The Outsider by Albert Camus

The Outside by Albert Camus

“If you can’t handle heat, don’t go to the beach”

This was a Christmas gift, so although I don’t like first person novels, I powered through this 116 page classic in a day or two. Overall, it was interesting, but I wouldn’t read it again. At one point in the story, I wondered if the main character was mentally handicapped or a psychopath, someone born without empathy towards people or animals. In the end, I just realized he was pragmatic, and that instead of feeling guilty for the murder, I can understand why he states he simply feels annoyed by the legal proceedings.

The book had some good lines mixed in with the plain descriptions of his surroundings. One quote that stuck out to me was, “According to the priest, human justice was nothing and divine justice was everything. I pointed out that it was the former which had condemned me.”

I also don’t know if I agree with the quote on the cover, because I’m not sure how much this book marked my life, and certainly not ‘indelibly’.


Dune by Frank Herbert

Dune by Frank Herbert

“Less a novel and more like a whole new world”

If you want to talk about building new worlds, Frank Herbert absolutely kills it with Dune. There's a good reason why this novel is being made into a film. It's epic, and at around 500 pages, although a little slow in places, the story is just getting started.

Dune has love, hand to hand combat, futuristic technology, planetary battles, weird voice magic, and sandworms - what more could you ask for in a sci-fi novel?

The book takes some time to get used to, because Herbert uses so many adjectives to describe things and those are mixed in with odd names, new planets, made up weapons, and titles that don’t exist in the English language. Once you get accustomed to all of that (or refer to the included appendix) the book is a well-written adventure that kept me engaged from start to finish. Although I highly recommend Dune, I don’t know if I have it in me to finish the five other books in the Dune Chronicles. With that said, I’m looking forward to the movie and hope, as do most other people, that they don’t mess it up too badly.

South of the Border, West of the Sun - Haruki Murakami

South of the Border, West of the Sun - Haruki Murakami

“Hope, regret, what if, and probably - is love really ‘real’?”

This was the first book that I’d say I really identified with. It’s about a Japanese guy and his relationships throughout his life and how they shape who he is and the way he sees the world. In the book, a lot of the bad things that happen are due to the main character’s choices, which I liked rather than something happening to him. The end of the book is weird. You feel like you’re going down one path, and understanding what’s happening, and then all of the sudden you start to question if one of the biggest parts of the book is even real. Someone said Murakami likes to drift in and out of reality and the spirit world, which I would say was an accurate description for this book. That said, I really liked it and I connected with the main character on an emotional level, having thought a lot about my relationships and the person I want to become as I grow older.

Empire of Dragons - Valerio Massimo Manfredi

Empire of Dragons - Valerio Massimo Manfredi

“A rugged Roman Gladiator road-trip with a Chinese twist”

I read this on planes, trains, taxis, and busses while traveling through Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand. This book was epic, and reminded me a lot of “The Physician” by Noah Gordon. I thoroughly enjoyed this book because it was full of action, forbidden love, and both a physical and personal journey. Books like this are just a fun read and easy to get lost in. So if you’ve been reading a bit too much dystopian stuff, this was a nice change of pace.

The Chrysalids - John Wyndham

The Chrysalids - John Wyndham

“Learning to accept yourself is easier when ‘thought’ than said”

Typically, I shy away from first person books but since my friend Carlos gave this to me for Christmas, I decided to give it ago. Five pages in, I realize the main character is a child and I’m dealing with his thoughts in first person and I almost noped right out of there. However, I stuck with it and was surprised with how well first person worked for this book, especially once the twist is revealed. The ending was cool, and one of those scenes that flows so well you can imagine it in your head.

Fatherland - Robert Harris

Fatherland - Robert Harris

“A riveting, alternative history with an über amount of German”

I almost stopped after a few chapters because there was so much German I questioned wether the book was in English or not. The titles of all the offers in the book were so long that it was difficult to keep track of who was speaking or who characters were referring to. Once I got over that, this was a really interesting concept that played out nicely. I’m looking forward to reading more Robert Harris because the structure and flow of “Fatherland” was easy and fun to read.

Brave New World - Aldous Huxley

Brave New World - Aldous Huxley

“Genetically modifying babies seems like the inevitable direction we’re going”

Again, this is such a classic that it feels like I have no right to give my opinion about it. I liked the idea behind the novel, that a society could be so utopian that it’s actually dystopian, but in general, I wasn’t really interested in a bunch of teenagers having sex. The second half of the book was great, and I liked the ending, despite it not being “happy.”

Midnight in Peking - Paul French

Midnight in Peking - Paul French

“A girl’s death, a city in turmoil - it’s true crime!”

This was my first True Crime book I’ve read, and quite possibly my last. I liked it, especially since I live in Beijing and have been to many places in the book, but overall I’d rather just see the movie. This book was interesting because of the historical facts, like how the Japanese controlled Peking at that time, but I think I’d have preferred a documentary or a movie rather than a novel chronicling the details of the girl’s death.

The Trial - Franz Kafka

The Trial - Franz Kafka

“You think the DMV is bad? Bureaucracy at its finest”

I needed a break from Kafka after reading this. I had planned to read a bunch of his stuff, one after another, but decided that would be a bit much. “The Trial” reminded me a lot of how things get done in China. “Go here, then do this, get this signature, talk to this person, ah but you needed this form, sorry you need 4 copies of this and not 3, we’re not open now…” Just an endless runaround that ultimately ends with the main character calling himself a dog. Weird ending, but somewhat fitting.

The Elementary Particles - Michel Houellebecq

The Elementary Particles - Michel Houellebecq

“A unique blend of life, love, and destroying human reproduction”

This book had possibly one of the craziest endings I’ve ever read. The book centers on two French brothers and their relationships with women over the years. So I’m reading this book thinking “this is some sappy, sad book about these two guys that frankly I don’t care about” and then the last few pages completely changes everything. If you start this and don’t like it, I highly recommend sticking it out until the end. Well done, Houellebecq, well done.

We - Yevgeny Zamyatin

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“There’s a good reason why mathematicians don’t often keep journals”

I read “We” after 1984 and afterwards I thought, “Did Orwell just steal the entire plot from this Russian dude?” The book itself was challenging to read because it’s in the form of a journal kept by a mathematician. His thoughts are scattered and he’s very logical about the way he presents things, which is interesting, but also a bit convoluted in parts of the story. It was an enjoyable book, and I really liked that Zamyatin incorporated the design ideas of Frederick Winslow Taylor, a mechanical engineer who sought to improve industrial efficiency.

A Scanner Darkly - Philip K. Dick

A Scanner Darkly - Philip K. Dick

“Drugs plus California in the 90s never seemed more appealing”

The movie was weird, so I was expecting the same from the book, and it delivered. Because many of the main characters are drug addicts, the writing also follows their drug-induced thoughts, which at times was confusing. In addition, it switches between third and first person which can be difficult to follow. Overall, I liked this book and looking forward to reading more of Dick’s harder sci-fi.

1984 - George Orwell

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“Living in China doesn’t seem so bad after reading this”

What can be said about 1984 that hasn’t already been said since this book first came out? It was sad, intriguing, insightful, and unpredictable. I think so many people like this book because at some point or another, we can relate to either the plot, the theme, or the symbolism that Orwell manages to weave throughout 1984.

Animal Farm - George Orwell

Animal Farm - George Orwell

“If dystopian novels are too complicated, just use animal metaphors”

I actually read this after I published my own dystopian novel, “Contraception” and my first thought was: “Orwell wins the dystopian genre.” Simple, clear, and effective, this book is a classic for a reason.

Sapiens - Yuval Noah Harari

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“If you love getting lost in Wikipedia, you’ll love this”

This was given to me by a girl I was seeing the summer of 2018 and I thought it would be a nice break from the fiction I usually read. Sapiens was really enjoyable, and I respect Harari’s attempt to condense the history of humankind into one book. It was really interesting to dive more in-depth into things that we already know, like how money or religion helped form communities.