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Great Science Fiction and Fantasy Reads: The First Half of 2018 with the Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Discussion Group

11 Jul

The first half of 2018 has been filled with a lot of enjoyable books for our Science Fiction and Fantasy Group. We hope you can join us for future discussions.  On Monday, July 23 we will be discussing Spellsinger by Alan Dean Foster in honor of the summer reading theme of “Reading Rocks.”  We always welcome input into what books the group reads, so we would love to hear your suggestions!  Email hplwriters @ gmail.com to be added to our mailing list.  If you are a Hoboken Resident be sure to sign up for our summer reading program.

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making
by Catherynne M. Valente
Girlwhocircumnavigatedfairyland
You may remember I wrote about The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making in a previous post about books that were originally published online.  I had loved the novel, so I was excited when one of the group members had suggested it.  There was some discussion of it in comparison to other children’s books we had read – such as the first three Oz books.  The story has a very retro fairytale feel to it which some of the group enjoyed.  Before the book discussion we watched Labyrinth which Valente has said was very influential to her in the author interview that was included at the end of the book.  You can read more about Labyrinth in a previous post I had written in honor of its 30th anniversary.

Mote in God’s Eye
by Larry Niven‎ & ‎Jerry Pournelle
Mote in God's Eye
image from Amazon.com
We had previously read two of Niven’s books as well as the Niven/Pournelle collaboration Inferno.  While the group thought that Pournelle’s influence was felt more heavily in Inferno, overall Mote In God’s Eye seemed more reminiscent of the Ringworld books by Niven we had read previously.  I found the book a little slow moving at first, but found it picked up and had me enthralled by the end with its story of first contact between humans and an alien race.  We paired the book with a screening of the Start Trek movie, Wrath of Khan which the group enjoyed.

The Magicians
by Lev Grossman
magicians
My first experience with The Magicians was its adaptation on the SyFy channel so I was curious to compare it to the book series.  Both feel like a modern and more adult take on Children’s Classics, most notably Harry Potter, Narnia, and The Once and Future King all of which we had read in previous book discussions so we had a lot of talk about them in comparison.  The group felt that although this was an interesting setup with all the borrowing from other works it felt more referential than innovative.  We also watched the first three episodes of the TV show.  I enjoyed both and this may be a rare exception where I did not necessarily like the book more than its adaptation.

Ready Player One
by Ernest Cline
ReadyPlayerOne
The group was curious to read and discuss Ready Player One since its movie adaptation was making its big screen debut.  I think this is another example of where the movie and book are very different in some ways, but both enjoyable and the changes for the movie felt on the whole necessary due to the more visual medium.  I’d definitely recommend the book, if you only saw the film. Ready Player One relies heavily on 80’s nostalgia, but we found interestingly the references did not resonate for some of the older members of the group who experienced the 80’s as adults rather than children, since many of the references are about video games, toys, and cartoons.  I had been curious to see if it was necessary to get all the references to still enjoy the book and film, but the group members who weren’t as knowledgeable still seemed to like the work.  We also watched Existenz beforehand, which the group felt had some interesting concepts about reality, but did not enjoy some of the intense visuals that are a hallmark of many Cronenberg films.

Scythe
by Neal Shusterman
scythe
One of the group members mentioned that she had been hearing a lot of buzz about the award winning Young Adult novel Scythe by Neal Shusterman so I was curious to check it out. The novel is interesting since in some ways it depicts a world which many people would see as a Utopia where disease and injury can almost always be cured and nanites in people’s blood prevent pain and depression.  Yet there is something that seems dulled in the society where death only comes by the hands of designated Scythes who “glean” in order to keep the population numbers down.  I found the book a bit slow in the early chapters where it focused on world building and typical teen concerns, but found it picked up with action and intrigue in the second half.  Beforehand we watched Ghost Rider which on the whole the group found over the top but enjoyable.

Fahrenheit 451
by Ray Bradbury
fahrenheit 451
HBO recently debuted an adaptation of the Science Fiction classic, Fahrenheit 451, which had been on our “to be read” list for a while.  We viewed the 1966 movie adaptation before the discussion.  It was interesting to see how relevant the book was to our current world situation where censorship and mass media are both hot topics.  The group had a great discussion about how Bradbury’s four walls of viewing screens seemed very relevant with VR, Augmented Reality, and people constantly being glued to their cell phones.  We had a large turnout for the 1966 movie adaptation which had an interesting stylized look that to me kept it from feeling dated.  I especially liked that in the movie the protagonist’s wife and a young woman he meets, who seem to be positioned as mirror opposites of one another, was played by the same actress.  The novel is definitely a work you should check out!

Written by:
Aimee Harris
Head of Reference

Summer Reading with My 3 Nieces: The Hate U Give, Into the Wild, and Everything, Everything (and Read Harder Task 10)

11 Aug

In my last post I wrote about recommending books to my eldest niece for her summer reading assignment. This gave me the idea to assign myself the same books she and her two sisters are reading this summer so we can discuss them. This is the first post of that series.

Aimee wrote last week in her post about 1000 Books Before Kindergarten about how she enjoys reading with her son, and the importance of parents and caregivers reading to children before they start school. My nieces are all past kindergarten now, but I think it’s important to keep talking to kids about books even after they’ve learned to read independently. My friend Jenny has a whole blog about this idea called Books, Babies, and Bows, where she writes about reading with her daughters that is worth exploring.

My niece read The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (my recommendation!) for fiction, and Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer for nonfiction.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

hate-u-give

This debut novel by Angie Thomas, whose title references rapper Tupac Shakur and is inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, is hands-down one of the best books I have read this year. Sarah reports that she enjoyed this book, too. After finishing it I took to my social media channels to tell everyone to read it. And I am telling you, dear reader of this blog, to read it too. 

Starr Carter is a typical teenager who loves a fresh pair of Jordans, LeBron James, and Harry Potter, and believes she is somehow related to Jay-Z (aka Sean Carter, aka Mr. Beyonce Knowles) because they share a last name. She finds herself in an extraordinary situation after witnessing her friend Khalil’s murder by a police officer she refers to as One Fifteen. This book follows that aftermath in her gritty community and at her suburban private school interacting with her rather un-woke classmates, including one she considered a close friend.

I was more interested in the adults in The Hate U Give. Starr’s parents, Momma and Daddy (proper names Lisa and Maverick), are well-written and multifaceted. They too struggle with staying loyal to their community and their desire to give Starr and her siblings a better life. I will have to ask my niece for her thoughts about Starr’s parents, but they’re the ones I’m still thinking about after finishing the book.

Reading this book completed the Read a Debut Novel task for the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge, which I am still working on. More about that journey at this link.

The most important lesson that Starr learns in this story is to use her voice, even when it’s hard and scary and the circumstances are not ideal. I hope that is the takeaway for my niece. 

The Hate U Give will become a film. Click here to see which actors will play Starr, her parents, and her older brother Seven. But … please read the book before you see the movie!

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

into-the-wild.jpg

Sarah chose this book (which was published in 1996, seven years before she was born!) on her own. I have long heard of it, but hadn’t read it until now. Into the Wild appears on many school summer reading lists (an edition written for a young adult audience exists), and after reading it I understand why. This story includes science, geography, family drama, mystery, human psychology, history, practical information about survival, and even ethnography. Truly, there is something for everyone to enjoy in this book.

After his 1992 graduation from Emory University in Atlanta, Chris McCandless donated his savings to charity and drove to the American West with the goal to reach Alaska. Two years later his emaciated body was found in an abandoned bus used at shelter in the Denali region of Alaska. The book grew from an article that Jon Krakauer wrote for Outside magazine published in January 1993 about McCandless.

The biggest questions about Chris McCandless start with “why”. Why did he start this adventure? Why did he cut off contact with his family, including his sister Carine, to whom he was close? (Carine wrote The Wild Truth, published in 2014, about her and Chris’s life growing up.) Why did he take on the name Alexander Supertramp? Into the Wild explores those questions, with in-depth reporting from Chris’s family and friends and the people he encountered on his journey to Alaska.

Sarah reported that she is reading the adult edition and had trouble understanding the story at the beginning, but she likes it. What I noticed in the book was what my mother calls “ten dollar words”. Some of the language Krakauer used in the book tripped me up! My hope is Sarah remembers those words when she takes the SAT in a few years.

Sean Penn’s film adaptation of the book is remarkable. Emile Hirsch’s performance, especially in the final scenes of the movie, is haunting. Don’t make my mistake of watching this movie before going to sleep.

Sarah also read Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon, which she said was an easy read and really good. Now I feel compelled to add this to my bursting summer reading list because I’ve heard lots of good things about, and was recently made into a movie.

everything-everything

Stay tuned for the next post, where I write about the books my second niece Alyssa (who I wrote about here) read this summer.

How is your summer reading going? If you have young people in your life, do you talk about books with them?

-Written by Kerry Weinstein, Reference Librarian

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