As expected, October flew by and it’s time for another reading wrap-up. Now it’s November, I’m eager to know when it’s acceptable to start playing Christmas tunes and begin feeling festive. Is it too early for a bit of Xmas Mariah Carey? In the meantime, I’m spending most of my days trudging through literary theory and dense literature for university. It’s no wonder then that contemporary reads have become my literary haven. I turn to them when I need a break, and more so to remind myself that reading is my favourite activity. Despite having less time to delve into them, I’ve bought more books this month than I have in a while. It’s expensive and indulgent, but hey, it’s getting me through.
My October reading wrap-up is a mixed bag of required university readings and contemporary reads, some that I thoroughly enjoyed, others that left me feeling disappointed. Without further ado, here are the books I read last month:
This book low-key gave me Eleanor Oliphant vibes, and I loved every second of it. Through a collection of vignettes about ordinary people, we are welcomed into Crosby, a small town in Maine, the common thread being the eponymous, retired schoolteacher, Olive Kitteridge. From brief appearances to starring as the primary character, Strout paints a glorious picture of Olive and her marriage, hardships and relationships. She is sometimes obliviously harsh and cruel, while also being completely loveable. With each story, be it about sorrow, joy or longing, Strout renders seemingly ordinary character situations and brilliantly captures the human experience.
I look forward to reading its sequel this month!
Considering this was written in 1985, Wells was years before his time in terms of imagining what lies ahead for humanity. He envisioned a world in which humanity has evolved into two distinct, but coexisting groups. Wells clearly had an agenda behind this book as he responds to contemporary Britain’s cultural and economic situation, infuriated by the smug confidence of the late Victorian bourgeoisie in its ascendancy over the material universe.
There’s no dismissing this is an innovative piece of late 19th-century fiction. However, there was a complete lack of any character development. I couldn’t sympathise with anyone and instead, trudged through lengthy descriptions of this futuristic world and our strange, animalistic ancestors. Additionally, the narration included long, drawn-out sections comprising mathematics, dimensions and scientific theory which added little to the plot. Overall, it wasn’t very engaging.
Is this book my favourite in the series so far? With this third instalment, Rowling somehow managed to outdo herself and wrote something even bigger and better than before. The challenges the young Hogwarts students encounter are darker and more intense. The story of Sirius Black was incredible, leaving me — along with the introduction of the Marauder’s Map, the Firebolt and other magical entities in the wizarding world — to question how one concocts such whimsical and incredible ideas. The plot was more nuanced and there were numerous times throughout where my emotions lost control. Stephen Fry, too, is even better than ever, taking on more amusing accents of unforgettable characters. Oh, and Hermoine punches Malfoy in the face and attacks a teacher, LOVE
Forensic-specialist Anil returns to Sri Lanka, her homeland, to examine archaeological remains and discovers the bones of a victim found in a government-protected area. With the help of her investigation partner Sarath, Anil is determined to establish the corpse as a victim of government forces.
Anil as a character wasn’t particularly interesting and I found the novel harder to enjoy due to the fragmented narrative; the recounts of different memories and the various perspectives. Nonetheless, this book evolves slowly, unveils characters’ hidden truths, unlocks the hidden past, and takes us on a tiresome, evocative journey through a maelstrom of civil war.
Greta Thunberg is an inspiring activist, a leader and a voice our world so desperately needs. Each of her eleven speeches comprised within this small but significant book is incredibly impactful. We need to act, and we need to act now.
My only complaint is that some speeches seemed repetitive. But, if these messages are repeated, why aren’t global governments listening? Why are they still ignorant and dismissive? Our youth populations are protesting, shedding light on the severe issues of climate change, global warming, and capitalist hypocrisy, yet are still belittled by politicians and our tightly-controlled media. This is essential reading for everyone, everywhere.
I once again made the mistake of setting my expectations too high and ended up disappointed – this was a struggle to get through.
I appreciate that this is a well-crafted masterpiece; the lengths to which Capote went to create such an in-depth account of the horrific Clutter family murders is impressive. However, he does this to the extent that he painstakingly describes every single detail, quickly becoming tiresome. It was teeming with information irrelevant to the central plot. Consequently, this created a personal reading experience that was dry and slow. A slow-burner is fine; some of my favourite books are slow-burners. But I was irritably waiting to discover the motives for the murders and how they happened. There’s no denying that the “true-crime” is gruesome, shocking, and the insight into the criminals’ minds and upbringings were fascinating. However, eventually, even the explanation of how the central events took place didn’t feel surprising.
Try as I might, I couldn’t invest myself in this book.
With the deadly Chung-Li virus wiping out call grain-based crops worldwide and soon landing on England’s doorstep, fragile civilisation collapses overnight. As the revelation of the grass virus spreads, the country’s government, police and elected officials lose their power and there is a rapid breakdown of societal norms. In the wake of a global catastrophe, every man is for himself.
What makes the narrative of The Death of Grass so terrifying is its plausibility. We’re introduced to John as your everyday ‘normal’ man. While witnessing his transformation, it was unsettling to think whether I would commit such horrendous acts if it meant saving my loved ones. Would ordinary law-abiding citizens resort to violence so quickly?
Although there was nothing particularly original about the novel, the exploration of a collapsed civilisation and the drastic transformation of previously morally scrupulous people was fascinating.
I fell in love with The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo. Reid created a story full of depth, wisdom and complex characters who felt so real and nuanced. With Daisy Jones and the Six, an easy-breezy read, her writing is as excellent as ever. However, I found it lacking.
Instead of the tale of a glamourous, Hollywood actress, we have an interview transcript of a fictional ‘70s rock band. Like Evelyn Hugo, the band felt genuine, each with their quirks and flaws. Additionally, I love this era of music. This is a glorious portrayal of the LA rock scene, albeit reinforcing the sex, drugs, and rock and roll cliché. Reid is dept at evoking time and place while capturing the personal pain and heartbreak of her characters.
Now, I don’t think I would have enjoyed this half as much if it weren’t for the audiobook. The narrators brought this story to life with every hesitant breath, gulp and moment of heartbreak – the transcript format is made for audio. Having said that, I expect I would have given this book a lower rating had I chose to read the physical copy instead. The story itself didn’t blow me away. I’ve met these characters before; the manic pixie dream girl; the up and coming stars losing themselves in their fame and fortune. Character development is what I crave in a novel, but with no interaction between band members, I felt somewhat detached.
I wish I loved this as much as everyone else. Nevertheless, Daisy Jones and the Six may not have won my heart, but it was a quick, fun read which is bound to pull anyone out of a reading slump.
Although completely bizarre, I was so taken by this book. Bunny introduces us to graduate student Samantha who is suffering from some severe writer’s block. Being from a poor background, she doesn’t fit in with her fellow rich-girl workshop partners who call each other by the pet name ‘Bunny’. On the periphery of these toffee-nosed girls, she finds their excessive enthusiasm and sycophantic compliments of one another’s work nauseating. Yet, there is something about their mini-cupcakes and sparkling world that draws her in. What she discovers when invited into their inner circle happens to be the very opposite…
Awad has created a dark, wicked tale – rather than girly, gossiping sleepovers, these girls are gathering for some casual, light murder. You know, the usual. In addition, Samantha’s imaginative mind often trails off to visceral and gross realms – described as ‘angry’, and ‘mean’ by the Bunnies – while suffering the extremities of loneliness and obsession. It’s by no means for the faint of heart. The whimsical characters and unexpected plot twists also emanate a fairy-tale quality, albeit a gruesome one. It was laden with offbeat metaphors, some that no doubt flew right over my head, providing an astute, humorous commentary on college cliques, the arts and feminism.
This may have been beyond what I was expecting, and it won’t be for everyone. It was bonkers and I loved every second of it. Dark, surreal and infused with madness, this was perfect for the run-up to Halloween.
Well, this was just plain tragic. On the Beach is about ordinary people who, despite their imminent death, go about their daily lives, business as usual. All hope for survival vanishes when a radiation cloud moves inexorably further south towards Melbourne, yet everyone is as chipper as can be.
Now, considering this is a book about the end of the world, there is no sense of urgency. I couldn’t come to terms with just how accepting every character is about their death in the coming months. A few are in denial, some are drinking themselves silly, and some are planning for a world beyond six months from now, but there is never any sense of panic. They are simply complacent that the end is nigh. The book is merely a countdown in which we witness a group of characters living out their rather dull lives.
I reread this for my essay on representation and exile and it was just as, if not more poignant the second time around.
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley on audio: I don’t know whether it’s the narrator’s strange, bordering on creepy accents, or the bizarre narrative, but I’m not enjoying this one. Although it’s a highly-acclaimed classic, I think this one might end up on the DNF pile.
The Dragon Republic by R. F. Kuang: I still have a few chapters left but I can already tell you this is a five-star read. You thought The Poppy War was dark? This sequel is on a whole new level. I can’t get enough of the combination of the rich history of 20th-century China with the gripping world of gods and monsters, and I’d say the characterisation is the crowning achievement of the series. It’s my favourite read of October and I’m not even done with it yet.
Have you read any of these books? What are you planning on reading in November?
Thanks for reading!
Also read: An Autumn Read List