As we enter the fourth quarter and approach spring break, our workload starts to ramp up (three tests in two days!). With the increase in everything that we have to do comes the decrease in everything that we want to do, which leaves us with an excess of procrastination time. I, when met with a unreasonably large workload, can knock out an entire season of some random show in my Netflix queue in one seven-hour binge session. This process, however, leaves me feeling like the scourge of humanity, with blurry eyes and back pain from my uncomfortable, motionless sprawl on my couch. Faced with the important conundrum of how to waste a potentially productive stretch of time, I’ve experimented with my time allocation. A TV marathon is all well and good, but it leaves me wasted afterwards. A more responsible and less painful procrastination technique is to read a good book.
I know that chugging through 40 pages of assigned reading per night can turn you off the reading-for-pleasure idea, but reading for fun is completely different; in fact, it’s scientifically proven to improve your mood (also, one study showed that reading for pleasure for 45 minutes each day can decrease the chance of developing Alzheimer’s Disease by 2.5%). Here are my spring recommendations for some solid reading material.
Books for when you have 15 minutes of time to burn and you don’t feel like getting bogged down with ruminations on the complexities of human existence.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. This book follows Arthur Dent, who, after his house is bulldozed to make room for a bypass, finds his planet bulldozed to make room for an intergalactic bypass. Dent is launched involuntarily into a nomadic lifestyle as he rockets through space with his alien friend.
If you haven’t read this book yet, then WHAT ARE YOU DOING? It’s hilarious and completely engrossing. I could not recommend this book highly enough. Written with a dry, detached wit, the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a must read for any fiction enthusiast and is a great intro-to-science-fiction novel. Arthur Dent presents a deeply relatable character who internalizes the insanity of his new reality with a confused disinterest, in one instance sidelining the spaceship by sending it forth on a massively difficult mathematical problem, all to make him a cup of tea.
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. Written in 2011 and set in a dystopian 2045, overpopulation and global warming have pushed humans onto the internet full-time to escape the disappointment of day-to-day life. With an integrated virtual reality device called OASIS, users can completely immerse themselves in massive multiplayer worlds, doing everything from gaming to shopping to taking classes. When the inventor of OASIS passes away, leaving the key to his entire fortress hidden somewhere in the virtual world, hunters everywhere leap into action, searching for a way out of their own poverty. The book follows Wade, a poor 18-year-old living in a trailer park.
I read the entire book in one sitting, and I loved the story. The writing can be a little heavy-handed at times (including its overdramatized representation of the male teenage brain), but I nevertheless felt completely immersed in the fictional world.
The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North. Lying on his deathbed, Harry receives an ominous message from a young girl: the world is ending. Harry is in a peculiar situation; every time he dies, he is reborn in the same circumstances, but with all the knowledge of his life before. The same message from the girl has been passed down from the future through other people, like Harry, who live their lives in loops.
The plotline may seem like a pretty tenuous setup, but for this novel, it completely works. Living the same life for thousands of years imbues the narrator with a certain dry cynicism that counteracts the possible failings of such a grandiose premise. This book was definitely a page turner, feeling almost like a fluff novel but navigating that pitfall with certain examinations of the human id.
For when you want something a little meatier.
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert E. Heinlein. Often heralded as one of the foundational writers of the science fiction genre, Heinlein is a literary giant, and critics consider The Moon is a Harsh Mistress to be his best work. The people of Luna, Earth colonists living on the moon, chafe under the Earth authoritarian control as they see the fruits of their labor shipped down to ungrateful, stingy Earth-dwellers. As the dissatisfaction reaches new levels, the colony revolts. The book follows a soft-spoken mechanic and one of the three leaders of the Lunar revolution, whose closest ally is a self-aware computer.
This book is beautifully written and should be on the reading list of any science fiction fan. A lot of the themes in the novel (such as exploitation and belonging) resonate particularly relevantly today.
A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines by Janna Levin. Written by an astrophysics professor, this novel presents the fictionalized narratives of two scientists, Alan Turing and Kurt Gödel. The novel provides a deeply humanizing portrait of two intellectual giants that changed our world in very tangible ways. Levin writes poignantly about the trauma and greatness that mirror themselves in the two characters’ lives, and she draws you in with her conviction of their stories’ importance.
The book is a little heavy on explanations of mathematical concepts, but I felt that I walked away smarter after reading this novel. Levin’s writing does imbue emotion into the otherwise dry background knowledge required to understand the two men’s accomplishments; however, the content can still feel like a lot of information to internalize in a short amount of time.
Bad Monkey by Carl Hiaasen. In Bad Monkey, we meet ex-policeman-turned-private-eye Andrew Yancy, pondering the human arm in his freezer. From there, he delves into a twisted world of missing tourists, crooked Health Inspectors, ex-footballers turned criminals, and charismatic coroners.
Hiaasen presents a slew of fascinating characters to engage with, and his sharp and witty style keeps you turning pages. Any Hiaasen book would be a completely fascinating read, and Bad Monkey is a great place to start. While it doesn’t present the same kind of intellectual umph as the other novels in the Medium section, the humor can be subtle enough that it takes a careful reader to decipher what’s truly going on.
Contains adult themes
Take your time.
Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami. This novel follows college student Toru, who lives in Tokyo. Toru’s best friend passed away tragically and suddenly during his adolescence; now, Toru loves Naoko, the deceased friend’s girlfriend. As Naoko grapples with the aftermath of her boyfriend’s death, Toru struggles with the isolation and loneliness he feels on campus.
Translated from Japanese, Norwegian Wood is written with a very gentle voice. Murakami uses short words, but can heave a strong punch and leave you reeling with emotion. Like in Hemingway’s verb-focused prose, Murakami writes in a simple and elegant style. His words weave stories into stories. I am completely obsessed with his writings, this book being the fourth novel of his I’ve read. His words worm their way into your head and make you pause. This isn’t a book to tear through––it should be read and savored slowly.
Contains adult themes
You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine by Alexandra Kleeman. Set in the near future, You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine is the story of a A, a typical American woman who works a dead-end job and consumes endless amounts of television purely for the commercials. A’s best friend is B, anorexic and obsessed with her ex, and A’s boyfriend is C, rough and unintelligent. In their world, everything is deeply artificial and heavily advertised, and the three of them consume media voraciously.
Though it could be attributed to airport food, this book left me feeling nauseous when I finished. The story skillfully presented a scathing critique of the American relationship with consumerism and identity, and I could not stop thinking about the novel. The novel does go off the rail in the last couple of chapters, and the writing can be a little (read: extremely) heavy-handed at times, but Kleeman’s book is for anyone who has ever looked discontentedly at the world’s ever-present, superficial commercials.
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov. This Russian foundational novel to American pop culture follows Humbert Humbert, a handsome, middle-aged literature professor who falls in love with a 12 year old, Dolores, whom he refers to as “Lolita.” Showing a prime example of an unreliable narrator, the novel is set up as a retrospective of a convicted man and his explanation for his crimes. One of the most controversial but best-regarded novels of the 20th century, Lolita is also a prime achievement for literature of the century.
Lolita draws the reader in, and after hours reading the book, it can be deeply disconcerting to find yourself completely immersed in the mind of a pedophile. Humbert weaves a sort of twisted logic for his obsession with his “nymphet,” and Nabokov expertly plays with his readers’ expectation for the characters. He uses Humbert’s immigrant experience to offer a wry commentary on American culture; though it can be disturbing, Lolita is a must-read.
Contains adult themes