosophers with ideals that caught my interest was Kierkegaard, so I dove into his Fear and Trembling. After completing a course centred around his beginnings of studying Socratic Irony and Subjectivism, it was good to go through his interpretations of the old bible tale of Abraham sacrificing Isaac to God. Discussing unwavering faith and how it cannot be understood by anyone, even the person committing the faith act, is an enthralling read for those interested in what defines an act of faith versus morality, and the actions of the individual versus the universal.
So… Here’s Looking to 2016
It was an amazing year of literature, and I’m sure there’ll be another great year ahead. I have many iconic books on the list already; The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Dracula, All You Zombies, 1984. If you have any great suggestions for me, please let me know in the comments, and I’ll work it in to my list and review it here! Also, let me know what you thought if you’ve also read any on my list.