Previously, I've talked about television shows you should watch, music you should listen to and upcoming movies you should watch. I want to pull it together with another one of my hobbies: reading!
There are plenty of good books to read. As a frequent daydreamer, this list of fictional books is designed to whisk you away from the logic and rules of real life, as well as if they're available at the Portales Public Library.
WARNING: Spoilers beyond this point.
"The Monstrumologist" Series, by Rick Yancey. This four-part story is a gothic horror, set in the late 19th century after the American Civil War in various locations.
The first book, "The Monstrumologist," takes place in a sleepy New England town somewhere near Massachusetts. Its sequel, "The Curse of the Wendigo," first travels to the frozen forest-scapes of Canada and then to the concrete jungle itself: New York.
"The Isle of Blood" dictates Dr. Warthrop and Will Henry's quest to a Mediterranean island where they search for the "holy grail of monstrumology… the mother of all monsters." The final book, appropriately named "The Final Descent," takes place once again in New York City.
The story revolves around the Lovecraftian experiences of one William Henry and his apprenticeship to Dr. Pellinore Warthrop—a scientist devoted to the study of monsters. The doctor's trade leads him and his young apprentice into the darkest corners of the world and philosophy.
The creatures are as well-known as Wendigoes and as obscure as the Anthropophagi; as real as Titanoboa and as fake as b. arawakus. These monsters are humanoid, snake-like and even bacterial. The mastery of the lore in Rick Yancey's novels create an illusion of a much larger picture that leaves you wondering what Dr. Warthrop hasn't talked about.
Although the story can often be laden down with Will Henry's older method of speech, it is treated as a diary through his perspective edited into a more modern style. That being said, Will Henry can spend up to three pages describing his thoughts on a singular subject. Will makes up for it in his intricate imagery. Take for instance my favorite line from the entirety of the series, from "The Curse of the Wendigo." This quote can be considered graphic, so reader discretion is advised:
"It is the language of the bare bough and the cold stone, pronounced in the fell wind's sullen whisper and the metronomic drip-drip of the rain. It is the song the falling snow sings and the discordant clamor of sunlight ripped apart by the canopy and miserly filtered down.
It is what the unseeing eye sees. It is what the deaf ear hears. It is the romantic ballad of death's embrace; the solemn hymn of offal dripping from bloody teeth; the lamentation of the bloated corpse rotting in the sun; and the graceful ballet of maggots twisting in the ruins of God's temple.
Here in this gray land, we have no name. We are the carcasses reflected in the yellow eye."
Equally captivating is this one, later in the story. This quote is also graphic. Reader discretion is once again advised:
"A human being was impaled upon the splintered hemlock, the pole protruding from a spot just below its sternum, the body at the level of Warthrop's eye—arms and legs outstretched, head thrown back, mouth agape, depthless shadows pooling there and in its eyeless sockets.
The body had been stripped bare. There were no clothes and, except for on the face, there was no skin; the body had been flayed of both. The underlying sinew and muscle glimmered wetly in the silver light.
The cold stars spun to the ancient rhythm, the august march of an everlasting symphony. They are old, the stars, and their memory is long."
I first read "The Monstrumologist" when I was thirteen years old—a relative had given the first book to me as a gift around Halloween. When the first (living) monster arrived in the story, I had to stop reading because I was so terrified, revisiting it only once I had matured three years.
I fell in love with the story almost immediately. Don't get me wrong, I still had nightmares, but this time I didn't mind. This has remained my favorite book series since then.
Fair warning to readers, however: don't expect a happy ending. The horror turns slowly from physical and real to psychological and nihilistic.
My rating: 4/5 monsters. "The Monstrumologist" series is a perfect mix of thought-provoking and horrific and is a must-read for all fans of H. P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Poe, Steven King and any other significant horror author.
"Life of Pi," by Yann Martel. Most students have already read this through one English class or another. Truthfully, it was my first exposure to the novel. (Quick shout out to my seventh grade English teacher. Ms. D, you're a rad lady.)
The book is about an Indian boy named Piscine Molitor "Pi" Patel who relocates from India to Canada with his family following the real-life silent political action in 1975 by India's prime minister to seize absolute control over an "internal disturbance."
Pi's family, who own a zoo in Pondicherry, transfers their animals with them onto a Japanese cargo ship with the intention to start anew in Canada. However, the ship sinks and Pi ends up on a life raft with a hyena, a zebra with a broken leg, an orangutan named Orange Juice and a ferocious tiger named Richard Parker.
The story is divided into three parts. The first part describes Pi's early life before the ship sunk; the second describes Pi's struggle to coexist on a life raft in the middle of the ocean with no conceivable hope of rescue with Richard Parker; the third part explains an interview after Pi's rescue in which he discusses the events that transpired with two Japanese transport ministry officers.
All of this is backed up over a first-person interview with Pi many years later conducted by the author. Although the vast majority of the characters and events are fake (even the interview—sorry, nonfiction fans), the realness of Pi's thoughts and memories are strong and graceful.
Everything Pi talks about seems almost unconnected and unimportant, yet the significance of each scene and chapter plays some matter of importance at later points.
Swimming just below the surface of the story's many intricate parts, however, is a powerful message about belief and religion—especially in the face of hardship. It's a beautiful story about the struggles of belief and the permeating sense of righteousness.
"Life of Pi" is a story I don't read as frequently as, but every time I do I find something new to think about.
The final parts of the book create a depressing alternative take to the intense story told by Pi. What that is, you'll have to read for yourself if you haven't already, but it gives you a choice on what story truly occurred. The two characters presented with the same choice choose the nearly unbelievable story of Pi on a life raft with a tiger. The scene is incredibly important thematically, followed by Pi's single comment: "And so it goes with God."
My favorite quote from this book describes a frequent process by Pi in his lifeboat imprisonment:
"Faith in God is an opening up, a letting go, a deep trust, a free act of love- but sometimes it was so hard to love. Sometimes my heart was sinking so fast with anger, desolation and weariness, I was afraid it would sink to the very bottom of the Pacific and I would not be able to lift it back up.
At such moments I tried to elevate myself. I would touch the turban I had made with the remnants of my shirt and I would say aloud, 'THIS IS GOD'S HAT!'
I would pat my pants and say aloud, 'THIS IS GOD'S ATTIRE!'
I would point to Richard Parker and say aloud, 'THIS IS GOD'S CAT!'
I would point to the lifeboat and say aloud, 'THIS IS GOD'S ARK!'
I would spread my hands wide and say aloud, 'THESE ARE GOD'S WIDE ACRES!'
I would point at the sky and say aloud, 'THIS IS GOD'S EAR!'
And in this way I would remind myself of creation and of my place in it.
But God's hat was always unravelling. God's pants were falling apart. God's cat was a constant danger. God's ark was a jail. God's wide acres were slowly killing me. God's ear didn't seem to be listening.
Despair was a heavy blackness that let no light in or out. It was a hell beyond expression. I thank God it always passed. A school of fish appeared around the net or a knot cried out to be reknotted. Or I thought of my family, of how they were spared this terrible agony. The blackness would stir and eventually go away, and God would remain, a shining point of light in my heart. I would go on loving."
I love this passage because of its simple logic. It's heartwarming to read Pi's optimism in the face of absolute despair. We as an audience are at this point a little bit sad—Pi's family did not escape the ship's sinking, and his only friend is a tiger. There is no chance of escape for Pi, but he finds a way to avoid sadness anyway.
This passage is what makes me like "Life of Pi" as much as I do. I think that the scene's symbolism is relevant to anybody who is looking for it. Part of its importance to me also plays in with real-life parallels.
Pi's situation can be traced in my own life to both friends, family and myself. His optimism reminds me of advice a friend and mentor once gave me, and that was just to stay happy. Even if things are hard, there oftentimes isn't much you can do but keep surviving.
Full disclosure: reading this book makes me ugly cry. I love the story, and it deeply affects me on an emotional level every time I get to the end.
My rating: 5/5 tigers. "Life of Pi" is a truly heart-rending tale of both faith and belief that will keep you thinking of it for weeks on end. It also has a wonderful reread capacity. I'd highly recommend "Life of Pi" to anyone who's interested.
Bonus: A movie was made of it in 2012, and the visuals are absolutely stunning. It follows the book plot pretty strongly, but it does add in a little bit of romance for more incentive for Pi to get home. Regardless, the movie is just as wonderful as the book, if not slightly condensed.
"Life of Pi" can be read through the Portales Public Library, call number: YA M376L.
"The Kite Runner," by Khaled Hosseini. This book is a masterpiece in almost every capacity. It's a very touching story about a Pashtun boy named Amir who lives in a district of Afghanistan's capital—Kabul. His best friend, Hassan, is Hazara—an ethnic race of people from a central highland region of Afghanistan—and is frequently racially persecuted by others for this.
The book, also turned into a motion picture back in 2007, gives a very bittersweet tone—there are a great many happy moments throughout, but it's interlaced by moments of deep sadness in Amir. This is frequently caused by his jealousy of Hassan and Amir's tense and uneasy relationship with his father; Amir affectionately calls him Baba.
As children, Hassan and Amir spend their days fighting kites, a popular sport in Afghanistan that involves using kite string that has been made with glass in it to cut the strings of other kites. Amir acts as the kite flyer while Hassan is the kite runner—whose purpose is to retrieve the fallen kites of adversaries as trophies.
The story is divided into three parts. The first part takes place in 1974 during Amir's childhood and describes his and Hassan's friendship as it falls apart over Amir's failure to protect Hassan due to Amir's innate cowardice. Hassan is assaulted, and the event haunts Amir for the rest of the story and is also the catalyst for Amir to seek redemption for the failure of action decades later.
The second part takes place five years later when the Soviet-Afghan War is initiated. Amir and his father flee the country as refugees, moving to California. This part carries a small build to the point when one of Baba's old friends sends Amir a letter calling him to Peshawar, Pakistan, saying, "There is a way to be good again."
The final part reveals a small multitude of realities for Amir about his father and Hassan. Hassan, who at this point has had a child, has died at the hands of the Taliban for disallowing them to confiscate Amir's old house. Hassan's son, Sohrab, has been placed in an orphanage.
Amir's purpose at this point is redemption for his wrongdoings as a child and sets out to retrieve Sohrab from a Taliban official who reportedly takes Sohrab on occasion. The rest of the book circles into an intense frenzy as Amir travels through his former home; no longer safe or beautiful and oppressed by the iron-clad rule of the Taliban.
"The Kite Runner" is a very powerful book and in my opinion, hard to read at times through Amir's inaction and sadness. Every page encompasses emotion after emotion that draws you closer to Amir as you watch him grow.
Although it has been contested, Khaled Hosseini's book is undoubtedly fiction. Its parallels to many people create a beautiful illusion of familiarity with Amir and his struggles.
This book is very graphic in only a few instances. I remember crying multiple times when I first read it because I was so completely unprepared for many events—one of which involves Hassan being sexually assaulted by a bully.
After all the tragedy, however, there is a very happy ending that drew tears for me.
Amir brings Sohrab with him to America and Amir and his wife teaches Sohrab how to fly kites, the sport being banned by the Taliban in 1999 (which, fun fact, also compelled Hosseini to write the book; first as a short story and then revisited it in 2001 to expand it into a novel).
As Amir cuts the string of someone else's kite, he sets out to retrieve it for Sohrab and thus commences my favorite quote from "The Kite Runner." Fair warning, this is how the book ends—with Amir echoing the words of his friend from many years ago:
"I did it perfectly. After all these years. The old lift-and-dive trap. I loosened my grip and tugged on the string, dipping and dodging the green kite. A series of quick sidearm jerks and our kite shot up counterclockwise, in a half circle. Suddenly I was on top. The green kite was scrambling now, panic-stricken. But it was too late. I'd already slipped him Hassan's trick. I pulled hard and our kite plummeted. I could almost feel our string sawing his. Almost heard the snap.
Then, just like that, the green kite was spinning and wheeling out of control.
Behind us, people cheered. Whistles and applause broke out. I was panting. The last time I had felt a rush like this was that day in the winter of 1975, just after I had cut the last kite, when I spotted Baba on our rooftop, clapping, beaming.
I looked down at Sohrab. One corner of his mouth had curled up just so.
Behind us, kids were scampering, and a melee of screaming kite runners was chasing the loose kite drifting high above the trees. I blinked and the smile was gone. But it had been there. I had seen it.
'Do you want me to run that kite for you?'
His Adam's apple rose and fell as he swallowed. The wind lifted his hair. I thought I saw him nod.
'For you, a thousand times over,' I heard myself say.
Then I turned and ran.
It was only a smile, nothing more. It didn't make everything all right. It didn't make anything all right. Only a smile. A tiny thing. A leaf in the woods, shaking in the wake of a startled bird's flight.
But I'll take it. With open arms. Because when spring comes, it melts the snow one flake at a time, and maybe I just witnessed the first flake melting.
I ran. A grown man running with a swarm of screaming children. But I didn't care. I ran with the wind blowing in my face, and a smile as wide as the Valley of Panjsher on my lips.
I really like this book and its almost quiet nature. It has a lot of beauty; things so subtle that it's hard to notice at all the first time the book is read. The words are laced with a soft sadness that are impeccably balanced with Amir's personality.
My rating: 4/5 kites. The pacing is slightly uneven in certain parts, but nothing that's too hard to get through. The imagery is soft and distinct, with a tone that stands out to me even now. I'd recommend this book to anyone who wants a book with a strong theme.
"The Kite Runner" can be read through the Portales Public Library, call number: F H829k.
Unfortunately, that's as much as I'm willing to say about my book recommendations for now. Please be sure to check back later for a second part, because I do have a short story recommendation list that will be up soon. Until then, be sure to read at least one of these books. Each one has strong themes and strong characters that I sincerely hope you find relevance to.
Keep reading, everybody. Come back for more soon!