What’s on my bookshelf: January 2022

I’m back to blogging with a bunch of books! Yay, alliteration! OK, I last did a post like this last January, and I have read several books in the intervening year. But here’s what’s on my mind, reading-wise, right now!

Just finished: A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers

A Psalm for the Wild-Built (Monk & Robot, 1): Chambers, Becky:  9781250236210: Amazon.com: Books

One of my most enjoyable reading experiences last year was discovering Becky Chambers’ Wayfarers series, so I was excited to check out her latest work, the first in a new (and pretty different) series. I loved her optimistic, character-driven approach to a classic sci-fi yarn in Wayfarers; this book takes on both of those adjectives even more, as it reads at times like a coffeeshop AU fanfiction. And I don’t mean that in a bad way! OK, I will admit I was a little bored by the lengthy exposition of this book, but in all it’s a pretty quick read, so I didn’t have too long to feel impatient before the plot kicked in.

The basic premise is that in a future Earth-like planet, robots have collectively decided to stop working for humans and do their own thing in nature instead. This reckoning happened in the book’s distant past, and its implications shape the story’s serene world, and the meandering journey of a nonbinary monk trying to find their place in it. Although I grumbled a bit about the lack of plot, this ended up being a fun, feel-good read that got into some pretty profound territory about the meaning of life by its conclusion. Would recommend reading along with a good cup of tea.

Just finished: The Blue Castle by L. M. Montgomery

The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery
I read a different edition of this book with a different cover, but I prefer the look of this one. My blog, my rules!

I continued my streak of cozy, feel-good reads with this warm and funny story from L. M. Montgomery, the author of the beloved Anne of Green Gables books. Unlike Anne, we meet our protagonist Valancy as an adult, fed up with her overbearing family and uneventful life in small-town Canada. (This family in particular is the source of most of the jokes.) A revelation leads Valancy to make some big changes, and both romance and hilarity ensue. It was initially recommended to me on the basis of its descriptive writing about the natural world, which is admittedly beautiful, but it makes up a much smaller portion of the book than I expected based on that recommendation.

The Blue Castle‘s pacing felt uneven—it cycles between not much happening for many chapters, and a LOT happening at once—but I enjoyed it a lot anyway. I would have preferred to spend a bit less time on Valancy’s initial miserable circumstances, and more on the rather delightful situation she finds herself in towards the end of the book, but regardless, I’ll definitely be reading this one again in the future. Despite The Blue Castle‘s shared lineage with Anne, it reminded me most of The Secret Garden. Late bloomers and rogue-loving romantics, this one’s for you!

Just finished: Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner

Crying in H Mart: A Memoir: Zauner, Michelle: 9780525657743: Amazon.com:  Books

Like, I’m pretty sure, every single other person who read it, I LOVED this book. Definitely my favorite of the year so far (although I also really enjoyed the other two!). Zauner beautifully and heartbreakingly portrays her journey through grief and quest to reconnect with her family and culture. I laughed, I cried (a LOT), I learned, I related. What more can you ask from a book? Truly an amazing memoir, and I remain astonished that one person (Zauner is also known as the indie artist Japanese Breakfast) can be so talented at writing AND at other things! I would be jealous, if my dominant emotion wasn’t just gratitude to be able to read her writing. I cannot rave enough! (And apparently, I can’t formulate anything to say about this book aside from pure raving!) If you haven’t already, please read it!

Currently reading: Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport and How to do Nothing by Jenny Odell

The subtitles of each of these books—”Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World” and “Resisting the Attention Economy”—might give the impression that they are similar in mission and scope. In some ways, they do have a lot of similarities, but in many others, they couldn’t be more different. Odell is certainly more radical, questioning the very foundation of our capitalist society, while Newport’s approach is more individual, seeking meaning while remaining within the system. In a nutshell (and with the caveat that I haven’t finished either of them!), Newport’s Digital Minimalism is a practical guide to minimizing and optimizing the role of digital distractions in your life, while Odell’s How to do Nothing is more akin to a manifesto for collective action (or inaction?), with the goal of opting out of society’s productivity obsession in favor of a more meaningful life. However, both contain a good mix of practical and theoretical sections, drawing on a range of sources to promote their points.

Despite the fact that I don’t read much nonfiction, I’m steadily making my way through both of these books, and really enjoying the parallel reading experience and parallel insights that are coming along with it. I’m maybe getting too repetitive here, but it’s hard to overstate just how different these books are, while seemingly sharing a common goal. They’re less like two sides of the same coin, and more like two completely different coins, both of which are coming up “heads.” Regardless, I’m getting a lot out of both of them. Digital Minimalism is the one I’ll recommend to my dad, and How to do Nothing is the one I’ll recommend to my friends. OK, I’m done now; I think you get the picture!

On deck: How to Fail at Flirting by Denise Williams and Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy

I know next to nothing about either of these books. (The former, a fizzy rom-com? The latter, an adventure/thriller/heroine’s journey? OK, now you know as much as I do.) I picked them both up at the library recently and am definitely looking forward to delving back into the world of fiction!

Have you read any of these books? If so, I’d love to know what you think! If not, I’d love to hear about what you’re reading anyway! Feel free to drop a comment below, and I’ll talk to you soon(er or later).