What to read this year

Hadley Jolley

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Credit: Song

Credit: Song

Thanksgiving break makes for a good chance to get cozy with a blanket and a good book, instead of the usual required reading for class. Here, The Pioneer presents a recommended book list for those students for whom reading for pleasure is a such a distant memory they can’t think of what to read. The focus of this list is on books that make provocative, intriguing points, but are still entertaining to read. Enjoy!

“Good Omens” by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

It’s the end times: The armies of Good and Evil emerge to watch over the Antichrist and prepare for the final battle, sea monsters emerge, the four horsemen of the apocalypse: war, famine, death and . . . pollution: ride again. It’s up to a pair of drinking buddies, who happen to be an angel and a demon who’ve gotten a bit too fond of Earth and humankind to stop it. Luckily for them, the Antichrist isn’t who they think he is . . . or what they expect. This excellent comedy takes on fate, prophecy, human nature and the issues of modern existence while remaining hysterically funny.

“Poisonwood Bible” by Barbara Kingsolver

Nathan Price drags his wife and four daughters to Africa to be a missionary and save souls. Nothing goes as planned: the supplies the family brought turn out to be useless, very few people join the church and the hardships he forces on the rest of his family in pursuit of his dream breaks it apart: His wife leaves him and takes their children on a malaria-wracked journey out of the Congo. However, their experience in the Congo continues to shape the lives of all the characters. Inspired by Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness,” this long novel deeply explores both the Congo and the characters it touches.

“Parable of the Sower” by Octavia E. Butler

When pyromaniac psychopaths torch Lauren Olamina’s home and kill her family, she has to set out across the dystopian United States to find safety. Along the way, she joins forces with other people who are trying to find a home in this rough world and with them develops her new community and a new religion, Earthseed, focused on the continuation of life among the stars. Octavia E. Butler tackles religion, sexism, racism and heights of both horror and grace. The story continues to haunt years after it’s read.

“Chronicle of a Death Foretold” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Most mysteries answer the question, “Who dun it?” This novella asks, “Why dun it?” Two brothers in a small town kill Santiago Nasar because they believe he deflowered their sister, whose husband rejected her on their wedding night. The entire town, including the mayor, knew of their plans, but nobody effectively stopped them. Told in a quasi-journalistic tone 20 years after the murder, the narrator attempts to find out why Nasar died, raising questions of the roles of honor and sexuality and the meaning of guilt.

“Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed” by Jared Diamond

In the followup to “Guns, Germs and Steel,” Diamond analyzes the environmental threats that can lead to a society’s collapse and what people can do to either stop the collapse or allow it to happen. His cases involve Easter Island, which collapsed, and Japan, which did not. The last section of the books deals with the environmental threats facing the globe today and ways to deal with them without collapsing. His theories are fascinating and offer food for thought to any environmentalist.

“Waiting for the Galactic Bus” by Parke Godwin

Two layabout alien brothers from an advanced race, Barion and Coyul, get left behind on Earth when their friends leave without them as a prank. Not knowing when they’ll get back home, Barion decides to enhance the intelligence of a particular ape species, which back home would not be considered a good candidate. Coyul, seeing what his brother did, decides to add his own efforts to the project. Over the years, human power creates a religion, and two afterlives, surrounding the two brothers, who still periodically attempt to help. When a American couple threatens to have a child who could be worse than Hitler, Barion and Coyul decide to step in to prevent the marriage; meanwhile, the other aliens are finally coming back for the brothers. Hysterically funny, this novel takes on the root of human suffering, the problems with dogmatism and the power of humanity.

“Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe

Okonkwo has it good: Wealth, three wives, beloved children and status in his society. Unfortunately, his society is threatened by outside forces: specifically Christian missionaries: who destabilize his world, in particular by peeling one of his sons from his Igbo society. The plot moves toward an end reminiscent of Greek tragedies. Achebe does a beautiful job of presenting Okonkwo’s rich, complex, changing world.

“Dr. Tatiana’s Sex Advice to All Creation” by Olivia Judson

When should you attempt to eat your partner? Is it always best to be a manly man? What does it cost to make a sperm, anyway? Dr. Tatiana, an advice columnist for the rest of creation, answers questions from confused animals, explaining the what and sometimes the why of relations with a humorous bent. The sheer variety of behavior chronicled should invite contemplation: and laughter.

“Me Talk Pretty One Day” by David Sedaris

In this collection of personal essays, Sedaris tackles such everyday topics as speech therapy, musical lessons and French grammar, and points out exactly how ridiculous they are. In one story, he recounts the time his sister Amy came home in half a fat suit to irritate their fat-phobic father; in another, he discusses his difficulties in playing a guitar: which were not helped by his teacher’s suggestion that he think of it as a woman.

“The Atrocity Archives” by Charles Stross

There are . . . things just past the borders of our world, and if we call to them: with, say, advanced mathematics: they’ll come out. Fortunately, the governments of the world have it under control. Bob Howard works for a secret department of the British government, battling Lovecraftian horrors and obstructionist bureaucracy. Stross’s world is genuinely scary: It’s clear that the humans are outgunned and continually fighting against time. At the same, we haven’t lost yet. Its an alternatively scary, alternatively funny adventure story that makes a fun use of an afternoon.