November 2021 reading wrap-up

I kind of burned myself out.

Andrew Pieterick, October 2021

I know my own reading habits pretty well, sometimes too well, and after I made that offhanded comment in last month’s wrap-up it would take me until November 15th until I finished my first book of the month. This is in part because of the book that I chose to kick off the month with, but also in large part due to burn-out.

I was able to rebound, however, and I finished the month strong. I read a book that has been on my to-be-read shelf for seven years and finished two highly acclaimed nonfiction doorstops. Check out my highlights from November 2021 below!

Best of the month

“Survival is insufficient.”

From Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Station Eleven / Emily St. John Mandel

When Station Eleven came out in 2014, I was immediately interested, but never picked it up. The trailer for the upcoming TV series finally changed that, and I tore through the novel in just a few days, finding escape from our own pandemic reality within the novel’s fictional pandemic.

If you are thinking “why on earth would I read a novel about a pandemic at a time like this,” I would counter that there really is no better time to do so, and to call Station Eleven a “pandemic novel” is quite reductive. It’s a novel about resilience, never clearer than in the stories that play out before the novel’s pandemic strikes.

Station Eleven is a modern classic for a reason, an early-career masterpiece from Emily St. John Mandel that has only grown in importance since its release. It’s the rare piece of post-apocalyptic fiction that leaves the reader with a sense of hope.

Other highlights

Say Nothing / Patrick Radden Keefe

The Troubles in Northern Ireland is a difficult conflict to understand for many who did not live through it or who have no ties to it. In Say Nothing, Patrick Radden Keefe uses the disappearance of Jean McConville as a jumping-off point to tell an expansive history of The Troubles, clearly explaining the roots of the conflict and the decisions both sides made throughout the bitter thirty-year conflict. What Radden Keefe pulls off is remarkable, illustrating the ways national memory erases victims and the long-term devastation of colonialism and occupation. It’s a feat of narrative nonfiction and helps bring The Troubles to life in vivid detail.

The Lost Daughter / Elena Ferrante

Many readers know Elena Ferrante from her Neapolitan novels, but she has a robust oeuvre including this novella about a middle-aged divorcée who is alone for the first time in many years after her two daughters leave home to live with their father. On vacation, the woman spots a young family and triggers her own memories of young motherhood. In this examination of womanhood and motherhood, Ferrante illustrates the ways ambivalence can fester and transform into resentment. It’s a challenging subject, but Ferrante’s writing is outstanding as usual. Bonus: a film adaptation starring Olivia Colman will be debuting later this month on Netflix.

Empire of Pain / Patrick Radden Keefe

The second book from Patrick Radden Keefe that I read this month, Empire of Pain has appeared on a number of year-end Best-of lists, and for good reason. In this remarkable work of reportage, Radden Keefe tells the story of the Sackler family, makers of OxyContin who created the devasting opioid epidemic that has destroyed countless lives across the globe. I knew going into this how the Sacklers and Purdue Pharma had deliberately mismarketed the drug, drastically underplaying its addictive properties, but Radden Keefe illustrates in precise detail how every decision made by the Sacklers and Purdue was made to line their pockets and get away with it. A sobering look at cancerous capitalism.

Complete list of november reads

  • Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe
  • Matrix by Lauren Groff
  • The Lost Daughter by Elena Ferrante
  • Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
  • Moon of the Crusted Snow by Waubgeshig Rice
  • Empire of Pain by Patrick Radden Keefe
  • Caraval by Stephanie Garber

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