Summer reading time!
It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these, so this won’t be a perfectly sequential account. Instead, I’m going to give you some of my favorite books that I’ve read so far this year (by and large not new releases, but whatever), including a couple that I’m reading right now. One of my goals for this year has been to read more broadly, including non-fiction, and I’ve tried to reflect that here. But don’t worry, there’s still something for my fellow sci-fi and fantasy nerds.
Non-Fiction: Arguing About Slavery by William Lee Miller
Might as well get the heaviest one out of the way first. This is one of my favorite history non-fiction books of all time. Miller cuts through the drudgery of complex parliamentary procedure to reveal the cutting and vicious struggle to just be able to talk about slavery. The book primarily centers on the slavery petition gags preceding the Civil War, starting in the 1830’s. John Quincy Adams is the principal character, but Miller also includes some really helpful historical context on abolition. Among the most remarkable of revelations is just how socially progressive the attitudes of the abolitionists were:
(The Lane Seminary abolitionists called for) not only ‘immediate emancipation of the whole colored race within the United States’…but also the emancipation ‘of the free colored man from the oppression of public sentiment.’
A great companion piece to this one is Ron Chernow’s biography of Ulysses S. Grant (simply titled Grant) from 2017. Chernow has a more dense writing style than Miller, but both highlight undercovered aspects of the struggle for civil rights in the United States (Grant directly addressing Reconstruction, civil rights legislation in the 1870s, and the extremely bloody reign of terror by the KKK in the south following the Civil War).
Historical Fiction: The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
Hannah is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors. The last book I read by her, 2017’s The Great Alone, was a complex and riveting story of heartbreak, abuse, PTSD, and empathy, but with a really powerful redemptive ending. It’s stellar. While The Nightingale doesn’t quite hit the heights of The Great Alone (and those heights are high indeed), it’s still a terrific story. It covers two sisters in France during the Nazi occupation in World War II, one domestic and reserved and the other ambitious and progressive. One of my favorite things about this books is that it starts with archetypes and very familiar simplistic plot structures, but then introduces complexity, deconstructing those predictable narratives. It is above all a very human story, focused more on character than grand battles. It is also being adapted into a film starring real-life sisters Dakota and Elle Fanning.
Fantasy: Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson
No but seriously, this series is fantastic. These volumes are dense (about a thousand pages each, which equals nearly 40 hours of listening on Audible), but immersive. They feature some really intriguing worldview elements, and I think Sanderson does an excellent job of building his world from the ground up. In other words, the world is not just a bunch of random cool things cobbled together, but a purposeful construction with purposes behind it that are relevant to the story. And more of those purposes are gradually revealed throughout the course of the story. I’m still in the midst of the second book, but the first is one of my favorite fantasy novels of all time, and the second is, so far, proving to be equally captivating.
Science Fiction: The Institute by Stephen King
One of the few newish releases I’ve read this year (2019), The Institute proves that King’s muse is alive and well. I’m finding I’m more a fan of King’s recent work than his legacy staples. This book in particular has several classic King-isms – psychic children, midwest no man’s land, and government conspiracy. I especially recommend this if you like King’s style but shy away from the horror genre. While this does have some horror-adjacent elements, it’s more of a straight science-fiction, and does include heroism to counteract that horror. It’s an obsessive page-turner, and one I could sit with for hours (so is The Outsider, by the way, which is more of a straight horror novel).
Classic: Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Incredibly engaging. You need to have a taste for classic literature to get into it, I think, but I loved it. The book can be summed up in the words “ideas have consequences,” but never do the characters themselves feel like mere vessels for ideas. Even the villainous Raskolnikov is given ample character development, as are most of the characters that surround him (and the cast is large – you may find yourself, as I did, in need of help to keep track of the names, due to Russian honorifics and naming conventions). This quote in particular remains one of my favorites:
“I don’t care if he does take bribes,” Razumihin cried with unnatural irritability. “I don’t praise him for taking bribes. I only say he is a nice man in his own way! But if one looks at men in all ways—are there many good ones left?”
Logan Judy (that’s me) is a science fiction, fantasy, and dystopia author. His newest novel, The Prison in the Sky, is slated for release in September 2020. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Patreon, and you can sign up for his newsletter and receive a free ebook.