An Open Book: What I Read in November

I ended up reading an interesting assortment of books in November, each of which took place in a different country. It was a bit of a world tour of literature.

Despite the fact I was particularly excited by a couple of these books early on (Possession, in particular), I found none of them to be absolutely un-put-downable. It’s a bummer of a month when that happens, but even if I wasn’t head-over-heels in love with anything, there were a couple solid picks this month.

In keeping with my Life List goal to read at least one fiction and one non-fiction books every month for a year, I finished three fiction and one non-fiction book in the month of November.

november book covers

Video Night in Kathmandu: And Other Reports from the Not-So-Far East by Pico Iyer

Three-line review: Pico Iyer is a well-known travel writer who, like Paul Theroux, does not use flowery language to unnecessarily promote stereotypes as exotic but rather uses careful observation, gut feelings and personal relationships in an attempt to demystify foreign destinations. I liked that this book was broken up by specific themes for particular countries – baseball in Japan, movie-making in India, prostitution in Thailand, etc. – to help provide context for how Western ideals, commercialism, materialism and culture have permeated Asian societies. It was published in 1989, so some observations are likely out-of-date, but I would guess that many of the overriding messages are probably still relevant.

A Bend in the River by V.S. Naipaul

Three-line review: This is the mundane story of an Indian man trying to make a life for himself when he is given a business to run in Central Africa amid political upheaval, but while the plot has the potential to be interesting, it falls flat. The cast of characters are just under well-developed and not particularly likable, and though several story lines start off promising, many of them abruptly come to an end with little explanation or satisfaction. I did appreciate V.S. Naipaul’s minimal sentence style, however, which packs a punch in just a few words.

Possession by A.S. Byatt

Three-line review: On Goodreads, people seem to give this book one star or five stars, but I land solidly at three stars. Told through letters, poetry, short stories and standard narrative, the story jumps back and forth through time as two scholars seek answers about an illicit romance between two Victorian poets. It is beautiful and bold, and every sentence is thick with incredible description and word choice, but I’m thankful I listened to this as an audiobook because I’m not sure I would have made it through had I been reading it.

The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

Three-line review: I can appreciate why this book is named to so many must-read lists, but it felt disjointed and incomplete to me. I think reading it in a single setting would enhance the story and help it flow better. At the very least, I enjoyed the staccato-style writing and voice of the young twins who play prominently in the story.

2 Responses to “An Open Book: What I Read in November”

  1. Jill

    Well, I’m sure you know POSSESSION is among my top 5 favorite books of all time (and that’s a lot of years & a lot of books). It is not a book for the “casual” reader. It is long, involved, engrossing and so beautifully written I pick it up often, open to any old page, and read for 5 or 10 pages, just to remind myself how stunning it is. My book group read it about 12-15 years ago. We are all serious readers…and some people became convinced the poets had really lived…and the book was historical fiction. But, no….however, how many novels actually include an epic poem as part of the narrative.?A.S. Byatt is just a phenomenal writer.

    • JoAnna

      Possession is incredibly well-written. The language is beautiful, and it is amazing that the author wrote poetry and letters in these distinct voices to help drive the story. I was really impressed. I think the part that was really tough for me, though, is sometimes it was *too* much. Every single thing was described in minute detail, and had I been reading the book, I’m not sure I would have gotten through it. It was a good book for me to listen to, for sure.


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