Monday, October 6, 2014

Book Reports: The Martian, Nothing to Envy, Attachments

It's been quite a while since I've done a book post. I've been reading up a storm this year, and a lot of them have been really good. But of course, I mainly choose to write posts about the books that I just found to be absolutely excellent.

If you're interested in seeing what else I've read, check me out on Goodreads.

The Martian by Andy Weir
I'll preface this by saying I'm not really into sci-fi. I don't do fantasy, and I like my worlds to be fairly realistic (or at least close enough to realistic that I don't have to suspend too much belief). What surprised me about this book was how realistic it seemed. There was a heck of a lot of math and science in this (fictional) story, but the way it was told was so entertaining and suspenseful, it kept me on my toes the whole time.

Mark is one of six astronauts to ever set foot on Mars, but when a dust storm damages their equipment and blows a metal satellite straight into Mark, puncturing his spacesuit, the crew has to cut their mission short and bail out, leaving Mark for dead. Only it turns out he didn't actually die, and instead finds himself alone on a planet that it took months to travel to, with limited food supplies and no way of communicating with his crew.

Basically, every single thing he does on the red planet just might kill him for real; wear and tear on the space suits he has remaining, the frequent dust storms, the lack of significant amounts of food, and of course "plain old human error." And Mark determines (through math!) that even if he could get word to his crew that he was still alive, it would take them more than 400 days to get back to Mars to pick him up.

The story is pretty ingenious. Mark is a smart cookie (you'd have to be, to be an astronaut!) and the way he MacGuyvers his remaining supplies in an attempt to stay alive and fix his broken communication signal is brilliant. Only thing that might put some people off is that there are a lot of F-bombs in this book, but … well, what would you be saying if you were trapped on Mars?! A

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick
With all that's always going on in the world, I never really thought about North Korea, other than the fact that the U.S. was worried they might have nuclear weapons. I don't remember who recommended Nothing to Envy to me, but oh my goodness. This book was FANTASTIC. The author is a journalist who has visited North Korea officially several times, and found herself frustrated that the North Korean government tended to put on a big show for visitors, while hiding any potential unpleasantness about the country. She interviewed six North Koreans who had defected to South Korea in order to get a true picture of life in North Korea.

Those defectors painted such vivid pictures with their stories. The woman who worked as a doctor, but ended up nearly starving to death when her salary was cut because the government couldn't afford to pay her anymore. The mother who worshipped the Kim family, but was looked on with suspicion because of her grown daughter's anti-regime comments. The famines that the government tried to cover up, the stores with nothing available for purchase inside, the danger and risk it took to get out of North Korea, because North Korea didn't want its citizens leaving and China didn't want the North Koreans entering its country.

The title of the book comes from the propaganda posters that former dictator Kim Il-sung had hanging all over the country — We have nothing to envy in the world! North Korea is the richest and best country! The United States is a terrible and consumerist country that would seek to destroy our way of life! — messages that play a big role in how North Koreans are raised and what they believe. They have no (legal) access to the Internet, radio or television, except for the shows and movies that the Korean government releases, which are all propaganda too.

Overall, it was just a fascinating, horrifying, beautiful work. Can't recommend highly enough, especially if you're interested in other cultures or history. A+

Attachments by Rainbow Rowell
I've seen the blog world singing the praises of Rowell's books for months (years?), but hadn't had the opportunity to pick up any of her books until now. I've signed up for a couple of book clubs in Virginia to see if I can find one that's a good fit when I get there, and this was the chosen October book for one of them, and so I was glad that my opportunity had arrived.

The year is 1999, and daily newspaper The Courier just got its staff on an e-mail system. The bigwigs at the paper are freaking out about the increased use of technology in the newsroom, and so they hire Lincoln to be, essentially, a living spam filter: his job is to read the employees' e-mails and flag ones that contain inappropriate words or content, and send notices to the offending employees. Lincoln hates his job.

But when Lincoln starts reading the correspondence between Beth and Jennifer, he doesn't send them a notice about using company e-mail for personal use. Instead, he looks forward to their conversations getting caught in the filter. And eventually, he starts to fall in love with one of them.

This book was totally cute. The characters were real people you could see yourself being friends with (or already having friends like them). I loved the candid-ness of Jennifer and Beth's friendship, completely told through e-mails. This was a refreshing and fun read, and felt similar in tone to some of Meg Cabot's adult novels. I'm looking forward to reading more of Rowell's work. A

Have you read anything just absolutely fantastic lately?


  1. Katie @ A Beautiful Little AdvOctober 6, 2014 at 12:44 PM

    I'm totally putting Attachments on my to-read list! Thanks!

  2. Ooh, I'm excited to read the book about North Korea. That place FASCINATES me. Thanks for the rec!

  3. I read Attachments, and I thought it was really good. Now, I'm going to add The Martian to my reading list. It sounds interesting!

  4. You're welcome! My grandma also just recommended Escape from Camp 14, about a kid who is raised in a Korean prison camp, so hopefully I'll have a chance to check that one out soon too.