Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder

sopReleased: December 5, 1991
Pages: 507 pages (paperback)
Theme(s): Coming of age, questioning, consciousness, historical development, philosophy vs. religion, global unity
Genre(s): YA / Philosophy / History / Norwegian Fiction
Age Group: 16+

★★★★

One day fourteen-year-old Sophie Amundsen comes home from school to find in her mailbox two notes, with one question on each: “Who are you?” and “Where does the world come from?” From that irresistible beginning, Sophie becomes obsessed with questions that take her far beyond what she knows of her Norwegian village. Through those letters, she enrolls in a kind of correspondence course, covering Socrates to Sartre, with a mysterious philosopher, while receiving letters addressed to another girl. Who is Hilde? And why does her mail keep turning up? To unravel this riddle, Sophie must use the philosophy she is learning–but the truth turns out to be far more complicated than she could have imagined

Preface

I can’t remember exactly why I bought this book, other than the summary made it sound like a fun mystery combined with a young girl’s review of western philosophy. I had been very interested in philosophy in high school, though, thinking it might be something that I pursued in college.

I’ve tried to read this book before a couple of times, only getting as far as the Greek philosophers, whom I’d probably say I previously knew the most about of all the philosophers discussed in this book. I think I found it slow or boring, but I always felt like I would one day finish it. Now felt like a great time so I wanted push through and read the whole thing so I could un-haul it if I wished.

I’m so happy I gave this book another chance! The beginning is hard to get through (if you struggle with open-slate protagonists), but once Sophie starts meeting her philosophy teacher in person and the mystery deepens, it’s a much more gripping read. I feel like it should be required reading for every human.

My Thoughts

…I will do what I can to acquaint you with your historical roots. It is the only way to become a human being. It is the only way to become more than a naked ape…

I had to rate this book 5 stars, but this rating is not based on my enjoyment of the story, the inventiveness of the plot, or the authenticity of the characters. I rate Sophie’s World 5 stars because of how well the author details and synthesizes the development of western philosophical thought from its Greek origins to its Christian influences all the way up to the big 20th century thinkers.

I do not want to spoil this book, but I feel that many people might start this book and give up before it gets good if they don’t know what to expect. The greatest value of this book comes from how it makes philosophy accessible to young people and highlights why it matters. The mystery and Sophie’s regular life is less captivating until a third of the way through the book.

There’s a major twist that occurs that I actually found to be really unexpectedly terrifying. It’s like a nightmare scenario it never occurred to me that I might have. For the skeptical, it may seem a bit absurd. I found it absurd, but I also saw how it relates to the philosophic ideas that were being discussed at that time and might be hard to fully understand without this twist that shakes up Sophie’s world forever.

Undeniable and unsurprisingly, there are not many famous female philosophers. This book does not skirt around that fact. In fact, I think it does a great service to readers by addressing this unfortunate fact and by both shouting out the great men who saw females as equals and calling out those who saw them as inferior. It doesn’t demonize these men, but it reminds us that great men are not always perfect and we can appreciate what they contributed without putting them on a pedestal.

One final thing I’ll say is this book is not a quick or easy read. To better digest the information, I found myself having to read it in chunks. The good thing is the story almost seems organized to allow for these breaks between material. I consider myself a pretty fast reader, but this book took me about a week to finish.

Craft

I don’t have much to say with regards to craft in this novel. I didn’t think the characters were too authentic, but I hesitate to criticize much with regards to actual writing voice or style because I feel like this book had to have been translated from Norwegian. Also, I recognize the story wasn’t really meant to be character-driven. So I’ll primarily talk about the novel’s structure.

I can see how some might call it a textbook for the breadth of history and knowledge it covers in chronological order. Most of the chapters are titled for the philosopher or period of time that is the subject of Sophie’s lessons. I think this is really useful because I won’t ever have to reread this book in full again. I can just revisit the specific chapters on the figures who interested me the most.

There’s a major plot twist that occurs about one third of the way through the novel that I hesitate to spoil for the sake of anyone who picks up the book for the mystery aspect. I also worry that many people would give up on the book before they get to the twist, which is, in my opinion, a reason to spoil. I’ll leave it at that, though!

It does raise an important question of whether a great twist can justify putting a reader through a slow beginning. I personally would say no most of the time, especially if it can be avoided. I’m not sure it could’ve been avoided in Sophie’s World, however. It works really well with the philosophical content.

Final Thoughts

After finishing Sophie’s World, I found myself with a greater respect for theologists as philosophers. I also had to reassess my own capacity for belief. I do not think this book justifies religion, but it shows how people can find spaces to fit faith that does not necessarily contradict human knowledge by reason or experience.

I find myself wanting to revisit some of the books I read earlier this year that dealt in some way with spirituality (specifically The Chosen and Franny and Zooey). I’ve considered myself an atheist for a few years now (and am currently reconsidering whether I’m more agnostic), but I’ve always been drawn to stories about brilliant people who grappled with their belief in a personal and meaningful way. I can’t put into words exactly what I mean, but I feel like Sophie’s World could be key to discovering why.

This book’s a keeper!

Have you read Sophie’s World? If so, what’d you think?!

Thank you for reading!
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Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor

Released: July 11, 2017
Pages: 349 pages (paperback)
Theme(s): Identity, friendship, balance, power of knowledge, values
Genre(s): YA / Fantasy / African-American Fiction
Age Group: 10+

★★

Sunny Nwazue lives in Nigeria, but she was born in New York City. Her features are West African, but she’s albino. She’s a terrific athlete, but can’t go out into the sun to play soccer. There seems to be no place where she fits in. And then she discovers something amazing—she is a “free agent” with latent magical power. And she has a lot of catching up to do.

Soon she’s part of a quartet of magic students, studying the visible and invisible, learning to change reality. But just as she’s finding her footing, Sunny and her friends are asked by the magical authorities to help track down a career criminal who knows magic, too. Will their training be enough to help them against a threat whose powers greatly outnumber theirs?

Preface

I first discovered Akata Witch because of Leigh Bardugo. As one typically does with their favorite authors, I look for books that have been recommended by authors whose writing I admire. Fortunately, I stumbled upon this article by Cosmopolitan last year “Leigh Bardugo Recommends 5 Fantasy and Sci-Fi Books Every Woman Should Read.”

Bardugo describes Akata Witch as “a really delightful heir to Harry Potter. It’s a really perfect read for younger readers who might be looking to get into fantasy.” As someone who grew up loving Harry Potter, I recognized this tremendous compliment and decided to look into the book. As I am a writer of YA fantasy, I felt Akata Witch would be an fun book to dissect for how another author world builds.

I had read The Iron Trial by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare and not been impressed by the overwhelming similarities to Harry Potter, so I kept my expectations for Harry Potter-level excellence low. But from the summary, I was getting Wonder Woman: Warbringer vibes, which was written by Leigh Bardugo, so I couldn’t help but be excited.

Before I go any further, let me just say that Akata Witch is an outstanding entry into YA fantasy that I think everyone should read.

My Thoughts

I loved this book and am so excited for young readers who will be able to access this book while they are still children. I don’t think it’s a surprise to anyone that much of fantasy that young adults will consume from an early age is set in the Western world and with primarily white characters.

As a young adult, it never bothered me (a hispanic, cis-gendered, straight female) and I don’t think it bothers too many because the power of books is allow readers to step into the shoes of other people, even those who seem so different from ourselves. It’s only as we grow older that we wonder how much more confident or proud we would have felt of our own heritage and the culture of our ancestors if we had seen it in the books that we cherished.

That’s why I’m so excited about this book. It is not just a book that represents progress; it is so much fun that it should appeal to anyone!

The magic world (which I describe in greater detail in the next section) is a fantastic adventure to explore and there are so many great characters that show a range of leopard lifestyles that I think make the magic feel accessible to people from all walks of life, which makes it feel more real and appealing. There’s also great moments of situational humor that I enjoy more than anything else.

Atmospherically, the book feels like it could become a Hayao Miyazaki/Studio Ghibli film in the style of Spirited Away or My Neighbor Totoro.

Craft

The magic system of Akata Witch is unlike anything I’ve ever read. I can understand the Harry Potter (and even Percy Jackson) comparisons, but it does not really come off that Okorafor used the former books as a check-list. Everything in Akata Witch‘s world and magic system is so specific and feels authentic to the country and its environment.

I could actually see how this book leaves it open so that the magical world of Nigeria could fit into that of the HP universe. Instead of wands, the magic people have juju knives. Instead of the witch/wizard vs. muggle dichotomy, Akata Witch has leopard (magic) people and lambs (non-magic).

As witches and wizards in the HP universe can be muggle-born, similarly leopards can be born of lambs. I don’t remember Rowling going into where magic comes from in the HP universe, but in Akata Witch Okorafor explains how magic (or juju as it’s called in her books) is the source of a spiritual awareness or connection.

The protagonist, Sunny, is actually what is called a free agent, which means neither of her parents are leopards. Rather than a magic school à la Hogwarts, young leopards maintain a double-life, going to regular (Lamb) school and independently studying juju with an advisor and, if they’re lucky, a mentor who can better guide them according to their strengths.

Leopards pride themselves on valuing knowledge above all else. Indeed, the economics are divinely (read: mysteriously) arranged so that leopards earn chittim (curved metal rods that act as leopard currency) by learning new things and developing wisdom. It just falls out of the sky no matter where the leopard is at the time–––an aspect of the world that felt more video game-inspired than anything else!

One thing I did not like about this story from a writing perspective is how convenient the major conflict of the story unfolds and resolves. In the back of our heads as we read this story is the child serial killer called the Black Hat. Halfway through the book, Sunny learns she is a leopard and her oha coven (Sunny’s quartet of friends who balance each other in ability and personality) have been brought together to defend the world against the rise of an evil entity.

I also didn’t like how often Sunny would be asking her friends and their teachers/mentors questions and they would tell her to wait and gratification was delayed. It was done too much! It reminds me of my earliest writing adventures when I’d not have the answers as the writer so I’d put it off writing those explanatory scenes by having my characters wait.

Final Thoughts

Young adults and adults alike can enjoy this book. Admittedly, there are some dark depictions of the harm that befell the child victims of the novel’s villain that may unsettle much younger readers, but these moments are few and far between.

I look forward to getting my hands on the next book Akata Warrior as soon as possible! I’m just annoyed that I got the paperback of the first book because I’m one of those annoying people who likes their books to match on their shelves, so I must suffer waiting for the release of book two’s paperback edition. Rats!

If you’d like to read more YA fantasy that celebrates diversity, I also recommend City of the Beasts by Isabel Allende and Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo. (Because of my research as I wrote this review, I also believe the Percy Jackson books may nicely compliment Akata Witch. As I’ve never read them, I don’t feel comfortable recommending them.)

Have you read Akata Witch? If so, what’d you think?!

Thank you for reading!
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Uprooted by Naomi Novik | Book Review (Spoiler-Free)

Released: May 19, 2015
Pages: 435 pages (paperback)
Theme(s): Magic, human nature, friendship, tolls of war, value of life
Genre(s): YA / Fantasy / Fairytale
Age Group: 14+

★★½

“Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley. We hear them sometimes, from travelers passing through. They talk as though we were doing human sacrifice, and he were a real dragon. Of course that’s not true: he may be a wizard and immortal, but he’s still a man, and our fathers would band together and kill him if he wanted to eat one of us every ten years. He protects us against the Wood, and we’re grateful, but not that grateful.”

Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.

Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood.

The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows—everyone knows—that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia, all the things Agnieszka isn’t, and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her.

But when the dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose.

My Thoughts

Uprooted is a standalone, fantasy novel that has been on my radar for a long time. I love fairytales of all sorts so this book’s summary seemed right up my alley, especially I was in the mood for what I thought might be a little light-hearted romance. That it is not; but nevertheless  I enjoyed it tremendously. It was beautifully told and the story really resonated with me, probably because of how unflinchingly honest it was about human nature and relationships.

I didn’t fall in love with this book all at once. It took me a little while to really get into the story, especially as the protagonist Agnieszka at first felt like a Mary Sue. But we soon find what makes her special and her follies are given somewhat of an explanation and, thus, turn into her personal strengths.

I really enjoyed how the story was told. The novel is written entirely from the perspective of Agnieszka, as if she’s telling this story to us directly, with hints of something like foreshadowing which is never too heavy handed but is a subtle reminder of no matter how dark things become that she’s made it out. My only critique in terms of style is that at times the story seemed to drag and force you to put aside your questions to be stumbling around in the moment with Agnieszka.

Why You Should Read It

  1. Strong Female Friendship. Agnieszka’s main driving force throughout the novel is protecting her best friend Kasia. Much of their lives are defined by the knowledge that either of them might be whisked away by the Dragon, although everyone believes it will be Kasia who everyone sees as special. After Agnieszka is chosen, we get to see the aftermath and how they grow closer after the Wood tries to tear them apart.
  2. A Beautiful Mad World. If you’re someone who loves vivid and fantastic world-building and imagery, then I think you will enjoy this book. As I was reading I felt I could see the world unfolding in my mind’s eye like a cinematic experience. The world is essentially a character in the story, magnificent and terrifying. It reminds me of nothing else I’ve read in recent years. Or ever.
  3. Horror & Suspense. Although it is at times a slow-burner, this is the most suspenseful novel I’ve read in a long time. There are moments where I felt like I was reading a psychological thriller. The antagonist is the Wood, which is ever creeping up upon the villages and has the power to corrupt people’s minds and bodies. The country is low on wizards so it is near impossible to tell if someone has been corrupted until they have snapped and are causing pain and suffering in their neighbors and loved ones.

My biggest criticism of the book after having now read the whole thing is that it feels a bit disjointed. I was terrified of the antagonistic force throughout the entire novel, which caused a lot of suspense. But finding out the “why” of it all didn’t do much to satisfy me, maybe because of how out of nowhere it came after the rest of the novel with no real hints. I also felt there was a lack of justice that was just devastating because of how much pain and sorrow the Wood had caused.

I do like where how the novel ends with Agnieszka and the Dragon, as it feels very believable and realistic. But also hopeful.

Have you read Uprooted? What did you think?

Thank you for reading!
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September ’17 Wrap Up

I’m in a bit of a hurry as I write this post, but I wanted to make sure I start it before I go to work for the day so it’s not hard to finish up tonight! I must say, I’m really proud of myself as I read a lot this month and have finally caught up with my Goodreads Reading Challenge! I’ve now read 26 of the 36 book challenge I set for myself at the beginning of the year. Now I just need to keep it up!

I’m also really excited to wrap up this past month because it’s one of the first times that I ever stuck entirely to the TBR list I set for the month! I read four of the five books I listed in my September ’17 TBR + Goals post.

  1. Maus II by Art Spiegelman (★★★)
  2. Wonder Woman: Warbringer by Leigh Bardugo (★★★) – Reviewed!
  3. The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer (★★★★★)
  4. Tower of Dawn by Sarah J. Maas (★★★)

My favorite read this month was without a doubt The House of the Scorpion. I first read this book in middle school, probably in 6th or 7th grade, which was a while ago for me. I remembered it being one of the most powerful books I ever read at the time and I was happy to find that it holds up; it’s fantastic. It was also great that I didn’t remember much beyond the premise, so I was at the edge of my seat (metaphorically speaking) for most of the book. I highly recommend this book to anyone no matter your age. It gives you a lot to think about.

My least favorite read was definitely Tower of Dawn. I didn’t enter this book expecting too much and moderately enjoyed it. I had never much liked Chaol, or Nesryn for that matter who always seemed like such a “filler” character. And despite all the reviews I’ve read saying this book ruined Chaol for readers who had loved him, it is pretty much still the same guy in opinion. I’ve already found him broody and stupidly loyal without anything driving him to make him interesting.

Despite my dislike of Chaol and Nesryn going into this book, it wasn’t a horrible read. Nesryn’s storyline was actually pretty cool and I would’ve loved a lot more of her adventure and less of Chaol’s healing drama. The book just went on too long and had very little pay off by the end for me. There are a few reveals that make this book worth reading if you plan to finish off the Throne of Glass series as I do, but I think it’d be sufficient to just spoil yourself if you don’t want to waste time reading this installment.

If I have the time and energy later this week, I might do a spoilers post for anyone who’s interested (and for myself so I remember everything by time the last book rolls out)!

End Note

Tomorrow I hope to have my TBR + Goals for the month of October, but we’ll see. I don’t want my emphasis to be on reading this month, so I’ll likely not push myself to read much more than the three books I need to stay on track with my 2017 goal. Other than that, I’m not sure what else you can expect. My next full day off is Wednesday so I’m looking forward to getting a lot more done then.

Thank you for reading!
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Weekend Reads | Their Fractured Light, I Hate the Internet, etc.

Hiya!

I currently have been in the midst of reading three separate books and there’s another one that I have added to my reading list this weekend for this weekend, so I’ve decided to challenge myself to finish all the ones that have been stuck on my Goodreads Currently Reading list for the past few weeks.

First, I want to finish Their Fractured Light by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner. I’ve been trying to finish this book since mid-March. I’ve enjoyed it for the most part, but I am annoyed by the turn it took before I set it down this week so I’m hoping it ends the series on a high note.

Next, I want to finish I Hate the Internet by Jarett Kobek. I was skeptical entering this book how much I would like it, because obviously I love the Internet. But the book’s turned out to be pretty funny and enlightening with all the history it provides. It’s also a really easy read because it has really short chapters and paragraphs that keep your attention, much like the Internet.

On my lowest level of priority is Identity is the New Money by David Birch. I started this book weeks ago for one of my undergraduate classes and I just never managed to finish it. It’s pretty short and I’m actually a good deal through it at this point. Also, it’s on my iPhone so I can read it anywhere. The main reason I would like to finish it this weekend is to just make up for all the books I’ve started this semester and didn’t manage to finish and, therefore, set down indefinitely.

The final book I need to get to this weekend is the one we will talk about in class next Tuesday: My Life as a Night Elf Priest: An Anthropological Account of World of Warcraft by Bonnie Nardi. I’ve not properly started it yet so I have no idea how much I’m going to like it yet. Also, I’ve not ever played War of Warcraft, so I don’t have much motivation to read this book beyond the fact that it’s required for class. But it’s one I intend to finish nevertheless, even if I don’t finish it in its entirety by class time…

End Note

I’m really excited to get some good reading done this week. Before I go I did want to apologize for not posting in a little while! Not a day has gone by that I’ve not had a weird post idea that I’ve debated making a reality. I do have some new posts in the pipeline that should be going up next week if everything goes according to plan, including a book talk and a reading tag. Not to forget the wrap up for this weekend TBR!

What are you reading this weekend?

Do you have books that have been sitting on your TBR far too long?

Thank you for reading!
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