With the new year having recently been upon us, the subject of resolutions is fresh in the minds of the majority. Truth is, I am not a proponent of resolutions: they tend to be ideals that we commit to at the beginning of the year, only to shortly after abandon. This is so much the case that it has become the content of innumerable memes. So, let’s abandon resolutions, and commit to goals instead.
Goals can be entertained at any time, aren’t culturally relegated to a specific point on the calendar, and carry less moral baggage than the term ‘resolution’. With the start of 2019 I made a goal--not a resolution, mind you--that I would read more. This isn’t to say that I’m not already an avid reader, but I wanted to commit to a quantity of literature--I wanted to give the enrichment inherent in reading its due. This goal I logged on my Goodreads app is 52 books by the close of 2019.
While my list of books to read is nearly bottomless, I am always seeking for additional titles to tack on. This has led me into many discussions with friends and associates regarding what they consider to be some of the finest reading material they’ve ever engaged with. Which, leads me to where we are right now: a blog post about book recommendations. I must also admit that a portion of the motivation for this post comes from the fact that all to often people assume we are film nerds and nothing else! Without further ado, we are about to prove that wrong…
ASTROPHYSICS FOR PEOPLE IN A HURRY by Neil deGrasse Tyson
While I never seem to make the time to read as often as I would like, I have taken to listening to audio books on my commute. A fine artist by education, and a producer by trade, Astrophysics is a bit outside my wheelhouse; however, I find the field fascinating and am always looking to learn more about it. I have attempted to read other books on Astrophysics in the past and have found the material very challenging. The appeal of this book, in particular, is not only the title, which suggests a lot of the dense material will be condensed, but the author himself, Neil deGrasse Tyson. Tyson masterfully picked up the torch from Carl Sagan when he introduced a new generation to the television series Cosmos back in 2014. His latest book brings that same enthusiasm for Astrophysics and succinctly constructs each chapter around a specific area of the field. His love for the field is apparent with every description and explanation of fascinating cosmic concepts such as Dark Matter, Dark Energy, The Big Bang, and the Speed of Light. While the book, by design, is meant only to provide a glimpse of the cosmos, I found it to be a highly entertaining introduction for the field. The audio book in particular (available at your public library!) I found to be a special treat, as Tyson does the reading himself. You can feel the enthusiasm, excitement, and love for the field with every sentence as he masterfully delivers over three and a half hours of cosmic goodness.
MISTBORN by Brandon Sanderson
As an avid reader of dense high-fantasy novels, it's strange that I never got around to reading this modern classic until about 4 months ago. But once I did, I was immediately onto the second book, and am approaching the third. Mistborn is fantastic! While its writing style might be a bit more prosaic than many of the best examples of the fantasy genre, its story and characters are truly where it shines. Mistborn takes place in a devastated world, the central society of which is presided over by The Lord Ruler, a seemingly immortal tyrant. Much of the population consists of a cowed slave class toiling ceaselessly, with a ruling class of aristocrats whiles their nights away, hosting opulent balls at their equally opulent manors. It is within this milieu that a ragtag team of criminals--led by a legend of a man long since thought dead, and supported by a young thief who contains more power than she had ever imagined--concocts an audacious plan to overthrow the government, and restore equity to the Central Dominance. One of the most enthralling aspects of all of this is the detailed, logically consistent magic system: Allomancy. With Allomancy, certain gifted individuals can ingest trace amounts of metals, which can then be burned internally, conferring certain abilities to the Allomancer--it's very cool stuff, trust me. The long and short of it: if you are interested in deeply immersing yourself into a thrilling fantasy world that isn't confined to the Tolkien-template, buy this book.
BECOMING by Michelle Obama
When I heard Michelle Obama was releasing a memoir, I was intrigued. I've been a fan of this woman since I first heard of her and learned of her accomplishments (coming from inner city and becoming very well educated), so I was genuinely interested to take a look inside her mind via this book. I believe my understanding of her life was similar to many others': she was from a neighborhood in the south side of Chicago, she became Ivy League educated, was a lawyer, married Barack somewhere along the way, and then went into working on her agendas in the White House. Reading her book was an eye opener for me; the story begins with her childhood, speaking of her family and how her family dynamic shaped who she would come to be. You follow along through her high school years, her college years, personal relationships that form over those years, and really get a sense of who she was as a young woman in her formative years. She was so much more than just a lawyer and that adventure was very fascinating to learn about. By the time Barack is running for President in the story, and she mentions how fast everything was happening, you feel the same rush of overwhelming panic; you've been following along since she was a small child from just a couple hundred pages before, after all.
She obviously ended up having a very public life in the political world - but in the book, she covers the personal side of it all; the good and the bad. You get a very up close and personal tour of life in the White House while trying to still be your own person and also care for your family. This book was an excellent read - I laughed, I cried, and I love her even more now. Her story is one that is more than the classic "started from the bottom" tale, her perseverance and strength make her an unbelievable role model - for myself and anyone who needs one. I urge anyone to give this a read - and if you commute regularly, it's also available as an audiobook with Michelle reading the book herself.
DARTH PLAGUEIS by James Luceno
In Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, Supreme Chancellor Palpatine whispers "Did you ever hear the Tragedy of Darth Plagueis the Wise?" to Anakin Skywalker, effectively twisting the real story to manipulate the young Jedi to turn on his own order and embrace the Dark Side as the sinister and infamous Darth Vader. We were first introduced to Palpatine in the original Star Wars trilogy, known as The Emperor, cloaked in black, pulling the strings and giving the orders to the Empire, as well as his apprentice Lord Vader. The prequel films went back to reveal the story behind the Emperor, effectively connecting the dots on how he came into such autocratic power. But let's take one more step backwards beyond the films, before the Galactic Empire, and before Palpatine was a ruler, or even a senator. Darth Plagueis was a Sith Lord hiding in plain sight as a wealthy well-known businessman whose dealings took him across the galaxy. While setting up a lucrative business deal, Plagueis encountered Palpatine as a young boy. He was smart and from a noble family, with unhealthy disdain for democracy. Plagueis would eventually see a great deal of opportunity in the boy and began to train him as his apprentice in the ways of the Sith, setting in motion the entire Star Wars film saga. Decades later, and after a brutal training, Palpatine would rise in the ranks of the Republic, while keeping his darker roots a complete mystery to everyone around him. This was his ultimate power, to hijack democracy in the presence of the Jedi, the galactic peacekeepers, without them suspecting a thing. With his apprentice infiltrating all forms of government, Plagueis became obsessed with conquering death. It was this obsession that eventually lead to his downfall in a tragic showdown that is absolutely riveting. If you haven't guessed by now, I'm a Star Wars nerd and cannot get enough of the immense universe. For the unaware, there is an incredible amount of stories that go beyond the films. Some stories even date 10,000 years before Luke Skywalker and the Rebellion. The stories are vast and filled with villains and heroes, treachery and redemption - and are great yarns for any sci-fi aficionado, Star Wars fan or not.