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My reading goal last year was ridiculous, I admit. I wanted to read 50 books in the year 2016 in a burst of driven enthusiasm. I ended up reading 45. I want to be clear that this was only accomplished by choosing slimmer books with smaller page counts and I’ve gone in the complete opposite direction for this year’s goal, choosing a mere 10 books, in order to allow myself to read longer books at a slower pace.

There were many noteworthy books that I read in this challenge and I would like to share them and hopefully inspire a few people to pick up a title or two. I purchase the majority of my books on Amazon, seeking out used copies that cost between $1.00-7.00, meaning that with delivery the books tended to cost me between $5.00-15.00. It was very workable and I hope you can also locate these books for similarly cheap prices.

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson 

Bryan Stevenson is a lawyer and founder and executive director of the Eqjustmercyual Justice Initiative, a non-profit organization that provides legal representation to individuals who have been wrongly convicted of crimes, those who cannot afford representation, and those who have been denied a fair trial. He is especially focused on individuals who face the death penalty and young people with long, harsh sentences. In this book, he talks about his experiences working in the criminal justice system as a lawyer who takes these kinds of cases. Even more specifically, he looks at racial bias in the justice system and how it disproportionately harms the poor. The humane and empathetic look at criminals who suffer enormously in our current system makes this is a necessary read. Also, his overarching message is very important for those worrying about the upcoming four years: he acknowledges how defeated he has felt, working on a never-ending mountain of tough cases that appear hopeless, but states that rather than give up, he has found it essential to maintain hope — how useful hope is, that it must be nurtured, and that great good can be done if one can hold onto it.

Chronicles of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquezchronicles

This novel has the rich and vivid language found in Marquez’s other novels (other than his journalistic News of a Kidnapping) coupled with a narrative that is essentially a mystery story: how did a young man’s murder unfold? Or, more importantly, if everyone knew the murder was going to take place, why did no one stop it from happening? The narrative is fun, looking at the events of that day from numerous perspectives, an atmosphere of absurdity and whimsy surrounding the entire affair. Your mileage may vary, but this has become one of my favorite Marquez novels, and I’ve nearly read them all at this point. It’s also a rather quick read.

Substitute: Going to School With a Thousand Kids by Nicholson Baker

This book was not largely well-received. This is reflected in its Goodsubstitutereads rating. I can understand where this comes from: to start, teachers are an ornery group, often talked over by people who don’t know anything about education, often pressed underneath the system’s feet. Also, this book has an older white man who is a writer and not a teacher documenting his every day while substitute teaching for a month in a school district. There’s a lot to disagree with in this set-up. However, speaking as someone who was a classroom teacher and has stepped back into a substitute teacher role after moving to a different state, his observations are often relevant and worth reading. Many times, they were not dissimilar to things I have thought. Although he is largely ignorant of the dynamics within education, I enjoyed reading this book and I think his perspective as an outsider is not without value. You may want to couple this book with a Jonathan Kozol book, however, or at least some book written by an actual educator.

The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemiquantumthief

This science-fiction novel is the first of three and I admit that I’ve only read this first part and have yet to make time for the other two. However, even without continuing with the storyline in the next installments, the society-building in Rajaniemi’s novel is fascinating. The plot might seem a little cheesy at first, with a Puss-in-Boots style thief that naturally outsmarts nearly everyone around him, but Rajaniemi makes it work well and the society he envisions on Mars, in the Moving City of Oubliette, is an amazing concoction of futuristic technology, complex government control, subcommunities and their function, and privacy and social engineering — it’s really unique. If you’re a fan of world building and science fiction, this is worth checking out.

The Art of Communicating by Thich Nhat Hanhhanh

Hanh is a Zen Master and this book is a quick and easy read thanks to his succinct and brief writing style. Hanh has many books on zen and compassion and this one focuses specifically on how to listen with compassion in order to communicate effectively. His message is simple and repetitive, but I found the simplicity of the message extremely applicable to my every day interactions with other people. He talks of writing, speaking and listening as a form of consumption, and as consuming unhealthy food inevitably harms us, consuming toxic speech also harms us. He presents compassion as a useful tool. He gives examples of how practicing compassionate speech (and compassionate listening) can work in different kinds of environments. I found myself re-reading certain useful passages months after completing it.

The Plague by Albert Camusplague

I picked up this book in the oppressive heat of last summer. My god, the environment in which I read this book made its contents weigh even more heavily upon my imagination. This book takes place in the African coastal city of Oran, which Camus also wrote about in his essay The Minotaur, during a period of plague that sweeps through the urban center. The story follows several characters, one a doctor, as they pass through the rise and fall of the plague, quarantined from their loved ones, experiencing profound suffering, ennui, entrapment, compassion, death and self-deceit. Camus tends to explore the same themes of death and ultimate meaning and absurdism in all his work, so those themes are present here as well.

 

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“You’re the best damn partner I ever had, Triceracop.”

Contrary to the title, it turns out that the raptors are loyal. Incredibly loyal. The movie Jurassic World (2015) had me doubting them for a little while, made me question the integrity of all velociraptors, but they did indeed manage to come through in the end.

If the T-Rex is the poster boy for the entire Jurassic franchise, then it’s also true to say that the raptors have been a secondary lead in the previous installments. This makes the ending of Jurassic World make a little sense, when it comes to contributing to existing content. Other than that, it doesn’t make any sense at all. A T-Rex somehow communicating with some raptors to take out the true Big Bad? Yeah… okay. I guess it is some sort of interesting inverse of the ending of the original movie. And when I imagine people sitting around a table and figuring out what another Jurassic movie needs, I can see them going, “What if the raptors and the T-Rex teamed up to fight an enemy? HOW AWESOME WOULD THAT BE? HOW COOL WOULD THAT BE?” And so, a certain script was made. And it is ridiculous, but kind of awesome, and kind of cool. I mean, I did get excited when Claire came up with a plan and I realized that it would involve the T-Rex. The excitement managed to allow me to enjoy what was going on, despite the fact that Claire sucked, and she was outrunning the King of all dinosaurs in heels.

The humans in the movie are worth less attention than these dinos. I don’t think I liked a single character in this movie. The character Owen Grady played by Chris Pratt was more comparable to Kung Fury than Dr. Alan Grant. The park’s operations manager Claire, played by Bryce Dallas Howard, is horrible and annoying. There’s a painful sexual interest between the two, and an equally painful scene near the beginning where Claire is trying to do her job and Owen suggests they discuss the topic—in his bungalow.

Sexual harassment! Always endearing and hilarious.

Kids are always annoying in films, because kids in general are just plain annoying, but there’s something especially grating about Gray and Zach. There’s a particular scene that acts as a pathetic attempt at character development for these two brothers, where the younger one starts weeping and going on about how their parents were getting divorced, and the older one talks about how now they’ll have two Christmases.

First, when the parents are shown earlier, there is no apparent tension between the two. Second, the divorce is never mentioned again throughout the entire film. Nothing else really happens in this scene either—it’s pointless, and forces you to look at the little boy’s weird mouth contortion that happens every time he cries in the movie (he cries a lot, until the dinosaurs start attacking—then it’s all bro hugs and smiles).

When it comes to the CEO of the park, Simon Masrani, I… think that the viewers are supposed to admire him as he dies? He’s trying to save people—I think? Really, the man looks like an idiot the entire time. And the villain, Vic Hoskins, is definitely skeezy, but the skeeziness is so over the top he’s more like a cartoon villain than anything.

As for the violence, I don’t find it particularly noteworthy. I didn’t find Zara’s death excessively cruel, unlike some others, though it is the worst death in the film. It’s not really much worse than Richard Schiff’s death in The Lost World (being ripped in half by two T-Rexes), despite the perspective difference. I don’t believe that one should expect a predictable death formula in a film, a death that is attached to some moral concept. Some people’s deaths are going to be worse, some are going to be better. The deaths might be too much for some children, but if a parent takes their kids to a movie about dinosaurs on the loose and doesn’t expect there to be some violent deaths, then they weren’t really thinking things through.

The original movie is a classic. Everything that came after it has been using its predecessor’s status as a classic to make money off some dinosaurs. The first two movies at least have Michael Crichton books as some source material, but this is what happens when writers come together to capitalize off people’s memories of prior films. If you want to see dinosaurs fight and rampage, this is a good movie to see. If you want some quality storytelling, then you might just want to watch the original Jurassic Park with surround sound and a big screen television.

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