It’s close to the end of the year. I thought I’d do a wrap up of my favourites. I know there’s a week+ more left in the year, but I think this list will stand anyway. So here we go.
The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
This was incredible and it made me remember why I love Science Fiction. It’s pretty soft sci-fi, and it’s lovely. It is about the crew of a space ship that punches tunnels through space. The tunnels are made in a sort of parallel to space so people can travel faster from one end of space to the other. They get a job to make a new tunnel and the book tells the story of them travelling to the place where they’re starting the tunnel, and basically tells the story of the sort of weird and oddly put together crew, and their troubles and struggles. It’s so beautiful. It’s chock full of diversity of gender and sexuality. There’s an angle in it that I really love, which is the idea that humans discover that the universe is full of other species and aliens and humans are babies and at the bottom of the hierarchy and they have to submit and trust others. I really like that. I loved the characters and the way it looked at love and relationships, and I have never cried so much over an android in my life.
The Vegetarian by Han Kang
The Vegetarian is a South Korean novel about a woman who suddenly decides she will stop eating meat for no good reason. Her husband finds it really frustrating because he has to eat what she makes, and he doesn’t want to be vegetarian. She seems to be going towards a nervous break of some kind and no one can stop her. The book is told from the perspective of her husband, her brother-in-law and her sister so we never get the main character’s perspective on her vegetarianism and her mental breakdown. I really loved it, it’s so beautiful. It’s really weird, and really uncomfortable. The characters are all awful, the husband is horrible, her family is cruel and don’t understand, and it’s so weird. And I really want to read Human Acts as well.
Bruce by Peter Ames Carlin
This is a Bruce Springsteen biography. It’s really big and comprehensive. It came out a couple of years ago and it obviously goes from he was born and until today. I really love Bruce Springsteen, when I found out he was coming to Oslo to do a gig I made a weird noise. I have never made it before or again. I love him so much. Anyway. This was really great. I loved it. I think it’s probably a good place to start if you want to read about Springsteen. I should say I haven’t read other books about him, but this was simple to read and it was comprehensive and it was lovely. It’s not gossipy, but it does bring up things that Bruce did that weren’t great. He has a tendency to change on a dime and not think about how it will affect others, but just breaks up the E Street Band out of nowhere, leaving his band in the lurch. It always talks about him going from this man who just wanted it to be about the music, and then going; fuck it, I’m going to be political, because it cannot go on like this. He’s great.
Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
This is my second Morrison book and it’s about Milkman Dead. He was born right after a neighbourhood man throws himself off a roof because he wants to fly. It’s a slightly different and odd coming-of-age story. It’s about a boy who doesn’t fit in with his father, and who is sort of turned against his mother by his father. He keeps complaining that he doesn’t have the life he wants, but for the most part he does nothing to change his life. Because he’s comfortable and has no impetus to actually change. He is judgy towards his sisters when they don’t lead the lives he wants. And finally he just sort of tries to change his life. And it’s weird and not particularly well thought out and oddly funny. And it’s a stunning comment on race in the States around the time of Jim Crow and a really horrifying way a group of black men try to fight back against institutionalised racism. It’s so good.
Signs preceding the end of the world by Yuri Herrera
This is a very small book about a young woman who walks across the Mexico-US border to find her brother who emigrated to the States and who they haven’t heard from in years. She meets a motley crew of people who help her over. She’s in danger because she has basically smuggled something over so she can go over the border, pretty much to pay her way. It’s written in this very spare and sparse style and in a sort of stream-of-consciousness way. It reminded me a lot of Cormac McCarthy, Herrera doesn’t really use punctuation or quotes so it might not be for everyone. It really didn’t bother me, I don’t mind that. I actually thought it helped the story and the language. It was beautiful.
The Ice Palace by Tarjei Vesaas
This is a Norwegian novel about two girls, Unn and Siss who live in a small Norwegian village. Siss has lived there her whole life, and Unn moves there at the beginning, and they become friends over night, in the way that you do when you’re like ten years old. Then Unn disappears and Siss falls apart. It’s so beautiful. There’s something fairy tale-esque about it. It’s also very Norwegian, which is not something I can explain, it’s just something that I associate with Norwegian literature. It’s steeped in ice and cold and it’s so beautiful and I want to read more from him. I obviously read it in Norwegian and it’s sort of in Vesaas’ dialect. I don’t know how they’ve translated it, but I’ve heard it’s great.
Shrill: Notes from a loud woman by Lindy West
Shrill is Lindy West’s memoir. She is a journalist/writer/comedian and she is awesome. This is about her growing up being shy and awkward, and then becoming loud and feminist and unapologetic, and it’s great. I had heard about Lindy West through a This American Life podcast where she confronts a troll who has created a twitter account that says it’s her recently deceased father. And it’s an amazing podcast. She says he’s the only troll who has ever apologized to her and realized that what he did was heinous. It’s incredible. She also tells this story in the book. She also talks a lot about being a fat woman, which is something I really appreciated, since I am also a fat woman, and I grew up being pudgy and shy and awkward. And I really loved that. She talks a lot about things that sort of is just part of your life as a fat person and it was really cool. I’ve since listened to a lot of podcasts with Lindy, because I love her now. I listened to this on audiobook and I think that was a good choice. Lindy read it herself and it means you get her tone and she knows how she meant things so her snark and sarcasm comes through really well. It was just incredible.
The Geek Feminist Revolution by Kameron Hurley
This was a collection of essays by science fiction writer Kameron Hurley. It’s basically a collection of essays she’s published online, in newspapers and everywhere else. I’ve never read them before so to me that was great. They’re about feminism and geek culture, and trolling. And it’s also about herself and her life and her own chronic illness and how it impacts her to have diabetes. It’s also about her own sci-fi writing and how she had to confront her own privilege and her own preconception and how she has worked actively to change how and what she writes. Which I thought was great. It’s always hard to admit you’ve fucked up, especially when you’ve tried really hard to be inclusive and do good. It’s also about the slog of writing, it’s not always easy, it’s not always something you can live on. It’s really cool.
Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
Bryan Stevenson is a civil rights lawyer who works with people on Death Row, trying to get them off. And particularly people who have been wrongfully convicted. The book and story is focused on the case of Walter McMillan, a man who was wrongfully convicted and sentenced to die. Stevenson spends years untangling the mess of a case that Walter had. The book also goes into other cases Stevenson has worked. He focuses on helping the poor, children, women, minorities, people who have trouble getting help anywhere else. At the same time it’s a coming-of-age story for Stevenson who goes from being a young idealistic newly educated lawyer to becoming an experienced, still idealistic lawyer who fights for equal rights, and who argues for compassion. It made me so angry to read about the cases he has litigated, it made me so angry to hear how people are treated in the American justice system, like a small 14-year-old boy who is placed in general population in an adult prison when he should probably be placed in a low security juvenile detention centre. It’s so heart breaking, and Stevenson is so inspiring, and he’s a fabulous writer.
Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine
This is a prose poetry book. It’s a comment on race in the US. It’s also a lot about Serena Williams and her brilliance, and the racism that Williams faces all the time. I don’t think I can explain how much I love Serena Williams, which is slightly weird, but you know. So I really loved reading about her, because it’s really interesting to watch Williams play tennis, because it’s such a white, upper-class sport, and she spends a lot of her time policing how she behaves so she won’t be called out on completely normal behaviour. She is often called too exuberant, or too angry just for being her, and it’s really unfair. The poems looks at racism in everyday life, on TV, online, on the tennis court, on the soccer pitch, and it’s wonderful and powerful.