This year, the team at Sub Stances has been busy writing articles, traveling and working - but we’ve also been doing some reading of our own. Throughout the year, each of us has traveled to and from different countries with a book in tow. It was a tough call, but after talking amongst ourselves, we’ve come up with four books that we felt were the best books we read last year. So what have we been reading? Check out our top four from below (and don’t forget to add them to your Amazon wishlists!)
Josephine Bush: 1984 by George Orwell
The year 1984 has come and gone, but George Orwell's prophetic, nightmarish vision in 1949 of the world we were becoming is timelier than ever. 1984 is still the great modern classic of "negative utopia" -a startlingly original and haunting novel that creates an imaginary world that is completely convincing, from the first sentence to the last four words. No one can deny the novel's hold on the imaginations of whole generations, or the power of its admonitions -a power that seems to grow, not lessen, with the passage of time.
Gabriella Gricius: All the President’s Men by Carl Bernstein
Published just months before President Nixon’s resignation, All the President’s Men revealed the full scope of the scandal and introduced for the first time the mysterious “Deep Throat.” Beginning with the story of a simple burglary at Democratic headquarters and then continuing through headline after headline, Bernstein and Woodward deliver a riveting firsthand account of their reporting. Their explosive reports won a Pulitzer Prize for The Washington Post, toppled the president, and have since inspired generations of reporters.
Jessica Hoefer: One Thousand White Women by Jim Fergus
One Thousand White Women is the story of May Dodd and a colorful assembly of pioneer women who, under the auspices of the U.S. government, travel to the western prairies in 1875 to intermarry among the Cheyenne Indians. The covert and controversial "Brides for Indians" program, launched by the administration of Ulysses S. Grant, is intended to help assimilate the Indians into the white man's world. Toward that end May and her friends embark upon the adventure of their lifetime. Jim Fergus has so vividly depicted the American West that it is as if these diaries are a capsule in time.
Florane Lavend’homme: "La Nostalgie Heureuse" by Amélie Nothomb.
Amélie Nothomb est née à Kobé en 1967. Dès son premier roman Hygiène de l’assassin paru en 1992, elle s’est imposée comme un écrivain singulier. En 1999, elle obtient avec Stupeur et tremblements le Grand Prix de l’Académie française. La nostalgie heureuse est son 22ème roman.
A Little Life is a profound book about friends —the family you choose. Four young men move to New York City shortly after attending college together. Although the lives they lead are drastically different, they are connected by their weekly outings, drinks, and having to make ends meet while living in the city on starting wages, right out of college. As a reader, you are compelled by the complexities of the four friends’ relationships. The group is made up of hopeful actor Willem, who is trying make ends meet, Malcom who is a New York native, born to a wealthy family and lives on the Upper East Side, JB the artist and Jude, the genius who also comes from a traumatizing past.
As the book unfolds, Yanagihara zooms in on the tragedies of Jude’s past. It comes to light that he was thrown in a dumpster as an infant and was raised in a monastery, where he suffered sexual abuse and physical trauma that resulted in long term mental health issues and habitual self-harm. Complex in nature, Jude is a lawyer, a mathematician, and the friend that the others know the least about. As his story comes to the surface, they begin to understand the depth of his life, how he has deeply impacted them, and also how he thinks of his life. One of the most compelling quotes in the novel is,
“It assumes that if you have a conceptual thing named x it must always be equivalent to itself, that it has a uniqueness about it, that it is in possession of something so irreducible that we must assume it is absolutely, unchangeably equivalent to itself for all time, that its very elementalness can never be altered. But it is impossible to prove. Not everyone liked the axiom of equality … but he had always appreciated how elusive it was, how the beauty of the equation itself would always be frustrated by the attempts to prove it. It was the kind of axiom that could drive you mad, that could consume you, that could easily become an entire life.”
A Little Life is a moving novel. I was left with only one thought: every person that I love in my life must know that I love them, but more importantly they must know that they are great.
To purchase a copy click the button below!
Our Head Writer, Josephine Bush, attended a UN event this past Friday, September 22nd, and got us the scoop on four books you absolutely have to add to your reading lists. Take your pick from environmental reads like "No Impact Man" to something that challenges your own beliefs on a topic like inequality. Each of us on the Sub-Stances team is going to be taking one book and reading it over the next month and we’ll report back. Let us hear your thoughts on these books. Have you read them? What do you think about them?
By Colin Beaven
What would it be like to try to live a no-impact lifestyle? Is it possible? Could it catch on? Is living this way more satisfying or less satisfying? Harder or easier? Is it worthwhile or senseless? Are we all doomed or can our culture reduce the barriers to sustainable living so it becomes as easy as falling off a log? These are the questions at the heart of this whole mad endeavor, via which Colin Beavan hopes to explain to the rest of us how we can realistically live a more “eco-effective” and by turns more content life in an age of inconvenient truths.
By Janine Di Giovanni
In May of 2012, Janine di Giovanni travelled to Syria. It would mark the beginning of a long relationship with the country, starting with her coverage of the peaceful uprising and continuing as the situation quickly turned into one of the most brutal, internecine conflicts in recent history. Drawn to the stories of the ordinary people caught up in the conflict, Syria came to consume her every moment, her every emotion.
By Joseph E. Stiglitz
America currently has the most inequality, and the least equality of opportunity, among the advanced countries. While market forces play a role in this stark picture, politics has shaped those market forces. In this best-selling book, Nobel Prize–winning economist Joseph E. Stiglitz exposes the efforts of well-heeled interests to compound their wealth in ways that have stifled true, dynamic capitalism. Along the way he examines the effect of inequality on our economy, our democracy, and our system of justice. Stiglitz explains how inequality affects and is affected by every aspect of national policy, and with characteristic insight he offers a vision for a more just and prosperous future, supported by a concrete program to achieve that vision.
By Paul Collier
It is one of the most pressing and controversial questions of our time —vehemently debated, steeped in ideology, profoundly divisive. Who should be allowed to immigrate and who not? What are the arguments for and against limiting the numbers? We are supposedly a nation of immigrants, and yet our policies reflect deep anxieties and the quirks of short-term self-interest, with effective legislation snagging on thousand-mile-long security fences and the question of how long and arduous the path to citizenship should be. Immigration is a simple economic equation, but its effects are complex. Exodus confirms how crucial it will be that public policy face and address all of its ramifications.
Written by Pascal Mercier, "Night Train to Lisbon" takes place in Bern, Switzerland, where protagonist Raimund Gregorius, lives the same, perfunctory, life every day. Raimond teaches at a secondary school, where he is an expert in archaic languages. He is well-read, intelligent and very well respected, but his life is defined and in many ways, constrained by his profession. Until one day, must go. He must take the night train to Lisbon. And he does.
Gregorius is compelled to go to Lisbon to learn about another man’s life and how different each life can be. He is led to discoveries that drastically impact his perspective and knowledge of the world. His journey to Lisbon is based off his prevailing question, “Was it possible that the best way to make sure of yourself was to know and understand someone else?”
Although Amadeu Prado - the man Gregorius seeks to discover- is dead, Gregorius finds himself in Lisbon, discovering the history of the Salzarian Dictatorship and the intricate, but also painful, relationships Prado had during his lifetime. He realizes that Prado was a man who was deeply questioned because he questioned all fundamental pillars. To some, Prado was thought of as a “godless priest,” to others, he was considered an intellectual and an activist whose “religion” was practicing loyalty.
Throughout the book, Gregorius reads Prado’s philosophical letters. They convey the value of religion and religion’s ability to create beauty and community. The letters also criticize the establishment, such as is the case with the one below:
“I would not like to live in a world without cathedrals. I need their beauty and grandeur. I need their imperious silence. I need it against the witless bellowing of the barracks yard and the witty chatter of the yes-men. I want to hear the rustling of the organ, this deluge of ethereal notes. I need it against the shrill farce of marches…. I revere the word of God for I love its poetic force. I loathe the word of God for I hate its cruelty. The love is a difficult love for it must incessantly separate the luminosity of the words and the violent verbal subjugation by a complacent God. The hatred is a difficult hatred for how can you allow yourself to hate words that are part of the melody of life in this part of the world? Words that taught us early on what reverence is?”
Gregorius and Prado both represent man’s search for purpose. Maybe we find purpose in other people’s discoveries. But, wholeness is found through the immense depth achieved only through experience.
Although the book comments and questions the meaning of life, individual purpose and value, it also criticizes politics and questions religion all the while placing value in moral establishments. As an individual who aligns with agnosticism, "Night Train to Lisbon," perfectly described many of my feelings and verbalized how religion is something that can drastically add so much value to this world, but can also cause so much pain and ignorance. "Night Train to Lisbon," if anything, will leave you questioning the bigger picture.
And if we have left you hungry or curious about Portugal, check out Portuguese recipes here:
Paula McLain’s, Circling the Sun, conveys the beautiful and detailed tale of one young woman’s life. McLain vividly paints the the Kenyan sky, elaborately drawing the landscape with her words in such a way that makes it nearly tangible to the reader.
British bred Beryl Markham grows up in Kenya - a place where the land is her playground. Abandoned by her mother and brother, she is raised by the native Kipsigis Tribe, her father and their horses. In a non-conventional manner, Beryl receives an education through experience, adventure and play. Her unique adolescence shapes her into a tenacious, captivating young woman, who seeks adventure, loves fully and embraces the unknown. Beryl’s world is turned upside down when she must attend formal schooling. Not soon after, her young adult life begins with a series of tumultuous relationships and conventional rules Beryl simply cannot conform to. Motherless, she is ill-prepared and lacking guidance as she struggles to map out the role women play in colonial Kenya in the 1920’s. Interestingly enough, this book - contrary to many colonial books of this nature- focuses on white women residing in Kenya, rather than the Kenyan colonial struggle itself.
In one light, Beryl is consumed by the traditional ways and so, she marries. However, she soon realizes the weight and personal incompatibility marriage bears. And so, she chooses to fulfill her long-awaited dream of becoming a horse trainer. In another light, Beryl is a fearless pioneer. Throughout her entire life, she constantly defied the customs that dictated it. Whether it was working as a female, training horses, flying planes or simply having lovers as opposed to being someone’s wife, Beryl erected the life that she wanted - and not anyone else. Written beautifully, Beryl’s accomplishments literally and figuratively fly off the page in this historical piece.
Circling the Sun, is a compelling adventure of trials, love, and perseverance. Brazen Beryl Markham pushes life to its limits in the most raw and fervent of courses. Her never-ending pursuit for greatness is garrisoned by her lust for adventure and her unshakable will.