The sky is blue, the grass is green, the water is refreshing — and you’re inside watching Netflix. Whenever you’re encouraged to go outside, you claim that you need “to relax.” But you can do that with a book. Perhaps books remind you too painfully of those distant days spent locked up in classrooms, and that the only time you really enjoyed reading was when you spent hours immersed in pop-culture fantasy worlds. You’re sick of classics, and as for the popular books everyone is recommending — well, you might as well watch them in TV form, right? We disagree. Reading outside on a summer afternoon is a pleasure no one should miss out on. This year, for our annual all-book issue, four Generation Next writers reviewed their “favorite books that nobody has ever heard of.”
‘The Martian’ by Andy Weir
By Niveditha Bala | Generation Next
Most people have probably seen or heard of the 2015 movie The Martian. But what many people don’t know is that this movie is based on a 2014 novel of the same name. Written by Andy Weir, it’s one of the more underappreciated good novels out there.
The story takes place in the future, when NASA has figured out how to send people to Mars. Mark Watney, a botanist and mechanical engineer, is the 17th person to walk on Mars. A storm causes the crew to abort the mission, and after a wayward piece of equipment hits Watney, the crew believes him to be dead and abandons him on the foreign planet. Watney, however, is very much alive and now has to figure out how to survive while also finding a way to reconnect with NASA. The narration throughout the novel alternates between Watney’s first-person diary entries and third-person depictions of other characters.
From detailed explanations about space travel and technology, to highly plausible ideas on how humans could get to Mars and comfortably survive, the novel shows that the idea of human life on Mars isn’t as far away as we might think. I enjoyed reading about all of the science behind space travel. There were parts that I had trouble understanding — after all, it is rocket science — but I still appreciated the book. The Martian also includes things I’ve never considered when it comes to space travel, like public opinion, news reports and astronauts’ families.
Another aspect of The Martian I love is its characters. Watney’s often childish sense of humor, patience and hatred of disco form a character readers can’t help but adore. Other characters in the novel are also given endearing identities and personalities — instead of just being devices used to further the plot, their inner lives are complex and interesting.
The Martian’s mix of romance, comedy, characters, plot and science fuses together to create an interesting, funny and suspenseful novel that’s sure to make anyone put off sleep until they’ve finished the book.
Niveditha Bala will be a junior at Mandela International Magnet School in the fall. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
‘Bluets’ by Maggie Nelson
By Aviva Nathan | Generation Next
“Goethe describes blue as a lively color, but one devoid of gladness. ‘It may be said to disturb rather than enliven.’ Is to be in love with blue, then, to be in love with a disturbance? Or is the love itself the disturbance? And what kind of madness is it anyway, to be in love with something constitutionally incapable of loving you back? Are you sure — one would like to ask — that it cannot love you back?”— From Maggie Nelson’s 2009 book Bluets.
Bluets is a book about the parallels of loving someone (an ex-lover) and loving something (the color blue). Though being in love with a color is an unrelatable experience for most people, Nelson’s poignant words and sincere approach to truth-telling make this book engaging for any reader. Bluets is written in paragraph-long vignettes with verbiage that feels more reminiscent of poetry than it does of prose. Every single word has a purpose. Each sentence deserves to be read, thought upon carefully and then read again.
I assume this book must have been cleansing to write. Nelson divulges the burdens of a past relationship and, through writing about her ex, is able to gain closure. Bluets has the capacity to have an equally beneficial impact on the reader. Because most people have encountered loss at some point, it is relatable and cathartic to read about someone else’s affliction and the way in which they overcame it.
That being said, the focus is not on grief but on an inanimate, yet intimate, form of love with blue. Nelson does a thorough job of recounting all of the vast connotations that surround this color and is able to impart to the reader a perspective of connectivity through the haze of interpretations that surround it. What is the one thing that bowerbirds, a poison strip for termites and the German term for being drunk all have in common?
The color blue.
The book’s only shortcoming is that it lacks a plot in the traditional sense and instead follows an arc based on mood, which can, at times, be hard to follow. As long as a structured storyline is not a requirement and you enjoy exquisite writing as art, I recommend this book.
Aviva Nathan will be a freshman at Santa Fe Prep in the fall. Contact her at email@example.com.
‘The Myth of Sisyphus’ by Albert Camus
By Gabriel Biadora | Generation Next
Opening with one of philosophy’s most iconic lines, Albert Camus illustrates his unique ability to console, dissect and inspire with his essay, The Myth of Sisyphus, first published in French in 1942. The abstractions of suicide, hope and the chaotic void of existence are all intimately engaged with an ironic purpose in this magnum opus. With an increasing prioritization on mental health in our generation, this philosophical essay provides a personal study of life, death, hope, faith and the absurdity of all reality.
Alas, for a teenager with a short attention span, philosophy can be a bore, as well as overwhelming and seemingly esoteric. But in the philosophy of existentialism, as The Myth of Sisyphus is categorized, the individual and the individual’s experiences take center stage. The focus is on you and your reactions, experiences and relationships — all concerning your place in time and space. The Myth of Sisyphus personifies intimacy of mind and body with precision, coupling it with Camus’ understanding of the universal confusion that grows with-
in us when we ask, “What is the meaning of life?”
Despite its somber subject and sometimes monstrous sentences, the book maintains a charming and nonchalant air without relinquishing its respect and dignity. The essay gracefully holds its place as an icon of philosophical work while being simultaneously lyrical and poetic. Camus’ elegance, grace and cool is here materialized into careful prose, enabling the reader to feel an odd sense of inspiration despite the madness that dominates reality.
When the strangeness of the universe falls upon us, The Myth of Sisyphus can be our companion. When we are lost in the deserts of desolation, confusion and alienation, it is a field guide. The essay does not provide sanctuary from those deserts, but it teaches us how to thrive within and appreciate the sands of nothingness.
An important book for any aspiring existentialist philosopher, this read is also for anyone who longs to understand how the relationship between an individual and the universe can drive one to the grievous point of suicide. When the day is low and beautiful, the coffee is sweet and warm, and the existential dread of the universe sets upon you, pick up The Myth of Sisyphus.
Gabriel Biadora will be a senior at St. Michael’s High School in the fall. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
‘Lincoln in the Bardo’ by George Saunders
By Harvey McGuinness | Generation Next
George Saunders’ 2017 book, Lincoln in the Bardo, is not a Civil War novel, nor is it an examination of the life or career of the late president. Rather, it is a look into a single part of his character over the span of a single event. The book focuses on the bonds of parenthood (specifically fatherhood in this case study) by depicting how Abraham Lincoln dealt with the death of his son Willie.
By putting the Civil War on the periphery, Saunders manages to separate the well-known story of the savior of the Union, and instead display Lincoln’s humanity through tragedy. Were it not for the specifics of the events being examined in this book, Lincoln could easily be replaced with any other parent and the novel would progress in a similar way with the same message. The goal of the novel is to display the necessity to move on from tragedy and to how to live despite the severances of family bonds. Even the strongest people, we learn from this book, can still bleed at heart.
Saunders displays the death of Lincoln’s son through two contrasting but complimentary literary methods. Half of the novel is written in a cut-and-paste style. It is not the words but the order of events that is of Saunder’s making. Saunders pulls quotations from a series of historical archives and arranges them in order to best serve his narrative and create the historic atmosphere that such a tragedy deserves. This practice also allows for the factual events to be recounted in painstaking detail through numerous perspectives. This method can occasionally seem repetitive, but it does serve to detail a specific point or event to the reader.
The other half of the novel is written from the perspectives of a plethora of ghosts residing in the “bardo” — a realm comparable to purgatory, where the cynical and lost persist before moving on. These ghosts are all rather ordinary people: pessimistic, bored and, more often than not, depressed. They serve as foils and guides for Willie as he lingers in the bardo. By contrasting these spirits with legitimate accounts, Saunders is able to expand a single event — the death of a child — into Lincoln’s true emotional odyssey.
Sanders’ story successfully depicts the best of humanity in the worst of circumstances. Though I have yet to fully appreciate parenthood as Saunders presents it, the painstaking care involved in describing Willie’s character and Lincoln’s mourning process is beautiful and heartbreaking at once.
Harvey McGuinness will be a senior at Santa Fe High School in the fall. Contact him at email@example.com.