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What to Read Next (No. 251): A Different World
Featuring "News of the World" + "Foundation"
Happy Friday, readers!
This week I’m featuring a couple books set in a different time and world than what we know today.
One of them, Isaac Asimov’s classic Foundation, is set in a different world and galaxy altogether, whereas Paulette Giles’ News of the World is set in the American West of the 1800s — which certainly qualifies as a different experience.
I also have a fun blog post to share (not written by me) about books and hobbies, which I quite enjoyed.
Let’s jump in!
The Hobbies We Pick Up From Books
I recently came across a great blog post from Tor Publishing (a niche sci-fi/fantasy publisher) about books guiding us into hobbies. It got me thinking about what I’ve picked up from books . . . My baking hobby, which tends to wax and wane with the seasons, was kickstarted by Michael Pollan’s Cooked (and the subsequent Netflix show of the same name).
What’s actually interesting here, to me, is how my experience is mostly the opposite of this. I’ll pick up a hobby or short-term interest every once a while and then dive into the books as a response. When I took up home brewing (on a very small scale), I read some books about the history of beer and brewing; when we moved to Colorado and started hiking most weekends, I read a few natural histories of the state and of Rocky Mountain National Park; as I’ve re-discovered my passion for tennis this year, I also read a handful of tennis books. For me, the books follow the activities mores than the other way around.
What about you, Reader? How do your books and hobbies interact? I’d love to hear!
Foundation by Isaac Asimov
Foundation is among a handful of titles that can be found on every list of must-read sci-fi classics. I’m not well-read in the classics of this genre, however, so I decided it was time to jump in.
The premise of this 1951 novel was immediately appealing to me: The Galactic Empire has ruled for 12,000 years, but the dark ages are coming. As predicted by psychohistorian Hari Seldon, the old empire is slowly dying. His field combines psychology with history to make highly accurate guesses about the future state of the galaxy. The task at hand, then, is to preserve all this knowledge and rebuild a healthier civilization.
There is definitely some action, but what I really enjoyed were the political machinations and dramatic intrigue of building a new society from scratch. Which philosophy of governing will win out? How much integrity is worth being sacrificed for the greater good (whatever that even means)?
As you might imagine given the above description, the core of the book is actually much more about politics and philosophy than science fiction, but it’s philosophy that’s explored in a very digestible, entertaining way.
After the first few chapters, I was sure this was going to be a 5-star read for me. But by the end, it dropped to 4. Asimov’s long jumps in time (10, 50, or even 100 years at every chapter break) were sometimes jarring and made it so that there weren’t many characters who stuck around long enough for me to really connect with.
Still, Foundation was a great, worthwhile read. It’s not an all-time favorite, but I do plan on reading the other books in the series at some point.
News of the World by Paulette Jiles
About five years ago, Western novels began to come back in vogue. After being dormant for a couple decades, the genre re-emerged, with new voices and styles entering the fray. Tatjana Soli’s The Removes, Anna North’s Outlawed, Kevin McCarthy’s Wolves of Eden, Tom Lin’s The Thousand Crimes of Ming Tsu, and the list goes on.
I would argue that this slim, effective novel, published in 2016, kickstarted our current Western resurgence. And I’m here for it — Westerns have a special place in my reading heart.
In News of the World, 71-year-old Captain Jefferson Kidd, veteran of both the War of 1812 and the Mexican-American War, reads the news for a living. For a dime, eager listeners can occupy a tent, in which the literate Captain Kidd will read the newspaper from a podium.
In a roundabout way, Kidd comes to act a temporary caretaker for a young white girl who was recently rescued from a Kiowa tribe. Cicada, as the Kiowans called her, was in captivity for four years.
From there, the story progresses as you might expect. Captain Kidd has a hard time relating to this wild, unkempt little girl, but slowly develops a tender streak that you wouldn’t necessarily expect from a hardened war veteran. He aims to deliver Johanna (her English name) to her family, but encounters crooks and unexpected obstacles along the way.
It’s impossible not to compare News of the World to True Grit, which also pairs a strong young girl with an aging badass — in many ways, this novel could be considered an update of Charles Portis’ classic story.
The style of the writing itself was more often reminiscent of Larry McMurtry, who’s known for razor-sharp dialogue and realistic descriptions that mix Old West romanticism with modern and gritty realism. If you know my affinity for the late McMurtry, that’s quite a comparison.
Giles’ novel is well worth reading for most kinds of readers, even if you don't think you enjoy Westerns — remember, the genre is just a subset of the broader world of historical fiction.
That’s all for me this week! Thanks so much for the time, attention, and inbox space.