Book Reviews

An older bestseller you may want to take a second look at

Michael Crichton’s 1969 book, The Andromeda Strain, focuses on the threat of biological dissemination – but not just any old threat – this bug, called Andromeda, comes from outer space.

When Neal Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first men to walk on the surface of the moon in 1969, many Americans feared that the Apollo XI mission would bring back to earth unknown infection, and Crichton used this fear to develop the premise for his book. Unlike their parents from the post-World War II generation, young people growing up in America during the 60s were not plagued constantly by an unrelenting fear of nuclear warfare. However, by drawing their attention to an entirely new kind of danger – and a very small one at that – Crichton’s book gave the upcoming 70s generation something to worry about.
You may be wondering if Crichton’s book is still pertinent today. I would say that it is, not only because biological warfare still remains a threat, but also because Crichton sets up another theme which is far more relevant to modern readers: technological advances and its impact on society. Even though the technology described in the book is not the most up-to-date, the overall theme remains clear: technology is like microorganisms in that computers and other electronic devices are capable of obtaining and spreading information instantaneously to other networks. The make-up of electronic systems is not very dissimilar to viruses, bacteria, and other germs in our bodies. With our growing reliance on technology, we are as concerned today as they were in the seventies of losing that part of us that makes us human – our capacity for moral judgment as well as our fallible nature.

If you’re looking for a gripping, fast-paced read that will make you think, this book is the perfect pick. It’s my favorite of Crichton’s – what’s yours?

Reviewed by: Whitney

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Add some short stories to your shelf!

A multidimensional collection of short stories about loss, running away, forgiveness, and resolution, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie, has so many soul-stirring moments that I wondered at points how it wasn’t real life.

The book is centered around the lives of Native Americans on the Spokane Indian reservation, with a particular focus on two completely different young men, Thomas Builds-the-Fire and Victor Joseph. Thomas is a story teller and a friendly soul, while Victor is moody and troubled by his childhood. On the surface, the book feels like a typical father-son story. Flashbacks from the past reveal Victor’s drunken father, Arnold Joseph, losing control, abusing his wife and son, and leaving home, never heard of again until his death. After receiving this news, Victor sets out on an odyssey with Thomas. Together, they venture forth to retrieve Arnold’s ashes. In the process, they uncover truths about Arnold and about themselves.

I’ll tell you, I’m a character reader. The main thing I look for in a good book is good characters, and this book has them. Believe me when I say you will FALL IN LOVE with Thomas and Victor and so many of the other secondary characters. By the end of the book, you feel like you’ve lived your whole life on the Spokane reservation, and these people are your family. And that’s the whole point, really. In writing this collection, Alexie meant to show how family ties can move far beyond blood and how those ties may be strengthened through trust and acceptance. Trust me when I say this is worth the quick read.

Reviewed by: Whitney

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Journey to self discovery with The Hours

Michael Cunningham’s novel, The Hours, tells the stories of three women from different time periods, Virginia Woolf, Laura Brown, and Clarissa Vaughn, all of whom feel burdened by the unclear roles they play in society and in their own lives. Each character sets for herself a goal that might provide a sense of purpose. These include writing a book, baking a cake, and hosting a party for a friend. While such tasks give them something to fill the hours in a day, they offer these women no real pleasure. They construct impenetrable walls around themselves, and over time, the walls have grown taller and have attracted vines, making it harder and harder for the women behind them to escape. The book effectively bares these feelings of imprisonment and captures perfectly the sense of liberation these women experience when they finally set themselves free.

The Hours is great literature. Not only does Cunningham tell a captivating story, but he writes it so beautifully and with so much detail and emotion that you feel completely transported into the minds and bodies of these women. It says from a review on the back cover of my copy: “If this book does not make you jump up from the sofa, looking at life and literature in new ways, check to see if you have a pulse.” I could not agree more. The book made me excited to get up and write, like Virginia Woolf must have felt after dreaming about a woman going to buy flowers (*Hint Hint: you won’t get my reference or much of this book if you haven’t read Mrs. Dalloway, Mrs. Woolf’s magnum opus – I recommend that you pick up both!).

Reviewed by: Whitney

Find this book at our store in the Fiction section!

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Travel back in time with Kindred

Octavia Butler’s award-winning novel, Kindred, tells the fictional story of Dana, a black woman from 1976, who unintentionally time travels to the antebellum South to meet her white ancestor, Rufus. Dana journeys back and forth between past and present, unable to control when she leaves, and comes as close as anyone to experiencing fully the life of a slave woman.

I highly recommend this book. I first read it for a speculative fiction class at WKU, and I have read it twice since. Although it definitely falls in the realm of science fiction with its use of time travel and reverse causality (the future having an effect on past events), it doesn’t really feel like sci-fi at all. It seems more like historical fiction to me – the type of story that brings the past to life. While reading this, I truly experienced the grim and harsh reality of slavery, and it made the antebellum South hard, plain, and true like no other novel or film has ever done. In this book, Butler uses a modern narrator with similar perceptions that we carry, and those modern perceptions drive our protagonist’s thoughts and actions, but they soon become blended in her mind with the sharpness of earlier times.

Kindred is an enticing read that will captivate your interest from the very first page and will keep you thinking about its messages long after you’re done reading. Don’t pass it up!

Reviewed by: Whitney

Find this book at our store in the Summer Reading section!

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