Aliens edited by Jim Al-Khalili
With its green pages and cover page inspired by the film ‘Alien,’ this is just about the sexiest science book you’ll ever see. Edited by Jim Al-Khalili, Aliens is an utterly fascinating book about the science of alien life – from essays about the Fermi Paradox to essays about the feasibility of life in the icy moons of our very own solar system. Favourite chapters so far include a chapter about how octopuses think about and perceive the world – and how this highlights just how alien any alien life we might meet would be. A chapter which discusses the possibility of life in the subsurface oceans of Europa, Enceladus and Titan, and the chapter about the theories for how life got started on Earth – what caused inanimate matter to start replicating itself, in a process that eventually resulted in us. I’m currently reading the chapter about how Quantum Mechanics made life possible, considering the statistical near-impossibility of ordinary, inanimate matter combining in such a way as to become self-replicating. Contrary to what it may sound, this is actually one of the most accessible science books I have ever read. The book is very readable for someone of any level of knowledge and does a fantastic job of explaining some very complicated science. I would recommend the read to anyone who is interested in the search for life on other worlds.
Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
It doesn’t always take a lecture or a textbook to educate yourself. After being inspired by a number of her TED talks, I finally decided to broaden my global literature horizons and read a novel by feminist, activist and author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Half of a Yellow Sun follows the individual, yet intrinsically intertwined stories of three people living before, during and in the aftermath of the 1960s Biafran war. Never have I read any African literature before, so learning about this vastly different world through the perspective of such a talented wordsmith was spectacularly eye opening. Despite tacking such a sobering topic, Adichie’s writing begs no pity. She paints the beauty of Nigeria that only someone with real love for their homeland could do. When I closed this beautiful book for the last time, I was not left with the weight of a war that was foreign to me, but a reverence for a culture that I want to learn more about, and an admiration for a writer that unapologetically gives herself to her work.
The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling
The Casual Vacancy (2012) is Rowling’s self-proclaimed first voyage into adult fiction, though many would argue that Harry Potter appeals to all ages. The Casual Vacancy centres on the fictional British town of Pagford, and chronicles the twisted and at times confronting lives of its residents. Throughout the novel Rowling takes a critical look at family dynamics, analysing and even humanising heroin addicts, school bullies and high strung GP’s. The novel is third person omnipotent, meaning that as readers we see the world from different characters’ perspectives, reading their thoughts, criticisms and deepest fears. The novel is a poignant commentary on contemporary life, and focuses on the politics following the sudden death of a town councilman. Pagford is a town divided, and with the death of Barry Fairbrother, the two sides squabble and undermine each other desperately wanting to have the upper hand before the next council meeting. Interestingly, after writing Harry Potter, a series filled with happy teenage role-models, Rowling takes a more serious, arguably more accurate, look at Pagfords teens. The teenagers are either bullies, vain, or suicidal, there isn’t much of a middle ground. The book is nothing short of completely immersive, within a few short chapters I was completely enraptured in the characters, the setting, and the unique writing style and insight Rowling possesses.
Oathbringer: Part Three of the Stormlight Archive by Brandon Sanderson
It’s no accident that Brandon Sanderson is one of the most prolific Fantasy writers of our time. His masterful use of language, fantasy tropes and impeccable character development shine through in his Stormlight archive series. There is the familiar notion of element-bound magic, coupled with some excellently developed ideas of other-wordly science and politics that make this series a feast of words and ideas. If you need a new fantasy series to get you through first semester, this one’s a corker, and with another seven books planned for the series there’s plenty more to look forward to.
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
This book is a hard sell… On the one hand Moby Dick is incredibly well written and contains some of the greatest and most lyrical prose I’ve encountered in any work of literature, but on the other you are subjected to some pretty casual racism and some immersion-breaking unintentional homoerotic bravado. The book recounts a whaling voyage aboard the Pequod during the mid-19th century according to the pseudonymous narrator Ishmael, and follows the adventures of the ramshackle crew as well as the unhealthy obsession of the ship’s captain, Ahab, with the unusually large albino sperm whale that de-masted the Pequod off the coast of Japan, and took his leg. Moby Dick is incredibly detailed; several chapters are dedicated to the workings of the Pequod as well as the process of whaling itself. Some readers might find themselves put off or infuriated by these sections, as they are digressions from plot, however I found them to be incredibly fascinating. The setting of Moby Dick is so alien to us now that reading about the exploits of the whaling crew carries this intrinsic sense of allure and perverse fascination. There is a very good reason why this book is classed as a “Great American Novel” by those that decide upon literature’s canon, I want to encourage you to decide for yourself whether or not this book is worthy of such a distinction.