Top 5 Books To Reread

I’m a rereader in a major way. About half the books I read in a year are books I’m not reading for the first time.

I know that’s not necessarily a good thing, that I should probably expand my horizons and pick up books by new authors, but I can’t help myself.

For one thing, I’m a creature of comfort. I like revisiting characters, stories, and writing styles that I know I enjoy.

For another, I feel I have to justify the amount of books I have in my possession. I mean, what’s the point of buying them for myself if I’m not going to read them again and again and again.

Now, I can reread any book. You name it, I’ll reread it. But I have to admit, some books are easier to reread than others. What follows is a list of my all-time favorite books to read over and over again.

I will vouch for these books’ rereadability with my life.

Side note: Figuratively speaking.

So let’s browse these page-turners and get on with it!

Abandon in Place – Jerry Oltion

This is by far the best book I ever picked up in my middle school library. When I was in school, there was a program for students called Accelerated Reading. It forced kids to pick up books and take comprehension tests on them afterwards in order to collect points. I don’t mean to brag, but I always got number one for AR points at school. But the real benefit from AR wasn’t the points. It was the fact that I got my hands on this fantastic book.

The premise alone is fantastic. Rick Spencer, an astronaut, is feeling low after Neil Amstrong’s death. However, after the funeral, a ghostly Saturn V rocket launches from a NASA pad and no one knows where it came from. The government and the space agency, along with Rick, have to figure out where these things are coming from and what to do with them.

Abandon in Place is able to pass off as a cerebral read, but it’s actually like popcorn. It delves into space-race nostalgia and paranormal questions alike with a sense of humor and honesty. It’s not often that you see a sci-fi book paired with obvious romanticism, but that’s what Abandon in Place does. At the end of the day, the book is about hope and optimism, and I love it for that.

Pride & Prejudice – Jane Austen

Is it cliche to like Pride & Prejudice? I feel like it is. Regardless, there’s a reason this book is so popular.

The story is all about Elizabeth Bennet dealing with her family’s quirks and how they make her relate to societal classes. Oh, and also it’s about her romance with Mr. Darcy. That’s why most people read it, and I can’t say I blame them. Darcy’s demeanor is the absolute draw of the novel. I mean, who doesn’t like stoic gentlemen?

It’s a fairly short read, and no chapter is wasted. If Austen includes a paragraph in her work, it is for the express purpose of furthering along her story. That sense of direction and purpose will carry you through every page and make Pride & Prejudice a total speed-run of a book.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog – Muriel Barbery

There is absolutely no reason why I should have bought The Elegance of the Hedgehog that day at the bookstore. I normally don’t extensively peruse bookshelves the way I did. Plus, I don’t like it when book covers feature photos of people. Call me crazy, but I prefer artwork or abstract symbolism on my book covers. But I bought the book, and it’s one of my favorites.

The story has two deuteragonists. One is an aging concierge at this swanky French hotel, where she has to deal with snobbish residents. She pretends to be dumber than she is so that she doesn’t have to share the fact that she is a thoughtful and intelligent person. The other is a young girl, the daughter of one of the families at the hotel. She is incredibly smart, and has decided to kill herself before she grows up to be exactly like her parents.

This book is wonderfully deep, and it makes you feel emotions regardless of whether you’ve heard of the literature or philosophers the characters constantly reference. It’s the most moving quick read I’ve ever read. I remember the first time I finished it, I was in a Dillards, in the shoe department. I cried next to the Gianni Bini heels.

The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams

Absolute best book ever. If I had to pick a book to take with me on a desert island, it would be this one. Funny story, I once hit a guy in the nutsack with a collection of Douglas Adams’ work. I’m not proud of that moment (for reasons I may or may not mention another time), but I feel like it adds to the legacy of my copy of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Anyways, the book’s plot is exceedingly straightforward. Earthman Arthur Dent has to confront the wider reaches of the galaxy after the Earth is destroyed in order to make room for a hyperspace bypass. He goes on adventures, and hilarity ensues.

It is that hilarity that makes The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy such a great reread. The humor never gets old. It’s comparable to Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The trappings might get aged, but the essence of the thing can draw more than a few chuckles from you.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

This book makes it onto this list based purely on the fact that I have reread it more than twelve times. I honestly think it’s my most reread book. Any of the Harry Potter books are great rereads since they move so quickly (yet enjoyably) through their plot points.

This was the Harry Potter book I had to content myself with before The Order of the Phoenix came out. So what else was there for me to do if I wanted to immerse myself in the Wizarding World some more than reread The Goblet of Fire for the umpteenth time.

Hope you liked the list, and I also hope I was able to pique your interest in the direction of any of these books!

Readers of the Lost Art: Why More People Should Pick Up a Book

I can’t remember learning to read. It’s something I feel like I’ve always known how to do.

Of course, I was not born with the ability to read. That would be crazy.

I think I first got an interest in reading because of my parents. They both made the decision to instill a “sense” of reading in my sister and I at a very early age. They did this by constantly reading in front of us. My mom would read the newspaper every day in front of us. She bought us these tactile toddler books, made of cardboard and layered with different fabrics, so that we could “read” as best we could. On his side, my dad would read us bedtime stories. Sometimes The Hobbit. Sometimes The Velveteen Rabbit.

Eventually, I just sort of…picked up books. I started looking for ones I would like, even if they weren’t made of cardboard. My family made trips to the nearest Barnes & Noble on weekends, and by “nearest,” I mean 2 hours away. Regardless, we would spend hours there, and I would come home with a stack of new books that I could only hold by placing my hands underneath the pile and using my chin to secure it.

It’s only now that I’m grown that I realize that reading as a hobby is not as prevalent as movies and TV shows would have you believe. Pop culture has us thinking that gorgeous nerds who enjoy Tolstoy and Vonnegut are around every corner.

Not so.

I used to think adults were being patronizing every time they ooh-ed and ahh-ed when they saw me sitting by myself, reading a book. Now I know they were gasping over a rather rare specimen.

People read, people have to read, on a daily basis. You read menus, instructions, labels, and signs. But a woefully small amount of people actually read books for pleasure. Like books books.

And that’s terrible.

There’s a quiet joy that can come from reading a book for pleasure. You find one you like, because of course you cater to your preferences, and then in your spare time, you immerse yourself in another person’s world, another person’s story, another person’s thoughts.

Reading a book is like dipping yourself into another person’s perspective, and when you learn to think about another person’s point of view, you gain empathy. You gain the ability to put yourself in another person’s shoes.

Granted, reading is not the only way to learn empathy, and it’s also no guarantee that you will be empathetic.

But it’s a great place to start.

I think that reading as a kid is incredibly important not because it’s a future life skill but because as a child, you’re at your most selfish. When you’re in your single-digits, you have this mindset that you’re at the center of the universe. (And to make matters worse, you never knew you thought that until after you’ve grown up.) Books help to alleviate that habit.

Well, the title of this post, upon a second reading, sounds a tad accusatory. Like I’m about to start getting on people’s cases for not reading enough.

And hell…

…I think I am.

A person’s hobbies should be their own thing. I’m not going to prescribe reading as a hobby for people.

I am going to prescribe reading as a part of everyday life though. I think reading a book should be as commonplace as eating lunch or driving a car. A person should do it everyday. If you are a human being alive on this planet and you have the capacity to read a book, you should goddamn do it.

“Wow,” you might be thinking. “This particular Below Average post is a bit vitriolic. Who spit in her coffee this morning?”

You don’t even have to read an entire book a day. Just a chapter. Heck, just three paragraphs. But by incorporating reading a book into your everyday life, your speaking skills will improve, your writing skills will improve, and your people skills will improve.

Well, forgive me for being irate, but I’ve had it up to here with people who have no regard for reading. And that includes people who insist reading is just a hobby. People who think reading is just a pastime are idiots. They’re the Mr. Wormwoods of our generation. (Props to any and all Matilda fans out there.)

If you believe that language is a basis for civilization and society as we know it, then reading that goddamn language should be part of that foundation.

It’s not a hobby if it built empires, established societal connections, and formed the baseline for communication, you know what I mean?

Reading is essential for humans.

So…you want to know the reason for this whole post?

Well, where I live, there is not a single bookstore anymore. Not a one. The last one we had closed two years ago this January, and half of it was a teaching supply store because they had to make ends meet since not enough people were buying books.

So how about before we build our town’s seventh Starbucks (and you Below Average Blog readers know how much I love my coffee), WE OPEN ANOTHER BOOKSTORE BEFORE I LOSE MY MIND?

My Favorite Harry Potter Books Ranked

It’s time once again for another list-oriented post!

God, I love these things.

My boyfriend and I have just started playing the LEGO Harry Potter Collection together. About a day after The Gaming Diaries (a blog I really enjoy following) recommended the game to me, I found myself in a GameStop. What a kawinkadink!

I bought the game for me and Danny, and we dove into the strange LEGO world of Harry Potter. (We are rapidly becoming LEGO video game veterans. Which is maybe something I should not brag about.) We have worked our way through most of Harry’s early school years at Hogwarts, and it has gotten me reminiscing about the Harry Potter books. It’s been a while since I’ve read them, but the series was a huge part of my life. (Still is.)

And aside from my Hogwarts house analysis, I haven’t written much about them.

So welcome to my list of favorite Harry Potter books!

Please bear in mind that I’m a Below Average person and that these rankings are entirely subjective.

Let’s do this:

7. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Funnily enough, this is my sister’s favorite book from the series. And let’s get something straight. I don’t dislike any Harry Potter book. I just like some of them more than others. Prisoner of Azkaban never appealed to me for multiple reasons.

For one thing, I couldn’t get behind how emotional magic got. I know the Patronus Charm is now one of the staple spells of the Harry Potter universe, but when I was a kid, I thought it was kind of corny how only “happiness” could make the Patronus Charm work. And is it just me, or did no one ever explain why chocolate helps after a Dementor attack?

Another thing that bothered me was how easy it was for an innocent man to get framed for a crime he didn’t commit. This is a world of freaking wizards who can do magic. Why couldn’t one of them suss out the fact that Sirius Black did not kill Peter Pettigrew? Did no one think to use Veritaserum on Sirius?

Did like the idea of school trips to Hogsmeade though. That seemed nifty.

6. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Call me old fashioned, but I missed the simplicity of Harry, Ron, and Hermione at school. I get that as the seventh and final book, things had to get gritty and real as they sought to destroy Horcruxes out in the world. But I found myself missing Hogwarts more than I thought I would.

There’s something about the school that centers a Harry Potter story. Without the school as the primary setting, it didn’t feel like a Harry Potter story. It felt like…well, it felt like a story.

Of course, it is extremely difficult to finish off an epic tale and leave everyone satisfied. I like The Deathly Hallows for that sense of finality you get when you close the pages. Once it ended, I was perfectly content knowing that I might never visit Hogwarts in a book again.

Annnnnnnnd then The Cursed Child came out.

5. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

People call this the darkest book in the Harry Potter series, and they would not be wrong. Sirius Black, the beloved godfather of Harry Potter, just bites the dust in this book. And I remember when I read the part when Harry is yelling at Dumbledore afterwards, I was crying.

That’s not to say the book doesn’t have its positive features. Having Harry teach proper Defense Against The Dark Arts classes and start Dumbledore’s Army was legitimately bad-ass. And Professor Umbridge is one of the most terrifying villains I have ever come across in a book.

And I like Stephen King.

However, this book also includes Harry’s whiny teenager phase. And snogging.

4. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

More than any of the other books in the series, The Sorcerer’s Stone is a kids book. I read it in elementary school, and that’s what hooked me on the series.

The reason it ranks so high on this list is because it’s the original. It’s the first. It’s the one that started them all.

The Sorcerer’s Stone was not only Harry’s introduction to the Wizarding world; it was ours.

3. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

The best villains in stories are usually those that you don’t know too much about. If you’re going for a big bad that maintains that same level of terror in you, it’s best to keep a lid on the details of his or her sordid past.

Voldemort was the constant terror of Harry’s life, and in The Half-Blood Prince, we got to take a closer look at his past in all those lessons that Dumbledore started giving Harry. He became more nuanced, and Wizarding history got a bit deeper, or at least our understanding of it did. Our examination of his early childhood did not diminish our wariness of his current form.

Plus, you’ve got to love all that romance stuff that was happening while Voldemort’s past was being showcased to us.

Ron and Hermione. I’ll never understand it.

2. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

I don’t know why I love The Chamber of Secrets so much.

Maybe it’s because we got introduced to the lives of an ordinary Wizarding family like the Weasleys.

Maybe it’s because Gilderoy Lockhart is one of the most hilarious teacher caricatures in the history of Hogwarts.

Maybe because the mystery of the Chamber was just that compelling.

Who knows.

1. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Hands down my favorite.

I loved everything about this book. The tournament, the other Wizarding Schools, the headlines, the champions.

Plus, while it was heart-wrenching to read through, I liked how Ron and Harry got into that big fight after Harry’s name came out of the Goblet. It must have been difficult for Ron to have to be the famous Harry Potter’s best friend. And while it was a dick move to be jealous of your friend who has been thrust into a life-threatening situation against their will, it was, dare I say it, relatable. I think Harry, and readers, took Ron for granted prior to this book.

This big tome of a book was the first Harry Potter book (for me at least) that took a turn for the serious, the more mature. With the death of Cedric Diggory, the stakes were definitely raised.

Also, one of the great things about reading the series as a kid was how you grew up alongside the characters. I never felt that this was more apparent than while reading The Goblet of Fire.

So which Harry Potter books are your favorite? I understand if you can’t pick. It took me days of ponderous thought to come up with this list.

Literary Sins: The World Lied to Me about Moby-Dick

As seen in my first Literary Sins post, I’m on this journey to read classic books that are great works of literature. I started this endeavor because a) I like to read, and b) I did not want to miss out on these classic stories.

Mistakes were made.

Why did no one tell me that Moby-Dick was a complete and utter bore?!

I chose to rectify the supposed literary sin of never having read Moby-Dick months ago. I had read some of Herman Melville’s short stories as part of an English course I took in college, but I had never tackled his “greatest” tale about a man’s vendetta against a white whale.

I had heard of Moby-Dick before, though. I mean, who hasn’t? Its first line is famous, and parodies of the demented Captain Ahab are a dime a dozen.

With those parodies ingrained in my mind, I thought Moby-Dick was going to be an adventure. You know, something along the lines of Treasure Island.

I thought it was going to be fun.

It’s not.

AGJHSKJDHSFDGHUAWESGFBSDBLKIUHYSUGHDFVBSGHDFIERHGKDBFVLJHDBFJKASVGDKVSHDGFJSHDGBFAJHGSD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

What the hell, guys?! I was under the assumption that I was in for a seafaring treat, and instead I got this hefty compendium of whale facts.

Seriously, story is just lightly sprinkled over these massive portions of whale tidbits. 10% of the book’s lengthy page count is devoted to progressing and resolving the plot. The other 90% provides details about whale fins, whale bones, whale eyes, whale teeth, whale baleen, whale flukes, whale blubber, whale migration patterns, whales throughout history, whale myths, the whaling industry, the different kinds of whales, whale behavior, whale hunts, whale boats,WHALE EVERYTHING.

I love whales as much as the next person, but come on.

I’m usually not one to mind descriptive detail in my books. Ask anyone who knows about my reading and writing style. I don’t mind getting into paragraphs devoted to describing a single thing.

But there is a limit to how much I can take.

And Herman Melville reached it.

Apparently, Melville’s love of whale trivia is known throughout literary circles. My boyfriend even showed me a meme he found about it after I complained to him about all the whale facts. It’s that one where a boyfriend and girlfriend are walking past a hot girl, so the boyfriend is doing a speculative double-take while the girlfriend glares at him. In place of the hot girl’s face, the words “Whale Facts” covers her features. “Herman Melville” is the boyfriend. “The Actual Plot of Moby-Dick” is the girlfriend.

It’s just a shame that I only found out about this running joke after I had already gotten halfway through Moby-Dick.

Do not, under any circumstances, fall for the trap that is Moby-Dick.

I give Moby-Dick an only-read-this-if-you-are-prepared-to-read-a-lot-of-whale-facts-and-you-want-to-spend-hours-soaking-that-information-up-by-reading-a-novel-instead-of-just-Googling-that-shit-oh-and-it’s-all-written-in-old-timey-language-so-good-luck.

A Saga To Recommend

It is a stereotypical scene, where a kid who is supposed to be reading a thick novel for class has a comic book hidden within its pages and is actually flipping through that.

I always kind of hated that caricature.

It makes it seem like reading the comic book doesn’t count as real reading. It’s as if whoever came up with that thinks that the stories you can glean from the pages of a comic book are not as meaningful as what you would find in a great literary work.

If you’ve read my stuff before (goddammit, Hurych, just say blog posts already), you know that I love to read books. In fact, I love reading of all sorts.

But I have to admit, comics hold a special place in my heart.

Right now, I’m particularly in love with the comic book series Saga. It is currently still being printed, and it is awesome as fuck! (Pardon my French.)

It is written by Brian K. Vaughan (a fantastic writer) and drawn by Fiona Staples. It tells the story (the saga, if you will) of two soldiers who come from warring planets. These soldiers fall in love with each other and start a family, but they have to be on the run constantly because there are people out in the universe who don’t want it to be known that such a relationship can exist.

I’m doing a piss-poor job of summarizing the plot as I know it, but I seriously don’t want to give too much away just in case someone reads this and decides to check Saga out. It’s that good.

The story of Saga is nothing we haven’t seen before. In fact, I’d say it’s a bit of a classic tale. But that’s not what sets it apart. The setting and the characters are so delightful and diverse; they’re the real draw of the series. There’s a man who can use magic to deal deathly damage to people, but refuses to do so because he believes in nonviolence. There’s a large pet cat that can tell when people lie. There’s the disembodied ghost of a teenage girl who connects her soul to that of a newborn baby.

My favorite character is a bipedal baby seal named Ghüs. He has a pet walrus named Friendo. What more do I need to say about him?

Saga poster with Ghus and Friendo

I have seriously gone out of my way to own every item of Ghüs memorabilia that I can find. (Danny has lovingly gifted me some of them. Most of them, actually.) The sight of him makes me squeal; he is just too damn cute.

Ghus plushie

But Ghüs is more than an adorable face. He has a down-to-earth personality, and he always tries to do right by his friends, even if it means putting his own life in danger. He’s a tough little guy. He’s not afraid of going up against characters who are way bigger than him, including dangerous Freelancers.

I cannot recommend Saga highly enough. Saga is the kind of comic book that transcends the concept of a comic book. It exceeds expectations without becoming snotty. It’s engaging, endearing, and exciting.

If you feel like you can’t approach comic books without having to read a million issues of back history before understanding characters, don’t worry about that with Saga. It is its own self-contained story.

And it is by far the best thing I am reading right now.

Thanks to All the Blogging People

When I first got this thing (yeah, I know, I still have trouble saying the word “blog”), I had no idea what to expect from the community of other bloggers. In fact, I had no clue that there was such a thing as a community of bloggers. I thought that I would just be writing regularly, scheduling posts and publishing them consistently, without any fuss or muss.

But there’s a level of interaction involved while writing a blog that I’m immensely glad I’ve discovered. (At least on WordPress there is. I don’t know if other sites are similar. I hope they are.) Not only am I getting my writing pushed out into the void, I get to read what other people are writing about too. I don’t mean to toot other people’s horns (I totally mean to), but there are some fantastic writers out there.

Looking at the setup of the average blog post, once you are done reading a post, you can like the post and write a comment. Initially, this frightened me. It was reminiscent of various social media platforms I use, and in those cases, the “comments sections” can be very toxic. People use anonymity as a shield as they hurl insults and viciously critique whatever it is you’re posting. And as a poor, sensitive writer/person with varying degrees of low self-esteem, I was dreading the day someone would come along and beat the shit out of what I had written.

But, amazingly, the people I’ve met while writing here have been nothing but kind. Working on this blog has shown me how wonderful social media could be if platforms were not constantly hounded by Internet Trolls. While I may not be raking in the “likes,” not a single person has been discouraging. Everyone has been the epitome of kindness.

And it’s making me feel all warm inside.

So here’s a short little post to anyone who happens to read this who is part of the blogging community. I can barely begin to express the gratitude I feel when I’m interacting with people on a day-to-day basis.

You guys are awesome. Seriously.

Good Book, Bad Video Game: Inferno Squad Book Review

Inferno Squad book cover

Last summer, I went to San Diego Comic Con, and while I was roaming the huge convention center, I noticed there was a booth close to the Star Wars section that was offering books. Ever the avid book reader and always the largest Star Wars fan, I went to investigate what they were selling.

Displayed on the table were copies of Battlefront II: Inferno Squad. Since I follow gaming news, I had of course heard of the latest Battlefront game EA was dumping on our doorsteps. The first Battlefront game they had churned out was a total disaster. I did not have high hopes for Battlefront II, even though they were actually including a story campaign for the game this time around.

Still, it wouldn’t be fair to this book, a prequel to Battlefront II, to extend my doubts about the game onto it. After a small moment staring at the cover, I purchased Inferno Squad and took it home.

Since I have a humongous reading list (books awaiting my perusal), I have not gotten around to finishing up Inferno Squad until now. So here is my review for the book. I will not bring up the events that happened in the video game (even though it was a sucky game) in my critique of the book.

It should be noted that a lot of what goes on in my review and in the book itself involves Star Wars stuff. If you don’t know Star Wars, you may feel a tad out of the loop.

So…

Inferno Squad was…interesting?

The book tells of the events that occur immediately after the destruction of the first Death Star. Whereas most Star Wars stories revolve around the heroes of the Jedi, Rebellion, or Resistance, Inferno Squad is centered on an elite team of Imperials who are tasked with undermining the Rebellion.

If that initial premise does not pique your interest, you, sir, are no Star Wars fan.

The main character is the leader of Inferno Squad, this team of bad-asses from the Empire. She’s called Iden Versio, and she’s the daughter of one of the head honchos of the Empire. Even though she totally believes in everything the Empire stands for, author Christie Golden makes her very likable. She’s driven by a desire to prove herself, to the world and to her father. She’s working for the bad guys, but she comes across as noble.

She and her squad are given an undercover assignment. They are sent to infiltrate a radical group of rebels known as the Dreamers. Once secure in their positions, they are to dismantle the Dreamers from the inside out. The real struggle occurs when Iden and her team start feeling sympathetic toward the people they are trying to destroy.

Iden’s squad all sound like diverse people, but they feel like cookie-cutter characters. Once you know their motivations, that’s kind of…it. There’s this one guy who’s the “nice guy” of the Squad. He has a knack for dealing with machinery. He’s the one who feels the most pity for the Dreamers, but nothing ever occurs that would put him on the spot in that regard. He never has to make a tough decision about his chosen morals. His character ends up feeling like a bit of a cop out.

Each chapter of Inferno Squad is engaging, even for a non-Star Wars fan. You know that feeling you can get when you’re reading, the feeling that a chapter is just dragging on? (Hey now, I’m a book lover too, but I can experience boredom and disinterest when reading a book just like anyone.) That never happened to me while I was reading Inferno Squad. Each page I turned actively led me on to the next one. I wanted to know what happened next, and Golden’s writing style helped me want to want to know what happened next.

Unfortunately, while each chapter separately holds up, the entire story ends up feeling a bit weak. Huge changes happen in Iden’s life when she agrees to infiltrate the Dreamers. The experience should change her. But since every chapter gears you to read on ahead, there’s never really a moment where you’re allowed to let events sink in. Neither Iden nor the reader are given the space to process the changes that have occurred.

However, despite the complaints I have made, Inferno Squad still makes for a good read.

I rate Battlefront II: Inferno Squad a Borrow-Once-From-A-Friend-And-Actually-Read-All-The-Way-Through-Before-Giving-It-Back.