The Books I Read in October & November 2015

A pitiful few months in terms of the books I read, but a wonderful few months in terms of time spent with friends, family and that baby boy of mine. Oh and there was also my attempt at writing 50,000 words for NaNoWriMo, but more about that another day.

The good news is that the books I did manage to read in October and November were good ones. Not necessarily good in terms of me falling in love with all of them, but good insofar as the quality of writing, content and craftsmanship was consistently high. So without further ado, here are my short and sweet reviews of the four (four - only four!?!?) books I read in October and November 2015.

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

On my To Read List for many years, I finally got around to reading this dystopian novel and fully understand why it receives the praise it has over the decades. What amazed me most was how the futuristic predictions of this book burning world were frighteningly accurate. Originally published in 1953, it paints a dark picture of a world where TVs play all day long, broadcasted on large flatscreen displays, robotic dogs are used to terrorise, and mobile communications happen in the form of an earpiece and it sadly reveals how lonely and terrifying a place is when literature is considered the enemy - something many have discussed over the years whenever it is feared that books are becoming less and less popular. Without wanting to reveal any of the plot details, it suffices to say that it made me think. I have to admit that I enjoyed the first half more than the second - the writing felt smoother and more poetic - and maybe it was because of my easily distracted mind that I didn't always follow exactly what was happening as it happened, but I'm glad I read it and I have already recommended it to those I know who enjoy dystopian, end of the world, chaos everywhere fiction!

Being Mortal: Illness, Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande

It's time for me to confess upfront that I didn't finish this book, but I read the majority of it and I certainly plan on returning to it to finish it. The reason I didn't read it in its entirety is that it's not comfortable reading. At all. What this books tells us about the state of our outlook, systems and expectations made me feel sick to my stomach. The advances of modern medicine and the shifting focus of society, media and well, everything, to younger generations, forcing those living through their last years into a potentially lower standard of living. As the title suggests the book discusses how we have come to neglect the very simple fact that we are mortal; we are not built to last and maybe this attitude to putting plasters on the increasing number of ailments elderly patients are vulnerable to is ignoring the key issue of how a shift in our perspective and understanding of older generations would go further to fix the growing problem of how we take care of our older members of the community. Littered with personal examples and with in-depth but easy-to-understand explanations of the varied research Gawande conducted, Being Mortal educated me but also saddened me greatly. At a time when I was feeling overwhelmed with the demands of motherhood, I chose to put down the book shortly after I was half way through, though I am still thinking about it nearly two months later. I will return to it at some point in the next year and I will take in more of what it reveals and I will, hopefully, think about what I can do to help or improve the situation in my own tiny, tiny way.

The Moons of Jupiter by Alice Munro

After abandoning Being Mortal, The Moons of Jupiter was like putting on a warm woollen sweater. I just love Alice Munro. 

One of her older (to me!) collections of fiction - published in 1978 - these stories made me feel like I was escaping the brutal realities of Being Mortal (and the equally brutal possibilities of Fahrenheit 451) and looking into the quiet lives of unsuspecting people, mostly living their lives in Ontario. That's not to say there weren't twists and turns, or themes that shocked or moved me, because there was, but the stories didn't demand much of me other than I relax, read and let the characters reveal themselves softly, softly. That is why I love Alice Munro. That is why I could and should read a collection of her fiction every month for the rest of my life and feel enriched by it.

First Loves, Last Rites by Ian McEwan

If Alice Munro is a woolly jumper, this collection of short stories was a rubber bondage suit. Arguably the darkest and most disturbing collection of fiction I've ever read, each story shocked me - some in a mouth-falling-open way, others in a take-a-deep-breath-then-move on way - but I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy something in each one. In fact, I think one of the stories, Last Day of Summer - as sombre as the others - is possibly one of my favourite short stories ever. (Those first two sentences above... so subtle, so good.) The only "problem" is you have to read through fiction featuring incest, murder and child abuse to get to it. But again, there was still merit in each of these stories.

As a writer, this book reminded me to "think outside the box" and to not ignore the more bizarre, more sinister and more unexpected themes I want to write about and to dig into them. Life is not always lived in a comfortable woollen jumper and I would feel less of a writer if I didn't acknowledge and explore that in my own work.

*****

So that's it until next month. I really hope I get more reading done as I enjoy it so very much. It's definitely easier when I get lost in a book I really enjoy, so that's my question to you now. What was the last book you read and really couldn't put down? Let me know as that's exactly what I'm looking for.

Find more book reviews and recommendations from this year: JanuaryFebruaryMarchAprilMayJuneJuly & August and September.

Frances M. Thompson

Londoner turned wanderer, Frankie is an author, freelance writer and blogger. Currently based in Amsterdam, Frankie was nomadic for two years before settling down with her Australian partner and having a baby boy in July 2015. In 2017, she launched WriteNOW Cards, affirmation cards for writers that help build a productive and positive writing practice. When not writing contemporary fiction, Frankie shops for vintage clothes, dances to 70s disco music and chases her son around Amsterdam.
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