Last month when we read The Martian, I mentioned it has quickly rocketed up my list of favorite books. One book, however, holds the title of my all time favorite. I have read more books than I can guess at in my life, but one book has truly influenced my life: Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land.
This is a hard book to really describe, so much so that even Barnes and Noble struggles to make it clear in their description:
Valentine Michael Smith is a human being raised on Mars, newly returned to Earth. Among his people for the first time, he struggles to understand the social mores and prejudices of human nature that are so alien to him, while teaching them his own fundamental beliefs in grokking, watersharing, and love.
You may have been around sci-fi in general long enough to pick up the word “grok”, even if you didn’t know where it came from. It came from this book, and it means “to drink.” But it also means so, so much more than that, as you’ll see when you read the book. This is more than just a sci-fi version of “boy raised by wolves/apes in the jungle” type cliché. Instead, it’s a book about what it means to be a human being. Not just an American, but a human being at the core, how and why our lives are so heavily influenced by religion and the need for beliefs, and the ways to connect closely with each other. I often point to this book when people ask why I chose to major in philosophy in college, because this is very much a philosophy book; it seeks to understand mankind and attempts to envision how to transform mankind.
There are heavy religious metaphors and overtones, many of which still parallel and fit with the modern world. There are also references to a number of concepts that were way out there in the 1960s but that have come true or will come true in the near future — eBooks, self driving cars, and smart homes are the big ones. There are also a few moments and asides that reflect views of Heinlein’s that are very outdated today, but even if you set those aside you get a smart, fascinating tale that takes what sounds like a basic science fiction story and turns it into something much bigger.
I won’t say more without spoiling the story for those who haven’t read it, but if you only read one of our Book Club selections this year, read this one. I have literally read this book so many times that I have whole sections memorized, and I am still looking forward to reading it again for this month. Every time I read it I get new insights and thoughts; trust me, you won’t regret it!