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.

Top Ten Tuesday

Top Five Books On My Winter TBR

1) Bleak House by Charles Dickens

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I love reading Dickens in the winter. Big books are perfect for the long holiday, and Dickens’ dark humor goes well with the weather. While my favorite so far is Hard Times, I have not yet read the most critically acclaimed of Dickens’ works: Little Dorrit, Bleak House, or David Copperfield. I hope to enjoy Bleak House.

2) Ecclesiastes through the Centuries by Eric S. Christianson

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Most people have never heard of Ecclesiastes, but it is one of my favorite books in the Bible. I first read it when I was 14. I didn’t realize that the Birds’ song “Turn, Turn, Turn” was inspired by chapter 3 of Ecclesiastes. But I was the most surprised by the content of the book. I never thought I would find “there is nothing new under the sun” and “meaningless, meaningless” in the Scriptures. It has definitely become my obsession. I read it on the day Trump was elected. Anyway, Christianson’s book is a study on the reception history of Ecclesiastes. Jerome, Gregory the Great, Martin Luther, and even Voltaire and Henry James reflected on this book. This controversial book has inspired the most interesting biblical commentaries.

3) To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

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Mrs. Dalloway is one of my favorite books, and I enjoyed Orlando. So, I look forward to reading To the Lighthouse. This will be a buddy-read with a fellow booktuber.

4) The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

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Everyone and their brother has praised this book. This is historical fiction set in 12th century England and centers on the building of a gothic cathedral. When I was a child, I read The Ramsay Scallop by Frances Temple for school. That story follows two children on pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella, Spain. While the other students found the novel boring, I loved it. This was one of my first encounters with the Middle Ages. If The Pillars of the Earth mesmerizes me the way The Ramsay Scallop did, I will consider that a success. I don’t expect brilliant prose. But I do expect an engaging plot with complex characters. And lots of sinful monks.

5) The Secret by Francesco Petrarch

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The 14th century Italian Humanist Petrarch wrote three fictional conversations with St. Augustine. This is my most anticipated read. Even though the translation by Carol Quillen has been out for a while, I purchased the book at the end of May. Augustine was a great observer of human nature. From my understanding, Petrarch suffered from depression and even wrote about it. I wonder whether Petrarch will mention his mental illness in The Secret. This dialogue series seems like a cross between an Augustinian dialogue like On Free Will and Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy. In the latter work, Boethius imagines a dialogue with Lady Philosophy. In The Secret, Augustine and Petrarch dialogue before Lady Truth. It will be interesting to compare Petrarch to Boethius. I definitely have high expectations for this work.

Top Ten Tuesday

Ten Travel Books (Fiction and Nonfiction)

I’m currently reading We, The Drowned by Carsten Jensen. I absolutely love books set at sea. This is one of the best nautical books. But today, I want to share with you ten books that deal with any form of travel (air, sea, or rail). The top three books on this list are my three favorite books of all time – in order! The rest of the books are in no particular order. This could count for this week’s Top Ten Tuesday.

  1. Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince) by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

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I’ve read this book so many times since starting this blog, but for some reason I haven’t written a review of it yet. The Little Prince is a reminder that great children’s literature isn’t just appropriate for children. In fact, it is best appreciated by an adult.

2. Moby-Dick by Herman Melville

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The cetology chapters are the best! Starbuck is the most righteous character in all of literature.

3. Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift

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I read it nearly every year. Swift’s novel is fun but also a profound commentary on imperialism, human nature, and injustice.

4. The Voyages of Doctor Doolittle by Hugh Lofting

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I definitely preferred the movie to the book, but Doctor Dolittle goes on a voyage. He also talks to animals. It won the Newbery Medal in 1923.

5. Terre des Hommes (Wind, Sand, and Stars) by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

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All of the stories are about flight, but the most moving one is autobiographical. Saint-Exupéry crashed in the Sahara Desert and almost died of thirst. Flight was so dangerous in the early 20th century. Even mail carriers risked their lives transporting mail. Despite all of the hardships he faced, Saint-Exupéry remained optimistic. He believed in the goodness of humanity. Unfortunately, he disappeared in 1944 while on a reconnaissance mission.

6. Le Tour du Monde en 80 Jours (Around the World in 80 Days) by Jules Verne

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Again, the film is better than the book, but the book is pretty fun as well. The cover of this book is misleading. Phineas Fogg and Passepartout (name means master key) do not travel by balloon. They mostly travel by sea.

7. The Odyssey by Homer

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Duh

8. Locomotive by Brian Floca

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A beautiful picture book about the history of the locomotive in the United States. It won the Caldecott in 2014.

9. In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick

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There be cannibals.

10. Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad

Image result for lord jim joseph conradHow does a man who is supposed to exhibit the most exaggerated form of masculinity on the face of this planet deal with cowardice and guilt? Joseph Conrad basically writes prose poetry.

Miscellaneous

Top Five Things That Will Make Me Instantly NOT Want To Read A Book

The title of this post is slightly misleading because I don’t want to mention all the things that “instantly” turn me off to a book. I am keeping the title because that’s the theme for today’s Top Ten Tuesday. If you follow my blog it should be obvious that I’m not into erotica or zombie fiction. This blog is called Exploring Classics for a reason. I am not “absolutely” turned off by the following things, but I need a good reason to read the book if it contains any of them. I may, for example, read a 14th century in-your-face allegory because it has historical significance. I will read nearly anything if it has historical significance or if it’s old enough. Who wouldn’t want to read zombie fiction from the 9th century?

Without further ado, here’s my list:

1) Pure Romance

I am OK with some romance in a novel, but I don’t like “romance” novels. I tend to avoid even well-written romances like Pride and Prejudice. Romances don’t do anything for me. I must be a block of wood 😉

2) Poor Writing

I am definitely not a great writer, but I am a language student. I have difficulty overlooking bad writing. I wish I could read a popular work without criticizing its writing style or plot structure. Unfortunately, I can no longer read books without analyzing the hell out of them.

3) Plot-Driven Books

Plots don’t do much for me. I read for theme and character. Consequently, I prefer books that most readers find torturous. Yes, I know I come across as pretentious, but that’s not my intention.

4) In-Your-Face Allegory

Allegory should be subtle. I enjoy exploring fiction. I want to be surprised and delighted when I discover a hidden allegory. Fiction should invite the reader to engage critically with the work. I can’t engage critically with obvious allegory.

5) Books By Celebrities

Movie stars and musicians tend to be poor writers, or they hire ghost writers. They clearly write books to make money. It’s all just materialism.  Blech! I’m glad they became rich and famous, but I don’t want to be rich and famous. I just don’t care about the lives of most celebrities. I don’t look up to them or care about their teachings. Cults of personality disgust me. Rich and famous people pretend that they are in solidarity with the poor so that they can remain rich and famous. It’s all just posturing. They pretend that the wealthy necessarily work harder than the poor. (Can you tell that this aspect of American society makes me angry? I’d better stop here.)

Miscellaneous

Top Ten Books On My Spring TBR

Top Ten Tuesday is an event hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. These books are in no particular order.

1) Du côté de chez Swann (Swann’s Way) by Marcel Proust

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This is the first book in Proust’s In Search of Lost Time series. I have to read it for school.

2) A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce

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3) The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

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4) Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt

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5) The Waves by Virginia Woolf

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6) Selected Letters From a Stoic by Seneca

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7) The Nature of Things by Lucretius (prose translation)

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8) Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup

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9) A Tale of a Tub by Jonathan Swift

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10) Vol de nuit (Night Flight) by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

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Miscellaneous

Top Five Underrated/Hidden Gem Books I’ve Read In The Past Year

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. I’m excited to complete this week’s challenge, because I often read lesser-known or underrated works. These books were not published in the the last year.

1) Children of a Lesser God by Mark Medoff (review is forthcoming)

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This play is a romance between a hearing and a deaf person. It also brings awareness to the challenges deaf people face in a society that considers deafness a disability.

2) Terre des hommes (Wind, Sand and Stars) by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

A memoir about flight, friendship, hope, and loss. Definitely not as read as Le petit prince, but just as exquisitely-written.

3) Arms and the Man by George Bernard Shaw

Arms and the Man by George Bernard Shaw

Unfortunately, I didn’t review this play after I read it, so I’ve forgotten a lot. But I remember enjoying it. The dialogue is strong and witty. It has a lot of ratings on Goodreads, but I don’t think it is as widely-known as Pygmalion. This is my third Shaw play. Saint Joan (another lesser-known play) is my favorite, but Arms and the Man is still fantastic. I hope to read/reread more of his plays in 2017.

4) The Albigensian Crusade by Jonathan Sumption

The Albigensian Crusade by Jonathan Sumption

I am putting this book on the list to bring attention to the author. Sumption is not only a justice on the UK Supreme Court but also an author of popular histories. He is most known for his multi-volume history of the Hundred Years War. But his history of The Albigensian Crusade is an engrossing introduction to one of the greatest atrocities in Western history. The Albigensians were dualists living in southern France in the 13th century. The crusade launched in the region was basically a genocide. A disturbing book, but very well-written. Unfortunately, I never reviewed this book.

5) Julius Exclusus by Erasmus

The Julius Exclusus of Erasmus by Desiderius Erasmus

Erasmus is known for his Praise of FollyJulius Exclusus, written before Folly, is not only a critique of Pope Julius II but also a commentary on politics and leadership. It is quite funny though the satire is a bit too in-your-face. Erasmus claimed that he never wrote it, but his contemporaries and modern scholars believe that he did.

Miscellaneous

Top Ten 2016 Releases I Meant To Read

I have a few books to review this week, but today I’m going to do the Top Ten Tuesday tag hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. The theme is: “Top Ten 2016 Releases We Meant To Read But Didn’t Get To (But TOTALLY Plan To)”. My blog is dedicated to the classics, but I do want to read more modern books this year. My 2017 goal is to read at least 5 published since 2000. I’m not going to go into why I’m interested in each book. You’ve probably heard of them, but I will link the titles to their Goodreads pages in case you haven’t. They were all published in 2016.

1) The Tidal Zone by Sarah Moss (hyped but probably for good reason)

The Tidal Zone

2) Another Day in the Death of America by Gary Younge (true stories of people killed by gun violence during a 24 hr period in America)

Another Day in the Death of America: A Chronicle of Ten Short Lives

3) My Name is Leon by Kit de Waal (fiction that deals with race and adoption)

My Name is Leon

4) The Morning They Came for Us: Dispatches from Syria by Janine Di Giovanni (all about the Syrian civil war)

The Morning They Came for Us: Dispatches from Syria

5) Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance (a memoir about the author growing up in a white working class family in America)

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis

6) The Optician of Lampedusa by Emma Jane Kirby (fiction about the refugee crisis)

The Optician of Lampedusa

7) Homegoing by  Yaa Gyasi (it has been so hyped that I’m a bit scared to read it)

Homegoing

8) Reformations: The Early Modern World, 1450-1650 by Carlos M.N. Eire (clearly my kind of book)

Reformations: The Early Modern World, 1450-1650

9) Charlemagne by Johannes Fried (I briefly reviewed his book on the Middle Ages last year; again, this is my kind of book)

Charlemagne

10) The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson (a memoir about the author’s relationship to a gender fluid individual)

The Argonauts