Category: Book Reviews

The Best Science Fiction Books of 2019 Featured Image

The Best Science Fiction Books of 2019

As I continue to wade through my most recent read on topics such as waking up to potentials in the quantum realm, the power of our minds to heal our bodies, and how our thoughts create our reality, I’ve been thinking that, although it’s devoted to how we can change our lives in this reality, it often feels a bit like science fiction. In anticipation of some new reading material in the year to come, I’ve put together a list of 10 of the best science fiction books of 2019 that you should be ready for when they are released!

If none of these books interest you, don’t worry! I’m not offended. But don’t leave so quickly! I’ve got plenty of other content you might enjoy, including Book Reviews, Writing Tips, and My Books! If you’re looking for a freelance writer to contribute guest blogs or ongoing paid content, please read through my Services and shoot me an email detailing your project!

Motherland by Lauren Beukes

best science fictions book of 2019 - motherland

This book will bring us the tale of a mother who will go to great lengths to protect her son from the realities of a hostile new world that has fallen into chaos resulting from the absence of men. The tale is set in a futuristic America in which a super-virus has decimated the male population. New traditions, customs, laws, and punishments mean that hiding a living, breathing male is now one of the most heinous offenses in the country.

As the mother and her son move from a commune in the Rockies to a high-security laboratory in the redwoods of Northern California, they negotiate the challenges of living on the fringe of the new American society. Can they achieve their dream of escaping to a better life in South Africa? Or will they be caught and punished by a mysterious ex-boyfriend who is hell-bent on justice? Motherland was released at the beginning of the year and is now available on Amazon.

Here and Now and Then by Mike Chen

best science fictions book of 2019 - here and now and then

This book will bring us the story of a time-traveling father who will go anywhere, or any “when,” to save his daughter from the fragility of her own existence. The father, Kin Stewart, used to be a time-traveling secret agent from the future (2142, to be precise). Then he botched a mission and found himself stuck in suburban San Francisco in the 1990s. Life wasn’t bad there. He was married and had a beautiful young daughter.

Then, out of nowhere, his “rescue team” arrives from the future. They’re 18 years too late but in the future, he has only been gone for weeks. They insist on bringing him back with them, and back to another family that Kin has no memory of. He finds himself torn between two lives, one that he knows and one that he should know, but can’t remember. As he grapples with his dilemma and tries to live in both worlds, but his decision puts his agency, his daughter’s existence, and history itself in peril. Here and Now and Then was released at the end of January and is now available on Amazon.

Vigilance by Robert Jackson Bennett

best science fictions book of 2019 - vigilance

This book is set in a future American in which the country’s towns, cities, and communities have completely and permanently surrendered to gun violence. The year is 2030, not too far in the distant future. The main character, John McDean, is the producer of a reality game show with the objective of keeping the American people alert to foreign and domestic threats.

In each episode, a handful of shooters are introduced into what viewers believe is a “game environment.” Survivors receive a cash prize. As the book moves along, McDean slowly realizes that the American public isn’t the only audience tuning in, and he soon finds himself in an uncomfortable position on the other side of the cameras. Vigilance was released on January 29th and is now available on Amazon.

Do You Dream of Terra-Two? by Temi Oh

best science fictions book of 2019 - do you dream of terra-two

This book is set in a world where a habitable planet in a nearby solar system was discovered more than a century earlier. Studies of the planet and its ecosystem have been thorough and, now, the very first team of astronauts is about to embark on a mission to explore the planet. The team of 10 consists of four decorated veterans of the 20th century’s space race and six students who have been training for this mission for most of their lives.

The kicker is that the journey from Earth to the other habitable planet will take 23 years. So, for 23 years the crew will have to live in close quarters. For 23 years they will have to rely solely on each other without the possibility of rescue. For 23 years they will have only the 10 of them to solve problems if anything goes wrong. And, of course, “something always goes wrong.” The anticipated release date of Do You Dream of Terra-Two? is March 7th, but you can now pre-order on Amazon.

Permafrost by Alastair Reynolds

best science fictions book of 2019 - permafrost

Blending time travel with the all-important subject of climate change, this book follows two timelines. One is set in the year 2028 and the other is set in the year 2080. In 2028, we follow a young woman heading in for a “routine” brain surgery. In 2080, we are introduced to a group of scientists studying at a remote site on the edge of the Arctic Circle.

The scientists are making a last-ditch effort to save humanity by making a tiny alteration to the past. It’s an alteration they hope will leave the rest of recorded history intact. When the woman in 2028 wakes up from her surgery, she begins to hear a voice inside her head. It’s a presence that seems to have its own will and purpose. Her struggle is whether to resist or collaborate, with no knowledge that her decision could impact the entire future of the human race. The anticipated release date for Permafrost is March 19th, but you can now pre-order on Amazon.

A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine

best science fictions book of 2019 - a memory called empire

The Teixcalaanli Empire is the stage for the unfolding of this story, and Ambassador Mahit Dzmare is the main character. Dzmare arrives in the center of the multi-system empire to discover that her predecessor has passed away unexpectedly. It is a time of political instability in the imperial court, and no one around the death will accept the evidence that it might not have been the accident that they’ve been led to believe.

Dzmare must work to discover the culprit behind the murder while she protects herself from becoming the next victim. All the while, she must keep the best interests of her small mining station from succumbing to the unceasing expansion of the empire. The anticipated release date for A Memory Called Empire is March 26th, but you can now pre-order on Amazon.

Perihelion Summer by Greg Egan

best science fictions book of 2019 - perihelion summer

This book takes the potential effects of climate change to a science fiction extreme. The inhabitants of our planet struggle to adapt to a suddenly alien environment when they find out a black hole one-tenth the mass of the sun is approaching our solar system. The potential effects are set to render our maps and systems meaningless.

Matt, the main character, and his friends decide to board a mobile aquaculture rig to wait out the event. The rig is self-sustaining in food, power, and fresh water. But as the black hole approaches, everyone soon realizes that the initial predictions for its trajectory were way off. Once the black hole has moved through the solar system, the conditions of life on our planet will be changed forever. The anticipated release date for Perihelion Summer is April 16th, but you can now pre-order on Amazon.

Emily Eternal by Mark Wheaton

best science fictions book of 2019 - emily eternal

Emily is a robot equipped with the most advanced artificial intelligence technology the world has ever seen. She’s capable of solving advanced mathematical problems and unlocking the mind’s greatest secrets. Unfortunately for the inhabitants of the Earth, she’s not sophisticated enough to find a solution when our sun begins to die 5 billion years earlier than anyone anticipated.

But, as an intelligence system initially designed to assist in the processing of trauma, Emily is in a unique position. She wants to find an answer for the survival of the human species, and she thinks she’s uncovered something. But not everyone is convinced that she’s right, or that she has the best intentions. In order to save the world from extinction, Emily will have to go on the run with her two human companions and, in the process, discover what makes us most human. The anticipated release date for Emily Eternal is April 23rd, but you can now pre-order on Amazon.

The Last Astronaut by David Wellington

best science fictions book of 2019 - the last astronaut

Sally Jansen’s final mission in space was such a disaster that she left NASA convinced she’d never leave the earth’s atmosphere again. Now she’s living her retirement days in depression, haunted by the memories of her past failures. Luckily, as the book progresses, it starts to look more and more likely that Sally is going to get another chance, but it isn’t necessarily for all the right reasons.

There’s a large, unidentified flying object hovering above the Earth. It has made no attempts to communicate with us and hasn’t responded to any of our attempts to communicate with it. Determined to redeem herself, Sally accepts the responsibility of leading a mission to explore the object and discover its purpose. Some unexpected competition turns Sally’s mission to make the First Contact into a race against time to secure the fate of humanity. The anticipated release date for The Last Astronaut is July 23rd, but you can now pre-order on Amazon.

The Future of Another Timeline by Annalee Newitz

best science fictions book of 2019 - the future of another timeline

In this story, time travel is as normal to humanity as driving a car. It has existed since the earliest times and, despite the ease of jumping into the past in this alternate reality, scientists have become convinced that altering the timeline in any way is impossible. That’s where our main character, an ideological geology professor named Eliza, begs to differ.

Eliza believes in historical change. She keeps going back to the Columbian Exposition in 1893, trying to undo a horrible injustice that is still having effects on the present moment. On her way, she makes a stop in 1992, where she attempts to save a high school punk rocker from a terrible fate. Their lives become intertwined and they soon realize that they are part of a hidden war that has been waged for millions of years. With a little help, the two embark on a journey to save each other and build a new future. The anticipated release date for The Future of Another Timeline is September 24th, but you can now pre-order on Amazon.

Read (and Dream) On!

I hope you’ve enjoyed these brief biographies of some of the best new science fiction authors to follow in 2019. Keep an eye out for their work to be published and make sure you pre-order the selections you’re interested on Amazon or at Barnes and Noble. Of course, if you decide to purchase any of these books, I’d love to know how the one you choose changes your life!

Also, I’d love to hear what other types of books or authors you’d like to see reviewed on this site. I’m always looking for new opportunities to read and review. My only regret is that my reading list tends to grow much faster than I’m able to check items off of it, so if you do leave me a suggestion, I appreciate your patience as I dive into the many books on my shelves!

Please leave a comment below if you are inspired, perplexed, saddened, or angered by any of the ideas presented above. I welcome any and all comments and will do my best to respond hastily. I’d also encourage you to share this with others if you found it particularly insightful or helpful. Be sure to tag @ballisterwriting on Facebook or Instagram if you do!

Happy Reading!

Tucker Ballister

tucker@ballisterwriting.com

My Favorite Childhood Books Featured Image

My Favorite Childhood Books

I’ve read most of the books I’ve reviewed on this site within the last couple of years, but reading has been a passion of mine for a long time. My parents started reading to me at a very young age and I am extremely thankful for the emergence into stories that happened early in my life. As a tribute to their commitment to nightly reading and storytelling, this article details ten of my favorite childhood books.

If none of these books speak to you in any particular way, don’t worry! I’m not offended. But don’t leave so quickly! I’ve got plenty of other Book Reviews for you to enjoy, as well as Writing Tips and My Books that you might be interested in!

Thomas The Tank Engine

my favorite childhood books - thomas the tank engine

Click here for the lowest price on Amazon!

I loved this story because of its essential message that will power can overcome any perceived shortcomings you think you might have. It’s essentially the age-old moniker: “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.”

Thomas always overcomes seemingly insurmountable odds and shows readers that you can truly achieve anything if you believe in yourself. The full Thomas the Tank Engine Story Collection, written by Reverend W. Awdry, more than 55 exciting and funny tales that are enhanced by original artwork.

The Missing Piece

my favorite childhood books - the missing piece

Click here for the lowest price on Amazon!

While I read many of Shel Silverstein’s books when I was young (including Where the Sidewalk Ends), this book became one of my favorite because it planted the earliest seeds for an idea that would grow to become very important to me in my adult life.

That is the idea that what we often feel is missing in our lives can be found inside of ourselves, rather than in the external environment. What “the piece” thought it was missing was, indeed, what made it unique and relatable to readers. The piece’s journey is told alongside Silverstein’s iconic sketches and drawings and contains lessons that will stay with us throughout a lifetime.

Winnie The Pooh

my favorite childhood books - winnie the pooh

Click here for the lowest price on Amazon!

The Tales of Winnie the Pooh struck my curiosity as a child because of the array of characters contained within its pages. My favorite character as a child, actually, was Tigger. I was attracted to his “bounciness” and energy for life, even if it got him into some sticky situations sometimes.

Although Pooh’s complete tales are now more than 90 years old, the lessons in A.A. Milne’s writings are just as relevant today as they were when they were first written. Each character is unique and has its own lessons to teach us about our emotions, thought processes, and how we approach life in general.

Clifford The Big Red Dog

my favorite childhood books - clifford the big red dog

Click here for the lowest price on Amazon!

Growing up, we always had a dog around the house. First, it was an all-black Briard (French sheepdog) named Nibbles. Then, it was a much larger Briard named Chewbacca (Chewy for short). Now, it is a Golden Doodle named Huckleberry. As a child, the idea of a giant red dog as big as my house was too hard to ignore.

But within its pages, this book really tells us what it truly means to be a good friend. Our dogs continuously show us incredibly examples of what it means to love unconditionally. These are examples that we can all inspire to because if there’s anything we need more of in the world it’s unconditional love.

Where The Wild Things Are

my favorite childhood books - where the wild things are

Click here for the lowest price on Amazon!

Ah, the joys of the dream world! Max’s journey takes imaginative twists and turns into the world of “The Wild Things,” where he learns many lessons, including those related to the pros and cons of what I’d like to call “wildness.” Maurice Sendak’s book is now fifty years old, but its contents have inspired generations.

The stories in this children’s book have been adapted to the big screen and the opera. My favorite lesson from this book is that it’s okay to let our imaginations run wild sometimes. In fact, imagination is key if we wish to create a new, better world because, before we can go about creating it, we must have the capacity to imagine what it is we wish to create!

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

my favorite childhood books - harry potter and the sorcerers stone

Click here for the lowest price on Amazon!

I don’t remember exactly how old I was when I received the first book in the Harry Potter series, but it was a series that felt custom-tailored to my age group. As a child, how can one not be enthralled by J.K. Rowling’s wizarding world, and the hope that one day you might begin to discover your own “otherworldly” powers?

The first book in the series really set the tone for my sustained interest in Harry’s story and his quest. The narrative starts out on Harry’s journey to discover, and ultimately fulfill, his destiny. Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the Harry Potter series is the idea that there could be a whole different world (or worlds) out there that we don’t even realize exist, and that are waiting to be discovered.

Are You My Mother?

my favorite childhood books - are you my mother

Click here for the lowest price on Amazon!

Broken down to its simplest form, this book contains the main character’s quest to discover where he came from in order to understand where he’s going. P.D. Eastman’s writing introduces concepts of identity and origin in a fun, comic story that I loved when I was a kid.

As an adult, it brings up some interesting questions. If you’d never seen yourself in a mirror, would you have any idea who or what you look like? If you don’t understand where you came from, does that change your ability to know where you’re going?

Everyone Poops

my favorite childhood books - everyone poops

Click here for the lowest price on Amazon!

I couldn’t help myself from including this book in my list because it set the stage for an early understanding of the digestive processes that most creatures on this Earth go through on a daily basis. On a personal level, it also set the tone for actively choosing not to be grossed out by bodily processes that are 100% biologically natural.

I can’t even count the times I’ve used the exact title of this book in responding to someone who I perceive to be overreacting to what they perceive to be a “disgusting” occurrence. Beyond the obvious fact that lies in its title though, this books helps us to understand how our digestive process may differ from those of our favorite animal companions.

The Lorax

my favorite childhood books - the lorax

Click here for the lowest price on Amazon!

Dr. Seuss was way ahead of his time with this one. But before we get into this book’s relevance to the current environmental movement, I just have to ask: what child can resist the image of the Truffula tree, one that so closely resembles our favorite fair treat, cotton candy?

The Lorax became one of my favorite childhood books because of the incorruptible nature of that little orange man who stood up for the trees, but his message only seems to grow in importance with each passing day of my adulthood. The Lorax himself says, “Unless someone like you…cares a whole awful lot…nothing is going to get better…it’s not.”

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

my favorite childhood books - alexander and the terrible horrible no good very bad day

Click here for the lowest price on Amazon!

You can’t help but feel sorry for Alexander, can you? Everything that can go wrong, will go wrong for him on this terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. And as we get older, we can only relate more and more, it seems. We’ve all had one of these days, haven’t we?

From waking up with gum in his hair to having lima beans for dinner, Alexander’s tale embodies what I later learned adults call “Murphy’s Law.” But underneath this very, incredibly, excruciatingly trying day for Alexander, there remains one intriguing question: is it really all so bad?

What Are Your Favorite Childhood Books?

Did you read any of these selections when you were young? Are you currently reading any of them to your children?

I’d love to hear about your favorite childhood books and why the lessons from those books stuck with you. Also, if you decide to purchase any of the books detailed in this post, I’d love to hear if the lessons you learned from them were similar to those that I’ve included in this article.

Please leave a comment below if you are inspired, perplexed, saddened, or angered by any of the books or ideas presented above. I welcome any and all comments and will do my best to respond hastily. I’d also encourage you to share this with others if you found it particularly insightful or helpful. Be sure to tag @ballisterwriting on Facebook or Instagram if you do!

Cheers to Your Inner Child!

Tucker Ballister

tucker@ballisterwriting.com

The Best Selling Non Fiction Books of 2018 Featured Image

The Best Selling Non Fiction Books of 2018

In my last post, I highlighted the science of reading and some amazing ways in which reading positively alters our brain chemistry. So now it’s time to look at some new options for what to read next! While it’s too early for some amazing non-fiction books that are undoubtedly set to be published in 2019, we can certainly take a look back at the best selling non-fiction books of 2018!

In putting this list together, I went through the entire New York Times Non-Fiction Bestseller List for 2018 and picked the five books that got my attention. Then I set out to learn more about each of them to provide a brief summary for you to peruse at your leisure.

If none of these books speak to you in any particular way, don’t worry! I’m not offended. But don’t leave so quickly! I’ve got plenty of other Book Reviews for you to enjoy, as well as Writing Tips and My Books that you might be interested in!

Sapiens

best selling non fiction books of 2018 - sapiens yuval noah harari

Click here for the lowest price on Amazon!

Written by Yuval Noah Harari, Sapiens topped the NY Times Non-Fiction Bestsellers list on September 23rd, 2018. Published by HarperCollins, this book tells a riveting new narrative or humanity’s creation and evolution. Approaching the dilemma from both a biological and historical perspective, Harari examines how we define ourselves and what it means to be “human.”

He also dives into the interesting question of why homo sapiens are the only species of human that exists on Earth today, and what the extinction of the five other homo species that inhabited the Earth a hundred thousands years ago speaks to the future that may be in store for our species.

Many books about human history fail to dive far enough back to truly do the task justice. By starting back about 70,000 years ago, Harari introduces the appearance of modern cognition. He paints a picture of how humans have impacted the global ecosystem, built successful empires, and evolved into the societies we see around us today.

Perhaps most importantly, Harari also dares us to look into the future by understanding that modern humans have begun to bend the laws of natural selection that have governed the community of life on this planet for the past four billion years. What does this mean for our continued evolution? What exactly is it that we want to become? Find these answers, and more, by purchasing your own copy of Sapiens today!

Educated

best selling non fiction books of 2018 - educated tara westover

Click here for the lowest price on Amazon!

Written by Tara Westover, Educated topped the NY Times Non-Fiction Bestsellers list three times in 2018, on March 11th, July 29th, and September 9th. Published by Random House, Westover’s memoir chronicles the journey of a young girl who is part of a survivalist family. When her family keeps her out of school, the girl decides to leave home and pursue her own education. She goes on to earn a Ph.D. from Cambridge University.

Tara Westover grew up in the remote mountains of Idaho. She grew up in extreme isolation from mainstream society, which meant there was no one to ensure she received an education. It also meant there was no one to intervene when one of her brothers began to become violent. When she saw another of her brothers gain acceptance to college, Westover began to believe in another path.

The first time she set foot in a classroom wasn’t until the age of 17. From there, her education experience rapidly transformed her and took her far from home. This memoir follows her journey from Harvard to Cambridge, across oceans and continents. But, in the end, there remains one nagging question: if Tara travels too far, will she still be able to find a way home? Find out the answer by purchasing a copy of Educated today!

Becoming

best selling non fiction books of 2018 - becoming michelle obama

Click here for the lowest price on Amazon!

Written by Michelle Obama, Becoming topped the NY Times Non-Fiction Bestsellers list for the entire month of December in 2018. Published by Crown, this book is the former First Lady’s memoir detailing the experiences that have shaped her in her own words. It gives the reader unique insights into the early childhood of the woman that helped to share the most inclusive and welcoming White House in history.

Michelle Obama is a powerful advocate for women and girls in the U.S. and around the world. She used her position as the first African-American First Lady to impact the country in many ways, including changing the ways families pursue healthier and more active lifestyles and showing us a shining example of how to raise two down-to-earth children under the indomitable glare of today’s media.

Her memoir chronicles her childhood growing up on the south side of Chicago and dives into the tricky work-life balance she had to maintain as both an executive and a mother. She recounts the many challenges and triumphs of life at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and her writing style shines an honest and witty light on the public and private sides of her full story. To read her entire journey, purchase your own copy of Becoming today!

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry

best selling non fiction books of 2018 - astrophysics for people in a hurry neil degrasse tyson

Click here for the lowest price on Amazon!

Written by Neil Degrasse Tyson, Astrophysics for People in a Hurry topped the NY Times Non-Fiction Bestsellers list on January 14th, 2018. Published by Norton, the world’s most beloved and celebrated astrophysicist breaks down some most pressing questions about his field of study and answers them in a way that doesn’t require endless concentration or hours of study.

In this essential guide to astrophysics, Tyson brings the universe back down to Earth and presents it clearly, succinctly, and, most importantly, with his characteristic humor. The book is broken into easily digestible chapters that don’t need to be consumed in order to provide compelling insights. This makes it a great guide to keep on your person and break own for a better understanding of our place in the cosmos whenever you have a few extra moments.

Inside, Tyson covers topics including The Big Bang, black holes, quantum mechanics, quarks, and the search for other planets and intelligent life in the universe. Whether you bust it out while waiting for your coffee to brew or the train to arrive, this book answers some of our most pressing questions about the universe. What is the nature of space and time? How do we fit within the universe? How does the universe fit within us? Find these answers, and many more, by purchasing a copy of Astrophysics for People in a Hurry today!

Killers of the Flower Moon

best selling non fiction books of 2018 - killers of the flower moon david grann

Click here for the lowest price on Amazon!

Written by David Grann, Killers of the Flower Moon topped the NY Times Non-Fiction Bestsellers list on April 22nd, 2018. Published by Doubleday, this book tells the gripping account of the Osage Murders and the subsequent birth of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. To this day, this true-life murder mystery is still one of the most monstrous crimes in American history.

Back in the 1920s, the people of the Osage Nation were the ‘richest people per capita in the world’. Hailing from Oklahoma, the people of the Osage nation owed their wealth to the discovery of vast oil deposits beneath their land. They frequently rode around in chauffeured automobiles, constructed lavish mansions, and made a habit of sending their children away for expensive higher education in Europe.

But almost as quickly as their wealth had arrived, the members of the nation began to be killed, one by one. In particular, the family of one Osage woman, Mollie Burkhart, clearly began to be targeted. One of her family members was shot and another was poisoned. As more and more members of the Osage nation passed away under mysterious circumstances, as did some officials tasked with solving the murders, the events in Oklahoma caught the attention of the newly created FBI and its young director, J. Edgar Hoover.

This story tells the account of how Hoover tasked a former Texas Ranger named Tom White with unraveling the mystery and how White assembled an undercover team to investigate the murders. White’s team included a Native American agent who successfully infiltrated the region and, working with the people of the Osage nation, began to expose one of the most chilling conspiracies in American history. Read the full story by purchasing a copy of Killers of the Flower Moon today!

Read On!

While I hope you’ve enjoyed these brief summaries of the best selling non-fiction books, there is, of course, no substitute for sitting down and the digesting these books on your time. If you do choose to purchase Sapiens, Educated, Becoming, Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, or Killers of the Flower Moon after reading this review, I’d love to know how the book you choose changes your life!

Also, I’d love to hear what other types of books or authors you’d like to see reviewed on this site. I’m always looking for new opportunities to read and review. My only regret is that my reading list tends to grow much faster than I’m able to check items off of it, so if you do leave me a suggestion, I appreciate your patience as I dive into the many books on my shelves!

Please leave a comment below if you are inspired, perplexed, saddened, or angered by any of the ideas presented above. I welcome any and all comments and will do my best to respond hastily. I’d also encourage you to share this with others if you found it particularly insightful or helpful. Be sure to tag @ballisterwriting on Facebook or Instagram if you do!

Happy Reading!

Tucker Ballister

tucker@ballisterwriting.com

The Story of B Featured Image

The Story of B

I can’t remember exactly when I read Ishmael, but that was my first introduction to Daniel Quinn and his writing style. Because I enjoyed that book so much, someone recommended that I read his follow-up novel, The Story of B. So, I bought the book, but it sat on my shelf (or I carried it around on my trips without ever opening it) for a couple years.

Finally, as I was down to the last book I brought with me to Costa Rica, it was time to open The Story of B and find out what the fuss is all about. What I found is that, indeed, there is certainly something to fuss over. Anyone searching for meaning in our world and the human experience can benefit from Quinn’s work.

This review will provide a brief overview of the plot before diving into my main takeaways. It is, by no means, a complete summary. If you want to absorb all the knowledge that Quinn imparts in its pages, you’ll just have to read The Story of B for yourself.

Plot Summary

The plot of the book centers on Father Jared Osborne. Father Osborne is a middle-aged priest who, in the book’s opening pages, is summoned to the office of Father Lulfre, his “higher-up”. Lulfre tells Osborne that he has a special mission for him. He says that rumors are coming out of Europe about the appearance of the Antichrist.

While other denominations have long forgotten their duty to keep a watchful eye for the arrival of the Antichrist, Father Lulfre explains that the Laurentians have maintained their vigilance in this mission. He tasks Osborne to travel to Europe to investigate whether the rumors are true and, if so, whether this figure is actually as dangerous as people are saying.

The Story of B tracks Osborne through his discovery of this Antichrist, whose followers call him B. It chronicles the unlikely relationship that develops between Osborne and B as the former tries to understand the message the latter is spreading. All the while, B is working to help Osborne understand the follies of his worldview and attempting to impart upon him a new vision of how man is meant to exist on Earth.

B’s Definition of ‘The Antichrist’

Early religious authors suggested the existence of a figure diametrically opposed to everything that Christ stood for. In some texts, it is written that the arrival of the Messiah would be followed shortly thereafter by the arrival of the Antichrist and that the battle that ensued would lead to the ultimate vanquishing of evil. This would, in those texts, place a nice tidy bow on the timeline of history. Everything would be “done” after that.

Other set forth the idea that, because the Messiah (Jesus) had already arrived, the next ‘arrival’ would be that of the Antichrist, whose mission would be to lead all humanity to sin. In this story, the Antichrist would become nearly as beloved as Jesus himself, before the ultimate battle that vanquishes evil, sees God triumph, and, again, puts a nice, neat bow on the timeline of history.

In The Story of B, Quinn takes things a step further and says that “The Antichrist isn’t just the antithesis of Jesus, he’s equally the antithesis of Buddha, of Elijah, of Moses, of Muhammad, of Nanak, of Joseph Smith, of Maharaj Ji–of all saviors and purveyors of salvation in the world. He is in fact the Antisavior.”

Who is B?

B is Charles Atterley. B is Shirin. B is…YOU! I know it might sound confusing, but I’m going to leave it right there. If you’re dying to know what I mean, you’re just going to have to read it for yourself.

A Journey Through History

My favorite part of this book was that it took the reader back (farther back than you may have ever considered) to understand why we live the way we live today and to impart the lesson that our way of life isn’t the only way. This journey through history also shows us that there is much less separating East and West as some of us (myself included before reading) might imagine.

This journey will take you back far more than 10,000 years. It will take you back before our Agricultural Revolution. It will take you back before war and famine and poverty and so many other ailments existed among the human species. It will show you how quickly our population has exploded in the last 10,000 years, and how relatively slowly our population was increasing before that.

It will help you understand the intricacies of why the tribal system was so successful for the human species for so many years. It will take you back to offer insights on why the Egyptians, Mayans, and Aztecs all built pyramids. What it won’t do is to give you all the answers, but it will make you ask questions and consider how you’ve been looking at the world around you.

B’s Major Lesson

There are many, many lessons that lie within the pages of this book. There are thoughts on religion, politics, social systems, sustainability, and so much more. But the most important lesson comes in the form of making us re-imagine our place in the world and, indeed, in the community of life. Our human history extends much further back than the first tribes that organized into farms and villages to test a new agricultural system. That system has given us the ability to create great food surpluses, but it has also created opportunities for devastating famine.

For me, B’s lesson was a reaffirmation of an idea that has dwelt in my subconscious for some time now. We are part of the community of life, rather than rulers of that community. We are subject to the laws of ecology just as is every other species alive on this Earth. For all of our advanced intelligence and technology, we can not escape our biological origins. We come from this Earth, our ancestors knew how to live on this earth without destroying it, and we are capable of remembering how to do so as well.

Learn The Story of B!

While I hope you’ve enjoyed this summary of my most important takeaways from Daniel Quinn’s The Story of B, I want to stress that there is really no substitute for sitting down and the digesting the entire book on your time. If you do choose to purchase The Story of B after reading this review, I’d love to know how the book speaks to you!

Also, I’d love to hear what other types of books or authors you’d like to see reviewed on this site. I’m always looking for new opportunities to read and review. My only regret is that my reading list tends to grow much faster than I’m able to check items off of it, so if you do leave me a suggestion, I appreciate your patience as I dive into the many books on my shelves!

Please leave a comment below if you are inspired, perplexed, saddened, or angered by any of the ideas presented above. I welcome any and all comments and will do my best to respond hastily. I’d also encourage you to share this with others if you found it particularly insightful or helpful. Be sure to tag @ballisterwriting on Facebook or Instagram if you do!

Happy Reading!

Tucker Ballister

tucker@ballisterwriting.com

The Naked Ape Featured Image

The Naked Ape: A Study of Human Biology

Prior to taking a short holiday vacation back to the states, I was scrambling to finish a book that my Dad gifted to me last spring. The book is called The Naked Ape and it was written in 1967 by Desmond Morris, an English zoologist. It was a fascinating read and one that made we wonder why it isn’t included on more collegiate or even primary school reading lists.

In this review, I’m going to take a chapter-by-chapter approach to break down The Naked Ape so that you have a better understanding of the central arguments Morris presents throughout the book. For each chapter, I’ll also include a quote or two that embody those arguments.

Chapter 1: Origins

In his opening chapter, Morris seeks to explain how applying the typical biological examination used for animal species in zoological studies is relevant when applied to what he calls ‘the human animal.’ He explains that, from his viewpoint, science has largely ignored the biological development of the human animal (at least up to that point) and that ignorance has stemmed from us incorrectly removing the human animal from the greater community of life.

He continues to detail the human animal’s evolution from foraging primate to carnivorous ‘hunting ape’. He points out that, “Killing is not, in fact, a basic part of the primate way of life,” and that “It is only a wise primate, like our hunting ape, that knows its father.”

The central argument of Chapter 1 is that, while the human animal largely owes his current place in the community of life to his/her intellectual development, this development is still very much in its infancy (in the grand scheme of history) and that much of our actions and interactions today are still influenced by our most basic biological necessities. He sums up this argument here:

“…there he stands, our vertical, hunting, weapon-toting, territorial, neotenous, brainy, Naked Ape, a primate by ancestry and a carnivore by adoption, ready to conquer the world. But he is a very new and experimental departure, and new models frequently have imperfections. For him the main troubles will stem from the fact that his culturally operated advances will race ahead of any further genetic ones. His genes will lag behind, and he will be constantly reminded that, for all his environment-moulding achievements, he is still at heart a very naked ape.”

Chapter 2: Sex

In Chapter 2, Morris dives into the sexual relationships of the human animal. To do so, he begins by explaining the common mode of sexual relationships among primates. In summary, Morris argues that primates don’t form ‘pair-bonds’ like we find common among humans. Instead, female primates may copulate with multiple males before becoming pregnant with young. Thus, it is virtually impossible for primates to know who the exact father of the offspring is.

As we evolved to become ‘hunting apes’, Morris suggests, there arose a greater need to form pair-bonds, which are more common among carnivorous animals. Morris suggests that the need for the formation of pair-bonds arose out of relatively newfound hunting behavior. There were certain factors unique to the hunting ape that drove it to become one of the few primate species that forms pair-bonds, but Morris central argument is that, evolutionarily, this is still a relatively new development. He sums this up here:

“Sexually the naked ape finds himself today in a somewhat confusing situation. As a primate he is pulled one way, as a carnivore by adoption he is pulled another, and as a member of an elaborate civilized community he is pulled yet another.”

One of the more poignant side-arguments that Morris presented in Chapter 2 dealt with population expansion. Despite the fact that he expressed this view more than 50 years ago, I found it to be quite relevant today. Morris concluded Chapter 2 with this statement:

“Thanks to medical science, surgery and hygiene, we have reached an incredible peak of breeding success. We have practiced death control and now we must balance it with birth control. It looks very much as though, during the next century or so, we are going to have to change our sexual ways at last. But if we do, it will not be because they failed, but because they succeeded too well.”

Chapter 3: Rearing

Morris’ third chapter was one of the most insightful of the entire book, from my perspective, and a must-read for anyone that has or is thinking about having kids. He begins by detailing the human child’s response to the heartbeat rhythm. He presents research that suggests children are powerfully stimulated by the sound of the mother’s heartbeat, which is why most mothers (regardless of whether they are left or right-hand dominant) carry children on their left side.

Morris also details the power of imitation among children. In other words, he presents scientific evidence that the old adage “do what I say and not what I do” is entirely ineffective. He suggests:

“An agitated mother cannot avoid signaling her agitation to her new-born infant. It signals back to her in the appropriate manner, demanding protection from the cause of the agitation. This only serves to increase the mother’s distress, which in turn increases the baby’s crying. Eventually the wretched infant cries itself sick and its physical pains are then added to the sum total of its already considerable misery. All that is necessary to break the vicious circle is for the mother to accept the situation and become calm herself.”

Building upon this argument, Morris details evidence that much of the imitative absorption that happens in our childhood remains with us throughout our entire lives. While we may attribute our actions and decisions to more recent stimuli, there is sufficient scientific evidence behind the reason why so many psychologists seek to understand a patient’s childhood when attempting to remedy what we view as more ‘current’ maladies. Morris makes his argument here:

“Much of what we do as adults is based on this imitative absorption during our childhood years. Frequently we imagine that we are behaving in a particular way because such behaviour accords with some abstract, lofty code of moral principles, when in reality all we are doing is obeying a deeply ingrained and long ‘forgotten’ set of purely imitative impressions. It is the unmodifiable obedience to these impressions (along with our carefully concealed instinctive urges) that makes it so hard for societies to change their customs and their ‘beliefs’. Even when faced with exciting, brilliantly rational new ideas, based on the application of pure, objective intelligence, the community will still cling to its old home-based habits and prejudices. This is the cross we have to bear if we are going to sail through our vital juvenile ‘blotting-paper’ phase of rapidly mopping up the accumulated experiences of previous generations. We are forced to take the biased opinions along with the valuable facts.”

In presenting a balancing act for us to aspire to as we move forward, Morris concludes Chapter 3 with this insightful statement:

“Lucky is the society that enjoys the gradual acquisition of a perfect balance between imitation and curiosity, between slavish, unthinking copying and progressive, rational experimentation.”

Chapter 4: Exploration

As you can tell, the end of Chapter 3 offers a perfect segway to a discussion on the importance of exploration in the context of human evolution. Morris suggests that the survival of the human animal, as well as our massive population explosion, may be attributed to our desire to explore and experiment. He details the major difference between what he calls ‘specialists’ and ‘non-specialists’ in the animal kingdom.

Specialists are those that have found a food source that is plentiful, reliable, and for which there is very little competition. For specialists, there is almost zero variety in their diets. “So long as the ant-eater has its ants and the koala bear its gum leaves, then they are well satisfied and the living is easy,” says Morris.

For non-specialists (which he also calls ‘opportunists’), “the going may always be tough, but the creature will be able to adapt rapidly to any quick-change act that the environment decides to put on. Take away a mongoose’s rats and mice and it will switch to eggs and snails. Take away a monkey’s fruits and nuts and it will switch to roots and shoots.”

In other words, the ability to consume a varied diet is key to the survival of the human animal. But Morris goes onto discuss how we arrived here, in the present day, with the ability to consume such a varied diet. He attributes this trait to our exploratory nature which, interestingly enough, tends to be snuffed out as we grow older. This, to me, was the central argument of Morris’ fourth chapter, and he sums it up very nicely here:

“As children grow older their exploratory tendencies sometimes reach alarming proportions and adults can be heard referring to ‘a group of youngsters behaving like wild animals.’ But the reverse is actually the case. If the adults took the trouble to study the way in which adult wild animals really do behave, they would find that they are the wild animals. They are the ones who are trying to limit exploration and who are selling out to the cosiness of sub-human conservativism. Luckily for the species, there are always enough adults who retain their juvenile inventiveness and curiosity and who enable populations to progress and expand.”

Chapter 5: Fighting

I’m sure that many of us wonder why so much fighting goes on in the world today. For his part, Morris gives two reasons why animals fight. The first is “to establish their dominance in a social hierarchy” and the second is “to establish their territorial rights over a particular piece of ground.” In examining the human animal, most fighting that we see among ourselves today can be attributed to one of these two factors. Even the most seemingly pointless night club brawl is driven by that biological urge to establish dominance in that particular social hierarchy.

Morris makes a clear statement toward the beginning of the chapter on the dangers of intra-specific aggression:

“If a species is to survive, it simply cannot afford to go around slaughtering its own kind. Intra-specific aggression has to be inhibited and controlled, and the more powerful and savage the prey-killing weapons of a particular species are, the stronger must be the inhibitions about using them to settle disputes with rivals. This is the ‘law of the jungle’ where territorial and hierarchy disagreements are concerned. Those species that failed to obey this law have long since become extinct.”

Interestingly, Morris digresses to a critique of religion in this chapter. Considering the amount of historical violence that has occurred in the name of religious conquest, I suppose it is not all too surprising. What did shock me, however, was this suggestion:

“Religion has also given rise to a great deal of unnecessary suffering and misery, wherever it has become over-formalized in its application, and whenever the professional ‘assistant’s of the god figures have been unable to resist the temptation to borrow a little of his power and use it themselves. But despite its chequered history it is a feature of our social life that we cannot do without. Whenever it becomes unacceptable, it is quietly, or sometimes violently, rejected, but in no time at all it is back again in a new form, carefully disguised perhaps, but containing all the same old basic elements. We simply have to ‘believe in something’. Only a common belief will cement us together and keep us under control.”

He goes on to add a suggestion for beliefs that will serve us:

“As a species we are a predominantly intelligent and exploratory animal, and beliefs harnessed to this fact will be the most beneficial for us.”

Chapter 6: Feeding

Morris begins Chapter 6 with a discussion on how ‘work’ has replaced ‘the hunt’ in modern society. Despite the fact that many modern males don’t regularly kill and prepare their own food, he points out, ‘work’ in modern culture has many of the same characteristics as ‘the hunt’. These include our daily trips from home to the ‘hunting’ grounds, the need to take risks and plan strategies, and the predominance in the workplace of male-to-male interaction.

(This is one of the areas in which one is reminded that Morris published this book more than 50 years ago. Things have changed in the modern workplace but, as Morris states, many modern workers or “pseudo-hunters” still talk of “making a killing in the City.”)

Some of the more intriguing insights in Chapter 6 were centered on our attraction to certain types of foods. Morris suggests that it is our primate heritage that leads us to seek sweet tastes at the conclusion of an otherwise savory meal. He gives further detail on this biological urge here:

“…there is one aspect of our true tasting that requires special comment, and that is our undeniably prevalent ‘sweet-tooth’. This is something alien to the true carnivore, but typically primate-like. As the natural food of primates becomes riper and more suitable for consumption, it usually becomes sweeter, and monkeys and apes have a strong reaction to anything that is strongly endowed with this taste. Like other primates, we find it hard to resist ‘sweets’. Our ape ancestry expresses itself, despite our strong meat-eating tendency, in the seeking out of specially sweetened substances. We favour this basic taste more than the others. We have ‘sweet shops’, but no ‘sour shops’. Typically, when eating a full-scale meal, we end the often complex sequence of flavours with some sweet substance, so that this is the taste that lingers on afterwards. More significantly when we occasionally take small, inter-meal snacks (and therefore revert, to an ancient, primate scatter-feeding pattern), we nearly always choose primate-sweet food objects, such as candy, chocolate, ice-cream, or sugared drinks.

So powerful is this tendency that it can lead us into difficulties. The point is that there are two elements in a food object that make it attractive to us: its nutritive value and its palatability. In nature, these two factors go hand in hand, but in artificially produced foodstuffs they can be separated, and this can be dangerous. Food objects that are nutritionally almost worthless can be made powerfully attractive simply by adding a large amount of artificial sweetener. If they appeal to our old primate weakness by tasting ‘super-sweet’, we will lap them up and so stuff ourselves with them that we have little room left for anything else: thus the balance of our diet can be upset. This applies especially in the case of growing children. In an earlier chapter I mentioned recent research which has shown that the preference for sweet and fruity odours falls off dramatically at puberty, when there is a shift in favour of flowery, oily, and musky odours. The juvenile weakness for sweetness can be easily exploited, and frequently is.”

While this statement helps us understand our tendency towards sweets, as well as how that tendency can be exploited to our detriment, I found Morris’ final statements of Chapter 6 to be most poignant to modern day food production. He speaks of the evolution from the early days of ‘mixed farming’ (pre-Agricultural Revolution) to today’s systems of widespread animal domestication and mono-crop cultivation. He suggests that these two tendencies evolved hand-in-hand, but that their continued proliferation could have serious consequences for the health of our population:

“With advancing crop-cultivation techniques and the concentration on a very few staple cereals, a kind of low-grade efficiency has proliferated in certain cultures. The large-scale agricultural operations have permitted the growth of big populations, but their dependency on a few basic cereals has led to serious malnutrition. Such people may breed in large numbers, but they produce poor physical specimens. They survive, but only just. In the same way that abuse of culturally developed weapons can lead to aggressive disaster, abuse of culturally developed feeding techniques can lead to nutritional disaster. Societies that have lost the essential food balance in this way may be able to survive, but they will have to overcome the widespread ill-effects of deficiencies in protein, minerals and vitamins if they are to progress and develop qualitatively. In all the healthiest and most go-ahead societies today, the meat-and-plant diet balance is well maintained and, despite the dramatic changes that have occurred in the methods of obtaining the nutritional supplies, the progressive naked ape of today is still feeding on much the same basic diet as his ancient hunting ancestors. Once again, the transformation is more apparent than real.”

Chapter 7: Comfort

In Chapter 7, Morris discussed how certain forms of communal comforts, such as the regular grooming that is seen in primates, are exhibited in modern culture of the human animal. He discussed the adoption of a habit he refers to as grooming talk, which are those subjects we feel most comfortable broaching in a new social setting, or during introductions and conclusions of social gatherings (i.e. weather, the latest movies, entertainment news, etc).

Morris argues that grooming talk sets the stage for more in-depth conversations, but that it is essential to put everyone at ease before those more topical conversations can take place. In other words, it could be quite awkward if we began a completely new social interaction with a direct question about someone’s political or religious views.

In addition, Morris uses Chapter 7 to discuss the psychological aspects of illness. He suggests that some of our more common, ‘minor’ illnesses may actually be attributed to our need for comfort rather than a truly physical reaction to bacteria or virus. Morris summarizes his viewpoint here:

“An ailment that is severe enough to put us helplessly to bed, therefore, has the great advantage of recreating for us all the comforting attention of our secure infancy. We may think we are taking a strong dose of medicine, but in reality it is a strong dose of security that we need and that cures us.”

Morris goes on to point out that we are capable of prolonging illness in others by demonstrating a stifling need to provide care:

“Some individuals have such a great need to care for others that they may actively promote and prolong sickness in a companion in order to be able to express their grooming urges more fully. This can produce a vicious circle, with the groomer-groomee situation becoming exaggerated out of all proportion to the extent where a chronic invalid demanding (and getting) constant attention is created.”

Chapter 8: Animals

To bring our thoughts back to some of his initial arguments about our false view of humans being separate from the natural world, Morris’ final chapter deals with our interactions with our species in the animal kingdom. He makes arguments that our “symbiotic” relationships with other animals are actually very rarely mutually beneficial. In most cases, he argues, the other animal is exploited, “but in exchange for the exploitation we feed and care for them. It is a biased symbiosis because we are in control of the situation and our animal partners usually have little or no choice in the matter.”

From a purely scientific standpoint, Morris goes on to make a case for animal conservation. In other words, he argues that we have a duty to promote diversity in the community of life, if for no other reason than for our own curiosity:

“If we are to continue to enjoy the rich complexities of the animal world and to use wild animals as objects of scientific and aesthetic exploration, we must give them a helping hand. If we allow them to vanish, we shall have simplified our environment in a most unfortunate way. Being an intensely investigatory species, we can ill afford to lose such a valuable source of material.”

In this chapter, he also details some very intriguing studies among children that provide evidence for why we prefer certain animal species to others. It appears our aversion to snakes may very well be traced to our ancient primate heritage (snakes being one of the other tree-dwelling species capable of causing harm to most primate species). These studies also show that animals with similarly ‘human’ characteristics are preferred to those with which we struggle to identify.

Because of this natural biological attraction or aversion to certain animals over others, Morris makes this statement near the end of the chapter:

“As I have stressed throughout this book, we are, despite all our great technological advances, still very much a simple biological phenomenon. Despite our grandiose ideas and our lofty self-conceits, we are still humble animals, subject to all the basic laws of animal behaviour.”

Closing Thoughts and Final Opinion

In spite of an honest effort to provide an in-depth look at Desmond Morris’ The Naked Ape, I feel that this review has only just scratched the surface. Each chapter was full of insights and scientific evidence for why we find ourselves in this current position, why we do what we do, and what governs our daily interactions. I can say with certainty that I look at social settings, the current events of the world, and my own decision-making processes through entire new lenses now that I’ve finished this book.

In closing, I’d like to leave this review with Morris’ closing statement. Although I don’t 100% agree with the doomsday proclamation he makes here, I do think healthy consideration of our place within the community of life (rather than as rulers of that community), is in order if we wish to sustain healthy human existence on this planet:

“We must somehow improve in quality rather than in sheer quantity. If we do this, we can continue to progress technologically in a dramatic and exciting way without denying our evolutionary inheritance. If we do not, then our suppressed biological urges will build up and up until the dam bursts and the whole of our elaborate existence is swept away in the flood.”

Explore The Naked Ape!

While I hope you’ve enjoyed this summary of my most important takeaways from each chapter of Desmond Morris’ The Naked Ape, I want to stress that there is really no substitute for sitting down and the digesting the entire book on your time. If you do choose to purchase The Naked Ape after reading this review, I’d love to know how the book speaks to you!

the naked ape - front cover

Also, I’d love to hear what other types of books or authors you’d like to see reviewed on this site. I’m always looking for new opportunities to read and review. My only regret is that my reading list tends to grow much faster than I’m able to check items off of it, so if you do leave me a suggestion, I appreciate your patience as I dive into the many books on my shelves!

Please leave a comment below if you are inspired, perplexed, saddened, or angered by any of the ideas presented above. I welcome any and all comments and will do my best to respond hastily. I’d also encourage you to share this with others if you found it particularly insightful or helpful. Be sure to tag @ballisterwriting on Facebook or Instagram if you do!

Happy Reading!

Tucker Ballister

tucker@ballisterwriting.com

The Best Selling Female Fiction Authors Featured Image

The Best Selling Female Fiction Authors

Female storytellers have been vital to the passing down of knowledge from generation to generation for millennia. Although recent history appears to have favored men in its appraisal of “literary masterpieces,” respect for female authors is growing rapidly, as it should and must be. In respect of this necessary evolution, this post focuses on highlighting some of the best selling female fictions authors of all time, as well as sharing links to their most popular work!

Virginia Woolf

the best selling female fiction authors - virginia woolf

Virginia Woolf was born in England in 1882. By all accounts, she was raised in a modest household by two forward-thinking parents. Her first experience as a writer and publisher came as a young girl when she intrepidly started her own family newspaper, which she called the Hyde Park Gate News. She went on to study Latin, Greek, and German at The Ladies’ Department of King’s College London. It was during her collegiate studies that she was first introduced to a number of radical feminists at the leading edge of the educational reforms taking place at the time.

Woolf’s first novel, The Voyage Out, took more than nine years to complete. It was first published in 1915. Two years after publishing her first novel, Woolf and her husband, Leonard, bought a printing press and started their own publishing house, the Hogarth Press. Woolf went on to publish a number of works that have inspired the generations of feminists that have come after her, including A Room of One’s OwnMrs. Dalloway, and To The Lighthouse.

Charlotte Brontë

the best selling female fiction authors - charlotte bronte

Charlotte was born in Yorkshire, England in April of 1816. She had two sisters, Emily and Anne, who were also writers, but most accounts depict Charlotte as the most ambitious of the three. She was raised in a strict Anglican home and, although she and her sister Emily attended the Clergy Daughter’s School at Cowan Bridge for a brief stint, Charlotte was largely educated at home.

Charlotte worked as a teacher and governess before her first foray into publishing, which was a book of poetry on which she collaborated with her sisters. Charlotte published her first novel, the widely known literary classic Jane Eyre, in 1847. This semi-autobiographical novel was originally published under the pseudonym ‘Currer Bell’. She also published several additional novels, including The ProfessorShirley, and Villette, before she passed away in March of 1855.

Jane Austen

the best selling female fiction authors - jane austen

Jane Austen was born in Steventon, England in December of 1775. She was her parent’s second daughter and seventh child overall. Her father was an Oxford-educated rector for a local Anglican parish and Jane’s early childhood environment stressed learning and creative thinking. She and her sister, Cassandra, were sent to a boarding school for more formal education during their early teens, but bouts with typhus cut their stints there short, sending them home to live with the family.

Jane began writing in the early 1790s. Her first published novel was Love and Friendship, which is a romantic parody organized as a series of love letters. The following year, she collaborated with her sister to write the historical parody, The History of England. Austen’s most famous works, of course, are Sense and SensibilityPride and Prejudice, and Emma.

Harper Lee

the best selling female fiction authors - harper lee

Harper Lee (full name ‘Nelle’ Harper Lee) was born in Monroeville, Alabama in April of 1926. She was the youngest of four children and her father was a lawyer, a member of the Alabama state legislature, and a part-owner of the local newspaper. Lee attended the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa for three years but eventually dropped out during her senior year to move to New York and pursue a career in writing.

She moved to the city in 1949 at age 23. She struggled for several years but caught a break when she befriended Broadway composer and lyricist Michael Martin Brown and his wife Joy. In 1956, the Browns told Lee they would financially support her for a full year so she could pursue writing full-time. During this year, Lee set the foundation for the manuscript that would eventually become To Kill a Mockingbird, which was eventually published in 1960.

Margaret Atwood

the best selling female fiction authors - margaret atwood

Margaret Atwood was born in Ontario, Canada in November of 1939. As a child, she split time between her family’s primary residence in Toronto and property in the scarcely populated “bush country” of northern Canada where her father, an entomologist, was conducting research. Her earliest writings date back to age 5, but she resumed more serious efforts in adolescence.

She received a master’s degree in English Literature from Radcliffe College in 1962 and published her earliest poetry collections between 1961 and 1968, including The Circle Game and The Animals in that Country. She has also published a number of novels, with The Handmaid’s Tale and The Blind Assassin being arguably the two most widely recognized.

Joyce Carol Oates

the best selling female fiction authors - joyce carol oates

Joyce Carol Oates was born in Lockport, New York in June of 1938. She spent much of her early childhood on a rural farm but developed an admiration for writing and literature. In her teens, she received her first typewriter. She graduated valedictorian from Syracuse University in 1960 and went on to receive her master’s degree from the University of Wisconsin a year later. She then took up teaching work at the universities of Detroit, Windsor (in Canada), and Princeton, respectively.

Oates published her first story collection, By The North Gate, in 1963. She published her debut novel, With Shuddering Fall, a year later. She has since enjoyed a prolific writing career and was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1978. Some of her other noteworthy novels include themWe Were The Mulvaneys, and The Gravedigger’s Daughter.

J.K. Rowling

the best selling female fiction authors - jk rowling

Joanne (J.K.) Rowling was born in July of 1965. She was living in Edinburgh, Scotland and struggling as a single mom before her first book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, was published in 1997. The original working title for this book was actually ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’, but ‘Philosopher’s’ was changed to ‘Sorcerer’s’ for the American publication.

Rowling followed her first book with six others in the wildly successful Harry Potter series, culminating with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Rowling’s net worth is currently estimated at a whopping $850 million, which makes her (by that estimation) wealthier than even Queen Elizabeth II. Her works outside of the Harry Potter series include The Casual Vacancy and Cuckoo Calling, the latter of which she published under the pen name ‘Robert Galbraith’.

Harriet Beecher Stowe

the best selling female fiction authors - harriet beecher stowe

Harriet Beecher Stowe was born in Litchfield, Connecticut in June of 1811. Her family was highly religious and Stowe received a wide-ranging education from an all-girls school. At the age of 21, she moved to Ohio and joined various literary circles, where she became more active and involved in the social issues of the day.

Although perhaps most often remembered for her role in the Underground Railroad, Stowe also used her prolific writing ability to influence public opinion in the years leading up to the Civil War. Her most famous book, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, is a hauntingly realistic depiction of slavery and its human cost. In an interview with President Lincoln in November of 1862 (shortly after the start of the Civil War), Lincoln exclaimed upon meeting her, “So you’re the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war!”

Emily Brontë

the best selling female fiction authors - emily bronte

The middle sister of Charlotte and Anne, Emily Jane Brontë was born in July of 1818. At the age of six, Emily, Charlotte, and their two oldest sisters, Elizabeth and Maria, were sent to the Clergy Daughters’ school at Cowan Bridge. In her early years, Emily collaborated on several novels and books of poetry with her sisters. Their father, Patrick, also published several works during his lifetime.

The Brontë sisters’ first published work was actually a poetry collection called Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell. The ‘Bell’ names were the sisters’ respective pseudonyms. Emily’s first and only published novel was Wuthering Heights, which was published in December of 1847 under the pen name Ellis Bell. Only after Emily’s death in December of 1848 did her book gain recognition as a literary masterwork.

Ursula K. Le Guin

the best selling female fiction authors - ursula k le guin

Ursula K. Le Guin was born in Berkeley, California in October of 1929. She was the youngest child and only girl among four siblings. Her mother was a published writer most known for chronicling the life of the final member of the Yahi tribe, Ishi. Her father was a celebrated anthropologist and her early household celebrated art, ideas, and culture. Ursula was introduced to several members of the Native American community from a young age.

After struggling to be noticed for several years, Le Guin published her first novel, Rocannon’s World, in 1966. It is the first in a series of books that are part of the “Hainish Cycle.” The fourth book in the cycle, The Left Hand of Darkness, was published in 1969 and is one of her most widely acclaimed works. Other well-recognized books by Le Guin include those in the Earthsea series, such as A Wizard of EarthseaThe Tombs of Atuan, and Tehanu.

It’s Reading Time!

While I hope you’ve enjoyed these brief bios, I want to stress that this is by no means a complete compilation of all the best selling female fiction authors out there. If you’ve read anything from any of these authors, I’d love to know why you loved, hated, were perplexed, or experienced any other emotion related to their work!

Also, I’d love to hear what other types of books or authors you’d like to see reviewed on this site. I’m always looking for new opportunities to read and review. My only regret is that my reading list tends to grow much faster than I’m able to check items off of it, so if you do leave me a suggestion, I appreciate your patience as I dive into the many books on my shelves!

Please leave a comment below if you are inspired, perplexed, saddened, or angered by any of the ideas presented above. I welcome any and all comments and will do my best to respond hastily. I’d also encourage you to share this with others if you found it particularly insightful or helpful. Be sure to tag @ballisterwriting on Facebook or Instagram if you do!

Happy Reading!

Tucker Ballister

tucker@ballisterwriting.com

Even Cowgirls Get The Blues Featured Image

Review of Even Cowgirls Get The Blues

I have a confession to make. Some months back, I posted an article with my Favorite Quotes from Even Cowgirls Get The Blues. I did so before I had fully read the book in its entirety. To my readers, I am sorry. But now, as I just finished the 365th-page last night, I’m finally getting around to an honest review of Even Cowgirls Get the Blues by Tom Robbins.

even cowgirls get the blues - front cover

The Summary

This is what the back cover of the book will tell you. “STARRING … Sissy Hankshaw – flawlessly beautiful, almost. A small-town girl with big-time dreams and a quirk to match: hitchhiking her way into your heart, your hopes, and your sleeping bag…[and] FEATURING … Bonanza Jellybean and the smooth-riding Cowgirls of Rubber Rose Ranch. Chink, lascivious guru of yams and yang. Julian, Mohawk by birth, asthmatic aesthete and husband by disposition. Dr. Robbins, preventive psychiatrist and reality instructor … Follow Sissy’s amazing odyssey from Virginia to chic Manhattan to the Dakota Badlands, where FBI agents, cowgirls, and ecstatic whooping cranes explode in a deliciously drawn out climax … ”

Phew! Now that that’s out of the way … what the back cover won’t tell you about is Sissy’s “condition”, Dr. Robbins’ aversion to traditionally-acceptable psychiatric methods, Julian’s need to appease his “high society” friends, and the Countess who (largely) makes the whole story possible. If you want to know more about those things, my friends, you’ll have to find them out for yourself. 

The Themes

What is it all down on paper for? What is good old Mr. Robbins trying to get at anyway? Well, as far as I can tell (and as concisely as I can put it into words), this book is about the nature of time and our relationship to it. It is about our human connection to the natural world. It is about the role that women might play in a healthier, more conscious evolution of humankind. And it is about love, of course (aren’t all of Robbins’ books?)

The Catalyst

Interestingly enough, the catalyst that brings together cowgirls, Chink, Sissy, FBI, and other agents of destruction is these gosh-darned whooping cranes. Known to spend winters in the Aransas Wildlife Refuge in Texas and summers in their Alberta-Northwest Territories nesting grounds, these giant cranes suddenly disappear in the midst of our lovely little tale.

Authorities are vexed, of course, because they are the last surviving flock of whooping cranes on the planet. An endangered species to this day, the whooping crane is the tallest bird in North America and is largely known for its hopping, skipping mating dance. Check out this NatGeo video for a look!

Why You Should Read It

If you haven’t read any of Tom Robbins’ books, Even Cowgirls Get The Blues is a great place to start. I love Robbins’ style because of his comic tone. It is rare to find an author that can make you burst out in audible laughter. It is equally rare to find one that can combine this witty humor with real, tangible insights into the nature of existence. To me, Robbins is a comic and a philosopher, and his storytelling combines these two traits to produce tales that will leave you feeling good and thinking about how you can better relate to (and play in!) the world around you.

Even Cowgirls Get The Blues isn’t a fantasy novel. It is a book set in reality, with a few healthy stretches of the imagination, of course. It is a book that shines a light on some of the ludicrous inner-workings of civilization; the good, the bad, and the ugly. It is a book that will help you contemplate YOUR unique truth.

My Rating

Rating systems are over-rated. Ha! Yes, I said it. Who said that 5 is good and 1 is bad? Who determines that a scale of 1 to 100 is sufficient for measuring the effect that a piece of performance art can have on an individual? And yes, folks, that’s exactly what Even Cowgirls Get The Blues is, a piece of performance art.

So, in the interest of giving you a rating without succumbing to the shortcomings of rating systems, I’ve decided to create my own. In my system, red books are full of blood and gore. Pink books are full of fluffy love metaphors. Green books make you feel like leaving it all behind and living in the woods. Violet books make you lust for something new. Brown books make you fart and stink, but it’s always better out than in (I like to say). Orange books make you feel like eating fruit. Yellow books make you feel slightly queasy. Indigo books only grow an insatiable appetite for more books. And blue books leave you feeling, well, just that: blue.

Now that we’ve cleared that up, it’s time to rate Tom Robbins’ Even Cowgirls Get The Blues. Judges, please reveal your scores.

Judge 1: This is a blue book because we can’t help but feel sad for some of the characters at the end.

Judge 2: This is a yellow book because certain references left us feeling sick to our stomachs.

Judge 3: This is a pink book because it talks about love in ways we’ve never considered.

Judge 4: This is a green book because we sympathize with those characters that leave it all behind.

Judge 5: This is a violet book because it makes us want a new mode of existence.

Judge 6: This is a brown book because some parts of it really do stink.

Judge 7: This is an orange book because what stinks to some is also quite sweet to others.

Judge 8: This is a red book because not all good characters live to see the end.

Judge 9: This is undoubtedly an indigo book because it makes us want to pick up another of Robbins’ brilliant works as soon as we can.

Well folks, there you have it. The results are in. The judges have spoken. Even Cowgirls Get The Blues by Tom Robbins rates as a blue-yellow-pink-green-violet-brown-orange-red-indigo book that you certainly must get your hands on!

even cowgirls get the blues - front cover

Click Here to Find It On Amazon Today!

What Are Your Thoughts?

Have you already read Tom Robbins’ Even Cowgirls Get The Blues? If so, are there any lessons you took away that I didn’t mention in this post? If not, are you interested in reading it now? Also, I’d love to know if you ‘ve read any of Robbins’ other works, such as Jitterbug PerfumeStill Life With Woodpecker, or Skinny Legs and All.

I’d love to hear your feedback on this post and I’d also love to start a conversation about the daily habits that you rely on for success! Please leave a comment below if you are inspired, perplexed, saddened, or angered by any of the ideas presented above.

I welcome any and all comments and will do my best to respond hastily. I’d also encourage you to share this with others if you found it particularly insightful or helpful. Be sure to tag @ballisterwriting on Facebook or Instagram if you do!

Happy Reading!

Tucker Ballister

tucker@ballisterwriting.com