Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Reading Goals for 2015

Reading goals for 2015?  Do better than I did in 2014.  That's obvious.  I need to read a minimum of 24 books in a year.  I could probably pick some simpler material, but I always find myself gravitating back to a lot of the more cerebral stuff, which of course takes more time to read.  While fully realizing I probably won't keep to this at all in 2015, here are a few books I would like to read in 2015.

The Fellowship of the Ring is still on my list.  I mentioned it in my 2014 reading goals, and then promptly forgot all about it.  I'm not exactly sure why it's not one that comes immediately to mind, especially when it's the basis for most fantasy, a genre I've enjoyed in the past.  Perhaps 2015 is the year.  Some other works of fiction I wouldn't mind tackling are Orson Scott Card's Earth Unaware and The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper.  I'm always on the look-out for the next diamond in the rough that doesn't get much attention but is excellent nonetheless.  Furthermore, I'm willing to take a chance on books I know little about. 

My non-fiction reading list continues to grow and grow and grow.  These are the more cerebral books I mentioned earlier, and I always feel a sense of accomplishment when I finish one.  I would love to finally get to Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrel and Patrick Robinson and Principles for a Free Society by Richard A. Epstein.  The latter will be far more taxing intellectually than the former.  (Richard A. Epstein is a force of nature when he speaks and debates).  Beyond that, Nudge is still on my list, as it was last year.  My interest in many of these books ebbs and flows, but usually when it's at its peak I am already in the middle of another book, which is why I usually don't get to them. 

Again, my main goal for 2015 is to read 24 books, if not more.  I read for the love of reading, of course, but I also read to eventually reach my lifetime goal of 1,000 books.  I currently sit at 350.  All things considered, it seems like a small number, and it is, but it also represents a lot of time, a lot of cranial effort, and a lot of knowledge and entertainment gained.  It was all worth it, and I'm looking forward to this next year to discover what else the world of books has to offer.

Other Topics of Interest:
Reading Goals for 2014: A Review
Reading Goals for 2014

Monday, January 19, 2015

Reflections: Two Treatises of Government and a Letter Concerning Toleration

I have a new Brow-Bruising Read.  John Locke's Two Treatises of Government and a Letter Concerning Toleration is one of the most influential works of political philosophy ever published.  It's also quite a slog to get through. 

Without a doubt the most brutal part of Two Treatises is the first treatise in which Locke provides an exhaustive refutation to Sir Robert Filmer's Patriarcha.  The biggest issue I had with the treatise is not necessarily how it is written, although I did find it redundant and overwrought, but how irrelevant it is.  The thrust of Filmer's argument is that monarchy or political rule is derived from the first man, Adam.  No one is arguing this point in our day.  The debate feels more like a product of its time than any other political philosophy argument I have read thus far.  Often times these kinds of books provide first principles which are still being debated, albeit they have taken on a different outward appearance.  Locke's first treatise doesn't really do that.  It's a product of a particular place and a particular time, and it is so far removed from our current experience I found very little benefit from it. 

Locke's second treatise, however, does strike at the heart of many of our ongoing debates.  John Locke was certainly an influence on the founders of the United States and the political culture, traditions, and structure they designed.  (The extent of Locke's influence is debatable, of course, but his influence was present).  Locke's work is most interesting when you can see his commentaries intersecting with the considerations of today.  His explanations of socially and naturally important topics such as private property and political representation are fascinating and compelling.  It must be said that his writing is not terribly accessible.  Unless you love political philosophy and have a need to read one of its most influential works, I would steer clear of this book.

Lock's letter concerning toleration is probably the most enjoyable of this collection.  It's a skewering indictment of inquisition-like Christianity and the forceful expansion of any religious faith.  He asserts forcefully and persuasively the private and sensitive nature of religious faith and devotion, and the necessity for magistrates to protect religious liberty for all members of a society.  As a deeply religious person, I found Locke's observations on the matter poignantly instructive.  There is much to be admired in his prose, however obtuse it can be at times, and much more to be admired in his conclusions.  Locke has a powerful understanding of the spiritual and transcendent nature of mankind, and much of his political philosophy reflects that.

I'm so glad I can say I have read Two Treatises of Government and a Letter Concerning Toleration.  It is an indispensable part of a political science enthusiast's collection and understanding.  It was also brutal to read.  I didn't enjoy much of it, but I'm glad I stuck through it. 

Other Topics of Interest:
Reflections: Reflections on the Revolution in France
Reflections: Democracy in America
What Every American Should Read

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Best Books of 2014

2014 was a really, really good year for my non-fiction reading.  I read some excellent non-fiction books, such as: Rough Stone Rolling, Too Big Too Know, and The Worst Hard Time.  When trying to select the best non-fiction I read in a year, I base my decision mostly on how the book stuck with me.  Did I keep thinking about it after I finished?  I find most non-fiction interesting, but I don't find all non-fiction memorable.  (Abigail and John is a good example of a book that was interesting but not very memorable).  Yet, even with this standard, I still find it difficult to select just one non-fiction from this year as being the best.  Alas, a selection must be made, and here it is.

Non-Fiction: Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men into Boys

Kay Hymowitz's book--Manning Up--is a truly provocative read.  It clashes harshly with many existing and accepted social norms and politically correct standards.  The book highlights the unintended (and perhaps intended) consequences of the feminist movement(s) on modern society.  While reading the book I couldn't help but think what a mess it would have created in many of my classes at Rollins College.  Coming from the background I do and having the convictions I do, I would have loved being a part of those conversations and debates.  On some levels, I enjoy being a contrarian, and this book gives you a reason to be one. 

Reading Manning Up pulled back the curtain on a world I simply do not understand.  With the changing of gender roles in society and the liberalization of sexuality, I am most certainly not aligned with today's accepted moral standards.  While reading Manning Up I was both shocked and enlightened because it highlights many of those standards that are so alien to me.  I feel more educated and more capable in speaking to important societal issues regarding gender roles and sexuality in modern society.  That's a big win and a big reason for reading any non-fiction book.  Furthermore, I believe Manning Up is compelling enough that even those in disagreement with what the books posits could learn a thing or two about their own viewpoint by reading it. 

Manning Up is memorable.  I have already mentioned it to several of my associates and will no doubt continue to do so throughout the years.  Even though I loved Rough Stone Rolling and Too Big to Know, I don't think those books will come up in conversations as much as Manning Up.  It's not a perfect criteria to judge a book by, but it works for my purposes.  Manning Up was the best and most memorable non-fiction book I read in 2014.

Fiction: A Canticle for Leibowitz

Unlike picking the best non-fiction book I read in 2014, picking the best fiction book is extremely easy.  Walter M. Miller, Jr.'s A Canticle for Leibowitz is one of the best science fiction books I have ever read and one of the best books as well.   

I want people to read A Canticle for Leibowitz because it accomplishes a few things.  First, it proves, even to my skeptical mind, that modern literature can still be profound.  Ray Bradbury was not the only 20th century author after all who still could write genuinely beautiful and profound prose and not just the illusion of it.  (I exaggerate, but you get the point).  Canticle has just as many important ideas as A Tale of Two Cities or To Kill a Mockingbird and expresses them in a subtle but meaningful way.  Real literature is not dead in our modern age, although it can be hard to find, and Canticle proves it.

Secondly, A Canticle for Leibowitz deals with no-joke ideas and issues.  Its final chapter gave me more than enough to ponder and debate for a long, long time.  I realize many readers are readers to escape, but in this case they need to be educated.  The didactic virtue of a book like Canticle cannot and should not be overlooked.  High School students should read it and discuss the cyclical nature of history and the consequences of historical events. 

Reading Canticle reminded me why I love books so much.  I live for those moments when a story, in whatever form it comes, enlightens me in an unforgettable way.  I love being moved, enlightened, and entertained by a story.  I like big, important ideas and the discussion of them.  Canticle was that for me.  It is, like everything, a variation on a theme; however, it is a singular variation that produces a singular effect.  It's an outstanding book, which ought to be read by many.

Other Topics of Interest:
Best Books of 2011
Best Books of 2012
Best Books of 2013: Non-fiction
Best Books of 2013: Fiction

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Reading Goals for 2014: A Review

So how did I do with my reading goals in 2014?  Unfortunately, not great.  I fell into somewhat of a slump this year with my reading.  My reading goal each year is 24 books.  As it stands now, I have read 349 books and will more than likely only be able to add one, maybe two, books to that count by the end of this year.  The news isn't all bad, however, and here's why.

I read some hefty books this year.  Richard L. Bushman's Rough Stone Rolling was a weighty thing and ended up being a fine, fine read, not to mention a candidate for my best non-fiction book of the year.  I also read the Apocrypha, which certainly isn't as long as the Bible but is written with the same bygone prose which can be cumbersome to read and difficult to comprehend.  I also read Abigail and John: Portrait of a Marriage, which is no slouch of a book in terms of its length and detail.  From a non-fiction perspective, it was a pretty good year.  In fact, it was a great year.  Too Big to Know and Manning Up are also non-fiction of the year contenders, and I look forward to debating with myself about which one deserves the prize.  I didn't read some of the non-fiction I was hoping to get to, like Nudge or The Theory of Moral Sentiments, but the ones I read certainly weren't a waste of time.

On the fiction front it was a so-so year.  I did read Their Eyes Were Watching God, which had been on my list for years; I also specifically mentioned it in my Reading Goals for 2014 last year.  It was an excellent book with an unforgettable central character, and I gave it high praises in my reflectionA Canticle for Leibowitz was a truly remarkable book I read this year, and it gained a spot on the Thousander Must-Read list, a signal honor.  I can only imagine it will claim the best fiction book I read this year.  Separate from those books, there wasn't much fiction that really moved me.  The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, which I was very eager and interested to read, was enjoyable and creative but not a personally memorable experience.  Life of Pi had its virtues but also fell into the ever-expanding category of "Not Bad, but Not Great."  There were some others, but all-in-all it was somewhat of a sparse year in unforgettable fictional experiences.

It was a good but not a great year for my reading.  Coming under my yearly goal of twenty-four books is particularly disappointing.  I do have to remind myself I started a second job as an
Online Instructor as well so that cuts down on my spare reading time.  Yet, it's more of a time management problem than it is of not having time.  Here's hoping 2015 will be better or even great.  Maybe I'll finally read The Fellowship of the Ring?

Other Topics of Interest:
Reading Goals for 2014
Best Books of 2013: Fiction
Best Books of 2013: Non-fiction

Friday, November 21, 2014

Reflections: Mass Effect: Revelation

I have tried reading books based on popular video game series before, including World of Warcraft: Tides of Darkness by Aaron Rosenberg and Starcraft: Liberty's Crusade by Jeff Grubb.  Both books were very poor.  They're more concerned about maintaining a fast pace than developing characters and providing action set pieces than intriguing plot.  It really is a shame because both of those books come from mythologies which are robust and interesting.  I wasn't expecting A Canticle for Leibowitz when I read either one, but I was hopeful they wouldn't be written strictly for an audience which just hit puberty.  When I finally decided to read Mass Effect: Revelation I did so with my previous experiences in mind and with hope the book would be a little bit better than the others which share a similar sub-genre. 

The greatest praise I can give to Mass Effect: Revelation is that it's not terrible.  I loved the Mass Effect series of games.  Their storylines, their characters, and their lore rival some of the greatest science fiction tales ever created.  I wanted to get back into the universe, and with the next game's release date still under wraps, and more than likely quite a ways off, reading Mass Effect: Revelation, which is a prequel to the original Mass Effect game, seemed like a perfect way to do it.  The book doesn't in anyway match the game seriers's incredible experience, but it's a mildly entertaining addition to the overall universe nonetheless. 

Like any prequel, Mass Effect: Revelation spends most of its time providing insights into characters the reading audience, who have most definitely played the games, already know about.  Anderson, Sanders, Saren, these are names the readers will already be familiar with.  Saren is the most compelling to read about it in the book, albeit mostly one-sided and uncomplicated.  Anderson and Sanders follow unsurprising character tropes, and their relationship is largely uninteresting. 

The story itself has the requisite science fiction mystery and mercenaries.  Again, no real surprises to be found.  The book's biggest asset isn't its story or characters but its setting.  The Mass Effect universe, as I mentioned previously, is incredibly robust, which I love spending time in.  As seems to often be the case for many books, there is a mad rush toward the end to bring the plot to a close.  It felt like the author was working under a rigid deadline; I don’t know if that’s actually true. 

There is no reason to read Mass Effect: Revelation unless you've played the game series and loved it.  I enjoyed the book as much as I did mainly and mostly for that reason.  I do think the book is better written than World of Warcraft: Tides of Darkness and Starcraft: Liberty's Crusade, but it doesn't exactly stand head and shoulders above them.  I'm prone to read the other Mass Effect books which have been published in hopes they'll also not be terrible as I bide my time before the next Mass Effect game releases.

Other Topics of Interest:
Reflections: A Canticle for Leibowitz
Reflections: The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
3 Reasons Why We Need & Love Stories