Monday, August 19, 2013

Summer Reading Favorites

I am a list reader. I like to keep arbitrary lists of my favorite and least favorite things (When I traveled to Greece for a class, my friends and I ranked our favorite types of artifacts. Tripods beat out nude sculptures. Go figure.), and I like to read lists, especially people’s “Top 50 Novels of the 20th Century” or “Top 100 Novels of ALL TIME.” Reading top book lists is almost meaningless for me because my idea of a good showing is having read 33%, which means that I can’t fully disagree with people who love cite Lolita as the Best Book Ever, or Moby Dick as the Novel to Read Before You Die. But I love reading the lists anyway, and I do make a conscious effort to pick up some books from lists so when I read the next trendy list I can be more judgmental about the curator’s sanity.

All of this is a long way of saying that because my library’s summer reading program finished, I have a nice concise collection of 25 books that I can distill to more useful lists for you. I don’t know how many opinions you can have about the Favorite designations I’m giving out, but I know that for once I have read 100% of the master list. Hurrah!*

*No pressure for you to read them all too. In fact, you may remember reviews of some books urging quite the opposite action.

Favorite Audiobook

This is a difficult category to judge because my reaction to audiobooks is often I LOVE IT or MAKE IT STOP. It’s more difficult this summer because I genuinely enjoyed the recordings of all these contenders, but one audiobook reader did such an incredible job that the award must go to Rob Inglis’ recording of The Return of the King. Inglis not only does sensitive portrayals of all the epic’s characters—he SINGS shire melodies and elf tunes.

Favorite Nonfiction Book

I’m giving this one to Why Nations Fail, although The Oath is a close second. Why Nations Fail chooses a variety of international and historical examples to support the thesis that exploitative political and economic institutions stagnate and imperil national growth, and steps towards inclusivity in either politics or economics can create positive feedback and eventually economic growth. The thesis is almost not a thesis because it appears so self-evident by the end of the book, but that just shows what a good job the authors have done in arguing their point. I suspect there are quite a few counterarguments the book isn't presenting; it seems a little too neat by the end. Don’t let the political and economic talk keep you from the book—Acemoglu and Robinson’s examples are fascinating, and even if the theory doesn't always fit the world, it's a good one to consider.

Favorite Young Adult Novel

I loved The Dream Thieves. Second books of series can be extremely difficult to nail, and Stiefvater manages to add new twists while keeping the overall series plot moving in Raven Cycle #2. There are so many things I enjoyed about the plot, the characters and the style that I have trouble explaining my enthusiasm in a coherent way. The book is coming out in September, which means that you have one month to read The Raven Boys and brush up on Welsh history and ley line theories. Expect a review when I finally pull my !!!! and ? and :-D into words.

Best Non-Young Adult Fiction

THE SONG OF ACHILLES!!! (Did you even think there was a question in this category?) Granted, much of this list is quality, and I can imagine getting more out of the Lord of the Rings as I reread and appreciate the ending more. I've also been overwhelming friends and family with my analysis of Austen's unfinished novels, so if my category were "Most Likely for Me to Bring Up in Conversation" this would be a strong contender. But this award is for my favorite read of this summer, and for now, it’s Miller’s reworking of Homeric material.


Alyssa L. said...

Holy crap, you read a lot this summer! I had no idea. And all that non-fiction! Why don't I read much non-fiction? Hm. I don't know. Well, Song of Achilles and the new Stiefvater are definitely on my eventual TBR. Don't know if Why Nations Fail would be my cuppa tea, but you never know! And I will have to track down the LotR audiobooks with that narrator. How long would you say it took to listen them?

Susan said...

Why Nations Fail is like a big book of short history stories with a polemic introduction. I listened to Guns, Germs and Steel in May, and this one called it out as bogus. Totally juicy. But I can understand why the subject might not be the most interesting one to you (your reading pile is already huge). The Oath is about half the size, and made me fall in awe of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, so if you want short and compelling nonfiction, that could be the one to try.

LotR was about 12-14hr/vol, I believe.

Matt said...

Song of Achilles looks neat! I just downloaded it, and maybe it can take a turn after the years of rices and salt. Why Nations Fail sounds really appealing, but I still have trouble trusting anything economists say, even if they might be saying things I'd like to hear.

You guys must be doing a lot of reading, makes me jealous.

Susan said...

(I was at jury duty for almost two weeks, so that helped me read a lot.)

Have fun with Song of Achilles! I can't wait to hear what you think about the ending. I'm still a little torn about it.

I just went to goodreads for Years of Rice and Salt; it looks spectacular. (I am pretending that you and Sarah are reading it because you were so inspired by my book report on Salt last year.)

Social sciences occupy a strange land where the theories are not entirely predictive, but are not merely interpretive either. I understand your distrust of economists; I don't fully trust anyone, regardless of discipline, who claims he or she can explain Poverty or other Big Issues within one book.

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