Writing Bloc’s Best Reads November Edition. Welcome to the fifth post in our ongoing best of series, in which a few of our Writing Bloc contributors share their favorite read of the month. For the month of October, we hear from Jacqui, Robert, Michael and Becca.
Jacqui’s Recommendation – The Humans by Matt Haig
Humans, as a rule, don’t like mad people unless they are good at painting, and only then once they are dead. But the definition of mad, on Earth, seems to be very unclear and inconsistent. What is perfectly sane in one era turns out to be insane in another. The earliest humans walked around naked with no problem. Certain humans, in humid rainforests mainly, still do so. So, we must conclude that madness is sometimes a question of time, and sometimes of postcode.
Basically, the key rule is, if you want to appear sane on Earth you have to be in the right place, wearing the right clothes, saying the right things, and only stepping on the right kind of grass.
I was first introduced to Matt Haig when I read his book of essays, Notes on a Nervous Planet. I instantly loved his writing style, and wanted to give one of his novels a try. I’m thrilled that I did, and I’m sure I’ll be reading his whole arsenal in the future.
I read The Humans in about three sessions, and it was a blissful combination of raw emotion and comedic timing. The Humans tells the story of an alien who takes over the body of a mathematician who is on the brink of a life-altering discovery. His mission? To stop this discovery from getting out to the general public by silencing anyone who knew of the breakthroughs that the mathematician had made. .
Through the lens of this extra-terrestrial, the reader views the human species – quirks, faults, and all. Through this novel we answer the question – why would anyone ever choose to be human?
Robert’s Recommendation — Redshirts by John Scalzi
Ensign Andrew Dahl has just been assigned to the Universal Union Capital Ship Intrepid, flagship of the Universal Union since the year 2456. It’s a prestige posting, and Andrew is thrilled all the more to be assigned to the ship’s Xenobiology laboratory.
Life couldn’t be better…until Andrew begins to pick up on the fact that:
- every Away Mission involves some kind of lethal confrontation with alien forces
- the ship’s captain, its chief science officer, and the handsome Lieutenant Kerensky always survive these confrontations
- at least one low-ranked crew member is, sadly, always killed.
At first glance, Redshirts appears to be a simple spoof of Star Trek, specifically, “What would happen if the often-memed ‘redshirts’ realised their only reason for existence was to die dramatically on an away mission?” This alone would make the book worthy of examination, but I came to realise it was more. The premise may be whimsical, but Scalzi has written a solid narrative that stands alone, even if you’ve never watched an episode of Star Trek.
I listened to the audiobook version of this novel, narrated by Will Wheaton (Will-Friggin’-Wheaton narrating a Star Trek spoof people!), and it was brilliant. You can read more of my thoughts here.
Becca’s Recommendation — The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas took over my mind for the two weeks it took me to listen to the audiobook. Every night at bedtime, I would eagerly plug in my headphones, excited for the next chapter. It was hard to turn it off to go to sleep. Thomas brings the realities of police brutality to life through the eyes of Starr Carter, a sixteen year old girl who witnesses her childhood friend killed during a traffic stop.
Starr confronts the arguments we hear all the time– her friend’s life didn’t matter because he was a drug dealer, police officers are scared too, if people just obeyed the law, things like this wouldn’t happen, and more. And through Starr, we see incredibly clearly the fallacy in all of these.
Thomas shows the complexities of Starr’s life in the hood, and the codeswitching she must perform to assimilate in her wealthy white school, in a way that helps white readers like myself challenge their assumptions about race and poverty.
Especially moving is the tribute at the end to real victims of police violence. Viewing this major problem in our country through the eyes of a relatable young character makes the serious subject matter digestible and approachable This book should be required reading at every high school and college, and really, for every person in the U.S.
Michael’s Recommendation – A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
Wow. I was blown away by this book, and I have no idea why it took me so long to read it. Not only is this a jaw-dropping analysis of the human condition, the role of free will versus societal blending, and evil itself, but the novel is written in an amazing and unique form. Written in first person, the story takes you through the perspective of Alex, who is a fifteen year-old in a dystopian future in which he and his “friends” get together and commit crimes and perform acts of violence on random people. When Alex’s friends turn on him and leave him to be caught by police, he is sentenced to fourteen years in prison for the murder of the woman whose house he was caught at. Interested in a shortened sentence, Alex agrees to be the first in an experimental “Ludovico technique” in which he is trained to be physically repulsed by violence and acts of criminality.
The novel is beautiful in that it includes Alex’s own dialect and slang, called Nasdat, which incorporates a wide enough vocabulary for some versions of the novel to include a glossary. However, the way the story is written and the events are described, there is no need for a glossary while reading. The character’s actions and perspective are clear enough that you can finish an entire page and look back at it realizing that you aren’t entirely sure of the meaning of half the words on the page, yet the understanding of what was written is clear as day. It’s a short book, and a real horrorshow to read.
An extra bit worth mentioning if you read A Clockwork Orange…
The version I got was at a secondhand store for a dollar. It was printed in 1972. The book is split into three parts, each consisting of seven chapters, or so I expected, but the third part in my version stopped at chapter six. I was curious about this and found out that copies of the book printed in the United States prior to 1986 omitted the final chapter, and this is the version Stanley Kubrick’s film is based upon, as well as the version Anthony Burgess loathed. I hopped over to the library and read the last chapter, and I can say that both versions of the novel are quite interesting. If you pick up a copy with the 21st chapter, stop at 20 and consider your thoughts before finishing the book as the author intended. Interesting stuff, indeed, and worth a conversation over. Either way, read this book.