My new years resolution was to read 52 books (spoiler, I’m way behind schedule). Despite being behind schedule, this lofty goal has led me to read a lot more for fun. Here are some highlights from the books I’ve read so far this year:
A Libertarian Walks Into A Bear: The Utopian Plot to Liberate a Small American Town
This books follows two storylines happening concurrently in the small town of Grafton, New Hampshire. First, in 2004, a group of libertarians decided to all move en masse to a small town to create a libertarian utopia and prove once and for all that Big Government is The Worst™. As the libertarians slashed public funding for literally everything in the town, including eliminating the fire department and the trash collection services, their behavior caught the attention of the local bears, which brings us to the second storyline. Unfortunately for the libertarians, Grafton is world renown for its black bear population. In fact, world leading bear scientists flock to the area to study the black bears in their natural environment. As the citizens of Grafton ignored laws about food safety, hunting, and interactions with animals, the bears came to the town because it is an easy food source. The book follows nearly 20 years in the town, following its downward spiral as the government fades away and the bear problem gets worse and worse
I love love love this book. Its narration rotates between information about bears and what the bears are doing, and how the libertarians are changing the town. This flip-flop structure makes the book hard to put down, as you just want to find out what happens next but the author never tells you linearly. I have always found the concept of hardcore libertarianism to be infeasible and ridiculous, and the book serves to fully flesh out why libertarianism is just not a viable mechanism for governing. As a side note, this book is more of a recollection of the stories in the town and its history, it is not an in-depth political science book about the inner workings of libertarianism. In my opinion, this makes the book much more enjoyable, it’s like getting a speed run in some god-tier small town gossip but also a critique on different methods of governing.
Overall, I would recommend this book to anyone that is not a hardcore libertarian (the author does make some points about areas where a more libertarian approach could be applied). The choices the people make in this book are absolutely ridiculous and its hard to look away, but I only mean that as the highest possible compliment.
The Inheritance Games
After the billionaire Tobias Hawthorne dies, he leaves his entire fortune to struggling high schooler Avery Grambs, a complete stranger. Avery has no idea who he is, or why he’s chosen her to receive his estate. He gives her one condition: to get access to all the money, she has to live in this massive mansion with his family for a whole year and they are not pleased to be left out of the will. In particular, the four handsome Hawthorne grandsons are all suspicious of Avery and how she got the inheritance in the first place. As Avery gets swept up in this new world of the petty and ultra-wealthy, she has to figure out why Tobias Hawthorne chose her in the first place, and how she can survive a year in this house
This book is described as “Knives Out” meets young adult and I think that comparison is pretty fair in terms of the setting. The house that it’s set in has tons and tons of additions, creating winding staircases, secret rooms, and hidden hallways, making it fun to see Avery explore the house and all the secrets hidden within. If you expect a mystery book with well laid clues, this one is really not the one for you. The book has a lot of “and then the door we never mentioned before led to this very plot relevant event.” But its fun to see Avery get her bearings in the Hawthorne House, and the Hawthorne grandsons are all endearingly cringey. I could have gone without the romance but also, I generally always can pass on straight YA romances and its not that big of a plot point as Avery is a very driven and focused character.
I would recommend this book if you like fun mystery books with low-ish stakes in a Artemis Fowl sans magic setting.
The Loneliest Girl in the Universe
Romy Silvers is the only-surviving crew member on a ship traveling to a new planet to establish a second home for humanity. She’s resigned herself to a life of loneliness, with her occasional delayed message from her NASA coordinator being her only communication. Her life changes when she gets a message from J, a man on a second ship that has been launched to follow Romy’s to their new home. As they email each other, messages delayed by months and months, Romy starts to fall in love with J. But all is not what it seems, and when mysterious messages start to arrive from Earth, Romy has to question everything she has ever known
The delayed messages is a new take on the genre, and I did appreciate the accuracy there. But the pacing of the book is slow, and I do think it could be much shorter. The last part of the book picks up super fast, but there has to be a better way to build up suspense to the plot twist other than dragging us through a girls diary for 3/4ths of the book.
As a side note, the audiobook for this one was painful. The narrator was in a panicked voice the whole time and it was grating to listen to. It was giving very “Sandra Bullock in Gravity Heavy Breathing for the Whole Movie” vibes. I haven’t really read a lot of suspense/thriller type scifi so I cannot offer an alternate book, but stay far away from this one.
Into Thin Air
To be fair, I re-read this book entirely as a hate read. And if the evaluation was how much I hated this book, then this book is great, I hated it a lot. The quick summary of this book is that several Everest expeditions were on the mountain when a huge storm hit. It was the end of the season and the guides really wanted to get the climbers up the mountain, so they stayed higher up longer than they should have. An intense rescue ensued, with some of the most experienced guides dying, some of the clients dying, and others getting severe frostbite. Krauker got back during the middle of the storm and slept in his tent the whole time.
I have two qualms with this book. First, the recklessness and absolute disregard Krakauer had to proper journalistic practices in an effort to crank this book out in a year post accident. Second, and closely related, was due to the lack of thought in writing the book, Krakauer made little effort to thoroughly consider his position in the accident. It is apparent in the book that Krakauer felt he had similar qualifications to experienced high altitude mountaineers, and that if merely asked, he could have helped. This sort of re-writing of the situation is purely to soothe this man’s ego. Further, his disregard to consider the effects of race, class, ethnicity, and gender on the mountaineering experience demonstrated a compete lack of effort to characterize the complex power dynamics in the situation.
Even 20+ years later, Krakauer maintains the same positions as he expressed in this book. This is because he is not much of a journalist, but a sensationalist that rips off the experiences of others to appear like he’s solved the complex social inequities of our time. If you want to read a good book about mountaineering with some sense of self-awareness, go read Mark Twight.
THE HARD TO QUALIFY
Someone Who Will Love You in All Your Damaged Glory
Someone Who Will Love You in All your Damaged Glory is actually not a self help book on finding love as a 24 year old, its a series of short stories by the creator of Bojack Horseman. I don’t generally go for short stories, as its a lot like my taste in wine, I really can’t tell the difference between good and bad ones, but I love Bojack so much I figured I would give it a try. The theme of the book is a bunch of short stories about love in all forms: marriage, breakups, missed connections, falling in love.
Its hard to really rate this book or even describe it. It does have some of the absurdity, wordplay, and pacing that you can match to Bojack Horseman, but each story is so different that its impossible to evaluate it as a whole. Do you qualify a book of short stories as good if you like a few of them? Or does that make it bad? Is it a good book on love if I find the depiction and commentary of love to be accurate to my experience? I find ratings to be immensely helpful, and thats part of the charm of having a wordpress blog, but I also feel a bit torn when rating something that is so personal to the creators experience. It feels wrong to take someone’s shared art and tell them they created it wrong (unless its Krakauer, screw that guy).
My favorite stories were the one about a young couple planning a wedding and having to figure out what is the appropriate number of ritual goat sacrifices to satisfy their overbearing relatives, and the one about the romance in PresidentLand, a Disney Land about the US presidents.
I think if you like Bojack Horseman or if you like absurdist witty humor I would give this book a chance. Regardless, I promise that this book is nothing like you’ve read before.