October 2019 Wrap-Up

The Memory Police [1994/2019] by Yōko Ogawa – ★★★★★

This book is the one that surprised me the most this month. I found myself enchanted and slightly disturbed by Ogawa’s world of disappearing objects. It was very interesting to read about the uncertainty and characters’ determination to live normal lives despite the disappearances and the Memory Police’s harassment.

The Face of Another [1964] by Kōbō Abe – ★★★★★ 

Kōbō Abe’s unusual book proved to be a great read for me. When a scientist in this story becomes facially disfigured, he vows to become “normal” again and have a face to fit into the Japanese society again. Abe explores the mental torment of someone who no longer sees himself as part of a society, making insightful observations on the power of personal transformation. 

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow [1820] by Washington Irving  – ★★★★★

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow was a perfect Halloween read. It is a classic story that has a great, spooky atmosphere, and Irving’s language is simply beautiful.

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis [2016] by J. D. Vance – ★★★★1/2

I found this memoir honest, inspirational and heart-felt. J. D. Vance talks about his childhood and adolescence, growing up poor in one small “Appalachian” town. I recommend this memoir for the Non-Fiction November Reading Challenge.

The Lottery [1948] by Shirley Jackson – ★★★★

This was another great read for my Halloween reading challenge (The 14th Readers Imbibing Peril Reading Challenge). Jackson’s short story is a disturbing and hard-to-forget account of one eerie tradition in one small American town.

Convenience Store Woman [2016/2018] by Sayaka Murata – ★★★★

“Everyone…[was] taking it for granted that I must be miserable, when I wasn’t” [2016/2018: [37]].

In this story, Keiko is “36, single and going nowhere”. She is happiest when she is at work, in her beloved supermarket, helping customers. Keiko describes herself as “formed almost completely of the people around [her]” [2016/18: 32], taking joy from living from moment-to-moment in her world of a supermarket customer service. The book was a quick and engaging read for me, and I particularly enjoyed all the observations on the society: on the pressure to conform to societal expectations, especially among young women, and on others’ instant judgements of one based on the visible signs of success: marriage and career. The book highlights the importance of women to embrace and value their individuality and to not be afraid to be who they are, even if society tries to decide that for them. The book presents important issues in an entertaining format, even if it does repeat its main message too many times.

The Alchemy Reader: From Hermes Trismegistus to Isaac Newton [2003] by Stanton J. Linden (ed.) – ★★★★

Alchemy was at the heart of thought and method of each of the pioneers of modern science” [Stanton J. Linden, Introduction, 2003].

I am interested in alchemy – both in its “practical” history and as a method for inner, spiritual transformation. This book edited by Linden introduces the reader to ancient works on alchemy, starting from the founder of alchemy, Hermes Trismegistus, and finishing with Isaac Newton. Though the book was very intriguing, I found the texts in the book as obscure and complex as early alchemical writings are said to be (I really wanted more explanations on many issues touched upon).

Martian Time-Slip [1964] by Philip K. Dick – ★★★★

I realised I simply need to read Philip K. Dick from time to time. Martian Time-Slip is a book that did not age all that well (especially regarding its presentation of autism, schizophrenia and the instances of discrimination), but the story is still a thought-provoking sci-fi journey, introducing us to a future society on Mars where people struggle to secure a water supply. Dick is in his usual element here, playing with time and making us question the reality as we know it.

10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World [2019] by Elif Shafak – ★★★1/2 

I will probably be this Halloween’s wicked witch for having 10 Minutes 38 Seconds and The Dutch House so low on my list, but an honest opinion is an honest opinion, what can be done about it? One of the exciting parts of reading and sharing reading experiences is that we all have different tastes and opinions, even on very popular books, and that also means interesting discussions. I thought 10 Minutes 38 Seconds was interesting and had a very intriguing concept, but it was also so very obviously trying to please us. In the end, Shafak’s latest effort was not as challenging or thought-provoking as I hoped it to be.

The Dutch House [2019] by Ann Patchett – ★★★

Maeve and I were forever under the impression that we were moments away from cracking the code on our life, and that soon we would understand the impenetrable mystery that was our father” [Patchett, 2019: 32].

My biggest disappointment of this month was The Dutch House by Ann Patchett. How would I describe this book? Bland, forgettable and unoriginal. The atmosphere and the language were the best things about the book. It reminded me of Tartt’s The Goldfinch [2013] (in its focus on the portrait and nostalgia) and of Waters’ The Little Stranger [2009] (in its the focus on the house and memory). In The Dutch House, two “unloved” siblings (a boy/man and a girl/woman) are trying to understand their past, with one grand house with a rich history constantly looming over their lives. The duo has always felt “replaced” when their father re-married and introduced two other children into the family. There are “done-to-death” topics here of one dysfunctional family, love between siblings and inability to get over one’s past (childhood trauma). It was all very predictable too.

The Axeman’s Jazz [2014] by Ray Celestin – ★★★

This is a fictionalised account of the notorious Axeman’s murders that shook New Orleans at the beginning of the twentieth century. Despite the thriller’s obvious faults (the overly ambitious, multi-character perspective and some fantastical developments), it is probably the most atmospheric book I read in October.

The Orchard of Lost Souls [2013] by Nadifa Mohamed – ★★★

In this book, Mohamed talks about Somalia, 1988, a turbulent time for the country on the brink of a civil war. We follow three girls/women – Deqo (a little girl living in a refugee camp), Filsan (a female soldier) and Kawsar (an older woman with one traumatic past). The brutality of war is on display in this book, and I thought this was an important story to tell (I also appreciated Mohamed’s simple writing). However, I also struggled to be completely immersed in this book (the three women’s stories intersect at the start and at the end) and thought the characters were not well-developed. 

This month I also talked about Ukiyo-e woodblock prints that depict ghosts by such famous Japanese painters as Katsushika Hokusai and Utagawa Kuniyoshi, as well as delved into the mystery behind the Nazca Lines in Peru. 

How was your (reading) month of October? Any books you particularly enjoyed (or maybe disliked)? Any books you are looking forward to reading in November?

9 thoughts on “October 2019 Wrap-Up

    1. Thanks for agreeing with me on The Dutch House! It was almost a waste of time for me. I also think that penning something like this in 2019 – after Tartt, Waters, Mitchell, etc.’s works – is simply hard. I mean, when it comes to the eerie or grand house theme or the inability to overcome one’s past/memories motif, readers simply have such high expectations now.

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  1. I enjoyed the cultural aspects of Convenience Store Woman! I loved Hillbilly Elegy! My library hold of Dutch House came in this week and now I’m approaching it with caution!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. So the Dutchhouse is a no…I will remember that. I recently read Ann Patchett’s autobiography The story of a Happy Marriage however it was also incredibly bland and uneventful too.

    Hilbilly Elegy, The Memory Police, the Face of Other all look superb.

    Like you, I also really loved Convenience Store Woman, it was like a tiny and polite Japanese rebellion for women to stay true to themselves. As a bit of a person who goes her own way, this resonated with me.

    The alchemy reader sounds absolutely fascinating. I am going to seek that one out too.

    It sounds like you enjoy a lot of the same obscure things I do!

    Thanks for your terrific roundup.

    Liked by 1 person

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