November was a bit of an odd month. I read 8 books, bringing my total for the year so far up to 113. Not only is this slightly lower than my average, but most of them were fairly short, meaning I didn’t actually do a whole lot of reading. I’m not going to beat myself up about it. Firstly, I was definitely hit by a general slump/burnout, which was inevitably going to happen at some point this year. More randomly, I also really fell in love with embroidery this month. A lot of the time I would normally have spent reading was spent embroidering, but given how much I enjoy both, I can make my peace with that.
That said, here are some brief thoughts on what I did read, with links to my full reviews if you’d like to know more.
Stillicide by Cynan Jones
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] This series of linked short stories is set in a dystopian future, with the climate crisis meaning water is now a commodity transported around the country via an armoured train. Jones writes beautifully, and there are some great ideas present, but its fragmented nature and lack of a driving force in the plot meant I failed to connect emotionally.
Hearts in the Hard Ground by G.V. Anderson
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] Following the death of her mother, Fiona moves into a new house, but the ghosts of former residents haunt her new home as much as Fiona’s guilt and grief haunt her. Evoking hauntings both real and self-inflicted, with some striking imagery and a lot of heart throughout, this is an emotionally complex story that says a lot in few words about the frustration of dementia and the pain of letting go.
Pew by Catherine Lacey
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] An enigmatic, unknowable stranger is found on a church pew in a conservative American town. Offers of help and open-mindedness are increasingly tested by the stranger’s refusal to adhere to strict societal roles regarding gender and ethnicity. This meditation on the idea of the body versus the person, and the individual versus the community simmers with tension and intrigue, but is let down by an info-dump ending that hints at so much untapped potential.
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson & Emily Carroll
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] This graphic novel adaptation of Anderson’s original novel emphasises the story’s look at the importance that art can play in processing trauma. Encompassing the fallout of sexual assault, emotional trauma, depression, and social isolation, all carried by a realistically flawed heroine, this is as relevant now as it was when it was published in its original form back in 1999.
The Dreamkeeper by Robert Ingpen
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] An original tale from the renowned illustrator about an enigmatic character responsible for capturing the creatures that attempt to escape from our dreams. It’s brief, and there’s no real plot, but Ingpen’s accompanying artwork is as charming as ever.
People from My Neighbourhood by Hiromi Kawakami, translated from the Japanese by Ted Goossen
[ ⭐ ⭐ ] This collection of magical realism micro fiction falls firmly into the ‘weird for the sake of being weird’ category that sadly just doesn’t work for me. There are some visually striking ideas, but it feels like a scrapbook of jumping off points rather than a cohesive collection with any kind of narrative or thematic purpose.
All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] This memoir reflects on Johnson’s experiences growing up Black and gay in modern-day America. He writes beautifully about his family and the coding of society to enforce a strict gender binary, but the essay-like, non-linear structure means it can lack a sense of overall direction at times. Still, it’s heartening that books like this will help the next generation of Black, queer youth feel validated and less alone.
Let Them Eat Chaos by Kae Tempest
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] A beautifully observed and powerfully delivered full-length narrative poem that gives us a snapshot into the lives of seven strangers who all live on the same street. It explores the anxieties of modern life, commenting on our collective sense of disenfranchisement and disconnection. Brilliant, galvanising, and ultimately hopeful.
There we have it! My favourite read in November was Let Them Eat Chaos. What was yours?