These are strange times we find ourselves in, at least compared to what is normal for a lot of us. In a time where self-isolation is so recommended for the betterment of others, I thought it might be fun to recommend some books you may want to check out while you do so.
Now, I gab about what I am reading all of the time on this blog, so I decided to make this a little more challenging. I am going to recommend five books, but I have to have read each book over five years ago. As a matter of personal choice, I’m also going to try and make them a little less obvious too, e.g. I last read The Hobbit over five years ago, but you hardly need me to tell you to check that book out.
If this idea inspires any of you at all, feel free to make your own list and share/link me to it in the comments. I’d love to see what you have to share.
Far-Seer by Robert J. Sawyer
I once wrote about this book years ago, but I would be remiss if I did not recommend what continues to be my personal favourite book. Set on a moon far from Earth, a race of Saurian people descended from tyrannosaurs called Quintaglios have a thriving civilization. The story follows Afsan, a young Quintaglio male and astrologer, who is about to embark upon his pilgrimage across the sea to see the face of God, where he will discover a terrifying truth. I’m a sucker for the idea of dinosaur people, and Sawyer does an excellent job of creating a culture that is both relatable yet alien. The cover may look a little juvenile, but don’t let that misdirect you. It’s a thoughtful and quite ruthless story that pits science against religion in the face of an impending catastrophe.
I, Lucifer by Glenn Duncan
I think it’s actually been over 10 years since I read this book, but it has still stuck with me all this time. Lucifer is given an opportunity by God; live out a decent life in the body of a mortal man and he may be redeemed and allowed entry back into heaven. Lucifer negotiates a trial period and finds himself in the body of depressed author Declan Gunn, who was in the process of killing himself in the bath. Enacting his own plans as he assumes Declan’s identity, he also uses the opportunity to tell his side of the story of Creation and his fall. As the father of all lies, we must take some things with a grain of salt, but all the same it’s hard not to see sense in some of his account. I loved the more cynical take on Christian theology in a world where it is undeniably true, as well as the way it describes the experiences of an ethereal being suddenly having a body of flesh and blood.
World War Z by Max Brooks
What better to read during a global pandemic than a book about a zombie apocalypse? Forgive me for being a little glib, but I actually have more optimistic reasons for this recommendation. This book is a collection of fictional transcriptions collected from various survivors of a zombie pandemic; an “oral history of the zombie war,” as the subtitle indicates. Despite all the horrors contained within, an important note is the hopeful fact that humanity survives. Things get to their absolute worst, but we make it to the other side and start to rebuild again. The book itself is a testament to this in the context of the world; we can produce history books about it, giving varied accounts of what happened around the world in the different stages of the outbreak. I laud Brooks for his ability to be creative with the zombie premise as well, exploring all the different possibilities the undead would pose, rather than simply focusing on ragtag groups of survivors being awful to each other.
Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
Now, I may be breaking away from my self-imposed limitations as this feels a more obvious recommendation, but I just really loved this book. The formatting of this novel is more unconventional, telling the stories of different people in different ages of history, the genres of each story varying as well. The first half of the book is the first half of each story, loosely connecting into each other in some way, leading to a complete, central story, before working back through the endings of each preceding story in reverse order. My love for Cloud Atlas actually started with the film adaptation, but I do love how much more the novel plays with reality and blurs the line (in the narrative) between fact and fiction. Definitely worth checking out for the endurance of the human spirit presented in an array of settings.
Why I Hate Canadians by Will Ferguson
Now this book is especially pushing my set limitations, because I only just read this book a little over five years ago; I first finished reading it in February of 2015. That is over five years ago, though, so I’m going to count it. This book was gifted to me many, many years before I read it. When I finally did, I regretted all the years I let it languish. It’s a collection of essays by the author that cover vast swathes of the Canadian cultural landscape, from our obsession with not being American, to our perhaps false assertions of Canadian niceness, to the more serious caste systems in Canadian society where First Nations are so often put at a lower status. Funny, insightful, and bitingly critical in a loving way, this book was one of the first to really give me a more concrete sense (as a Canadian) of what “Canadian-ness” might be.