Haneen Reads

Just some book reviews

2021 & 2022 Books

Published January 10, 2023

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Happy New Year everyone! I am aware that I have been neglecting this little corner of the internet for a while now, and I decided it’s high time I start giving it some attention. It’s been a very difficult couple of years for a lot of reasons, but anyhow. I decided to wrap up the last two years of books in one post. Yay!

In 2021 I read a total of 14 books, and in 2022 I read 26 books. Below are short reviews of all the books I read in the last two years.

2021 Books

1. I, Robot by Isaac Asimov – 1959

A marvelous short story collection from Asimov.
If you’re a technophobe, this collection has a subtle and eery feeling throughout.

Loved it.

2. French Exit by Patrick deWitt – 1950

The absurdity alone was enough to love this novel.
The dialogue was marvelous, and the plot was wonderful. You know what’s going to happen, and yet it’s not about the main event, but about the subtleties of the relationships between the characters, and the leading up to the main event. This was funny, absurd, and devastating!

PS: I’ve since watched the movie and Michelle Pfeiffer deserved a damn Oscar for this role! and Lucas Hedges was a Godsend! Managed to completely capture the subtle and absurd spirit of the novel, and although the ending was different, I still loved it!

3. No Longer Human by Osamu Dazai – 1948

Depressing to the extreme, and a drag to get through.
The main character was unlikeable and the plot was wanting.

4. Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens – 2018

An enjoyable read. A bit tedious at times.
And in all honesty, it was quite predictable.

5. Dark Days by James Baldwin – 2018

Baldwin at his best! So full of hard truths and hard-hitting revelations. A must read.

6. Crudo by Olivia Laing – 2018

Pretentious and mediocre at best. Not my cup of tea at all.

7. Women, Race and Class by Angela Y. Davis – 1981

Well-written and well-researched essays about the history of feminism in America, and how the feminist movement excluded non-white, non-rich women from its activities and therefore goals and achievements.

That said, I think this is a great introduction and historical account to which more advanced feminist readers can draw much-needed context and inspiration for a wider feminist agenda.

8. مهزلة العقل البشري لـ علي الوردي – 1956

قراءة متوسطة في نظري، الوردي لم يقدم أي جديد في نقده لكل شيء حوله.

كما استفزني وضع الكاتب لشخصه و”خبراته” في كل نقطة فلسفية، والتي قللت من شأن الفكرة المطروحة. كما أدى أسلوبه “المثير للجدل” لدنو كتاباته من النقد الفعال إلى مجرد تجربة لإثارة الانتباه.

9. الحب في زمن النفط لـ نوال السعداوي – 1993

رواية رمزية بحتة، والأفكار المطروحة شديدة المبالغة. السعداوي لم تنجح في اختياراتها الروائية حيث أن الفكرة الأساسية تضيع في أسلوبها السردي المسبب للضجر.

10. حين تركنا الجسر لـ عبد الرحمن منيف – 1987

لا يزال منيف يبهرني بقوته الأدبية البحتة. الرواية رمزية مسببة لليأس والاكتئاب، كما عهدنا من روايات منيف. ليست أفضل ما قدمه منيف سابقا، لكن أسلوبه الأدبي المدمن سببا كافيا لقراءة “كما تركنا الجسر”.

11. The Plague by Albert Camus – 1947

Not my favorite Camus, but still a brilliant piece of art. Also not a good idea to read during the lockdown. To say it was difficult to get through would be an understatement.

12. Foundation by Isaac Asimov – 1951

Science fiction unlike anything you’ve ever read before. This novel gave me everything I wanted from a futuristic space plot. And what a plot! It’s not your average “good vs. evil” book, because the level of sophisticated thought given to each character is unmatched in any sci-fi I’ve read before.

It’s got it all: futuristic plot, immersive world-building, a cast of characters, massive time jumps, and of course, a front-row seat to the political powers at play. Also, let’s make psychohistory a real thing, please.

PS: I’ve since watched the Apple TV+ series inspired by Asimov’s novel, however other than the main idea of the plot, it’s a very different story but equally mesmerizing.

13. The Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak – 2009

I thought “Three Daughters of Eve” was just OK, and decided to give Shafak another go. But dear God, this was a whitewashed, soapy mess of a novel. In fact, she somehow manages to turn Rumi, an important literary figure, into a caricature of a man. Ugh!!

As a celebrated middle-eastern writer, you’d think she could manage to write to a middle-eastern audience, but no, she chooses the mediocre Western masses for her audience, who “adore her writing” because she manages to insert some surface-level “cultural” template in her works. Was going to stop reading it, but it was for a book club, so I carried on. Otherwise, would not have finished it after the first couple of chapters.

14. The Sellout by Paul Beatty – 2015

The most mesmerizing satirical work I’ve read so far about the hilarious myth of a “post-racial” America.
Beatty uses a provocative plot to capture the absurdity of the racist times we continue to live in today.

I have to admit, many references went over my head, as I imagine they are deeply rooted in American culture, which might cause non-American readers to feel frustrated at times. But overall a book that deserves all the praise it has received.

2022 Books

1. My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite – 2018

Enjoyable read. Nothing mind-blowing. The plot is OK, but the characters are not explored very well. In other words, it’s too short for the plot and needed a little more character background or even development. We only get vague hints at their motivations and it’s not enough.

2. Letter from Birmingham Jail by Martin Luther King Jr. – 1963

Read it. That’s my review.

3. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison – 1952

Readers will get a glimpse into the thoughts and experiences of a black man in America. The novel had many thought-provoking and, at times, psychologically intriguing ideas. It also explores tokenism and the effects it has on our main character.

Needless to say this book will stay in your mind for a long time after you’ve read it. There were a few moments here and there where it dragged a bit, but other than that, I highly recommend this book.

4. The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot – 1922

Admittedly, I’m not a huge poetry reader, but this poem shook me to my core. I can’t even begin to explain the sheer rollercoaster of emotions it drags you through.

5. Aladdin: A New Translation – 2021

Quite different from the Disney version, I must say. In this one, however, Aladdin is a very unlikeable character with stalker vibes. And worse of all, no Abu 🙁

6. Twilight of the Idols and Anti-Christ by Friedrich Nietzsche – 1889

My first Nietzsche! And apparently, this was one of the last books he published, when he began to unravel, but still manages to throw shade at every religious idea you can think of.

It is mostly about Christianity and the “hypocrisy” of its preachers, and the “crimes” they continue to commit against man’s natural and biological instincts. Although I enjoyed it, I don’t think this is for everyone to be honest. It’s definitely not a light or easy read, but still offers great insights and provocative ideas.

7. V for Vendetta by Alan Moore – 1990

“Remember, remember the fifth of November…”

This was a reread of one of my favorite graphic novels, second only to “The Killing Joke”. Very political, oddly nostalgic, and full of Vengeance! Also has quite a bit of sexual violence and rape, so beware!

8. The Island of Doctor Moreau by H.G. Wells – 1896

Maybe it’s because I’ve read too much of the “mad scientist” trope, but this was a bit of a disappointment to me. I liked other H.G. Wells novels, my favorite being “The Time Machine”, but this one was one of his “misses”. However, it is probably one of the first cautionary tales about crossing ethical boundaries in the name of scientific advancement, so definitely give it a go.

9. The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House by Audre Lorde – 2018

My first Lorde, and oh my Lord! What an introduction. Absolutely mind-blowing essays that discuss racist behaviors within feminist movements, systems of oppression, poetry as a tool of defiance, the power of emotional intelligence or what she refers to as “erotic”, the patriarchal structures and their relationship with feminist movements and ideas, and the lessons to be learned from the 1960s civil rights movements in America (mostly in relation to Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr).

In other words, a must-read!

10. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad – 1899

Extremely overrated. Extremely symbolic. And, of course, mind-numbingly racist!

11. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel – 2014

I have to admit I watched the series before reading the book. This was enjoyable, but I thought the series did it better! Sorry, not sorry! However, the plot was very interesting, and the characters were all wonderfully thought of. But, the ending left too many loose ends for my liking.

12. James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl – 1961

Would have loved this book as a child. I think I vaguely remember watching a movie with the same plot. Full of adventure and wonder as is fitting for a Dahl book. I enjoyed this story and its characters. Not as great as Matilda or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but just as enjoyable. Also, why do the main characters in Dahl’s books always seem to have unfortunate and devastating beginnings?

13. The Colonizer and the Colonized by Albert Memmi – 1957

A deep look into the psychology of both the colonizer and the colonized. In this invaluable book, Memmi discusses colonialism as a whole and then gets into a deeper analysis of the entire structure and system of colonialism.

Who is the colonizer? What are the real reasons for the colonizer’s existence? Who is the colonized? How they transform as a result of being colonized. The intricate relationship between both the oppressor and the oppressed. Memmi also highlights the paths available to the colonized as they inevitably realize that survival under oppression can no longer sustain them as human beings, and the difficult and necessary actions and choices they must make to end their oppression and regain their sense of culture, community and most of all, of self.

I highly recommend this book to one and all. A must-read indeed.

14. جاهلية لـ ليلى الجهني – 2007

الأسلوب الأدبي للكاتبة السعودية ليلى الجهني رائع وفيه إبداعات خفيفة هنا وهناك.

تدور أحداث الرواية حول “لين” فتاة من المدينة المنورة وقعت في حب “مالك” شاب أسود اللون، والجريمة التي يرتكبها أخوها “هاشم” عند اكتشافه بعلاقتهما.

لكن أحداث الرواية مجرد خلفية للعديد من الملاحظات المجتمعية التي تتناولها الجهني في هذا الكتاب. أهمها العنصرية التي ندعي عدم وجودها في مجتمعنا الإسلامي والعربي، لكنها، مع الأسف، جزء من نسيج المجتمع بشكل عام. فهنا نحن مجتمع “فيه جاهلية”.

استخدام الجهني للمقتطفات القصيرة لأحداث الغزو الأمريكي للعراق قبل كل فصل في الرواية ربما يتحدث عن فكرة الازدواجية في القول والفعل.

رواية أنصح الجميع بقرائتها.

15. Frida Kahlo: The Last Interview: and Other Conversations – 2020

Being a massive Frida Kahlo fan, I picked this little book up at a museum in Miami. I thought it would be interviews of Frida Kahlo, instead, it’s a collection of commentary from people who interviewed her with a line or two of her own words.

So, a bit disappointed as to the content, however the last “interview” was a full autobiography by Frida talking about her parents, her childhood, her accident, and her love of painting and what it means to her. So that redeemed this little book for me.

16. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy – 1878

This novel is essentially about family, happiness, and society. Tolstoy gives us the best characters anyone could ever ask for, and all we’re meant to do is observe and live with them for a while. Although named after a main character, this novel is about 3 different couples (Alexi & Anna, Stepan & Dolly, and Levin & Kitty) and an interloper couple in Anna and Count Vronsky.

In the beginning we see Anna is married to the ambitious proper Alexi, and they have a son together. Anna is somewhat content in her marriage until she meets the charming Count Vronsky in a train station and suddenly feels bored with her husband and married life, as she begins to see the possibility of happiness in a different life.

Stephan is Anna’s brother and is married to Dolly, who becomes extremely upset when she discovers her husband has been having multiple affairs. Anna calms Dolly and tells her all men to cheat and that he loves her and she must forgive him. So she does. Easy peasy, moving on!

Then we have Levin, the most interesting character in my opinion, whom I believe was fashioned after Tolstoy himself. Levin proposes to Kitty who turns him down because she thinks she can do better! He is not handsome nor charming and is socially awkward. He then moves to the countryside where he decides to give simple life a go and ponders agriculture and other ideas about community, Russian society, and in the end, religion. Later on he reunites with Kitty who finally agrees to marry him and start a family with him in the quiet country life away from pretentious society.

The novel plays with the idea of the consequences of seeking individual happiness versus finding contentment and happiness by being part of the whole. Tolstoy is telling us that society is both our doom and our savior, and we should find happiness in the smaller things by being useful to our societies.

All in all, I absolutely fell in love with this novel and would recommend it to everyone, especially because its style and language are easier when compared to War and Peace.

17. Coraline by Neil Gaiman – 2002

My first Neil Gaiman and I’m in love! This was scary and creepy in the best way, loved the main character Coraline and how brave she was.
The plot is so good, it felt like it was inspired by Alice in Wonderland but Gaiman gave it a very SCARY twist.

18. Emma by Jane Austen – 1815

What a perfectly pleasant novel. Ughhhh. I get that Emma is supposed to be an unlikeable character, but my god she really is.

The plot was very Austen, the OG “chick-lit” writer, in that everyone who was in love with someone was in fact in love with someone else, but not to worry dear reader, they all end up in perfectly pleasant situations. The worst part for me is the dull conversations throughout, I mean what was that thing with Emma and her dad discussing the damn pig?!

To be honest, it’s not a terrible novel, it’s just a really boring classic where nothing of significance ever happens, but you just read it to get a feel of what it was like in good ol’ Victorian England.

19. The Lottery by Shirley Jackson – 1948

My edition was the Little Clothbound Classics which had 13 short stories including the Lottery. I just love Shirley Jackson! I’ve previously read the Haunting of Hill House and her eerie, haunting and at times shocking writing style is ever so present in this little collection.

Most of these stories had horror elements but some were just eerie little vignettes written in microscopic view of a few characters going about their day. The Lottery certainly was the best one, with its seemingly ordinary beginning, and slowly but surely reaching its horrifying climax.

Jackson’s writing is often symbolic, discussing all sorts of ideas like relationships, society, culture, friendships, close-mindedness, death, etc, but most of all women! I find that she often gives us a glimpse of what women go through in a patriarchal world, even when we see a woman’s character from the man’s perspective, it’s quite telling of Jackson’s intention for her story.

I also really enjoyed her style of self-dialogue, very accurately representing how people think and argue with themselves over the tiny details as they go about their day. I highly recommend this collection, especially if you’re into eerie and haunting stories without too much gore.

20. Don’t Call Us Dead by Deniz Smith – 2017

My rating is a bit lower than others not for the content discussed but for the style used. I don’t pretend to understand poetry, I admit I sometimes struggle with traditional poetry, however, this “modern” jumbled mess of words and phrases thrown together arbitrarily leaves me with a disconnected feeling, and I find it very difficult to feel anything! I mean there’s literally an entire page dedicated to two lines of a “poem”! How am I supposed to get anything out of that?

That said, I do get the many important issues Smith discusses in this collection, such as race, police brutality and murder, being gay and black in America, the experience of being HIV positive, and more. These topics are very interesting and important, sometimes a longer poem would help me understand what the author is trying to say, but for others, the style just makes it hard for the point to get across in my opinion.

21. The Lost Daughter by Elena Ferrante – 2006

A subtle and delicate novel with many hints of anxiety throughout. In The Lost Daughter, Ferrante delves into the psychological implications of being a mother, of the delicate and often complex relationship between mothers and daughters.

Our main character and narrator, Leda, is a middle-aged mother of two grownup daughters, now a college professor on vacation. Throughout Ferrante’s writing, we feel uncomfortable about Leda as she recounts her life as a mother, (how she abruptly abandons her daughters for three years when they were young), and as she becomes obsessed and fixated on a young mother, Nina, whom she observes on the beach, and ultimately how in an intense psychological moment she steals a doll that belongs to Nina’s daughter.

I thought the novel was absolutely brilliant, in the small but significant moments of intensity throughout Leda’s actions and interactions with Nina and her Neapolitan family. This reader finds herself agreeing with most of Leda’s ideas about motherhood and the judgment of societal and familial norms of what a perfect mother should be, but at the same time, I felt Leda’s actions made her an unlikeable narrator. It’s almost as if Ferrante is playing a game with her readers, testing our limits of what we expect from mothers and what we ultimately judge as “bad mothering”.

A must-read for the sheer ability of the author in capturing our full attention, you won’t be able to look away!

22. The Little Mermaid by Yayoi Kusama – 2016

I read the Little Mermaid by Andersen a couple of years ago, but I just got this marvelous edition illustrated by the brilliant Yayoi Kusama, and it made me want to read it again. The illustrations are in black in white and very fitting with the original grim tale, and the details of certain sections will make you want to admire them all day long.

23. Northern Lights by Philip Pullman – 1995

Absolutely loved this book! What a fantastical world and what wonderful characters and what a whirlwind of a plot. Lyra is probably one of my all-time favorite characters now.

The last two chapters fractured my soul.

24. Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans – 1939

I remember loving this as a kid. Madeline is definitely one of my favorite children’s book characters, right up there with Matilda and Alice (from Wonderland).

25. The Power of Geography by Tim Marshall – 2021

This is my second “geography” book I read by Tim Marshall, and in a similar fashion to Prisoners of Geography, it’s marketed as a geography book, but it isn’t really. It’s more of a general political science book for the general masses. In this one, Marshall seems to pick arbitrary countries or areas including space! Without any underlying connections.

It’s also important to note, that although it offers an OK introduction to the current political landscape, it is done so with an overwhelming Western gaze and agenda. You can clearly feel that when you compare a European country to China or Saudi Arabia. The massive differences in celebrating imperial “achievements” while brushing off the massive negative impact using only one or two lines, so that you won’t say he didn’t criticize the West. While at the same time going on and on for pages on how evil are China’s plans and how awful Saudi Arabia is!

And then there’s the “geography” parts, each chapter begins with a geographical overview that takes a couple of paragraphs, then goes on to the political history and current events with almost no mention of geography, only to end the chapter with a weak tie-in to the geography he mentioned in the beginning. He doesn’t really explain how geography impacts his political theory.

Overall an OK read and introduction, a bit messier than his previous book.

26. The Black Unicorn by Audre Lorde – 1978

Absolutely loved this collection by Lorde. Very raw and beautifully unapologetic, full of emotional rollercoasters in every single poem.

Most of my personal favorite poems were in the second and fourth parts, such as “Harriet”, “A Litany for Survival”, “Touring”, and “But What can you Teach my Daughter”.

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