Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Great Book Challenge

As I have mentioned a number of times on this blog, I am currently undergoing a personal reading challenge. I call it The Great Book Challenge. The rules are simple. I have 2 years (November 7th 2009 to November 7th 2011) to read 300 books. Each book must be over 250 pages and be on I have never read before. Like I said the rules are simple…the challenge however isn’t so easy (for those counting at home, that’s roughly 100 pages a day).
So why am I once again explaining the challenge? Well, with a little over 9 weeks remaining in the challenge, and this being Book Week and all, I thought I would take a moment to highlight a few of the books that have really stood out among the crowd. Now I am just an avid reader and lover of the written word. I am in no way a literary expert, nor a proper critic. These aren’t reviews, just simple blurbs, picking out a few of the books that I felt compelled to share.

WWW:Trilogy – Robert J Sawyer
                As a huge fan of Robert J Sawyer (one of my favorite novels of all time being Calculating God), he certainly doesn’t disappoint with his newest series, and like always he fills every page with wonderful characters, realistic dialogue and a purely incredible amount of scientific ideas and social extrapolations.

Clickers – J. F. Gonzalez
                This book took me ages to finally get my hands on. After seeing it on the shelf once before it went out of print, scoured the net for months to try and find a copy of the short novel for under fifty dollars. Finally my search was over when another publisher released their own print. I wasn’t let down by this purely pulp b-movie monster thrill ride filled with unrelenting gore and lovecraftian nasties. Check out the two sequels as well, co-written by one of my fave horror authors, Brian Keene.
Shadows Over Baker Street – Various
                I picked this up on a whim from a Barnes and Noble endcap celebrating the stories of Sherlock Holmes (sadly his was in relation to the less than enjoyable summer movie starring Robert Downy Jr). But I couldn’t resist this odd collection of mashups. Each story, penned by a unique hand, tells a story of Sherlock Holmes investigating a crime somehow connected to the interdimensional horrors of Lovecraft’s mythos.

Old Man’s War – John Scazi
                I have mixed feelings when it comes to military scifi. Some I absolutely love, while others struggle to even hold my interest. But Scalzi’s Old Man’s War, and its subsequent sequels blew me away. From the unique perspective on war (the main issue I have with military fiction is that I quite adamantly loathe war…at least against humans), to wonderful care with which he crafts his characters. Many compare his work (or any military SF) to Heinlein, but I am willing to state that his novel surpasses it.

Kraken – China Mieville
                Mieville has a unique and often dark take on the worlds of fantasy and science fiction. Though his recent works fall short from his earlier novels such as The Scar or Perdido Street Station, they are still enjoyable. Having read much of his works, I will admit I picked this one up purely for his take on the mythical tentacled menace.

Whiskey Sour – J. A. Konrath
                I love mysteries and crime fiction, but contemporary Agatha Christie’s rarely thrill me. They are often just too timid for me. Along comes J. A. Konrath, who I was first introduced to through his horror novel Origins. This man can write some dark, creepy, gut-wrenching stuff. It’s not the stomach churning stuff of Jack Ketchum, but I haven’t read a police procedural like the Jack Daniels novels. And trust me, I have been looking ever since. If you like shows like Criminal Minds, or tough as nails female protagonists, this series is well worth a look (and the $2.99 price tag on most of the ebooks isn’t too bad either).

Kafka on the Shore – Haruki Murakami
                This is perhaps one of the grandest works of literary fiction I have ever read. Split into the stories of two very unique and wonderfully interesting characters that slowly converge by the end of the novel, this book was translated from the Japanese original, and still maintains it rather haunting glimpses of the less glamorized Japan. At times wonderfully deep, at others horrifically disturbing. This is book is difficult to describe, as its real highlights are its subtleties. But once you start reading Murakami, it will certainly change you. 

The Grand Design – Stephen Hawking
                Stephen Hawking, apart from the incredible gift of intelligence for math and science, is his understanding of the lay person. His writings deliver as much scientific concept as the non-doctorate holding public can handle, while never talking down to his audience. He knows how to reach people and give them a great deal of information. This book, like those before it is no different. Though rather short, and less impressive than his other books, most will flock to this book for his brief section on a rather controversial topic. And though his idea does not reach as far as any well founded philosophy should, it is well thought out. This book is worth the read if only for the intense philosophical discourse you will have in your own head.

John Dies at the End – David Wong
                As a self-proclaimed surrealist writer myself, I absolutely loved this quirky little book. Think of someone trying to write a novel about drug induced hallucinations coming to life and hungry for blood, but written by someone so stoned out of their mind they can hardly stay focused on horrific situation. Now this may sound like it wouldn’t work, that in practice all you would get is some jumbled mess of nonsense. But add in one of the best writers from The Onion, channeling some William S Burroughs/Hunter S Thompson love-child, and you will quickly see while this novel is not only hilarious, but bizarrely disturbing.

Deeper – James Moore
                A contemporary spiritual heir to Lovecraft’s mythos. Fast pacing, great dialogue and of course all the disgusting human/fish hybrids you can shake a necronomicon at. If only this guy would take on more of Lovecraft’s universe. This book is like a late-night horror film, but it is endlessly entertaining.

Guns, Germs and Steel –  Jared Diamond
                Though it overlooks the influences of some aspects of culture, such as religion, this book contains one of the most mind-opening concepts of how we got to be the way we are. Even if you don’t end up agreeing with everything within its pages, this book will change the way you look at the world. It’s rare that I ever read anything quite this perspective altering.

The Snow Leopard – Peter Matthiessen
                A book I had long heard about and finally got my hands on, The Snow Leopard is part travelogue and part scientific journal. But to describe it only as thus would be a huge disservice. Underlying the true life hunt for a rare mountain sheep and the elusive titular cat, is the true purpose of this book. This is one of the greatest works of philosophical writing I have ever read. The best part being that it is so seeped in philosophical wonderings and thought, that it goes beyond being about the philosophy itself. Matthiessen doesn’t write about his philosophy and slowly burgeoning experiences with a new religion, instead he writes using it. Just as Le Nausee is not a book about existentialism, The Snow Leopard is not a book about Buddhism.

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