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September 6, 2013

Austin’s Bookshelf: I Read What I Want

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They say you know a person by what he or she reads. In my case and the case of all the 20Somethings who have graduated/changed careers/moved far too many times in the last few years (so, everyone right?), you know a person by the few books that have managed to stay with them for this long. These six are still sitting on the top shelf of my green garage-sale bookshelf in all the hardcover glory they deserve, stalwart bastions in the slowly losing war I’m fighting with my Kindle (so convenient, yet so impersonal). They make the laugh and they make me think and they are going to keep sitting there for a very long time. 

THE WISE MAN’S FEAR by Patrick Rothfuss
This is Book Two of a truly excellent new fantasy series called the Kingkiller Chronicles, the story of a hero telling a scribe about his life and deeds from self-imposed exile. A great example of a unique fantasy world and hero that play with the ideas of heroism and storytelling. Despite his legendary skill at magic, music and arms, our hero (maybe) Kvothe is now posing as a normal innkeeper far, far away from the rest of the world. Why? I’m gnashing my teeth and pulling out my hair waiting for Book Three so I can find out.

NEUROMANCER by William Gibson
This is one of the big ones. Released in 1984, this was one of the first novels that defined cyberpunk as a genre. People with mechanical implants, hackers that “jack in” to a physical cyberspace, all set in a gritty, sprawling metropolis with rampant crime and drug use and a serious case of the sun never ever being out. Movies like The Matrix wouldn’t be around today if this book hadn’t happened.

NATION by Terry Pratchett
One of the few books by Sir Terry Pratchett (he actual is a “sir” now; he was knighted in 2009 for “services to literature”) that isn’t part of the enormous Discworld series, NATION is a Robinson Crusoe-style adventure story about a young man surviving on an jungle island after a tsunami wipes out the rest of his tribe. It’s just as clever and funny as the rest of Pratchett’s work, and has some surprisingly deep commentary on faith, science and growing up.

A PEOPLE’S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES by Howard Zinn
Out of the many, many, many books I read for classes my junior year of college (did I mention that there were a lot of them?), I kept only a few. This is one of them. Reading felt like getting my brain pulled out of one ear and crammed back into the other as this maddening book turned a huge amount of what I thought I knew about American history completely on its head. I still crack it open when I need a reminder that college (and life) are about seeking out and analyzing other points of view and challenging the way you see the world. 

ANANSI BOYS by Neil Gaiman
It was only by an exertion of iron-fisted self-control that I stopped myself from putting all of Neil Gaiman’s work here. Because I have them all and they’re all just that good. But in addition to being mesmerizing, terrifying and ethereally magical, like all Gaiman’s work, ANANSI BOYS wins the honor of being included here by being just plain fun to read. It’s not a book that makes you think as much as it’s a good story told very well and every page is a genuine delight to read. Let’s see ULYSSES manage that.

CATCH-22 by Joseph Heller
CATCH-22 alternates between side-splittingly absurd humor, scathing satire and almost incomprehensible confusion, sometimes several times a page. It captures the chaotic, conflicted, inane and often pointless nature of fighting a war in a thoroughly enjoyable and thought-provoking way --- as soon as you can figure out who Yossarian is and what he’s doing sitting in a tree with no clothes on (this is nowhere near the strangest thing that happens in this book).