In which we subtly brag about how well-read we are
Now that summer is upon us, we here at Teen Skepchick thought we would put together a summer reading list, full of some of our favorite books. Believe me, the list is not exhaustive. It was certainly a chore for us to narrow our recommendations down to two or three. We have everything: novels, essays, nonfiction, humor, sci-fi, philosophy and a lot more. Hopefully you’ll find something you enjoy. And feel free to leave your own suggestions in the comments!
Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, by David Sedaris
Honestly, you can’t go wrong with any book by David Sedaris. I picked this personal essay collection only because it was the first I read of his, and I vividly remember laughing until tears streamed down my face. I am not exaggerating. Read it especially when your family is driving you crazy.
The Discworld series, by Terry Pratchett
First of all, I’m not generally a fan of straight fantasy. I see a woman in a flowing robe wearing a crystal headband and riding a dragon on a book cover, and my snark-o-meter starts spinning wildly. So it took me a long time to finally give in and read The Color of Magic, the first book in the Discworld series. When I did, I bought the next several books in the series knowing I would need to read the next one as soon as I finished the one before. Terry Pratchett is hilarious, inventive, and irreverent. And he actually made his own sword in real life. Seriously.
How to Think about Weird Things: Critical Thinking for the New Age, by Theodore Schick, Jr., and Lewis Vaughn
This is my favorite book on the basics of critical thinking using examples that range from the paranormal and pseudoscience to miracle cures and, of course, Big Foot. I first read the third edition from the library, and it was so incredibly useful, I purchased the fourth edition as a frequently used reference.
Calculating God, by Robert J Sawyer
Set in Toronto (maybe the greatest city ever? jk! calm down!) this sci-fi follows a dying scientist as he has ethical, historical and scientific talks with an alien who has come to Earth to learn about prehistoric species. It is strangely realistic and leaves you with some interesting questions about God and the universe.
Little Princes, by Connor Grennan
A true story based on the author’s personal experiences in an orphanage in Nepal. It outlines a totally terrifying and strange world of child trafficking and pure bravery (by both Connor and the children). Do not read if you want to avoid the urge to go save some children’s lives.
Year of Living Biblically, by A.J Jacobs
This book is a total riot. It outlines some of the weirdest rules of the bible as the author attempts to live 100% by all the rules for an entire year (including the stoning of adulterers). It gives an interesting insight to the world of religion accompanied by on man’s personal journey with religion.
Protector of the Small quartet, by Tamora Pierce
Keldry is a young noble girl in the world of Tortall. She should be with her mother, learning to be a proper lady and wife. But Kel has other ideas: she wants to be a knight. And she’s going to show the world she can do it. This fantasy series is my favorite of Tamora Pierce’s work, with strong female characters, a believable world, and a realistic look at one individual’s growth from tomboy to lady knight.
Ender’s Game and sequels, by Orson Scott Card
I know, this is a classic. Everyone should read this book. I don’t care if you don’t like sci-fi; the Ender series is fantastic. And Ender’s Game is one of my favorites. It explores the life of a genius child turned soldier on this space station, and the moral qualms that we face in that situation. As the series continues, it also explores moral, political, religious, and personal developments on Ender’s “squadron”. It’s absolutely a book that will make you think.
Shade’s Children, by Garth Nix
If you liked Ender’s Game, then you’ll probably like this as well. It’s a dark sci-fi, so might not be ideal for younger readers. It’s set in a future, post-apocalyptic society, where nearly no one lives past the age of 13. People are not born to live a life… they’re born for parts. So, where do you go if you escape? To Shade, who’s got a plan to change the world forever.
The Call of the Weird, by Louis Theroux
An exploration of extreme American subcultures from the perspective of British journalist Louis Theroux. He explores communities such as Neo-Nazis and UFO believers, as well as many others. This book is an open minded -but not blindly accepting- look at “weird” beliefs
His Dark Materials trilogy, by Philip Pullman
Three epic fantasy novels exploring the idea of parallel dimensions, magic, power and religion through the eyes of a young woman called Lyra and her “pet” Pantaleimon. Laced throughout the fantasy is a touching coming-of-age story; relevant regardless of which dimension you’re living in!
The Second Sex, by Simone de Beauvoir
This book is a little dense, and only for the brave of heart among teenagers. If you don’t have at least a basic knowledge of Freud, you might want to do a little research before you plunge into de Beauvoir. However for those who do venture into the philosophical and theoretical territory of gender, this book pays off like nobody’s business. It leaves you feeling like you know what you’re talking about when it comes to gender politics, history, mythology and theory. And it’s fascinating.
Rain of Gold, by Victor Villasenor
This book is the story of the author’s parents and their journey to the US from Mexico. It was my favorite book throughout all of grade school and junior high, well into high school. The writing is witty and rich, the characters are amazing, and the story is remarkable for its truth.
Paper Towns, by John Green
John Green is a wonderful teen author, and more than that a wonderful author. On the surface his stories seem like average teen stories of love, self discovery, etc. But John Green has a remarkable ability to interweave an amazing amount of philosophy, literature and random knowledge into something that creates a true picture of humanity in its own way. Paper towns is about people. That’s all I can really say, but isn’t that enough?
Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close, by Jonathan Safran Foer.
A very sweet book about Oscar Schell, a nine-year-old amateur inventor, jewelry designer, astrophysicist, tambourine player and pacifist who lost his father in 9/11. Full of textual experiments, this book is both heart-breaking and delightful.
The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood
I had a minor obsession with dystopic fiction in High School, and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale is one of my absolute favourites. Set in a theocratic society where women are reduced to their reproductive organs, it might seem a bit paranoid, but it is excellent and powerful literature.
Half Empty by David Rakoff
If you’re tired of inspirational life stories, read this book. Now. You’ll find no saccharine-coated tales here. Professional pessimist and humorist David Rakoff is tired of inane sunshiney dispositions and explores the power of negative thinking.
Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell
American history buff and This American Life contributor explores the first three presidential assassinations – Lincoln, Garfield and McKinley – through pilgrimages to national monuments, grave sites and everything in between. Vowell’s irrepressible snark and dry humor puts a delightful spin on an otherwise slightly morbid obsession.
Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
I can’t believe no one else has recommended a Neil Gaiman book! This is one of the more engaging books I’ve read in a long time. It follows protagonist Richard Mayhew, who is sucked in the world of “London Below” after helping an injured and enigmatic woman called Door. The world Gaiman creates is so vivid and full of life that I found myself wanting to hop a plane to Heathrow for a chance to glimpse the incredible market of London Below. It is one of those books that makes me truly sad when it is over.
Update! June 27, 2011
Crime and Punishment, by Fyodor Dostoevsky
If you’re looking for a not-exactly-light-reading albeit totally worthwhile tome, check out Crime and Punishment and bring it along for a transcontinental flight. Dostoevsky questions the very idea that pure philosophy, even if it is in part scientific or mathematically based, can create a moral system. Dostoevsky poses a relevant question for the secular to ask themselves today as well as creating an engrossing psychological drama.
The Professor, by Charlotte Brontë
Perhaps Charlotte Brontë’s least critically acclaimed work, The Professor is not without intellectual merit. If dramatic, suspenseful plotlines are what you seek, you should know that in this novel Charlotte was going for, uh, realism (which, according to the back of the book, in itself challenged novel-writing conventions of the time, and I suppose today as well), but if you can delight in the mere quality of prose, and the empowering female protagonist who doles out a great deal of wit, literary references, and insists upon continuing to work after marriage to earn wages comparable to her husband (quite the blossoming feminist), The Professor is worth the short read.
Dinosaur in a Haystack, by Stephen J. Gould
In this collection of essays (which I’m currently halfway through) Gould discusses subjects ranging from Hollywood perverting the theme of science and morality in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, to Victorian botanists who challenged the patriarchy through creationism. The read is just as enjoyable for science nerds who dabble in literature, as it is for literature nerds fond of science.
Featured image credit: Horia Varlan