Miscellaneous

Top 10 Favorite Books of 2018

This is my definitive Top Ten list for 2018. The books are in order, with #1 being my favorite book of 2018.

1. Le Rouge et le noir (The Red and the Black) by Stendhal

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Julien Sorel is a character you either love or hate. I found his turbulent desires very relatable. He has become one of my favorite protagonists in fiction. The colors mentioned in the title symbolize the identities that Julien find the most attractive: soldier (red) and priest (black). Unfortunately, Julien doesn’t have what it takes to be a “great” man, so he turns to love as a means to social mobility. Julien’s messy romance with Mme de Rênal and his quest for greatness double as a social satire on post-Restoration France. If you like Balzac’s Father Goriot, you should definitely give The Red and the Black a try.

2. The Half-Drowned King by Linnea Hartsuyker

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The #2 spot goes to the first book in a historical fiction trilogy (The Golden Wolf Saga). The second book (The Sea Queen) came out this past August, and the last book will probably be released next year. The Half-Drowned King is set in 9th-century Norway and follows a brother and a sister in search of justice and honor. Ragnvald Eysteinsson and his sister Svanhild are growing up with their stepfather Olaf, who has taken the throne of Ragnvald’s father. At the start of the novel, Ragnvald is attacked by a shipmate named Solvi, whose father Ragnvald suspects has formed an alliance with Olaf. Now, Ragnvald wants revenge and a chance to win the throne from Olaf. This series has everything: a rich world, beautiful writing, compelling women, morally-complex characters, and great action scenes. If you like A Game of Thrones, I expect you will love this series. I have never been able to get past the first episode of A Game of Thrones (because I thought it was quite sexist), but I sped through the first two books of Hartsuyker’s trilogy. Leave it to a woman to write female characters well.

3. Réparer les vivants (Repair the Living, or The Heart) by Maylis de Kerangal

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Repair the Living is about a heart transplant. Simon Limbres, an avid surfer, dies in a car accident at the start of the novel. But his death is nothing like in the movies. His heart is still beating although his brain has stopped functioning. When Simon’s mother sees her son in the hospital, she thinks that he will soon revive from his coma. But he won’t. Simon is clinically dead. Modern medicine insists that the brain, not the heart, is the true locus of life. In France, unlike in the United States, a person is automatically considered an organ donor unless they officially opt out. Thus, Doctors Pierre Révol and Thomas Rémige have already identified Simon as an organ donor before they even meet with his surviving relatives. Repair the Living offers a kaleidoscopic perspective on life, death, grief, and, of course, the heart.

4. The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

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I already knew I would like this book when I first heard about it on Booktube. Self-help is not usually a genre I reach for, but I am a huge believer in habit. I have broken some major habits in my life, but forming new habits has been much more challenging. I resist discipline because it takes too much effort. Duhigg demystifies habit through a number of case studies. It’s amazing how many things we do on a daily basis that are nothing more than ingrained habits. Understanding habit formation is particularly important today businesses (such as grocery stores) exploit research on human behavior to sell more product. They know, for example, that customers turn habitually to the right when they enter a store. Some organizations use this information more constructively. Starbucks trains its employees to adopt good habits so that they can be self-motivated and disciplined workers. And of course, there’s Alcoholics Anonymous; the 12-step program has helped thousands of people break habits of addiction. This is a fascinating book with implications for every aspect of business and life.

5. Les Lettres persanes (The Persian Letters) by Montesquieu

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This 1721 epistolary novel tells the story of two fictional travelers, Usbek and Rica, who leave Persia in search of enlightenment. Usbek is the older of the two, with five wives and a household of slaves. He is critical of the justice system in Persia, but he doesn’t necessarily find France to be any better. Usbek makes some incisive remarks about French society. But unlike other travel narratives and social satires of the 18th century, The Persian Letters is filled with morally-complex characters. Usbek and Rica are not merely observers and commentators, but social actors as well.

6. The Unseen World by Liz Moore

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The hype is well-deserved. The Unseen World by Liz Moore manages to be both thought-provoking and exhilarating – a combination scarcely found in fiction. Ada is a child prodigy whose father, David, heads a computer science lab. He has always been somewhat of an outsider, but in recent months he has started to forget things. Once, he goes missing an entire day. David had been diagnosed years ago with early-onset Alzheimer’s, but he had never told his daughter. Now that David can no longer care for himself, he must be admitted to a nursing home. But who is David? Ada meets a man at the nursing home who claims that her father isn’t who he claims to be. Unfortunately, David’s memory has so deteriorated that she can’t simply ask him to learn the truth. Instead, she has to decode a message her father left her on a floppy disk. I read this 452-page book in two days!

7. La Place (The Place) by Annie Ernaux

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This autobiography is more like a series of reflections about Annie Ernaux’s upbringing in a working-class French family. The death of Ernaux’s father at the start of the work elicits a series of reflections about social class and writing. She insists on writing about her father in plain, straightforward language, rather than the flowery style we are so accustomed to encountering in memoirs. Unlike the author’s father, who quit school early in order to work for his father and later owned his own grocery, Annie went to college, obtained her CAPES de lettres (Le certificat d’aptitude au professorat de l’enseignement du second degré), and became a teacher and writer. La Place gives the reader an insight into why Ernaux prefers a “flat” writing style over the “literary”.

8. The Children of Húrin by J.R.R. Tolkien

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Every year it seems, the Tolkien estate publishes another of the author’s unfinished writings. Some are interesting, while others are a waste of time. The Children of Húrin is one of Tolkien’s most complete posthumous writings, and definitely the most engaging. I want this book to become a movie or a mini-series so badly. The world-building and character development are impressive. It is also the most psychological and the most violent of Tolkien’s works. Early in the history of Middle-Earth, the evil Morgoth escapes establishes a fortress in the North and from there, encourages a war between elves. At the start of the novel, Túrin’s father Húrin is captured by Morgoth during the Battle of Unnumbered Tears. Consequently, Túrin is adopted by King Thingol of Doriath, an elf. But Túrin makes some unpleasant choices, which alienates him from the elves. The Children of Húrin is about the consequences of these choices on his family and friends.

9. Le Traité sur la tolérance (The Treatise on Tolerance) by Voltaire

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Thankfully, I don’t know anyone who supports the execution of religious dissidents, but well into the 18th century, people were tortured and killed for refusing to submit to the national religion. Voltaire’s Treatise on Tolerance is a plea for religious tolerance on the occasion of the death of Jean Calas, an Huguenot executed on spurious grounds. This essay is particularly relevant today, in an age of increasing intolerance. Voltaire was clearly up-to-date with the Biblical scholarship of his day.

10. Native Son by Richard Wright

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I am not entirely sure how I feel about Native Son. On the one hand, I flew through this work and was compelled by Bigger Thomas’s story. On the other hand, I felt like the novel was dismissive of the suffering of the female characters. But I have to include this work on the list because I was moved by the story and the author’s insights on race and class. Native Son is about the role systemic racism played in the lives of black men growing up in the Jim Crow era. But it’s message remains relevant today. Racism in the American criminal justice system is just as present today as it was before 1965. Except for the last 25 pages, this book was a page-turner. It honestly read like a thriller. The prose was also magnificent. Consequently, I look forward to reading Richard Wright’s autobiography, Black Boy, in the near future.

Miscellaneous

Twitter for Academics

Woman in White Long Sleeved Shirt Holding a Pen Writing on a PaperStill alive, just crazy busy!

I am currently participating in a game of “How many pages can you write in two weeks?”, which will be followed by a Master’s exam. I already have one Master’s degree, but hey, why not get another one? Right? In my program, the MA exam is basically a preliminary qualifying exam that we all take at the end of our first year.

For the past few months, Academic Twitter has not only helped me get through the insanity, it has also demystified academia for me. Many of my favorite accounts share academic writing tips.

Here are some of my favorite Twitter accounts:

Medieval (not strictly for academics)
Medieval Manuscripts (@BLMedieval): Not strictly for academics. Shares pictures of medieval manuscripts from the British Library.

Discarding Images (@discarding_imgs): Wacky, outrageous, and sometimes inappropriate medieval manuscript art. Welcome to the weird and wonderful world of medieval marginalia!

Damien Kempf (@DamienKempf): The wackiest, most inappropriate marginalia art of the Middle Ages can be found here 😛

For PhDs and Early Career Academics
Write that PhD (@WriteThatPhD): Do you have questions about academic writing and/or publishing? Look no further.

Dr Raul Pacheco-Vega (@raulpacheco): I couldn’t more highly recommend Dr. Pacheco-Vega’s Twitter account. He posts and shares excellent tips for PhD students and early career academics. His blog is also fantastic.

Writing For Research (@Write4Research): All about that academic writing. Prof. Dunleavy also has a blog.

Shit Academics Say (@AcademicsSay): If you’ve never heard of this Twitter or Facebook account and you are in graduate school, where have you been? It’s here to give you your snarky-pessimism fix for the day.

Inside Higher Ed (@insidehighered): Lots of useful information here. Unfortunately, some articles are behind a paywall.

For Wasting Time
PHD Comics (@PHDcomics): Read moderately! The comics just never get old. In my opinion, the second film was way better than the first one they made.

Hashtags
#AcWri
#phdchat
#phdadvice
#phdlife

I could name many more, but these are my favorite Twitter accounts. If you are in graduate school or are an academic, what are yours?

Miscellaneous

2018 Reading and Blogging Resolutions

Photography of Flower Beside Coffee on Top of BookAt the end of 2016, I set myself 5 blogging-related goals:

1) Write short reflection posts
2) Read 5 books that have been published since 2000.
3) Read more books relevant to current events.
4) Read Les Misérables in French.
5) Get more involved in the book-blogging community

I definitely met my first goal in November when I blogged every day. I wrote many reflection posts that sparked some interesting discussions.

I also met my second goal of reading 5 books published since 2000. My favorite nonfiction published in the past 17 years was Supercapitalism: The Transformation of Business, Democracy, and Everyday Life (2007) by Robert B. Reich. For fiction, I enjoyed My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante, Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry, and Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee (one of my favorite books of 2017).

For my third goal, I read a book on the Civil Rights movement that felt particularly relevant today: Why We Can’t Wait by Martin Luther King, Jr. I also read a piece of war journalism: The Morning They Came for Us: Dispatches From Syria by Janine Di Giovanni (very disturbing but incredibly important).

I did not meet my fourth goal of reading Les Misérables. I’m OK with that. I didn’t really have the time to tackle a thousand-page book.

It’s really the fifth goal that I feel I neglected in the past year. I didn’t really participate in the book blogging community. I am much more involved in the booktube community. I regret not participating in the Classics Club Spins or any of the group reads. The book blogging world introduced me to Moby-Dick, one of my all-time favorite books.

2018 Goals

1) Successfully complete at least one Classics Spin book.

In 2018, I would like to participate more in the Classics Club community. To be honest, I don’t really care much for my Classics book list. Reading from lists reminds me of school. Still, I have many unread classics on my shelves that I would like to get to sooner than later. So in 2018, the classics I include in the lists I create for the Classics Spins will all come from my already-owned TBR pile. But I will participate in at least one Classics Spin in 2018 because it is a good way to get back into the community.

2) Participate in the “Reading the Bible as Literature” event hosted by Adam @ Roof Beam Reader

Since reading The Art of Biblical Narrative by Robert Alter (my third favorite book of 2017) I’ve wanted to read the Bible as literature. I am accustomed to reading the Bible from a spiritual perspective, but I tend to overlook the narrative structures of the different stories. I look forward to discovering an aspect of the Bible that I have never noticed before. But the Catholic Bible is considerably longer than Protestant Bibles. It would be hard to read the entire thing in one year. Therefore, I will stick to Adam’s schedule and avoid the Deuterocanon.

3) Read 5 Challenge (a.k.a. Reduce My TBR)

In general, I want to reduce my TBR in 2018. To achieve that goal, I have created the “Read 5 Challenge”. I must read 5 books I own (print or electronic) before I am allowed to buy one new book. There are a few exceptions. I am allowed to continue buying a Harry Potter book a month, since I have already begun rereading the series as an adult (I’ve never owned the books and I don’t want to buy the entire box set). I am also allowed to buy books assigned for school, but assigned books cannot be considered as one of the 5 books. I have to read 5 books that I purchased for pleasure-reading. The books have to come from my non-school TBR. There is no limit to the number of books I’m allowed to borrow from the library. But any book that I own (even a free book) counts as a purchased book. Gifted free books are acceptable if I receive them unsolicited. Finally, I will continue to request books off of NetGalley. While NetGalley books don’t count for this challenge, they do count for the next goal I am setting for myself in 2018.

4) Reach 85% status on NetGalley by December 31, 2018.  

I need to review more of the books I request from NetGalley. 85% seems like a reasonable goal. I would like to review half of those books on my blog and half of them on my BookTube channel. I might repeat reviews in both places if the book is exceptionally good, but I usually avoid repeating content.

5) Post at least twice a week.

I am not going to set a word count, but a solo picture doesn’t count. Blogging is writing, and I want to write more in 2018.

What are your plans for 2018?

Miscellaneous

University Press Week (Nov. 6-11)

This week is University Press Week. I am a huge champion of university presses and the books they publish. In a society increasingly hostile to education, one way you can fight back is to support university presses dedicated to the acquisition and sharing of knowledge!

UP Week includes a blog tour: http://www.aaupnet.org/events-a-conferences/university-press-week/university-press-week-2017/2017-blog-tour#Wednesday

You can keep up with news related to UP Week on #upweek. For tips related to academic publishing, I recommend @PrincetonUPress and their #AskanEditor series.

Miscellaneous

What’s New

I started my blog 4 years ago. At the time, I almost exclusively read Victorian literature. Exploring Classics was an appropriate name for my blog because I hardly ever tried a modern book. A lot has changed since 2013. I’m no longer a teenager. My blog name, url, and design need to reflect my current reading tastes. Because I read more modern fiction than I did when I started blogging, I have chosen a new name for my blog. Of course, I will continue to review mostly English and French classics (it is my comfort zone after all), but I will also review other great works. My old Modern Corner section was growing at an exponential rate. Exploring Literature is a more appropriate name for my blog. The new url is https://litexplore.wordpress.com/. If you are already following my blog, you don’t need to do anything. You should continue to receive new posts.

Finally, I am on YouTube as well. I post different content on my booktube channel (The Medieval Reader) than I do on this blog. There are things I can talk about more easily on YouTube than on WordPress, and vice versa. I’ve discovered in recent weeks that I enjoy writing discussion and reflection posts. So in addition to reviewing fiction, I will continue to make these more personal posts. Surprisingly, being on YouTube has encouraged me to make more (not less) blog posts. I appreciate the blogosphere even more than ever. You are some of the most thoughtful people on the web. I enjoy the conversations we have here. 🙂

Thank you to everyone who follows and comments!

Miscellaneous

Personal Canon

Note: These are the books that have had a lasting impact on me. The ones numbered 1, 2, and 3 are my three favorite books in descending order. After the third book, the rest of the books are in no particular order. This list is pretty specific. I consider everything I read that’s any good (4 or 5 stars) as important for my personal and/or intellectual development, and therefore a part of my personal canon. These are the best of the best.

Fiction
1) Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince) by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
2) Moby-Dick by Herman Melville
3) Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift
To Kill a Mockingbird and Go Set a Watchman (both) by Harper Lee
The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
Le Grand Meaulnes (The Lost Estate) by Alain Fournier
Mrs. Dalloway and Orlando by Virginia Woolf
Murder in the Cathedral by T.S. Eliot
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
Journal d’un Curé de Campagne (The Diary of a Country Priest) by Georges Bernanos
Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev
Don Quixote by Cervantes
Saint Joan by George Bernard Shaw
My Antonià by Willa Cather
Hard Times by Charles Dickens
Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme by Molière
Le Petit Nicolas a Des Ennuis (Little Nicolas Gets in Trouble) by René Goscinny (the first French stories I ever read)
La Tristesse du Cerf-Volant by Françoise Mallet-Joris (the first French novel I ever read by myself. I read it on my own time. There’s no better way to learn a language. It’s also a great piece of literary fiction)

Spiritual (You knew that would be a category)
Ecclesiastes and the Gospel of John in the Bible
Confessions by Saint Augustine
Revelation of Divine Love by Julian of Norwich
The Life of Antony by Athanasius of Alexandria
Works of Love by Kierkegaard

Studies (Also mostly related to religion)
The Art of Biblical Narrative by Robert Alter
Augustine of Hippo by Peter Brown (excellent biography)
Sacred Violence by Jill N. Claster (best study on the crusades)