TBR Challenge Complete!

Over the last month I finished the last three books for the Official TBR Pile Challenge, so here are the reviews (I ended up using my two alternate titles to reach 12 books, but I may still get back to the two that I skipped):

Title: Fear and Trembling
Author: Søren Kierkegaard
Translator: Alastair Hannay
Genre: Theology/Philosophy
Pages: 160
Rating: 3 out of 5

In this classic, Kierkegaard ponders the nature of faith by considering the account of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac (Genesis 22). Themes include the relationship and relative merits of faith and reason, the necessity of resignation before faith can occur, belief in “the absurd” (that which is humanly impossible), and more.

I found some of it hard to follow as Kierkegaard is largely interacting with Hegel and I’m not really up on Hegelian philosophy. On top of that, he is writing as the pseudonym/character “Johannes de silentio” whose thoughts do not necessarily fully reflect Kierkegaard’s own (he’s an odd writer/thinker). This is my second time reading Kierkegaard and I don’t know if I’ll dip into his writings again…I think I prefer my theology/philosophy a bit less convoluted.

Title: The 1980 Annual World’s Best SF
Editor: Donald A. Wollheim (Ed.)
Genre: Sci-fi Short Story Anthology
Pages: 284
Rating: 2.5 of 5

It has been quite a while since I read this sort of anthology, though I read them all the time as a teen. It gave me a sense of nostalgia when I started, but that eventually gave way to annoyance. The stories are well-written and memorable (I actually remember reading one of them in a different collection 20+ years ago) but almost all of them were some variation of “let’s imagine a world in which Christianity and/or sexuality and/or the nuclear family has evolved away from the pathetically narrow-minded present.” I don’t know if that was the prevailing theme of late-70’s/early-80’s sci-fi or just the editor’s pet theme. After a while it just kind of felt preachy.

Title: Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine 
Author: Gail Honeyman
Genre: Some sort of Psychological Fiction?
Pages: 352
Rating: 4.5 of 5

This isn’t my usual kind of read, and I don’t remember how it originally ended up on my TBR, but I’m glad that I read it. I’m not sure how much I can say about it without spoilers as gradually getting to know Eleanor (a socially awkward loner who repeatedly assures us that her life is fine) and seeing her personal development is the whole point of the story. I don’t know if someone with so little self-awareness and understanding of the real world (to say nothing of other issues) would really be as independent as Eleanor is, but her struggles, tragedies, and triumphs provide a moving tale of humor, heartbreak, and hope.

A Pleasant Surprise

Title: The Night Circus
Author: Erin Morgenstern
Genre: Romantic Fantasy
Pages: 517
Rating: 4.5 of 5

I’m wary of wildly hyped books; I seldom read stories centered on romance; I am usually annoyed by present-tense narration; and sumptuous descriptive prose really isn’t my thing. All that to say:  there is no way that I should have enjoyed The Night Circus…but I did! (and, yes, I  know I’m late to this party).

I don’t want to say a lot about the plot because the publisher’s blurb is spoiler-y enough (while still seeming to completely miss the tone of the book). The novel is as much a dreamy (but not psychedelic or nonsensical) exploration of the Night Circus itself as it is about the romance and conflict of the characters. I enjoy character-driven stories, but I have to say this was the first setting-driven story I’ve come across as far as I can remember. The exotic black white and gray swirl of tents, automata, and performers is captivating, and as the book  meandered dreamily along I found myself worrying about whether all this magical beauty was going to be engulfed in tragedy and death by the end (I’m not telling whether that’s the direction this ultimately takes or not).

Overall, some of the romance made me roll my eyes a bit, but I was drawn to the magical, dreamy descriptions and slowly unfolding plot.