November was a great reading month. I am pretty close to a 100 books on my Goodreads reading challenge, even though my initial goal was to read 75. Given how many big books I read, and how my graphic novel count is (still!) zero, I am very impressed with myself! /modesty mode *ON*
There were two clear highlights in November for me. Since I am a self-proclaimed cynic with heart of cold, who is not moved easily by anything, I was pretty astonished by the chaos that the book "We Are Completely Beside Ourselves" and the movie "Interstellar" managed to cause on my mental landscapes.
(Feel free to skip the next few paragraphs if movies ain't your thing - if there are people like that out there...)
I don't think I've ever gone to see a movie twice in the movie theater (some of them legendary The Lord of the Rings films might have been an exception - I don't remember), but I'm planning to see Interstellar again. I have been a fan of Christopher Nolan's works for a long while, but his films always were intelligent, clever, thoughtful, unexpected, challenging - not necessarily emotionally touching. Well, that has changed now. Interstellar is a very emotional film and I can't get it out of my head. A few films have moved me this way - Sofia Coppola's Lost in Translation (2003) probably comes the closest so far, but while Lost in Translation is quite confined in its scope and setting, Interstellar is hugely epic, covering time, space and matter, all less in three hours of time. It is a clear proof that science fiction does not equal trash or sub par. It is not a great sci-fi movie; it is a great movie, period.
As a side thought - if there are any other weirdos out there who can't stand the pointless-mindless snogging and making out in their movies, space films are a great choice - space suits make for a challenging situation when it comes to the compulsory kissing scenes.
Right, let's get to the books.
Pillars of the Earth, Ken Follet (historical fiction) - 4/5
Yes - who would have thought the 1000-page about building a church could be so addictive. It is a long and tasty book, and I want to read the sequel too. The only problem I had was somewhat two dimensional characters, but otherwise a great read.
Annihilation, Jeff VanderMeer (science fiction) - 3/5
I don't know about this book, maybe I wasn't in the right state of mind, but it was a tad hard to connect. It's short and not exactly character driven, but it is very intriguing in its setting - if there was the term "magical science fiction", this one would fit nicely. I'll still be checking out the next two because - short reads.
Invisible Cities, Italo Calvino (fiction) - 3/5
Very interesting concept and beautiful language, but I found it a bit difficult to follow at times. I am not that fond of fully descriptive prose.
The Ghost Brigades, John Scalzi (science fiction -> space opera) - 4/5
John Scalzi is a very fun author, I'd recommend him to people who kinda sorta want to try out sci-fi but are concerned about the science-y parts. Especially the first one in this series, Old Man's War, was so funny. The Ghost Brigades is funny too, but also focuses on deeper aspects of humanity.
Alas, Babylon, Pat Frank (science fiction -> post apocalyptic) - 3/5
Post-apocalyptic America after nuclear explosion. The fact that it was written back in 1959 kind of shone through for me. Definitely an interesting take, but overall nothing that special.
Coming Clean, Kimberly Rae Miller (non-fiction -> memoir) - 2/5
Hoarding as a condition has always intrigued and terrified me. One of my biggest fears is the compulsion to have too much stuff in my life. I wanted to understand the minds of hoarders better through this book, but I didn't find what I was searching for. Miller focuses on herself and when it comes to her parents (the hoarders), this is more descriptive than analytical work. Writing was mediocre, the book could have benefitted from some skillful editing, and some things I just didn't get - like if someone in your family has a condition that is clearly not normal and completely destroys most of your life, howcome getting professional, psychiatric help is not the first thing that comes to everyone's mind?
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, Karen Joy Fowler (fiction) - 5/5
The human is the savagest animal, no? What a wonderful, wonderful piece of fiction. Heart warming, emotional, but not in a manipulative manner (*cough* Jodi Picoult *cough*). The best way to approach this book is to not know anything about it.
Gulp, Mary Roach (non-fiction) - 4/5
Mary Roach makes me laugh. Laughing while learning about how food goes through human body, how pythons eat their breakfast or the perks of human saliva, is the best.
The Round House, Louise Erdrich (fiction) - 3/5
Interesting book with unique setting and prose, but I didn't connect with Erdrich's text. I wanted to like it more than I did.
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, Benjamin Alire Saenz (young adult) - 3/5
I feel it's unfair to even say anything because clearly, I am unable to take young adult for what it is. This is probably one of the better examples of the specimen, but still I can't get over the simpleness of the genre (is it a genre? I don't think it actually is, but for the lack of a better universally agreed term...) The very short and abrupt dialogue style annoyed me to no end.
Kindred, Octavia E. Butler (fiction [with time travel elements]) - 4/5
What a surprise! Kindred is a rough ride, and I am hesitant to call it SFF because really the only SFF element it has is the time travel. Otherwise it's more of (historical) fiction. But very interesting book that explores deep racial issues. Definitely will read more Butler in future.
Nothing to Envy, Barbara Demick (non-fiction -> North Korea) - 5/5
Nothing to Envy is the best piece of non-fiction on North Korea I've read so far. My reads have all been very different - Escape from Camp 14 focuses on life in concentration camps; Somewhere Inside is a very journalistic/American take on North Korean bureaucracy machine. I very much missed a glimpse on the life of simple North Koreans, and I got it. There were answers to some of the questions I've had for a while - like, do they really live in total lack of knowledge about the rest of the world (some don't); how deep does the whole brain-washing thing go; how do North Korean defectors act once they settle somewhere else (usually China or South Korea); why do they agree to live like this? Highly recommended.