2018 in Reading: Oct. – Dec. (Part 1)

In general, I dig science fiction, but I’m picky when it comes to what I read. I was intrigued enough by the trailers for “Annihilation” that I read Jeff VanderMeer’s novel of the same name and came away pleasantly surprised. There’s a surrealistic quality to the goings-on with a plot that oscillates between straight sci-fi, horror and a psychological thriller. I still haven’t seen the movie, though I intend to, and I may end up reading further into the two books that follow up this one, but it kept me engaged and was quite a novel, er, novel. Having all the main characters be women, despite being what would typically be male archetypes, actually worked really well.

I went to see Joe Biden on his book tour and, reasonably, felt some obligation to read the book about which he was touring. “Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship, and Purpose” is his account of a year of his life in the White House, his consideration about running in 2016 and, ultimately, the last year of his son, Beau’s, life. Biden’s writing is breezy and sincere, and one gets the sense that he actually wrote most of the book himself. It’s an easy, worthwhile read and makes you wonder what could have been.

The Last Jedi,” by Jason Fry, is the novelization of the movie and… it’s just not very good. I usually read these because they’re often based on earlier drafts of the screenplay, so sometimes there are missing scenes or details. “The Force Awakens” novel, for example, had a dark-matter-powered Starkiller Base. If that’s not interesting to you, don’t bother with this book. If it is, you can still probably skip it.

 John Elder Robison’s “Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s” is one of the first book any autism parent should read, so I was interested in where “Switched On: A Memoir of Brain Change and Emotional Awakening” would take his story. This time he documents an experimental brain stimulation treatment he underwent that, by his description, unlocked new emotional areas of his personality. The treatment is fascinating, but the impact on his relationships with his spouse and child are even more interesting. The book could have probably worked just as well as a long magazine article – it’s not clear there’s a book’s worth of material here – but Robison’s account is detailed and honest.

I’ve previously only read one David Sedaris book, “Me Talk Pretty One Day,” but I was intrigued by the New York Times Book Review review of his newest collection of darkly comic essays entitled “Calypso.” I know Sedaris mostly through his work with NPR, so it’s odd to read him again, recreating his distinct voice and tone in my head. There’s nothing here that would disappoint fans. It’s funny; it’s melancholy; it’s insightful. Loosely, the book centers itself around his sister’s suicide and the family’s purchase of a beach house. It ends too soon, and makes me want to dig through his back catalog in the coming year.

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