Monday, November 25, 2013

Book Recommendations Round Three

Currently Reading: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

Disclaimer: My brain is rather sluggish at the moment as I’m fighting a rather nasty chest cold so it’s possible this post won’t make sense… I’m hoping that won’t be the case, but, considering how hard it was for me write an email earlier today, I’m not too optimistic. However, I’m behind on my goal with four more posts to write and a deadline rapidly approaching at the end of this week so I’m giving this my best shot.

With this in mind, I’m taking a somewhat easy way out on this post since the topics I want to discuss for Death of a Salesman are too juicy to dive into now and I’d hate to not do them justice. So, with the holiday season coming up when it’s the perfect time snuggle up with a good book, I give you a third round of book recommendations:

Again, the descriptions for these books come from the back covers when available.

1. Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer

“Reeling from the brain-altering effects of oxygen depletion, Jon Krakauer reached the summit of Mt. Everest in the early afternoon of May 10, 1996. He hadn’t slept in fifty-seven hours. As he turned to begin the perilous descent from 29,028 feet (roughly the cruising altitude of an Airbus jetliner), twenty other climbers were still pushing doggedly to the top, unaware that the sky had begun to roil with clouds…
This is the terrifying story of what really happened that fateful day at the top of the world, during what would be the deadliest season in the history of Everest. In this harrowing yet breathtaking narrative, Krakauer takes the reader along with his ill-fated expedition, step by precarious step, from Kathmandu to the mountain’s pinnacle where, plagued by a combination of hubris, greed, poor judgment, and plain bad luck, they would fall prey to the mountain’s unpredictable fury.
With more than three million copies in print in all editions, this sensational book virtually defines excellence in the genre of narrative nonfiction. Brilliantly written and supported by unimpeachable reporting, Into Thin Air will by turns thrill and terrify.”

Seriously love this book! It’s not a particularly cheerful story by any means and it’s all the grimmer because it’s true. However, this author is such a fantastic storyteller that he makes me rethink how I view the whole genre of nonfiction. I borrowed a copy from one of the girls on my study abroad trip to Sicily and I was riveted from start to finish. I actually found myself getting mad that I’d have to get off the bus and see the incredible sites of Sicily because it meant I had to stop reading. That’s how good this book is! Again, beware that you may need tissues while you read.

2. I, Robot by Isaac Asimov

“They mustn’t harm a human being, they must obey human orders, and they must protect their own existence… but only so long as that doesn’t violate rules one and two. With these Three Laws of Robotics, humanity embarked on a bold new era of evolution that would open up enormous possibilities – and unforeseen risks. For the scientists who invented the earliest robots weren’t content that their creations should remain programmed helpers, companions, and semisentient worker-machines. And soon the robots themselves, aware of their own intelligence, power, and humanity, aren’t either.

As humans and robots struggle to survive together – and sometimes against each other – on earth and in space, the future of both hangs in the balance. Here human men and women confront robots gone mad, telepathic robots, robot politicians, and vast robotic intelligences that may already secretly control the world. And both are asking the same questions: What is human? And is humanity obsolete?”

First of all, let me say that the movie I, Robot with Will Smith took a lot of license with this book so don’t expect the same story. In fact, this is actually a series of vignettes about various issues of robotics and exploring the limits of the Three Laws as well as – like the back of the book says – the issues of humanity raised with the rise of robots. Isaac Asimov is one of my all-time favorite authors. I’ve actually been saving his Foundation Trilogy as a reward for myself when I get through a particularly challenging book or set of books on my list. He’s a genius. In reading some of his other short stories and this novel, I’ve discovered that he’s scarily accurate about predicting what technology will look like in the future (i.e. today since he was writing in the 1950s). I would absolutely love to have him at one of my fantasy dinner parties so I could pick his brain.

3. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Frankenstein was Mary Shelley’s immensely powerful contribution to the ghost stories which she, Percy Shelley, and Byron devised one wet summer in Switzerland. Its protagonist is a young student of natural philosophy, who learns the secret of imparting life to a creature constructed from relics of the dead, with horrific consequences.

Frankenstein confronts some of the most feared innovations of evolutionism: topics such as degeneracy, hereditary disease, and mankind’s status as a species of animal. The text used here is from the 1818 edition, which is a mocking expose of leaders and achievers who leave desolation in their wake, showing humanity its choice – to live co-operatively or to die of selfishness. It is also a black comedy, and harder and wittier than the 1831 version with which we are more familiar.”

Okay, so I don’t know much about the editions half of this description, but…

This is another instance when you should ignore your Hollywood preconceived notions of this story. As a big fan of Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein, which mocks the Frankenstein movies, I was expecting all the typical Frankenstein nonsense with a slow-walking Creature with bolts in his neck, the creepy assistant Igor, and the rest of the now iconic Frankenstein bits. Instead, I was surprised and delighted to discover that this story is much creepier, much sadder, and much deeper than any of the groaning, green monsters give it credit for. It’s beautiful, touching, and disturbing all at once and I absolutely love it.

And now I’m going to take some cough medicine and sleep some more.

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