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Before I Die, and Book 18: Unsouled

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I think this is the first year in a very, very long time that I haven’t really done any re-reading.

At some point recently, I sat down and did some calculations. I’m almost 27, so if I live an average female lifespan (about 80 years as of 2011), I’ve got 53 years left. I have to assume that there will be points in my life when it is much more difficult to make time to read than it is right now–such as when I have young children–and that possibly, as I age, my reading pace itself will slow down. So maybe, for the rest of my life, I’ll read about 3 books a month on average. (In addition to not re-reading this year, I’ve been purposefully selecting books that I think will make my 50 book goal more difficult and my blog more interesting to any random internet user who happens across it. “I devoured this YA series in a weekend” is kind of boring, and feels like cheating, so I’m hitting about 4 a month right now. Normally I’d guess it’s more like 5.5.) So, 3 books a month x 12 books a year x 53 years: I’ve got time to read approximately 1,908 books before I die (but, you know, who’s counting?)

This means a few things:
1: I should maybe be a little pickier about what I read! Really get the most out of those books. I should look for books that challenge and enrich me, not just fun stories–more literature, less pulp. And if I don’t like a book, I should put it down and move on.
2: I should read a much higher percentage of fun stories than I do right now! More pulp, less literature! Then I could easily read a book and a half per week for the rest of my life and read a lot more books!
3: I should re-read books less often! How many times have I re-read the Harry Potter series, and how many new books will I never get a chance to read because of all the times I’ve done that?

And I’ve decided to completely ignore all of those things.

First of all, the first two contradict each other. If I have any goals in this matter, I should aim to strike a balance between the two, and I find that the best way to do that is to read heavy stuff until my brain feels like it’s about to fall out of my head from all the thinking, then do a quick literary cleanse by reading two or three books that require very little of me. (Of course, my favorites are the ones that don’t require much of you, but will reward you handsomely if you put a lot of yourself into them anyway. I’m always looking for books like that.)

As for re-reading: I like re-reading. I have an aunt who has asked me a few times how I can re-read books, so finally I asked her, “Well there are billions of people in the world you’ve never met before; how can you keep celebrating holidays with us?” And at first I was kind of joking, but after I said it I realized how true it is. There are books out there that are family. I already mentioned the Harry Potter books–I’ve probably read the series 25 times, if when you think “series” you think “everything that’s out at the time of my reading,” because there were definitely many, many times when I re-read everything that was out at the time before they were all out. And it’s gotten to the point where, when I read anything else by JK, even if it’s something I’ve never read before, I immediately feel like I’m home. I’ve re-read the City Watch stories in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series so many times that they’re pretty much completely falling apart by now, and I’m actually kind of relieved by this: The new books in the series are about 3/4 of an inch taller than my copies, which means that when I put the new one on my bookshelf, it made the shelf uneven. If the others fall apart, I can replace them with new copies and it’ll be even again. I can stop being angry every time I look at my shelf.

In summary, reason 1 to re-read books: A book that you love is like family.

Reason 2 to re-read books: You never catch everything the first time. Would you believe, in all those re-readings of Harry Potter, it wasn’t until about book 4 in my most recent re-read that I finally smacked myself in the forehead and said, “Diagon Alley. Diagonally. I am a fucking dumbass.” And sometimes you read something else in between your reads that sheds light on what you’re reading, like the time I re-read American Gods shortly after re-reading The Chronicles of Amber and tweeted at Neil Gaiman to ask if Roger Zelazny was one of his influences, and would you know it, he was. And sometimes a book has something at the end that completely changes how you would have looked at the rest of the book, and you just have to see how it feels to read it now that you know. And other times, a book is one of those “it’s a thinking book if you want it to be” types of books, and you want to read it when you’re in the other mode and get more of the fun story that you missed because you were thinking, or more of the thinking that you missed because you were tired and just wanted fun. There are a lot of reasons to go back and look for more in a book. More is always there.

Reason 3 to re-read books: The next one in the series just came out, and you remember nothing about the rest of the series. Or even if you remember a lot, you just feel better if you read them all in a row, or at least fairly close to each other. The continuity feels good, and you miss less that way. This is probably the cause of most of my re-reads. Of course, there are situations where it would be ridiculous to do this. If there are already 15 books out, that’s a lot of time. At time same time, it’s still not as much time as it’ll take when book 6 of the Song of Ice and Fire series comes out and I have to re-read 1-5 because there is just so damn much in those books that I remember almost nothing from the first time (and the show is great, but it’s not the same).

This post’s book, Unsouled by Neal Shusterman, would normally have fallen under reason 3. It’s the newest book (until, I believe, October) of his Unwind dystology. I tried not to re-read books 1 and 2. I went and found a summary of book 1, because I remembered nothing about it. That worked okay, though there was still stuff in Unsouled that I remembered being a reference to Unwind but couldn’t remember what the reference was. I know I still missed stuff. I looked for a summary of book 2, Unwholly, as well, but I couldn’t find one. So I figured I’d skim a little of the book to remember vaguely what happened, and I ended up re-reading the whole thing. I’m glad I did, because I had basically forgotten about most of the main characters’ existence who weren’t in book 1. Re-reading would have been the wiser thing to do from the beginning, but I was playing catch-up and didn’t want to take the time. However, I still don’t think I will when book 4 comes out. Maybe eventually I’ll go back and read the whole series from beginning to end. So far, it’d be worth it.

Book 18: Unsouled by Neal Shusterman

And the prize for most terrifying cover art goes to…

The premise of the Unwind dystology: A second American Civil War occurred, and this time, they were fighting over abortion. There was a pro-choice side and a pro-life side, and it went on for years. During this time, so much funding was diverted from education into the war effort that teens were left wandering the street all day, with no education, no skills, and absolutely nothing to do with themselves. Finally, someone sarcastically suggested a solution to both problems: How about if, instead of allowing abortion, parents could choose to have their kid “unwound”– surgically disassembled with every single bit of the kid being donated to someone who needed it–starting at age 13 and continuing through age 18? This way, no one would be getting an abortion, and since every part of the kid needs to be used, the kid’s not really dying, right? And though the suggestion was sarcastic, everyone agreed: This was the perfect solution. Both sides were happy, and parents everywhere had a way to keep their delinquent kids in line. Don’t misbehave, we’ll have you unwound.

If you’re pregnant and don’t want the kid, there’s an option put in place for you: Rather than having an abortion, you can have the kid and stork it. This refers to, basically, leaving the kid on someone’s doorstep. If a baby is left on your doorstep, you’re obligated to take it in and raise it as your own (until you can unwind it, of course), but if you catch the person leaving it there, they have to take it back.

And some ultra-religious families have an extra kid and raise him specifically to be unwound. These kids are called tithes, and they’re treated like royalty their entire lives (the whole 13 years) until they eagerly go off to experience the sublime joy of life in a divided state. They’re excited about it. They’ve been told how amazing it’s going to be their entire lives.

This whole series is fucked up.

The thing that makes it great, though, is that it’s pretty much believable. If someone showed up in my living room suddenly and said they were from 20 years in the future and the same civil war had happened, the funding had been taking from schools, the teenagers had roamed freely, and someone had suggested basically just killing all the teenagers, I wouldn’t be all that surprised. The book reinforces the realism constantly by providing links to real news articles that you can type into your browser and read on a real news site about something horrible that people are trying to do right now. For example, this article about an Arkansas candidate for the House of Representatives, Charlie Fuqua, and his desire to instate the death penalty for rebellious children because that’s how it worked in the Bible. He says, “I think my views are fairly well accepted by most people.” He also says that oh of course no one would actually ever do this, that would be horrible, but it’d sure be nice to have that to hold over the teenagers’ heads when they’re being little shits.

This series is fantastic. It is absolutely chilling, because while you’re pretty sure it would never actually happen, you then have evidence right in front of you that there are at least a few people who are already more extreme than the solution in this book–I mean, at least in the book the body parts have to be donated, right? Fortunately, with 3D printing technology advancing as quickly as it is, we’re unlikely to have that drastic a shortage of organs anytime in the near future, but that doesn’t mean some psychopaths won’t think this whole unwinding thing is a good idea. (I can’t help but wonder if anyone reading this books thinks that.)

The series is told from the point of view of a number of kids who were meant to be unwound but escaped. A rebellion springs up with them at the center, and they struggle to avoid the juvenile police officers who want to find them and send them off to the harvest camps where their society thinks they belong. By book 3, one finds himself forced into a cult leader sort of position. Two are at the front of different ends of the rebellion, and I got a very interesting Professor X/Magneto sort of vibe from them (okay, okay, a MLK Jr/Malcolm X vibe). Some just try to stay under the radar and get old enough not to be unwound. And one part of the story comes from the point of view of someone who was never born, but made: A secret organization built a new kid entirely out of parts of unwound kids, and he’s part science experiment, part marketing ploy, and 100% human–though he’s never been taught what that means.

Should you read this book? If you’ve read other YA dystopian lit and want something a little more thought provoking, this is the series for you. Or if you’ve avoided the YA dystopia craze because it seems a little silly and immature, this series is definitely worth a shot. The premise is realistic and terrifying in a way that no other series I’ve read really has been. The characters are flawed, but mostly lovable, and their story is riveting. If you have a very expressive face, your facial muscles will be well exercised after the insane rollercoaster of emotions in this series–I promise, there are hilarious parts. If you’re a member of the Tea Party, please don’t read this book. I’m afraid you’ll get ideas.

Coming Soon…

18. UnSouled by Neal Shusterman
19. Skin Game by Jim Butcher
20. Lexicon by Max Barry
21. London Falling by Paul Cornell
22. Neuromancer by William Gibson
23. Exercises in Style by Raymond Queneau
24. The Cuckoo’s Calling by “Robert Galbraith” a.k.a. J.K. Rowling
25. Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan
26. Miss Peregrine’s School for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
27. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
28. Deus Irae by Philip K. Dick and Roger Zelazny
29. The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson

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About Rachael

Hi. I'm Rachael. I realized one day that, even though I read a lot of books, I often have a hard time remembering them later on. I guess that happens when there's so much to try to remember! So I started The 50 Book Project, with the intention to read and blog about 50 new (to me) books in 2014. I read a lot of fantasy, but I'm trying to branch out and experience new stuff. Any questions? Suggestions? Let me know! Comment, or email me at dearohrachael@gmail.com.

2 responses »

  1. What a fantastic post! The only one I’ve read on your list is Gone Girl, but I must read more! Inspiring 🙂

    Reply
    • Thanks for reading! If you liked Gone Girl, I highly recommend Lexicon–it’s another fast-paced psychological thriller type of book. It’s very different, but has a similar appeal.

      Reply

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