This has been a good summer for reading. Like, really good. I have read a lot of books drawing from the farthest reaches of the spectrum of books. I'll tell you about the ones I can remember, in order of most recent to oldest, since I will be busy trying to remember the older ones as I go (this is not an exhaustive list, by the way, some slipped by...) (also, the first two book I list are the ones I would recommend for EVERYONE to read.)
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On Writing - Stephen King
If not number one, it's at least second place for books that made a Lasting and Useful Impression upon me this summer. King's rambling and somewhat discombobulated take on how to write was simultaneously an elightenment and a relief for me. After reading Lamott's Bird by Bird (see below) I was left with some good perspective, but less drive to write than before I read it. Not so with On Writing. King makes the process, even of rejection, seem like an exciting and necessary step toward arrival as an author. Truth be told, this is the first Stephen King book I have ever read, and I am ordering a bunch more. I like his voice. He is honest and relatable. He dispells long held myths that are the hallmark of writing, such as "write what you know", redefining the knowledge of the author to include imagination. King acknowleges the struggle while embracing it, and even with massive success is able to voice the same insecurities that the essay writer in the 8th grade feels.
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Deep Survival - Lawrence Gonzales
This book is RAD. I picked it up free somewhere, because there it was, free, and who knows when you need a book to read. It was low on my priority list since I had no idea what it was about, other than surviving, which always seems a little inconvenient and uncomfortable - not something I was much interested in making a hobby of. But this book seriously shifted several paradigms for me, confirmed several suspicions and was just a damn good book. So good, in fact, that I ordered a couple copies for people for Christmas. Mine is all marked up, but you can borrow it if you want. Gonzales weaves the story of his father, a WWII bomber pilot who is shot down over France and taken prisoner, throughout other tales of survival against extreme odds. He chronicles mountaineering accidents, river rafting tragedies, plane crashes, and the voyages of sailors lost at sea. He examines the mindset and actions of the people who survived and the ones who didn't. In the end, his well documented research points to the underlying quality of personal responsibility and protection of others (selflessness) as the compelling theme for survival. Everyone should read this book, the ones who have survived, the ones who are surviving, and the ones who will have to survive in every pathway of life. The stories ring true for abuse survivors, for chronic pain survivors, for survivors of small children and single motherhood, for survivors of divorce, for cancer survivors... Read this book. (but basically if you are in my family, don't buy it because I probably got it for you for Christmas.)
Inca Gold - Clive Cussler
Oh Clive... All of the good times that I have had with Dirk Pitt and his bevy of over-described antagonists, protagonists and supporting cast. Cussler is my junk food reading. It's always a fun time, although this go around I got kind of annoyed with Cussler's too-many details and lost interest toward the end. Unless one is a diving geek (Nokeses) or a car geek or a food geek, these books just have too many specifics. Cussler's description of Huevos Rancheros not once but TWICE, in the story, had me plotting unauthorized trips to town for some takeout. I had to keep envisioning Dirk as Matthew McConaughey in Sahara to finish the book, but it was, as always, an interesting story line and very true to Cussler form.
One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest - Ken Kesey
Not sure how this one escaped me all of these years, but I came across a copy (I think, again, it was free) and figured it was overdue. Inside the paperback was a hotel towel claim form from somewhere in Mexico, circa 1987. I only wish I was the lucky bastard reading this book poolside in Puerta Vallarta. I loved this book. I loved the storyteller's perspective of the world as a giant agricultural combine and all of the wires and plugs that control us all, and how his haze was gradually lifted when Randall McMurty entered the institution. It was a short read that leaves one considering who, in this world, the crazy people actually are, and my money is on Nurse Ratched all the way.
A Walk in the Woods - Bill Bryson
One of the other medics on a fire recommended this one and so I downloaded it to my iPad. It was a good read - two middle aged dudes who decide to hit the Appalachian Trail with basically no experience, and the physical, emotional and psychological pitfalls that befall them. It's a funny book - lots of interesting environmental information and just enough redemption to make you want to lace up your boots and hit the trail. Bryson makes hiking - even long distances - seem almost appealing and doable in spite of the struggle. So who wants to tackle the PCT with me?
Rule of Thoughts - James Dashner
Ugh. Ok, here's the deal with JD. I like his stories, a lot. But I hate his writing style. I can't say that it's BAD writing, although I am very suspicious it is, and I am positive that Stephen King would agree. But much like Clive Cussler, Dashner over-describes almost everything, leaving nothing to the imagination of the reader. And his dialogues are awkward vehicles for delivering backstory in super unnatural conversations. Because none of us run around reminding each other of what happened in the last chapter in gory detail and for no reason. His characters say too many unnecesary things. They overplay their hand. Almost as if they don't trust the reader to keep up, which, I suppose if his target audience is 14 year old boys, makes sense. But the story of Michael and his friends trying to save the real world from a salient digital presence is pretty good. If you can slog through the awful dialogue or you are a 14 year old boy.
Eye of Minds - James Dashner
This is the first in Dashner's series that isn't the Maze Runner. Maze Runner was much better, even though, once again, I didn't love his writing style. But the MR series was a page turner that made the style bearable. This one... well let's just say I started it six months ago and lost interest... so... (sorry about the library fees, Aiden). I finally finished it and moved on to the next, with no better outcome. The third in this series is due out this fall, and really, I can totally wait for it.
SIDE NOTE: In Dashner's series as well as several other action/adventure/fantasy books I have read this year, I find myself getting really tired of the hero/heroine ALWAYS being beat up and exhausted. I am all for action, but how many times in one chapter can the poor bastards be barely able to hold their head up, or feeling like dead weight, with all of the life sapped out of them. I miss the resilient heroes of old who could take a licking and keep on ticking... again, some of this comes down to hyper-describing every scene... just saying...
Bird By Bird - Anne Lamott
This is another book on writing. Lamott's perspective is more melancholy than King's, which left me feeling kind of like killing myself would be more productive than writing. But in all seriousness, she had some great points, some laugh-out-loud spots woven throughout and it was a good read. Like most writing books/classes/workshops, Lamott lays out the rules: sit down. write. just do it. They're good rules, and valid, but I like the way that King throws them down, because he sees it as a passion - something that we GET to do, not as a compulsive thing that we HAVE to do as writers. There is a tone of gratitude in King's writing that was lacking in Bird By Bird - instead Lamott voices a "why me" sort of perspective as a writer. Certainly she captures the overwhelming sense of hopelessness and struggle that is writing, but other than a little sarcasm, I feel like she forgot to mention the reward (not financial, lest anyone other than Stephen King be confused).
A Few Jumper Stories - Rod Dow
OK, so Rod Dow is not a writer. He's a smokejumper. An old one at that. But he is full of stories, and some of them are even good. The best part about this weird little collection of campfire (or forest fire?) tales is that I had heard over half of them from the man himself when I worked with him a few seasons ago. Granted, the stories have evolved somewhat since then, but they were still entertaining. And if I ever get a book written that's available on Amazon, I sure hope my fire buddies all buy it.
A Picture Of Dorian Gray - Oscar Wilde
Here's another classic that I had never read. And another trip into the psychology of the human fixation with youth and beauty. Dorian Gray in effect trades his soul to retain his youth, and follows a path of despair that makes you really appreciate your wrinkles and gray hair. It's a thought provoking story, a quick and easy read that gives you a new perspective on life, and however short it is, that it is often just long enough.
The Time Machine - H.G. Wells
Wells was clearly sending a warning to his audience about the social trends of the time, the class seperation and the drive for comfort and convenience at every expense. His trip far into the future paints a bleak outlook for humanity, masquerading in a blurry utopian farce above the bowels of ugly reality. Similar to Dorian Gray, this story speaks to the human struggle for success and what that really looks like.
Voyager - Diana Gabaldon
Good Lord. Do I even need to comment on the Outlander series? I read the first one over the winter, and foraging my way though each 700+ page epoc is alternately exhausting and, er, stimulating. Clearly Gabaldon has a firm grasp on Every Woman's Fantasy, which is, in a name, Jamie Fraser. The story winds on and on and on across centuries and sagas, while really all I am looking for are the steamy love scenes. But she's a great writer, and they are great stories, and I have plenty of time for all of the pages.*
Dragonfly in Amber - Diana Gabaldon
Wildfire - Mary Pauline Lowry
This wasn't a terrible book. It was the story of a girl on a hotshot crew. And it goes pretty much how you would expect, unless you don't know what to expect, and then it might be kind of interesting. I thought when I ordered it that it was a memoir of the author, who was a girl on a hotshot crew, but after getting through two different burnover situations I realized that it was a very much fictionalized version of a memoir. I have no idea if any of it rings true to her experience... but it's a good story and she's got a good voice as a writer. It's a borrower, not a buyer, I'd say.
Falls Like Lightning - Shawn Grady
This WAS a terrible book. And not just because it was a "faith based" romance and I am terribly jaded, but because it was just a terrible book. The story was silly, about a smokejumper pilot and her smokejumper sometime-boyfriend, her sick little girl and all of them praying while they are flying airplanes to various places where there are smokejumpers murdering each other for a big gold mine and blah blah blah... It was written by a firefighter (I assume structural) and paramedic in Colorado, so I wanted to like it, but I just couldn't. I forced myself to finish it even though I was blushing visibly as I read, and giggling quite a bit at the total ridiculousness of it. Especially when they were asking the Lord to help them get away from the murderers. I mean Jesus Saves, but this got a little silly. I'd loan it to you but I would be too embarrassed to admit that I still have a copy. It will probably be triple wrapped when I take it to Goodwill. Or I might give it to an unsuspecting Christian friend for Christmas. Actually that's a great idea.
The Nothing - Kerry Schafer
Kerry is a local author (from Colville) who has several of the same friends I do, and I found out about her books through a kickstarter campaign to get this book, The Nothing, published. The publisher of the first two books in the series wasn't happy with sales and dropped it before the third came out, so Schafer boldly pressed on and self-published the last book, with a little help from her friends. Schafer creates an interesting storyline with likeable characters and a lot of twists and turns in and out of dreamworld as the heroine struggles to save reality from the closing darkness of sleep. Plotwise there were some interesting similarities to Dashner's Eye of Minds stories, although Schafer is a much better writer and the bad guys are dream characters instead of cyber characters. If fantasies involving dragons and penguins and giants tromping in and out of one's dreams aren't really your style, you might not like these books, but if you've got an active imagination and some extra time, they're worth the read. **
Wakeworld - Kerry Schafer
Between - Kerry Schafer
**see above above
Bust it Like a Mule - Caleb Mannan
The first book I read this fire season, and one of my favorites, Bust It Like a Mule was written by an old childhood friend that pretty much cornered the market on storytelling when we were growing up. His first (self) published novel does not disappoint, telling the tale of one Cotton Kingfisher who conquers his own demons as he takes on a small town in Montanta and some raging wildfires. Mannan's writing style is unique in it's complete absence of commas, but the steady stream of verbal traffic conveys the feeling of an unbroken spellbinding cast by a gravelly voice to a mesmerized listener.
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