Books of January 2018

I liked the format of my Books of 2017 post, so I'm going to add a one liner before every book review, in the same form:

If you're interested in _________, then read _________

The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers
- Ben Horowitz

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If you're interested in Ben Horowitz's story or in his management tips, then read The Hard Thing about Hard Things. 

(this is from December, but I didn't write it until now, because I got tired after writing all those Vonnegut posts). Written by Ben Horowitz, cofounder of Opsware and now cofounder and general partner of a16z, The Hard Thing About Hard Things talks about how hard it is to run a company and be a CEO. It is half advice, and half autobiography backing up the advice.

My biggest takeaway from the book is more confirmation that I probably don't ever want to be a CEO, but I found it interesting and useful nonetheless, especially his advice/ thoughts on management and staffing and attitude. He covers a broad range of stuff in the book, like how to hire executives, how to fire friends, how to hire people from your friend's companies, when to sell your company, etc. Like most books in this genre, Horowitz has a very strong model for how he thinks a business should be run and what a good CEO looks like, and communicates that in a very functional and clear way (although it isn't what I'd really call good writing).

Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky

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If you're into a bunch of interesting, well thought out characters, or a particularly deep dive into a poor suffering soul, then read Crime and Punishment.

I read this book in LitHum in my freshman year at Columbia, but unfortunately because I was/am a shitter I only read like 6 chapters of it, and besides some random plot details I only remember spending something like an hour discussing the horse dream. Because I was supposed to have read this book already and am kind of vaguely familiar with it, I thought it would be a nice way to start my chunk of Russian literature. 

Crime and Punishment is centered around Raskolnikov, a poor Russian student in St. Petersburg. Raskolnikov is obsessed with figuring out whether he is what he calls a "Napoleon," someone who is able to break the law for the greater good and transcend crime and punishment, so he commits a crime (kills two people, not a spoiler) and then spends the rest of the book suffering through his punishment (legal, psychological, social, etc.)

The strongest part of the book is definitely its characters. There are a ton of great, detailed characters with wildly different personalities and motivations, and Dostoevsky does an especially deep dive into Raskolnikov's thoughts and mental state, which make the book a much more engaging experience. Admittedly, the book is a little slow in the beginning, but picks up after about 150, 200 pages when you get more into the characters (for me, right about when I started thinking Razumikhin was very awesome and Luzhin was very lame).

C&P is definitely very engaging and thoughtful, but I didn't find it very insightful and I thought the ending was a little abrupt and did not fit the rest of the story well. We discussed this as well in LitHum, but Dostoevsky was on a time crunch when he wrote C&P, which is maybe why the book is very cohesive and interesting but not revelatory. Also, while I liked the in-depth analysis of Raskolnikov's tortured psyche, he is honestly a pretty annoying and unsympathetic character. To be honest I enjoyed the book and I thought it was good, but I'm not sure why it's so respected in the Western canon. If you really love the book and think I'm an idiot please let me know.

Gamaran - Yousuke Nakamaru

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If you're looking for a fairly brainless, standard shounen with pretty standard shounen strengths and weaknesses, then read Gamaran

Gamaran is a very typical shounen manga, featuring a small but fast and deadly swordsman in a small martial arts school, who fights and kills a bunch of people to improve as a swordsman and to get revenge on his dad (with some minor differences that literally is the plot of a million stories and movies and mangas and animes).

It does what standard shounens do very well:

  • Characters are well designed. All the characters look different without looking very weird and not human, and they all use different weapons
  • Art is very good. Things I particularly like:
    - Energy and hype expressed well (think DBZ)
    - Many, many cool looking panels
    - Conveys motion very clearly, using big brush strokes to show arcs (path of a swinging sword, for example). Kingdom also does this very well, although Gamaran has less noisy panels with cleaner lines and less detail
  • Cliche cheesy lines and situations

It also doesn't do well what standard shounens don't do well: 

  • Characters are very one dimensional and not very interesting as characters. Not very clear why they do stuff besides "I WANNA BE THE STRONGEST"
  • There are many weird plot holes, especially in the final arc when something like 10 people fight a whole town's worth of soldiers and martial artists, and everyone that isn't fodder decides to mostly 1v1 instead of bum rushing them or even just shooting arrows from far away. Literally they pick the most terrible plan ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ 
  • Cliche cheesy lines and situations

Siddhartha - Hermann Hesse

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If you're interested in an insightful and thoughtful meditation on enlightenment then read Siddhartha.

Siddhartha is a fictional novel by Hesse about a man seeking enlightenment in the time of the historical Buddha. The title is a little misleading, but Siddhartha is not a factual or even fictional retelling of the Buddha's life- Siddhartha, the main character, is actually not the same person as Gautama, who is also in the story (even though the historical Buddha's original name was Siddhartha).

Siddhartha instead felt more like a very personal exploration of Hesse's philosophy, centered on the idea of the totality of experiences, meaning that enlightenment can only be achieved not through teachings but through experiencing things in their completeness, and understanding all of them as oneness. A friend mentioned the concern of Orientalism in a book about an Asian subject written by a German author, but I think Siddhartha is a very intimate and personal product of Hesse's experiences and engagement with Buddhist theosophy. It seems pretty clear to me that Hesse deeply respects these philosophical ideas, and Siddhartha feels much more like appreciation and inspiration than appropriation.

It is a very short book, with many poignant passages of self reflection. It is fairly easy to read but has some deep ideas. 

The End of Fashion: How Marketing Changed the Clothing Business Forever - Teri Agins

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Still good, 2nd time around! She is a fantastic writer and each chapter is a very interesting case study. 

Things Fall Apart - Chinua Achebe

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If you're interested in a well written modern African story, then read Things Fall Apart.

Things Fall Apart takes place in late 19th century Nigeria, and follows the story of Okonkwo, a leader in his village Umuofia. The first part of the book describes his personal life, his history, his family, and the customs and society of his people, and the latter half focuses on the influence British colonialism and Christian missionaries have on the Igbo society. 

The book is well written and a fairly easy read. The characters are complex and sympathetic, and I was able to understand and connect with them even though I know nothing about their beliefs, culture, and way of life. The story is interesting and engaging, and provides good commentary and context on imperialism and colonization, and most impressively, presents their customs and traditions very honestly, showing how they can be simultaneously important and also toxic.

The Book of Tea - Kakuzo Okakura

I didn't like this book and can't recommend it.

The Book of Tea introduces the philosophy Teaism and Japanese tea ceremonies. The main reason why I didn't like this book is because the author is so incredibly pompous, and makes all these grandiose statements without a lot of backing that seem ridiculous to accept at face value. He spends a lot of pages in a very small book talking down a lot of Western philosophy and aesthetics, which is ironic given his introduction lamenting that the West has ignored the learnings from the East. 

Some of the book was kinda interesting, like the part on tea room architecture and art appreciation in tea ceremonies, but most of it I already learned in class. Honestly I probably would've dropped it if it was longer than its 50 pages.

Stranger in a Strange Land - Robert A. Heinlein

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If you're interested in good, classic science fiction on society, religion, and happiness then read Stranger in a Strange Land.

Stranger in a Strange Land is about a man raised on Mars who returns to Earth, and is centered on his interaction with human philosophy, society, and religion and his trouble understanding and connecting with people as a Martian. This book used to be one of my favorite books in high school so I'm very sad about this, but on this reread I didn't like the book very much. 

I think there are two main reasons for this. The first (and major) reason is that I no longer agree with a lot of the ideas in the book, and actually find some of them very problematic. He makes a bunch of big claims about religion and art and society and human nature, very difficult and complex subjects, and presents them as obvious truisms, which I have a lot of problems with because for example, I don't think it's reasonable to dismiss all organized religions in a few paragraphs or even a few pages. He also has some very questionable views on homosexuality, masculinity, and rape, and in parts of the book he feels uncomfortably sexist. The second, semi related reason is I find Jubal very annoying. One of the main characters in the book, Jubal Harshaw is the grumpy and very cynical but very smart old man in the book. I thought he was so brilliant the first time I read the book, but a lot of the stuff I disagree with is said by Jubal (who probably is the mouthpiece of the author), and he's so pompous and certain about himself that it pisses me off.

The crux of the book is driven by an attempt to examine ourselves from a completely alien perspective which is a very interesting premise, and it's still a pretty decent book; I'm just disappointed because I remembered it so fondly.

Basketball (and Other Things): A Collection of Questions Asked, Answered, and Illustrated
- Shea Serrano

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If you're into basketball or Shea Serrano (everyone should be, he's funny and amazing and I want to be his friend), then read Basketball (and Other Things)

I loved The Rap Year Book so much I decided to read a book about basketball, something I don't know or care very much about. Because of that I didn't enjoy the book as much as The Rap Year Book (a subject I enjoy very much) and I skimmed some parts of the book and missed some important context that would've made some chapters way more interesting (like who Patrick Ewing or Scottie Pippen are). 

Nonethless, Shea Serrano is funny and amazing and the best, and I still enjoyed the book immensely, so if you even remotely like basketball you should definitely read it, and if you don't like basketball you should still read it because Shea is that great. I aspire to be as funny and awesome as he is.

Some of my favorite chapters in the book include:

  • Which Dunks are in the Disrespectful Dunk Hall of Fame?
  • Was Kobe Bryant a Dork? (And Also: How Many Years During His Career Was the Best Player in the League?)
  • Am I Allowed to _____ During Pickup Basketball?
  • How Do Player's Legacies Change if We Change Their Name?
    (examples include Michael Jordan to Morgan Jordan, Kevin Durant to Keith Durant, Lebron James to Lebron Jones, and my favorite, James Harden to John Harder, action movie star)
  • What's the Plot for Death Hammer 2: Hammergeddon? (my favorite chapter)
    This is the plot for the fake movie that John Harder (James Harden) directs and acts in.

Brave New World - Aldous Huxley

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If you are interested in a more worryingly realistic dystopia than 1984, and if you want to read the most impassioned defense of unhappiness I've ever read, then read Brave New World.

I read this book I think in my senior year of high school and it very strongly influenced me then and who I am now. Brave New World takes place in an alternate world where people are engineered and created in artificial wombs, and separated from conception into predetermined classes (Alphas, the highest caste, to Epsilons, who are stunted mentally and physically and do menial labor). Every aspect of life, from work to entertainment, is closely controlled by the government not through violence and force but through brain washing and a soothing drug called soma

Perhaps the best encapsulation of the dystopia Huxley creates is in Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman.

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny "failed to take into account man's almost infinite appetite for distractions." In 1984, Orwell added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we fear will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we desire will ruin us.

I won't go into it here but I think that those same ideas, our "almost infinite appetite for distractions" and "what we desire will ruin us" are also a big part of Infinite Jest.

What makes the book good is its technical aspects. The writing is eloquent and smooth, making for a pretty easy read, and the characters are diverse and really help expound Huxley's ideas. I especially like how he uses roughly 4 different types of characters to make his point about society and purpose very clear: there's Bernard, the different but cowardly psychologist, there's John, the "savage" who grew up away from civilization reading Shakespeare, there's Helmholtz, the tall, very popular man who feels a lack of strength in his writing, and everyone else, happily addicted to soma and their place in society.

What makes the book great is chapter 17, when John, speaking with the Controller Mustapha Mond, discusses the sacrifices society has made to be "civilized" and peaceful, and John makes the most brilliant and convincing argument for unhappiness and suffering I have ever read: (if you're going to read the book and you haven't before, I recommend skipping this part, because the build-up and that entire chapter is literary gold)

"But I don't want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin."

"In fact," said Mustapha Mond, "you're claiming the right to be unhappy."

"All right then," said the Savage defiantly, "I'm claiming the right to be unhappy."

"Not to mention the right to grow old and ugly and impotent; the right to have syphilis and cancer; the right to have too little to eat; the right to be lousy; the right to live in constant apprehension of what may happen to-morrow; the right to catch typhoid; the right to be tortured by unspeakable pains of every kind." There was a long silence.

"I claim them all," said the Savage at last.

Holy cow that is phenomenal.

And Then There Were None - Agatha Christie

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If you're into a creepy and very fun murder mystery that's actually suspenseful then read And Then There Were None

I read books for one of three reasons: for personal enrichment, to learn stuff, or just for entertainment. And Then There Were None falls very squarely into the third category. It is about 10 stranger gathered on an island under different pretexts, each of whom are complicit in some crime that they cannot be legally punished for, and over the course of a few days, each die in ways parallel to a nursery rhyme. 

The book is pretty short (read it in one sitting) and very easy to read. It is very fun and satisfying and manages to stay engaging throughout, and I actually had no idea who did it until the big reveal at the end (although I'm always very bad at guessing). 

Assassination Classroom - Yusei Matsui

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If you're interested in a fun gag manga with a very thoughtful message on education and potential, then read Assassination Classroom. It also manages to be surprisingly heartwarming. 

Assassination Classroom takes place in a middle school in Japan, where students are divided into 5 classes (A to E, ranked by performance). Class E, the "worst" students of the school, serve as motivation for  the other students to study and not be sent to Class E, where they study in a dilapidated classroom isolated on a mountain. In the same year, a large, humanoid octopus creature with tentacles blows up 70% of the moon, and threatens to do the same to Earth in a year. The only way to stop him is to assassinate him, and the best chance is in Class E, where he becomes their homeroom teacher, and the students learn regular subjects like math, Japanese, history, and English along with assassination.

The premise is definitely pretty goofy, and as a gag manga it's very good. It does a couple of important things well:

  • It's generally pretty tough to make an entire classroom of characters look and feel different, but it wasn't too hard to tell the students apart, especially because each student is different in their strengths, weaknesses, and motivation.
  • Very related to this is character design, especially for Korosensei, who is literally a big yellow blob with tentacles and a smile that spans his entire face. 
  • The panels of assassination attempts are really well drawn. They mostly center on one person, focus on their face, depict aura well, and eliminate most of the background which amplifies the person's presence and makes the scene very tense. 
  • There's a lot of fun and funny parts of the manga, like Korosensei (the big octopus teacher)'s various weaknesses (gets embarrassed easily, juicy gossip, succumbs to road rage) and some of the assassination plots (putting a bomb in the middle of a giant pudding). 

As a manga though, the one thing that makes Assassination Classroom great is that it has a very clear message and a theme that the story services. Assassination Classroom is the clash of two ideals- the belief that people are fixed and inherently different in abilities, and the belief that all people have potential to improve and change. The former is manifested in the teaching style of the principal, who split the students into 5 classes, and the latter is manifested by Korosensei, who teaches the students of Class E who no longer believe in themselves that they can still accomplish anything that they want. In an Asian culture where grades often determine their entire lives, the message that you are more than your grades and you can always change for the better is a very important one. 

Let me reiterate, because I think this is amazing: in a manga where a bunch of middle school kids regularly shoot the homeroom teacher (who is a giant yellow octopus and can move at mach 20) with assault rifles during roll call, Assassination Classroom manages to still be a thoughtful and positive manga. 

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone - J.K. Rowling

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If you haven't read Harry Potter please read Harry Potter. 

I started thinking about Harry Potter again recently because my roommate Greg told me he never read Harry Potter, and decided to read the entire series again because I was concurrently reading Lolita and J.K. Rowling seemed like a pretty nice, easy complement to Nabokov.

I don't know anyone else besides Greg who hasn't read Harry Potter before or at least seen the movies, but Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is about a kid who learns that he is a wizard, leaves his horrible uncle and aunt, and goes to a wizarding school somewhere in Great Britain. 

I love Harry Potter and grew up reading Harry Potter. I've reread Harry Potter many many times over the years (it's been 17 years since?) and I am very happy that even now I still really enjoy reading the series. Book 1 is good for several reasons:

  • It's well written. Book 1 is both interesting and easy to understand for kids as well as enjoyable for adults. 
  • The story is fun, appropriately tense, and immensely satisfying. Harry learning how to fly, Neville standing up to his friends, Hagrid busting in the door to give Harry a cake... super fun to read.
  • The characters are likable. For example, everyone loves when Hermione, Harry, and Ron become friends, because it's fucking cute. 

While good, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is only the precursor to the impressive universe that J.K. Rowling eventually builds out and the wonderful breadth and depth of characters that she develops. This is not to say the characters are not done well- really quickly, you learn to love Hagrid, admire Dumbledore, and hate Malfoy, but the character development and growth that made me feel like I grew up with the students at Hogwarts is not yet there. It is a simple, short, and easy to read and enjoy introduction to her masterpiece.

Some miscellaneous thoughts:

  • Only on this reread did I realize how brutally unfair the points system is. Dumbledore literally waits until the Slytherins have their banners up in the Great Hall before rewarding the exact number of points Gryffindor needs to beat Slytherin. How fucked up is that?
  • A very consistent theme gets developed in Book 1: Harry, Ron, and Hermione discover some half facts, draw some very wrong conclusions, and then gets in a lot of danger, sometimes completely unnecessarily. 

Mob Psycho 100 - ONE

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If you're interested in a very cute and funny manga about accepting yourself featuring a ridiculously overpowered but very nice kid, then read Mob Psycho 100.

Mob Psycho 100 is a Japanese webcomic made by ONE, the same guy who was the initial author & artist of One Punch ManMob Psycho 100 is kind of similar in the sense that it also features an unbelievably OP protagonist, this time Shigeo Kageyama, a student at Salt Middle School. Although he looks like a very average kid (his nickname is Mob, i.e. background character), he is actually a very powerful esper. Because Mob is scared of hurting others with his power, he suppresses his emotions to keep his powers under control, but when the percentage of his accumulated feelings reaches 100%, he is overcome by the strongest emotion he is feeling at the time and fully unleashes his power. 

Probably the most immediately noteworthy thing about Mob Psycho 100 (and also the original One Punch Man webcomic) is how bad the art is. The characters are all lumpy and misproportioned, and facial features are abstracted to their most basic. However, the art style is very consistent, and while not very polished or precise, never really detracts from the manga. On the contrary, I think it actually adds to the charm of the manga, and works because ONE doesn't always take himself very seriously (as a counterexample, I cannot imagine Bleach in the same style; it would look so fucking stupid).

Mob Psycho 100 is also very funny. Dimple the spirit looks like a cloud with bright red rouge on his cheeks, Reigen is a psychic without any powers who throws salt and gives massages during his consultations, Mob unwittingly becomes the leader of a gang and the head of a cult... everything in the manga is just ridiculous.

What I liked most about Mob Psycho 100 though is Mob himself. Mob is a very unique protagonist- he has a lot of power but doesn't see his power as anything special. Instead, he treats everyone with respect, works hard to improve himself, and genuinely cares for those around him. He is a little oblivious, but that's part of his charm- there is just something very endearing about a 8th grader with enough psychic power to destroy multiple buildings struggling to train in the Body Improvement Club to impress his crush. He also has dope helmet hair. 

I especially loved the ending (special shout out to the non cliche middle school crush subplot), and the last panel of Mob Psycho 100 is some of the most wholesome shit I've ever read in any manga ever. 

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets - J.K. Rowling

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In Book 2 the Chamber of Secrets opens, a bunch of students get hurt, and Harry Potter saves the day. The book is pretty much the same as Book 1, just with a different plot (same characters, same fun wizarding world!!!). The big difference is that it is a little scarier than Book 1, and I remember being really fucked up by bathrooms as a kid because of this book and a deep misconception that the grudge (from the movies) came out of the toilet and not the well. Between the two I only felt comfortable taking a shower, and even then I was scared of getting snuck up on while I was washing my hair with my eyes closed. :-( 

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban - J.K. Rowling

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Book 3 starts to feel a little bit different from the first two books, mostly because the adventure doesn't wrap up very neatly and nicely at the end of the day, and Harry is saving someone instead of stopping nefarious plots. The good things about the series remain the good things here, but this is the least favorite of the first 3 Harry Potter books because of the time turner. I think introducing time travel in general is very iffy, and it generally just makes for massive plot holes.

Lupin is awesome though.

Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov

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If you're interested in style, flair, and beautiful English wrapping some truly abhorrent things, then read Lolita.

The fictional memoir of Humbert Humbert, written in prison while awaiting a murder trial, Lolita is the lovingly sordid story of Humbert and Dolores Haze, privately nicknamed Lolita. Obsessed with what he calls "nymphets," 9-14 year old girls, Humbert falls in love and becomes sexually involved with Lolita, who is 12 when they meet. 

The content of the book is obviously pretty fucked up, and Humbert Humbert is very clearly a terrible person, but part of the charm in the book is that despite being horrified by Humbert and Lolita, Nabokov makes you admire how he writes and understand Humbert. I didn't enjoy the book as much as I thought I would though, mostly because I had a really hard time getting through the book and staying consistently interested. While Humbert was a unique character, you spend a lot of time in his head in the book (it is his self narrated memoir, after all), and unfortunately a lot of times I just found him annoying. Because of that, I felt like the book moved a little slowly, and while it's interesting to read about Humbert silently obsessing and anguishing over Lolita, chapters and chapters of it start to drag on. I think for similar reasons I didn't love Crime and Punishment; I just tend to find fancy wordplay and writing for the sake of itself kind of boring. 

To be fair though, I was really tired the two weeks I was reading Lolita and reading Nabokov's flowery and flamboyant style is very hard if you can't completely focus on his writing, plus it's very easy to miss a bunch of the allusions he makes in Lolita. There's a book that catalogs and notes most of the references in Lolita called The Annotated Lolita which I think would be interesting, but nonetheless I am definitely going to read it again sometime, next time hopefully more carefully. If you love Lolita and think I'm an idiot please let me know, I'd love to know why you liked the book. 

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire - J.K. Rowling

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In high school my friend rewatched all the Harry Potter films and remarked that The Goblet of Fire is when Emma Watson becomes very hot. While this is a weird observation, in a similar sense Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire marks a good halfway point for the series, when the series becomes a lot darker and shifts into more serious content. For example, Book 4 opens and closes with deaths, and (spoilers Greg please don't read this) Moody gets trapped in his trunk for 9 months, Barty Crouch gets put under the Imperius Curse for months and then gets killed by his son, Cedric gets murdered, and Lord Voldemort comes back to his full powers. Because they take place after Voldemort comes to power, Books 5-7 feel wholly different from Books 1-3, and 4 is an important segue way between them. 

Although it's changed a little in structure, story wise Book 4 is still very good, and the Quidditch World Cup + the Triwizard Tournament were very fun and exciting to read. It's also nice to have a lot of new characters introduced, especially with all the new students from Beauxbaton and Durmstrang. 

An interesting observation: when I first read the series I took a more Ron & Harry stance towards Hermione on S.P.E.W. and house elves ("haha Hermione is so crazy") but now that I'm a little older I'm a little more aware of how fucked up some of the stuff in the wizarding world is. 

Titus Andronicus - William Shakespeare

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If you're interested in a satisfying but very gruesome revenge play, and you want to read some early Shakespeare, then read Titus Andronicus

Titus Andronicus, set in latter day Rome, tells the story of the cycle of revenge between Roman general Titus Andronicus and Tamora, the Queen of the Goths. It is Shakespeare's first tragedy, and also the first of his plays I read in my Shakespeare class at Columbia. It was one of my least favorite plays of the ones I read in class, and is generally regarded as one of his worst plays, but there's a bunch of interesting stuff going on in Titus Andronicus that I really like:

  • Shakespeare is very interested in pivotal moments, and is restless in exploring the contemporary pressures and anxieties of his time. Issues like succession, racism, and definitions of community drive the action in Titus Andronicus, and continue to come up over and over again in his plays.
  • For me, in class, it was the first time I realized how important it is that Shakespeare wrote plays to be acted & watched and not novels to be read. There are a million different ways to direct and act out his works, and they are different in incredibly significant ways. For example, some questions that completely change the play: does Lucius get support from everyone or just his uncle Marcus? Does Aaron's child live or die? Does a Roman or a Goth say "let Rome be a bane unto herself?" 
  • The subtle differences are also very striking, making each production of the same Shakespearea play completely different. My professor told a story about a play where Lavinia gags reflexively in horror when she is writing the names' of her rapists in the sand with a stick, because she is triggered by the stick in her mouth.

The Musical Artistry of Rap - Martin Connor

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If you like rap and are interested in an in depth analysis of rap from a music theory perspective, then read The Musical Artistry of Rap.

This is the second book I've given up on because I found it too hard :-(. I know very little about music theory, and in the book he talks a ton about traditional Western music theory and creates his own deviation of it to archive and discuss rap. It went way over my head but if you're into that kind of stuff I'm 100% sure you'll enjoy it; he seems very knowledgeable and it's clear that he really likes rap. 

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix - J.K. Rowling

 I know this doesn't fit with the other covers but I don't care because this is the version I had when I was a kid.

I know this doesn't fit with the other covers but I don't care because this is the version I had when I was a kid.

Harry Potter 5 is where the series completely changes and feels very different, but the things I like about the series still hold, with two differences (one good, one bad). The good is that Book 5 has the most exciting climax out of all the books so far, and the rush to the Department of Mysteries, fighting the Death Eaters, Neville shouting Dubbledore (so funny), Sirius dying, Voldemort and Dumbledore dueling, and Fudge realizing he's an idiot is all very exciting stuff. The bad is that a lot of characters are profoundly stupid in Book 5, most of all Harry and Dumbledore. The former is surly most of the year (understandably, but still annoyingly so), ends up not practicing Occlumency, and gets tricked into a death trap, and the latter completely ignores Harry witohut explaining anything to him despite the fact that Harry gets in trouble every year because of his strong convictions in the wrong information. 

Book 5 gets bonus points though for having one of my favorite Ron stories:

'Well, we were always going to fail that one,' said Ron gloomily as they ascended the marble staircase. He had just made Harry feel rather better by telling him how he had told the examiner in detail about the ugly man with a wart on his nose in his crystal ball, only to look up and realize he had been describing his examiner's reflection.