What I Read in November 2020

I only managed two Le Carre books in November. I don’t know that I will ever get back to my pre-law school pace.

The Spy Who Came In From the Cold

John Le Carre

I think this, or maybe Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, is Le Carre’s most famous work. I see why this one is so well regarded. Alec Leamas is in charge of a spy ring in divided Germany. When his last active agent is killed, Leamas is called back to London. However, he is approached by higher ups at the Circus to take on one last mission, posing as a disaffected former agent and infiltrating the other side to take down a long-standing nemesis.

Leamas is an old operator who thinks he knows how amoral his business is, but he really doesn’t. He is contrasted with other characters who are either more idealistic than he is, or more pragmatic and amoral. Leamas’s actions are amoral, but he still believes in his cause. But as the mission goes on, he starts to doubt that. If his actions, and the actions of Control and the Circus, are the actions of the good guys, how good can they be. The whole thing comes in under 300 pages and packs a lot into it. It is really good and gives the reader a lot to chew on.

The Looking Glass War

John Le Carre

This one is brutal. It is a comedy of sorts, with a decrepit, failing spy organization bumbling into an apparent mission and having to activate the machinery of running a spy operation for the first time since WWII. The head of the organization is still caught up in an interagency rivalry with another British spy organization, the Circus of many Le Carre books, but seemingly unaware of how little his group can accomplish. The closest thing to a real protagonist is John Avery, a newcomer to the agency with no real skills or experience. They’ve had reports of Soviets amassing weapons in Germany, and the man they sent to retrieve pictures of the site has turned up dead. After a mission to retrieve his body doesn’t go well, they decide to activate a German speaking field agent from the war to go and take a look himself.

The whole thing is a comedy of errors. Everyone just wants one last, or first, chance at glory. There is no real evidence that the lead they are chasing is anything at all; it is all a waste. The first thing Leiser, the agent, does is kill someone, essentially ruining the mission as it starts. The whole thing is a mass of failure and incompetence from the jump. Yet still, Le Carre makes the reader feel something. You do start to care for Avery; he doesn’t really accomplish anything, but he is trying very hard. But he’s too green and too unskilled to recognize how futile everything is. When it gets to the end, your sympathies are with him as it all goes awry.

What I Watched in November 2020


Yes, God Yes – A really fascinating and accurate look at Christian youth groups and communities. Judgment instead of support and values as cudgels, even for people who really believe. ****

Holidate – I’ve got to be honest, I watched this near the start of the month and only remember largely disliking it. It just felt kind of sour and tired. *1/2

Back to the Future – Its great *****

Back to the Future Part 2 – It is also great. *****

Over the Moon – Netflix trying to do a Disney movie, directed by a veteran of the Disney animated renaissance. It didn’t quite work. It looks good, but the songs are painful and the jokes really don’t land. It’s just a bit of a miss. **1/2

Hillbilly Elegy – This is getting savaged, and that feels a little unfair to me. The book definitely has some problems with how it frames things, and some of that is carried over here, but it is a better made movie than it is getting credit for. I don’t know that it actually has much to say, though. It just appears to. **1/2

The Princess Switch, Switched Again – There is nothing here. It is an excuse for Vanessa Hudgens to play three different characters, but the actual switching is disappointingly brief. Otherwise, it is just a lot of Christmas nothing. **

Aladdin – I watched this with my brother, who hadn’t seen it. I actually still like it quite a bit. It is not the animated movie, and not nearly as good, but there is still fun to be had here. ***1/2


Truth Seekers – I love Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. I don’t know if I would have given this show a shot had they not been involved. I liked it, though. It isn’t the best thing ever, but there is some pretty great supernatural spookiness in most of the episodes and it builds up well. This was a solid way to spend a few hours.

The Queen’s Gambit – This might be the best show of the year. It is a lot of really interesting stories. It is a sports story, a coming of age story, a story about addiction and about changing values in the 50s and 60s. At the center of everything is Anya Taylor-Joy’s Beth Harmon, a chess prodigy orphan. She learns chess from the janitor at the orphanage she spends her early years in. She also gets addicted to tranquilizers handed out to keep the kids docile. When she is adopted, it is by a troubled, stifled woman trapped in an unhappy marriage. Her personal life is constantly in turmoil, but her professional life flourishes. It is riveting to watch.

The Liberator – There is a lot that is really good about The Liberator, but I really didn’t care for how it was animated. It is a kind of traditional WWII story; it hit s all the beats you expect and there are some really gripping sequences. It builds to some true horror near the end. I constantly struggled with the look of the show, though.

Fargo S4 – I want to have a lot to say about this newest season of Fargo, just like I really wanted to like this newest season of Fargo. But I neither have much to say about nor liked it all that much. I expect both of those things might change with a rewatch, where I am paying closer attention to themes rather than just anticipating the plot. There is a lot here that I liked; on its own I liked basically every piece of this season. However, I am not sure it really coalesced into a coherent story. It was much looser than the previous three seasons. Even the somewhat (and wrongly, in my opinion) maligned Season 3 told a fairly tight story of one series of crimes. This is a broader, more expansive look at warring crime empires, but the stakes are never quite as clear as you would hope. I enjoyed watching Fargo S4, but so far I don’t think it will stick with my like the previous seasons did.

Now Playing November 2020


Mega Man X7 – I did not beat Mega Man X7. I beat a few levels of Mega Man X7 and realized that continuing with it would only lead to frustration. I don’t see any real reason to tear into this game here. It’s not good. It was an attempt to do the classic 2D Mega Man in 3D, at least partly. Mega Man Legends took the series into 3D, but it turned it into a Zelda-esque adventure game. MMX7 tried to do 3D while maintaining the style and feel of the older games. Honestly, that part is not particularly unsuccessful. It is the other stuff the game did, like the execrable driving stage and a generally uncooperative camera. It also does little stuff, like defaulting to no when the game asks questions, meaning if you are trying to hurry through repeated dialogue the game will frequently repeat it or send you back to the start. I just don’t need this in my life.

Super Mario Picross – This is on the Switch Nintendo online service. It is a Japanese only picross game. I blasted through it. It’s some good picross.


Atelier Ryza – Marginal progress. This game is just not quite clicking yet; I think it will at some point.

Tactics Ogre Knight of Lodis – Maybe it’s my recent replays of the Final Fantasy Tactics Advance games, but something made me want to replay this other GBA tactics game. I played through the first couple of battles. It is really setting something up. The Ogre Battle/Tactics Ogre games were always smarter than they get credit for. This one is setting up an interesting story about colonialism and religious hegemony that, if I remember correctly, actually goes somewhere. I hope the game remains as fun to play as I remember.

Pokemon Sword – I really needed something familiar and comfortable right now, and a Pokemon game really fit the bill. I have been almost completely disconnected from the mainstream gaming conversation for a while, but I get the feeling Sword/Shield didn’t go over all that well. There are some problems with the game I have had so far. It is a strange map, with a lot crammed into the one Wild Area, and the rest of it feeling a little empty. I like the general feel of it being a sporting event. That is an interesting way of framing things. I think the big problem people had was cutting down the available Pokemon, which I understand why that was an unpopular choice, but it doesn’t make a practical problem going through the main game. And since I never bother with any of the multiplayer, it doesn’t change much for me. I’ve had a lot of fun blasting through the first half of it.


Yakuza: Like A Dragon – I’m really looking forward to this, but didn’t manage to get it started in November. I hope that changes before the end of the year.