9 September 2016

What I've Been Reading Lately

Today, I want to talk about three books that I've been reading for the past few weeks. Even though I took a book blogger's oath (which I just now made up) to review everything I read, I sometimes find it difficult to review certain books. Sometimes, I simply don't understand what the author is trying to say, and sometimes I just don't have anything profoundly interesting to say about the book in question.  

Nevertheless, I want to cover these three books so that my guilty reader's conscience will let me sleep at night.

Twelve Years a Slave

By Solomon Northup (and David Wilson, ed.)
First published in 1853
Source: Aldiko Reader

Perhaps the best written of all the slave narratives, Twelve Years a Slave is a harrowing memoir about one of the darkest periods in American history. It recounts how Solomon Northup, born a free man in New York, was lured to Washington, D.C., in 1841 with the promise of fast money, then drugged and beaten and sold into slavery. He spent the next twelve years of his life in captivity on a Louisiana cotton plantation.

When I saw this book in the public domain section on my Aldiko e-reader, I downloaded it without second thought. If you're anything like me and love historical fact and biographies, you'll almost certainly enjoy this book.

Although, "enjoy" may not be the right word to describe the experience of reading Twelve Years a Slave. This book was at times devastating to read. But there were times when I was literally laughing out loud (like that time when a fed-up Northup whipped the s"#% out of his sadistic master).

Northup gives you the most vivid and personal look into the reality of this "peculiar institution" that was American slavery. And he gives a voice to hundreds of other free black men and women who were kidnapped and sold into slavery.

Rating: 5 stars


by Nnedi Okorafor
Published in 2016
Source: Netgalley

Her name is Binti, and she is the first of the Himba people ever to be offered a place at Oomza University, the finest institution of higher learning in the galaxy. But to accept the offer will mean giving up her place in her family to travel between the stars among strangers who do not share her ways or respect her customs.

Knowledge comes at a cost, one that Binti is willing to pay, but her journey will not be easy. The world she seeks to enter has long warred with the Meduse, an alien race that has become the stuff of nightmares. Oomza University has wronged the Meduse, and Binti's stellar travel will bring her within their deadly reach.

If Binti hopes to survive the legacy of a war not of her making, she will need both the gifts of her people and the wisdom enshrined within the University, itself - but first she has to make it there, alive.

Have you ever read a book that has won a bunch of awards, is critically acclaimed and loved by the public, but that you for the love of all that is holy didn't understand? For me, Binti is that book.

So I downloaded it. I read it. I liked the language. I liked the main character (Binti, that is) but I didn't get the story. I do get the whole ethnic/cultural identity aspect (it's pretty on the nose), but I don't understand the story.

Binti won a Hugo Award for Best Novella 2016, and a Nebula Award in 2015, leaving me with a strange aftertaste of being the only one who "doesn't get it."

Rating: 2 stars

The Werewolf Principle

by Clifford D. Simak
First published in 1967
Source: my bookshelf

Andrew Blake is found in a space capsule on a distant planet and is brought back to an unfamiliar Earth, where antigravity devices have replaced the wheel, and houses talk and even fly!
Yet nothing is as strange as Blake's own feelings. Tormented by eerie sensations and loss of memory, he doesn't know who he really is or exactly where he has come from. His destiny only begins to grow frighteningly clear when he meets a weird, tassel-eared creature who darkly hints at the truth about Blake's origins. Slowly Blake becomes aware of the long hushed-up "Werewolf Principle," a scientific theory buried in the past, which holds the key to Blake's own fate-and the future of the human species.

First, a statement: Clifford Simak makes me happy.

I first read The Werewolf Principle about twelve years ago so I didn't remember much about it. Not much at all, that's why it almost felt like I was reading a new book.

Here, Simak is asking an interesting question: what makes a human being? If you change a person physically to a point where they no longer look human, can you still call them human?

This is classic Simak, with all his strengths and weaknesses. There are no villains, and every character acts out of his or her best intentions. The ending kept me from giving it a five star rating, otherwise this is a book that's not only entertaining but pretty deep too. There is also a religious/philosophical metaphor woven into the story that can be interesting.

Rating : 4 stars

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