Ten favourite books of 2016

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.

long-way-to-a-small-angryThe 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

vegetarianThe 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 yebrucears 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

song-of-solomonThis 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 34110-signs2bpreceding2bthe2bend2bof2bthe2bworldis 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

the-ice-palaceThis 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 ishrills 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

geek-feministThis 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

just-mercyBryan 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

citizenThis 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.

 

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2017 bookish goals

So I haven’t done this in… forever. I’ve been feeling weird, so I haven’t blogged, because why do something I like when I feel weird? Anyway, I really want to be a bit better about blogging, so I’ll try that. I thought this would be a kind of nice way to get back into it. These will be my reading goals for 2017.

  1. I will try to read 75 books in 2017. I have currently read 132 books in 2016, which is incredible, but it feels like I’ve read really small books, and short books, and I feel like I don’t take in a lot of what I’m reading. I feel this massive pressure to read a lot, just quantity all the time. And I really don’t like that feeling. So I’m going to try to slow down, and give myself breathing room to read bigger, slower books. I think I’ll still exceed this goal because I’ll still read graphic novels and listen to audiobooks. I listen to audiobooks at like, 1.5-1.75 speed because I’m now used to it, so they’ll go by faster anyway, but I want to give myself space and breathing room.
  2. I will try to do the Read Harder challenge for 2017. I kind of forgot I was doing it in 2016 so I have like eight challenges remaining. And I won’t be able to do that before the end of the year. So I’m going to try again next year and do better.
  3. I will try yet again to #readmyowndamnbooks. I didn’t do a great job this year, I’m going to reach my Mount TBR goal of 36, and I’ll set it to the same number next year. I’ve also made a rule for myself that if I buy a book I have to read it within 6 months or I have to get rid of it, to give myself a stronger impulse to finish books that I buy.
  4. I want to focus more on a hobby next year and I want to try to make that hobby blogging, so more blogging. I don’t know what that means yet, but I’ll figure it out.
  5. I want to read 12 Norwegian books at least. I managed that this year, which is exciting. I also did a month where I read mainly Norwegian books, which definitely helped, so I’ll do that again
  6. I want to read at least six books that are over 500 pages.

I think that’s enough to be getting on with. I also obviously want to try to read diversely, different genders, nationalities and all that. I did better this year than last year, so I will try to do even better next year.

In Order to Live by Yeonmi Park

So I discovered Storytel, a Norwegian audiobook service. I had heard of it before, but not really known how amazing it was. You pay a fee every month and you can listen to all the audiobooks you want. (I’m not sponsored or anything, just incredibly excited.) And I have gone a bit crazy and I’m listening to all the things. I’m excited at the chance of listening and frustrated that I can only listen to one at the same time. Yes, that is insane. The first book I listened to was In Order to Live by Yeonmi Park, and I have thoughts. So let’s go.

The book

In Order to Live is a memoir by a young woman who was born in North in-order-to-liveKorea. She grew up in a fairly well-to-do family by North Korean standards. Her father was a smuggler and it means they had an okay life. Then her father was caught and put in prison and the Park family fell into poverty. When Yeonmi was 13 her sister Unmi ran away, defecting, and when Yeonmi and her mother are told this and that they can be helped out of the country as well they defect and go to China. They go to look for Unmi, and hope that their father can join them. Yeonmi talks about her experience being trafficked in China, and working with her trafficker to survive. Eventually they are helped across the border to Mongolia and then taken to South Korea, where Yeonmi keeps searching for, and reaching out to, her sister.

Thoughts

This was so incredible. I really liked it, although liked it sounds like a weird thing to say. It wasn’t like it was enjoyable, it was incredibly sad and painful, but it was an important read. I listened to the audiobook and it wasn’t read by Yeonmi Park, but the narrator was Korean, which I thought was good. She does have a Korean accent, and sometimes I sort of misheard some of the words, because I listen to audiobooks at a higher speed, but it wasn’t really a problem. I always understood from context anyway. And I liked that it was a Korean reader, it made it feel more authentic, I think a non-Korean reader would have felt inauthentic and jarring. 

I don’t think I ever learned anything about North Korea in school, except for the Korean war, so I didn’t know too much about it. Obviously I have learned more about Korea through just culture and everything, but it’s so closed off that I still know very little. I really want to learn more, so I’ve added more books about North Korea to my TBR. I think this book was a good place to start, because she does give a sort of short overview of the history of North Korea, but you don’t get overwhelmed by facts. She also personalizes it just by being someone who lived there and went through it. When she arrives in South Korea and goes to school there she learns that North Korea is one of the poorest countries in the world, and that her leaders are corrupt and ruthless and cruel. She is completely surprised, because even if she knew she was poor and that there were prisoner camps she’s been told her whole life that North Korea is the best country in the world and that to talk against the leader is akin to blasphemy and impossible. Her whole school life in North Korea she was told that all Americans were dirty pigs and that South Koreans were the scourge of the earth, and when she gets out she has to come to terms with the fact that this just isn’t real. 

It’s heartbreaking in so many ways. A lot of women who get out of North Korea are immediately sold into sexual slavery, a lot are sold to “husbands” and a lot become prostitutes. Yeonmi managed to for the most part avoid that by helping her trafficker get other women through the process. She also was quite young and used that as a way to avoid the most terrible abuse, which is not to say she had an easy time. She was separated from her mother almost instantly, and had to live with a man who abused her and had to see a lot of horror close up at a very young age.

Like I said I think it’s an important book. I feel like North Korea is often treated as a joke, it’s so closed off and hidden, and people are so brainwashed. In reality it’s a human rights crisis of epic proportions. It’s not funny, but it’s often treated that way, or we just don’t talk about it. North Korean defectors who make it to China live in secret, in fear of being sent back, and have to go through excruciating processes to make it to South Korea, where people will actually help them and teach them how to function in modern society. They need help, and while I don’t know how, I want to learn more about how we can help them. It does seem like the famine in the 90s and the corruption of the government and police has somehow led to change. Young North Koreans watch American and South Korean movies smuggled in on illegal DVDs, watched on smuggled illegal DVD-players, and they know they don’t live in the greatest place on earth.

Finally

Anyway, I thought this was incredible. I really liked it, sort of. I want to read more about North Korea and learn more about how the country is these days, and how to help, if we can.

Book wrap-up, book-wrap up, when will it end?

I’m so close to caught up with the wrap-ups, and here we are again. These are five of the last books I read.

Bruce by Peter Ames Carlin

This is a Bruce Springsteen biography, it’s from last year, and it’s great. It’s really brucecomprehensive and it’s big. It’s also fascinating. I love Bruce Springsteen, like, a lot. I went to a concert with him this summer and when I found out he was coming to Oslo I made a weird noise that was not a word. I love his music, and I will always any TV-show, or concert with him… ever. I had however never read a book about him. And Whitney at All the Shelves also loves Bruce Springsteen, and she said this was her favorite biography of him, so I went for it. And it’s incredible. It’s so long and full of his whole history (duh), and it covers his firsts bands, him finally forming the E Street Band, breaking up with the E Street Band, and reforming. And all the interviews he’s done indicates that people love Bruce, and that he was always this force of nature when he performs, and he is electric. He writes about Bruce’s closed off personality, and his poetry and his politics, and how he took the tragedy of 9/11 and tried to do everything he could to make people feel less awful. It’s clear that Carlin loves Bruce Springsteen, and wants to tell his story in the best possible way. It was so good. I now want to read more about Bruce Springsteen, because why not? He recently released his autobiography, so I’m going to need to read that. I love Bruce Springsteen, so much. So much.

 

The Gene: An Intimate History by Siddhartha Mukherjee

This is a non-fiction book about science, more specifically about genetics, from Aristotle naming the atom, to Mendel’s pea plant experiments, to DNA, to GMO, to cloning, to the idea that maybe we can eradicate diseases by researching genetics. the-geneMukherjee is a cancer physician and researcher, and he originally hails from India, but lives in America. He uses his own family as a sort of through line in the book. His father’s brothers in India struggled with mental illness, one being schizophrenic, one being bipolar, and both of them going to pieces when they get wrongly diagnosed, and because they live in abject poverty. Mukherjee finds out that it’s quite common to have this pairing, a father having two sons where one is schizophrenic and one is bipolar, and it travels down the generations. He wonders if he carries it inside him, and should he inform his wife in case they have sons? It was a fascinating history. I haven’t had any biology since I went to high school, which is apparently 10 years ago. I’m fine. It was still fairly easy to understand and it was comprehensive. Obviously it’s not completely comprehensive, cause it’s 500 pages, and you can’t cover Aristotle to 2016 in 500 pages, but if covered the basics and the big lines, and it was great. I really want to read his other book which is about cancer.

 

In Order to Live by Yeonmi Park

Yeonmi Park was born in North Korea to a relatively wealthy family. Her father in-order-to-liveoperates on the black market and compared to the average North Korean he has a fair amount of money. When North Korea’s delightful leader cracks down on the black markets he is arrested and his family succumbs to poverty. His wife and daughter’s live on the least possible food, and try their best to get him back. When Yeonmi is 13 her older sister defects and disappears. Yeonmi and her mother goes looking for her and then defect as well. They’re lied to and then trafficked and Yeonmi’s mother is sold to a farmer. Yeonmi is able to avoid being sold for a while by helping her trafficker selling more women. Eventually Yeonmi and her mother get away and get a job, and then manage to defect to South Korea. It was incredibly hard to read and I cried a couple of times. Yeonmi is brave and strong and tough. She is so honest about her captivity and her trafficking. It was fascinating to read about Yeonmi learning about North Korea from the outside. She has been brainwashed to think North Korea is the best country on the planet, and suddenly she learns they’re the poorest and that Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il have been tricking them and abusing their people. She is from an atheist country, because in North Korea the leaders are God, so she struggles to talk against them for a long time. She’s currently regarded as a traitor and enemy by Kim Jong-un. It was so good, and heart breaking, and I want to read more about North Korea.

 

Presidentene by Hans Olav Lahlum (The Presidents)

Hans Olav Lahlum is a Norwegian crime novelist. This book however is a non-fiction book about every single president of the United States. I listened to an abridged presidenteneversion of if, where he gives a history of the 13 sort of most important presidents, or most profiled presidents I guess, and then gives like a quick two-sentence profile of the rest. It was written in 2008, so the last president mentioned is George W. Bush. It was really interesting, and there are definitely things about the US presidents that I didn’t know, because I’m not American, so our school curriculum doesn’t focus too much on them. So what I know about them I have from popular culture to be honest, therefore it was really interesting to hear about these presidents and their lives. I think I want to read some presidential biographies, and this made me want to pick one up quicker. I do have a gripe with the audio book. It’s read by the author and he consistently reads English, and French, German, Russian, names and place names with a Norwegian accent. Sometimes I it didn’t bother me, sometimes it was incredibly jarring (Gerald with a hard G? I’m not sure it’s even Norwegian). Other than that it was a fine audiobook performance.

 

M Train by Patti Smith

M Train is Patti Smith’s second memoir. It’s basically little stories and essays about m-trainher life. Some of them are about her life right now, some are about her early life with her late husband and with her family. It was really beautiful. They mostly focus on places she goes to. A lot of them starts with her going to her favorite café just down the street from where she lives and how that is often the start of her day. It is just a sort of rambling group of stories and essays. She goes on quite a lot of trips and has friends all around the world. She has travelled a lot of these places with her husband, Fred Smith, who passed away in 1994. She keeps remembering them going to these places together, and it’s very beautiful. She has all these memories of him that she can evoke by going somewhere. I really liked it and I want to read Just Kids as well. 

Five book wrap up again?

Yes, another one, cause I’m incredibly behind. Anyways. More books I’ve read recently.

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

Theart-of-darknesshis was a book I’d had on my Kindle for years, and I finally read it. Finally. So this is about a man named Marlow who tells his story of travelling in the Belgian Congo looking for an infamous ivory trader named Kurtz. He becomes obsessed with Kurtz, he doesn’t know much about him, but he has this intense need to know him. It’s about Marlow struggling his way through the jungle to find this enigmatic man, and how it affects him. It’s an interesting novel. It was really beautifully written, like, it was gorgeous, I read it pretty quickly, it was fairly easy to understand. It was real racist, obviously, colonialists going to the middle of the Congo were racist, shocking. I know it’s how people talked in the Victorian age, still really racist. Anyway. It was beautifully written and the story was fascinating, I’m glad I read it.

 

On Palestine by Noam Chomsky, Ilan Pappé and Frank Barat (ed.)

This is a book about Palestine that is basically Ilan Pappé and on-palestineNoam Chomsky talking to each other about Palestine and Israel. Frank Barat also joins in the conversation, usually to ask questions and suggest topics. The book also has essays and speeches by both Pappé and Chomsky on the topic of Palestine. I always found the story and history of Palestine and Israel fascinating, and always want to learn more about the conflict. Pappé and Chomsky are on the side of Palestine and they very much discuss how Israel’s occupation is criminal and can be compared to apartheid in South Africa. I thought it was really interesting and I definitely want to read more. Although I align with Chomsky and Pappé on the side of Palestine I also want to read something written by someone on the side of Israel. I think that would be interesting. Pappé and Chomsky also discuss what could be the solution to Palestine and Israel, and how the two-state solution seems to have failed, but everyone trying to help still holds onto it as the only solution, and maybe we need to come up with a new solution, which was really interesting. So yes, more of this.

 

The Sickness Unto Death by Søren Kierkegaard

This is a book about despair as a symptom of the human condition and describes sickness-unto-deathman’s struggle to fill the spiritual void. Despair gives you purpose and it changes you and whatever. I was in no way intelligent enough for this book. It went straight over my head. It’s basically about humanity philosophizing on their own existence and the despair they feel around their own existence, Kierkegaard was an existentialist, so that makes sense. A lot of it focuses on whether or not you know you have a self and whether or not you can accept having a self. And it looks at your willingness to admit that you depend on others because you depend on love and companionship and all that jazz. As I said, it went over my head, I felt incredibly stupid. I should try to read more philosophy.

 

Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison

This is the second Toni Morrison book I’ve read. It’s about a man named Macon “Milkman” Dead III who grew up in the States in the 40s and 50s, and up to the Civil Rights movement in the 60s. He grows up with his wealthy business man father and daughter-of-a-doctor mother. He has two sisters; “First song-of-solomonCorinthians” and “Magdalene called Lena” and grows up fairly well-off. He also has an aunt, Macon II has a sister named Pilate, who lives in the same town with her daughter and granddaughter. Milkman seems to want to rebel against his father, without knowing how, so instead he acts just like him, starts working for him and gets trapped in his hometown. He keeps saying he needs a certain amount of money, or time, or he needs to have helped his father a certain amount. Basically he’s setting himself up for failure, he doesn’t want to leave, he just wants to give the impression he wants to leave, but he’s technically terrified of leaving. Instead he judges people for not living life like he thinks they should. I loved this book, it’s so beautiful and painful, and incredible. It’s a fascinating look at classism. While Milkman and his family obviously experience racism they also exist in a sort of middle place. They’re fairly wealthy so they don’t fit in with the other black people in their town, and they don’t fit in with the white people in their town, so they are different from everyone. It’s so good. I love it so much. So much pain, it’s so horrifying. I love it.

 

Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie

This is a classic children’s story I’ve had on my shelf for who knows how long. peter-panIt’s the story of Wendy, John and Michael Darling who live in London with their mother and father, and who meet Peter Pan. Peter Pan is from Neverland and he has come to London to find a mother for the Lost Boys, his group of orphan boys who live with him in Neverland. Wendy and her brothers come with Peter to Neverland and have an adventure, and Mr. and Mrs. Darling sit in their room and worry about whether they’ll come home. I really liked it. It’s so sweet and beautiful and it’s so vicious. I had only really seen the Disney cartoon, and I was not aware of how much murder there is. Like they kill pirates and Indians and that’s just, so much fun. Peter is so ruthless and cruel, like young boys can sometimes be cruel. It’s sort of a thing that all children are, but grow out of when they get older, but Peter won’t grow up, so he just stays that way. He’s narcissistic and arrogant and cruel, and the book is incredibly beautiful. It was so nice.

 

Five book wrap-up

I have not blogged in… well, ever. To get back on the blogging-thing I’m starting out with a five book wrap up. I’m really far behind with wrap-ups, but I gotta start somewhere. Anyway, off we go.

the-ice-palaceThe Ice Palace by Tarjei Vesaas

This is a short little Norwegian book set in a little village somewhere. It’s about two young girls, Siss and Unn, who become best friends really quickly and then Unn disappears. Siss, who barely even knows Unn, falls to pieces. The village rallies to try and find Unn, and Siss’ old friends rally to try and bring Siss back to her old ways. It was so beautiful and weird and I really loved it. It felt really Norwegian, which makes sense, but I don’t know, certain Norwegian authors have a very distinct way of writing and I thought this was very that. I can’t really explain what I mean. The way Siss sort of crashes when Unn disappeared sounds like it would seem unlikely, because they just met each other, but they seem to have this relationship that makes that seem very realistic. They have a short, perfect, and beautiful friendship, and it’s so intense, so when Unn disappears Siss completely falls apart, which makes sense to me. I thought the way that Unn disappeared was so interesting, and that whole part was incredible, it’s so fairytale-esque, and so magical. It feels a lot like an old Norwegian folk tale, it isn’t, it just has that feel. I really liked it, and he is definitely a writer whose work I’d like to keep exploring.

 

Middlemarch by George Eliot

I participated in #Middlemarchmadness which was hosted by Rincey at Rincey reads. It basically just means I read Middlemarch in the space of a month, August, and that was great. It was great to have something pushing me, even though technically it was imaginary. Anyway. This book is about a bunch of people living in a little placmiddlemarche called Middlemarch. The main character, I guess, is Dorothea Brooke. She lives with her younger sister Celia and her uncle. She marries a much older man, Edward Casaubon, and effectively traps herself in a loveless marriage. It’s about Casaubon’s nephew Will who falls in love with Dorothea, it’s about Celia who also marries, it’s about Fred Vincy, who is a sort of hapless young man who has trapped himself in debt and who has no way out, and he has to get out if he’s going to get to marry the woman he wants. It’s about his sister Rosamond who marries young doctor Lydgate, and their marriage sort of collapses in on itself. And a whole bunch of other people. The copy I read was about 830 pages. It was interesting, it was fascinating, but it was just so long, and I read it on my Kindle so I got no impression of how much I’d read. Gripe over. Nothing much really happens, it’s just this everyday story of people living their lives, which I liked. I don’t need a lot of action. I still feel like I got a bit bogged down though. There are so many people all the time. I feel like I happily would have read a book only about Dorothea, Casaubon and Will, or Lydgate and Rosamond. I liked it, but ultimately it felt a bit too long. It was a fun experience though. Maybe a shorter Eliot novel next time. Also I would have been really helped by a family tree, because I was confused a lot of the time about who people were and how they were related.

 

the-girl-on-the-trainThe Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

I read this because I joined a book club and this was our first pick. I probably wouldn’t have picked it up if not. Not because it’s bad, I just don’t really read crime and thriller novels. So this is about a woman named Rachel who takes the same train into London every day, and stops at the same place every day. And at that stop she sees the same couple at their porch hanging out. She’s seen them so often she’s made up a story of who they are. One day when she goes past she sees something unexpected and wrong, and is upset. The next day the woman goes missing. Rachel feels a responsibility to help. This thriller was very much character driven and there’s not really a lot of action, it’s a look into the head of Rachel and two other female protagonists. I hated everyone involved in the book, they’re all awful people. I’m really impressed at Hawkins’ ability to write thoroughly despicable characters. And she has a great ability to show you only what you need and revealing just a little at a time. I figured out who it was just a couple of pages before it was revealed, which was disappointing obviously, I should have figured it out earlier. I really enjoyed the experience of talking about it afterwards, it was really great.

 

Sex Object: A Memoir by Jessica Valenti

This is a memoir, like it says, written by Jessica Valenti. It is about how she exists as a sex-objectwoman in the world. And how existing in the world as a woman is. She talks about how she was sexualized from a young age and victimized, but how she never really thought to call it sexual assault, because it felt wrong to call it that. Jessica Valenti has also been subject to a lot of internet abuse and has been trolled quite a lot. Mostly because she’s a woman who talks about politics and feminism. The book gives you a look at how her inner life is a lot different from her tough, badass persona. She’s scared and vulnerable and worried she’s not doing enough. She talks about her drug use and how she was terrified of disappointing her parents by dropping out of college. She talks about her difficult pregnancy and her daughter’s difficult first years, and the family’s continued struggle with their daughter’s selective mutism, and how she and her husband really had to work to stay together. It’s so honest it’s almost painful sometimes. It’s so beautiful and Valenti feels so warm and strong, and she’s so willing to share, which was really wonderful.

 

Carmilla by J. Sheridan Le Fanu

Tcarmillahis is a short story about a vampire named Carmilla. It is told from the perspective of Laura, a young English woman who lives with her father in a castle in the Austrian Empire. When Laura is 18 a carriage has an accident outside their gates and a girl of Laura’s age comes to live with Laura and her father while her mother goes somewhere, and is supposed to return in three months, because she can’t be delayed. Laura and Carmilla become close friends, but Laura starts having nightmares of a cat like creature biting her on the chest, and she starts getting sick and weak. Turns out, spoiler, Carmilla is a vampire and likes biting young women. It was fun. It was quite campy and at once wonderful and ridiculous and I liked it. It was lovely.

 

 

Five book wrap-up

Time for another five-book-wrap-up-thingie. These are the last five books I finished.

Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel
This is the story of Rose who falls into a sinkhole when she’s a little girl and lands in the hand of a giant statue. It seems to be glowing and it’s very strange, also why is it there? When Rose grows up she becomes a scientist and she works on the project that looks into the hand. The team consists of her, a couple of interns, a linguist and two military pilots. The story is told through interviews and diary entries. The interviews are conducted by a nameless person who seems to work for the government and seems to have some power over the President even. The book was fascinating. I found the style worked really well. All the files had a number and some numbers are skipped, so it’s clear that some files aren’t shared with us. I thought it was interesting, and it’s an interesting look at what happens when one country, or armed force has a massive weapon that no one else has access to, and how moral or ethical that is. I liked it. It didn’t blow my mind, but I liked it.
 
Bikubesong by Carl Frode Tiller (Song of the Beehive)
This is a Norwegian book I’ve had on my shelves since I was in high school, so for over ten years. I never finished it in high school, but now, now, I have finished. So proud. Anyway. The books is made up of short stories based around one block of flats in a small village in Norway, near Bergen. All the stories focus on one different apartment and a person who lives in that apartment. I found it really interesting. It’s such a great microcosm and it’s a clever way of telling a story. All the stories interlink with at least one other story, because these people live so close. I feel like he managed to write in different voices really well and I liked that. There are at least 20 stories and they didn’t really blend or smush into each other, so that’s good. Smush, excellent language skills there. Anyway, it was good. I don’t know why I never finished it in high school, but at least I’ve finished it now. I should tell my Norwegian teacher. I’m sure she’d be proud, or ask who the hell I am.
This is a beautiful little book and it made me so happy, I don’t even know why. It’s about a young woman named Makina who lives in Mexico and who is going across the border into the United States. She is looking for her brother who went to the States a while ago. He was looking for some land that supposedly is in the family. And Makina is taking a message across for her mother, and because it’s hard to go across illegally she needs help from the Mexican underworld. So she’s also bringing across something for them. The book is really short, and a lot happens in that time. The language is so spare and so beautiful. The book is brutal, and I just feel like I have all the respect in the world for people brave enough to go into a country where you don’t speak the language, don’t know anyone and where many people try to hurt you simply for being there. Makina is strong and tough and incredible. I felt scared for her a lot of the time, but I also had all the faith in the world that she would be a badass at all time. The book is so beautiful and bare and incredible. There aren’t a lot of quote marks and the punctuation is also spare, so you have to deal with that. It didn’t bother me, I found it easy to follow, so it’s not very hard, but I realize some people find it annoying. But it was beautiful and wonderful.
So during the US war of independence a teenage aristocrat from France, the Marquis de Lafayette, went to the US and fought under George Washington for the freedom of the United States. As you do. In 1824 he returned to New York and something like 80,000 people showed up to greet him. That’s insane. Today Lafayette is more a place; squares, towns, streets, and Sarah Vowell is a history nerd and wanted to write about the person who gave his name to all those streets and towns. I really liked it. I’ll be honest and say I read this because I love the music to Hamilton and Lafayette plays a big part there. I’m a simple person. I also really like Sarah Vowell. The story is so incredible, and there’s so much pluck in the soldiers who fought for freedom and self-rule. A lot of the time they didn’t have food, horses, or even shoes. And Lafayette wasn’t even American, but he fought anyway. He was shot in the leg and he was so bored and annoyed so he wrapped his leg in a blanket and rejoined the war, as you do. It’s so much fun. I listened to the audiobook, which is read by Sarah Vowell, and I like hearing her reading it, because she knows how she wrote it and where to emphasize words and stuff. She is also joined by a lot of actors and comedians who voice other people, like John Adams, Washington, Hamilton, and everyone else, and I think that’s a good idea and a good way to do it. I feel like it adds to the book.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany and Jack Thorne
So this is the book version of the play that is currently on in London, and it is purported to be the 8th Harry Potter story. The story is focused around Albus Severus Potter and Scorpius Malfoy, and it’s set 19 years after the Battle of Hogwarts. Albus and Harry have a really contentious relationship, and don’t communicate very well. And it doesn’t help that Albus doesn’t live up to Harry’s legacy, or Albus Dumbledore’s legacy. And Harry doesn’t know how to cope with being an adult. So Harry is approached by Diggory’s father who has heard rumors of a time-turner and he wants Harry to save his son. And anyway, that’s the meat of the story, also the rumor of Voldemort having a kid. So I have some issues, I’ll be honest, I have a lot, but just… first of all the idea that Voldemort had a kid is just so unlikely that I just, no. He wouldn’t have done that, ever! He didn’t like people. Also, has no one learned, don’t mess with time. Diggory’s death was tragic, but as any Whovian will know, it’s a fixed point in time! He has to die in the graveyard to save Harry. I’m so annoyed that that’s the story line. I’m so annoyed that it’s so stupid. I loved that I got to be in the world again, because there are moments that feel like Harry Potter, but just, GAH.

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

This is my review for Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe.
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The book
Things fall apart is a modern Nigerian classic. It centers on Okonkwo, he is a strong man in his Ibo village. The story traces Okonkwo’s fall from grace and his attempt to return. It also tells a second intertwined story about missionaries coming to Nigeria. They proselytize and they build churches and they refuse the locals their own practices. They don’t seem to understand that Okonkwo’s people have procedures around birth, childlessness and rights and courts and they start abolishing these things. They slaughter an entire village and they also manage to lure Okonkwo’s son to join the church.
Thoughts
The language is so spare and brutal and there is nothing that shouldn’t be there, everything is carefully thought out, no word left behind. Anyway, it really helps the story I think, because Okonkwo is also very spare and brutal and he works well in that language.
It’s fascinating to read about Okonkwo, because so much of his identity is tied up in his masculinity and his strength and ability to provide for himself and his family. His father was a lout who owed people money, couldn’t afford having more than one wife and was a constant disappointment to his son. So to make up for it, I guess, Okonkwo decides he will be a strong man, have lots of wives, and provide for his family. He has huge yam fields and he has three wives. He also lets the worst parts of that masculinity come out in that he is abusive to his children and wives. He is deeply disappointed in his oldest son who is soft and kind and not hard and strong. Okonkwo keeps insisting on proving his masculinity in every way, and it starts feeling desperate, he doesn’t dare ever seem weak because people will think he is like his father. He’s so trapped and it’s so sad and desperate.
It was fascinating to read a missionary story from the perspective of the locals. I don’t think I’ve read that before. It was interesting to see how they viewed these people who came to them and tried to understand their weird ways. It’s always fun to see your own culture and context seem like the confusing and wrong way to do things. At least I think that’s fun, but I’m an anthropology nerd, so what do I know.
Finally

I really liked it, I liked the writing and language. I found Okonkwo fascinating. I really want to read the other books in the trilogy. It’s so beautiful.

Signs preceding the end of the world by Yuri Herrera

This is my review of Signs preceding the end of the World by Yuri Herrera, which was translated from Spanish by Lisa Dillman.

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The book
This is the story of Makina who is crossing the border between Mexico and the US to see her brother and ask him to come home. They haven’t heard from him and her mother is worried. With her she has two messages, one from her mother to her brother, and one from the Mexican underworld. On the way she meets different people who help her or judge her. There isn’t much to say about the plot, because it’s about 100 pages and not a lot happened.
Thoughts
It’s written really beautifully. I am obviously reading the translation, but it seems to have been translated well and faithfully. Herrera doesn’t really use punctuation for dialogue, or line breaks for that matter, so sometimes dialogue had started without me realizing it. I didn’t really mind, it didn’t really bother me, because I always picked up on the dialogue every time.
I loved Makina, she’s strong and angry and snarky and I love her. She’s very competent, and she seems very proud of her accomplishments. She understands the wish to leave Mexico and live in the US, but she doesn’t really have any interest herself. She loves being in Mexico, she likes her job and she’s proud of her job. She also worries about how they will get on without her, because she is the only one who speaks English, Spanish and this hybrid combination.
I loved the spare way it’s written. There aren’t a lot of descriptions of things and people. It’s very sparse, and it’s great. Herrera is such a spectacular writer and it was so beautiful and wonderful. Even if he doesn’t say much he gives you so much to work with with your imagination.
I don’t really have any personal context concerning the Mexico-US border and Mexican immigration, all I have is like the news, and old movies. Anyway, it seems like a sort of awful undertaking. You can’t really bring much because you’re basically being smuggled across the border and you have to take up the least possible space, and then when you get to the States you have pretty much nothing, and you rarely know anyone, and you have to rely on the kindness of strangers. And it’s dangerous. When you do hear about this on the news, or through Trump, or whatever else it sounds like coming across the border is just this stroll across, and then you’re in the US and you can start taking people’s jobs away, but this book describes how hard and how dangerous it is. Makina doesn’t know if what she’s doing is right, or if her next decision is going to get her killed. She has to take a message across in exchange for help to get across, and when she hands over the message she is basically trapped in a room with like a dozen men and this man who she’s giving the message to and I felt so terrified for her. She’s all alone and doesn’t really know anyone, and no one knows where she is. And it felt so hopeless, and I worried about her and everything that could happen.
Finally

It’s beautiful and wonderful, and the writing is incredible. The story is so strong and beautiful. The language is so sparse and strong and Makina is so incredible. And I want to read his other book as well.