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July 2020 Reading Roundup

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July was a curiously diverse month, reading-wise. I tackled a sci-fi epic, an autobiography, the latest YA novel in the Hunger Games series, and a rather eccentric metafiction novel.

Verily, is Tales from Absurdia a broad church when it comes to reading genres…

The Martian, Andy Weir ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

The story of Mark Watney’s isolation on Mars is a phenomenal tale of one man’s courage and optimism in the most difficult of circumstances. It’s quite topical!

In brief, Watney – a NASA astronaut – is presumed dead and reluctantly abandoned on Mars. He rather incomprehensibly survives, so The Martian follows his attempt to survive the next 4 years on a 31 days’ worth of food.

It has been compared to Robinson Crusoe. A comparison which did alarm me, prior to my reading the novel (those who know me well know how much I dislike Robinson Crusoe). But, to be fair, I can definitely see the comparison.

I’m happy to say that in comparison to the literary teeth-pulling exercise of reading Robinson Crusoe, Andy Weir’s The Martian is far, far more enjoyable.

I must admit though, I wasn’t sure how I felt about The Martian in the early pages. Watney bordered on being a little irritating – his chirpiness felt at odds with the enormous task of survival facing him. However, the more time I spent with Watney, the more I enjoyed his company.

The novel is well-researched, genuinely witty, and a wonderfully optimistic piece of fiction. I adored the novel so much, I watched the film shortly after (also great!).

Becoming, Michelle Obama ⭐⭐

I’ll preface this by saying that I admire Michelle Obama greatly. She’s a wonderful role model for young women everywhere, and a tremendous human being. I don’t typically feel the need to pre-empt criticism with praise, but an autobiography is an immensely personal piece of writing. 

I did not love Becoming.

It’s a fashionable, if forgettable, book that I imagine lives proudly unread on plenty of Bookstagrammers’ shelves.

It’s not bad… it’s just okay. July 2020 Reading Roundup Becoming

Becoming just felt very vague on details that people actually want to know, which I suspect is probably down to limitations on what Obama could actually write. 

For example, the 2011 White House Shooting was an immensely serious incident, despite there being no injuries. This is mentioned in passing, in a rather ‘this was terrible but I wasn’t home at the time’ sort of manner, before moving on to the more humdrum aspects of White House social life.

The book was only published shortly after her husband left the Presidential office, and there are allusions throughout Becoming of the secrecy sworn by the First Family upon entering the White House.

Because of this, life in the White House only really begins in the final quarter of the book and it’s light on detail.

I don’t go to autobiographies for salacious gossip or for exaggeration – I’ll leave that to the printed press. But this is commercial writing at the end of the day, and I’m sorry to say that it’s rather dull and sanitised.

Becoming isn’t entirely without merit, however. I listened to the audiobook, which improved the experience. Michelle is a fantastic speaker, and I could genuinely listen to her read the phone book. The sections on her earlier life were rich in detail and I learned plenty about her character that really improved my already high opinion of her.

But this is where the disappointment lies. Michelle Obama is a very interesting and engaging woman, and I sense that she had more to say. If Becoming had been published 10-15 years later, I suspect it might have been a more interesting read.

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, Suzanne Collins ⭐⭐⭐

Suzanne Collins is back – and she still doesn’t know what irony is (seriously, virtually every example of irony is in no way ironic).

It’s a good book though. I recently reviewed The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes and awarded it ⭐⭐⭐. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes Review

It’s a welcome entry into the Hunger Games franchise but it does have its issues, irony not withstanding. The plot meanders and the protagonist – Coriolanus Snow (yep, that one!) – is insufferable.

As a prequel to The Hunger Games, it does an excellent job of fleshing out the established world of Panem. Set 10 years after the Dark Days (and 64 years prior to Katniss), the reader gets a fascinating insight into post-war Panem, particularly the Capitol.

Compared to the flamboyant Capitol we’re already familiar with, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes presents a Capitol still recovering from the war. Buildings are falling apart, people are starving (Snow’s family among them), and actually – the Districts and the Capitol have plenty in common. 

There is even a fairly mainstream sympathy for the Districts and the games themselves are not popular. I found this quite refreshing and a very different take to that of the original trilogy.

Amongst the fans, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes seems to be a fairly divisive book however. For more details, check out the full review.

And Then There Was No One, Gilbert Adair ⭐⭐⭐

Wow. Where to start with this one?

And Then There Was No One by Gilbert Adair is a tale about a man named Gilbert Adair who attends a Sherlock Holmes fan festival, during which a guest is murdered. 

The final book in a trilogy of whodunnits, featuring amateur sleuth Evadne Mount, Gilbert Adair bumps into said Evadne Mount, the inspiration for his own creation, at the conference.

Are you still with me?

It’s a highly metafictional book (autofiction, I’m reliably informed) in which the lines between author and character are blurred beyond recognition. Throughout the novel, Adair parodies his own previous writing and it’s a genuinely funny book. It also contains a really neat Sherlock Holmes short story, written in the style of Arthur Conan Doyle. 

And Then There Was No One is a clever book and Adair plays with language, form, and structure in inventive ways. 

However, it’s quite self-indulgent and the jokes are, at times, slap-in-the-face obvious (a problem that some metafiction faces, purely by its own definition). It’s clever, but it knows it.

 

What have you read this month? Leave your recommendations in the comments below!

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