My favorite books I read this year below. Note all links go to Wikipedia articles that are not free of spoilers.
- The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel - This one had been hovering in the peripheries of my fantasy / sci-fi “to read” list for a long time. The first time that this had come on my radar was a recommendation from someone who has slipped from my memory after telling them that I had read and enjoyed Robert T. Bakkar’s Raptor Red while in high school (the book is circa 1995). The Clan of the Cave Bear is a novel of epic scale (metaphorically and physically, its a long read). Auel’s attention to detail for the plants and animals in the stories land in the perfect spot where the descriptions make the setting feel more alive without winding up in the tedium of an author that wants to show off how much she has done her research. I’ve been led to believe that there is a movie of this book, but because of how thoroughly I enjoyed this book, I likely won’t make it a priority to see. Auel also depicts some of the brutalities of human culture in prehistory in a voice that assigns no emotional weight to something that would absolutely horrify a modern person, which makes it all the more thought provoking. Furthermore, there are a couple of deaths in the book that reduced me to tears.
- Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson - Technically, I listened to this on audio book, but I’m still putting this on the list. In college I read an illustrated edition of Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time, which was the first time I had read anything that allowed the science laity to be able to understand some big concepts about the universe around us. Tyson’s book (if I owned either of them as physical books) would be happily on the shelf next to each other. Tyson does a wonderful job of talking about the history of scientific discovery as it pertains to the heavens above us, while using analogy to simplify more esoteric themes. If I could ding him a bit - there are some things in the book that are introduced in such a way that had I not heard of them before, I’d have been clueless as to what he had been talking about. Perhaps the print book has a glossary. In the final chapter of the book he does tackle the possibly ego damaging issue of realizing that you are insignificant in the measure of the universe, which I appreciated as a sort of personal epilogue to the deluge of information proceeding. If you check this out, I’d encourage the audio book. Tyson does his own material justice.
- The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro - I believe that I had heard of this book only when Ishiguro received a Nobel prize for it. The subtitles to the book, the delicate interconnections of themes, and the seamless toggles between past and present make this a true piece of quality literature. Ishiguro’s use of language is done in a way that does not feel deliberate or forced. I’ve read other books that set out to achieve a level of accomplishment as this book does, but come off as a writer that doesn’t have a mastery of English, but a mastery of using a thesaurus. The main character is such a frustrating character to ride along with, as he carries a stalwart importance for his profession (an English butler) with which any person with ideals of professionalism will envy. However, that same belief in professionalism seemingly blinds him to more interpersonal relationships. The complexities inside the story are so subtle, but meaningful no short review could do it justice. On Goodreads, I gave this Nobel prize winning piece of literature four out of five stars. The fifth star I reserve for books that change my life. Everyone else probably gave it five.