We’re trucking along now with the 100-Book challenge, and books 21-30 bring us a mixed bag. Before the reviews, I’d like to make a note about including audio-books in this challenge (which some have called cheating). Personally, I think we should stuff ourselves with learning and culture wherever we can, and making the time to listen to hours of well-thought-out prose is a worthy undertaking. As a rule, I only listen to non-fiction audio-books because (being a writer and English major) I feel a need to control my pace through novels, annotating and rereading where necessary. But if you find yourself able to thoroughly enjoy anything being read to you, by all means, get books into your brain in any way possible. (I’ll mark the works I listened to as audio-books with “AB”)
- From Russia with Love – Ian Fleming: check out our James Bond: Here and There podcast for a closer look at all of the Bond books!
- What the Dog Saw and other Adventures – Malcolm Gladwell (AB): TOP PICK! Like Joseph Campbell, I suggest reading anything and everything you can find by Malcolm Gladwell. This work is a collection of some of his own favorite stories, originally written for The New Yorker. His full-length non-fiction books like Outliers, Blink, David and Goliath, and The Tipping Point have all been eye-opening with a general MO to challenge our assumptions about how the world works by showing us…well how the world really works. Some of the implications of his work have been challenged, and I don’t think he is an infallible sage, but he is the first name I give to people who are looking for good books to read. Also, he narrates his own audio-books, and does so very well.
- Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck: I was not looking forward to this one, but it surprised me pleasantly. Coming in at over 450 pages, it took me only a little over a week to finish (with some personal pushing necessary). Many had actually tried to dissuade me from reading it, but I’m a stickler when it comes to getting in “the greats.” Like Hemingway, Steinbeck’s style is accessible, and this book tells the story of a farming family, “simple folk,” trying to survive The Dust Bowl which hit the plains during The Great Depression (so overall, not a great time to be a farmer). I found myself caught up in the story and in a lot of the folk wisdom (which has been criticized along with Steinbeck’s sentimentality). Unless you are an avid reader though, I would save this book for after completing the challenge. Also, its infamous ending is really divisive and may leave you feeling unsatisfied.
- Food: A Love Story – Jim Gaffigan (AB): I checked out this audio-book, read by the author, as a pleasant break from the headier stuff. Like pretty much everyone I’ve met, I love Jim Gaffigan and his stand-up comedy, and this book was great. As the title suggests, it’s all about food, and though he recycles a lot of his stand-up material, the jokes hold up.
- Oh Crap! Potty Training – Jamie Glowacki: So, we were potty training our kid and I read this book…
- Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man – James Joyce: Oh Joyce. Joyce, Joyce, Joyce. This giant of an Irish author is best known for Ulysses, his behemoth novel about a single day in 1904 Ireland. Most of his work is so abstruse that you have to use smart words like ‘abstruse’ to describe it, and be a scholar to enjoy it. Although Portrait is a little more accessible than Ulysses, I would never suggest it as a book to curl up with under the sheets. Don’t get me wrong, he was a genius, but he was the kind of genius who wanted you to really work to understand his genius.
- What the Buddha Taught – Walpola Rahula: This was a great little book for an introduction into Buddhism. As a human being, I’m trying to learn about all the major religions, and this book was perfect for the spiritual layman. Highly suggest.
- Treasure Island – Robert Louis Stevenson: One of the most iconic, pirate adventure stories that I really should have read at some point during my first thirty years of life. I enjoyed it, and can see why it has been, and continues to be so popular. Buried treasure? Check. Back-stabbing pirates? Check. Deserted island? Check.
- In Other Worlds – Margaret Atwood (AB): If you’re into sci-fi and fantasy, I suggest this non-fiction book. It presents Atwood’s thoughts and studies of the genres, and ends with a few sci-fi sketches she wrote herself. Pretty interesting stuff by an established author about genres people don’t consider as important as perhaps they should.
- The Incredible Journey – Sheila Burnford: I have a large collection of young adult books, and this was among them. I picked it up largely because it was short but also because I liked the movie Homeward Bound which was based on it. A quaint story about three pets who think they’ve been abandoned and so journey through the Canadian wilderness to find their owners. Will they survive?! (Spoiler: they do.)
That’s it for now. Get out there and keep reading!