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).

2020 Vision

We’re a whole month into the new year (!!!) and I’m finally getting around to writing my resolutions down here. I’ve had them written in my trusty Bullet Journal for a few weeks, but there’s nothing for accountability like making things public, y’know?

With that said, here are my resolutions for this pleasingly symmetrical year. I didn’t include anything work/school-related, because those are pretty clear benchmarks that I didn’t come up with on my own.

1. Read 50 books.

Including books for pleasure, not for school. I got pretty close to this number last year but didn’t quite hit it. Here’s hoping I can up the ante this time around. (As of writing this, I’ve finished 3 books so far this year: Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens, Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, and Women Talking by Miriam Toews. I would recommend all of them.)

2. Finish my novel draft.

I completed NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) last November by getting to 50,000 words, but I didn’t quite finish the story I was writing. I literally have not even opened that file since November 30th, but this year, I’m going to finish writing and editing the novel.

3. Go on 12 dates. (Joint resolution!)

This is a resolution I’m sharing with a few friends of mine. We’re all…not great at dating, so we determined to each go on 12 dates this year for an average of one a month and keep each other posted. Wish us luck!

4. Get more involved in the community.

I’ve done a bit of volunteering since I’ve moved through the local co-op’s awesome member work program, but I want to get more involved in some local organizations that support the community I’m now a part of.

5. Spend my time in ways that fulfill me.

I spend soooo many hours scrolling mindlessly on social media, and at a certain point it’s not even fun anymore. I think (I hope, kinda?) others can relate. I don’t know if it’s a social media “addiction” in my case, but it’s definitely something, and for some reason I’m not ready to give up Instagram entirely. But I am trying to be mindful of how I spend my time and to be more quick to put down the phone. Pursuits like reading, writing, and even sleeping make me much happier than the permascroll.

6. Learn to play the harp.

I’ve wanted to play the harp for as long as I can remember, and I’m determined that this is the year I finally do it! This resolution is the most “out of the box” for me, as I don’t really consider myself a musical person—the most recent musical experience I’ve had was playing violin until 4th grade. So this is a brand new adventure for me. We’ll see how it goes!

What’s on my bookshelf? December edition

Hello, friends! Long time, no blog (again). This time I don’t have as good of a reason as NaNoWriMo to have fallen off the blogging wagon (blog-gon?), but it has been finals week. So that’s probably reason enough.

I did a post like this a couple months ago, highlighting what I’m reading in the past, present, and (hopefully) future, and I’m glad to say I’ve kept up the habit of reading for pleasure! Read on for my thoughts on what I’ve read lately and what I’m looking forward to.

Just finished: Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler

Image result for parable of the sower octavia butler

I read this book on my friend Catie’s recommendation. It’s a science fiction novel set in a dystopian future California where climate change has made food prices skyrocket, gasoline an inaccessible luxury, and water a scarce and precious resource. Sound familiar? Butler published this book in 1993, and it’s set in the mid-2020s. The future of this book is now uncomfortably near, and the picture it paints is uncomfortably realistic. It took me awhile to get into the book, but once a catalyzing event happened about a third of the way through, I was fully hooked. I would recommend it if you enjoy dystopian novels and/or feeling panicked about the future of our planet.

Just finished: Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Image result for little fires everywhere

I read this novel for a recent book club. It was a quick read, and I think it’s considered a quintessential “book-club book.” I enjoyed reading it, but after it was done, I’m not sure if I actually liked the book or its characters. I wish that Ng had delved deeper into certain themes and characters and left others to the imagination. But if you like suburban dramas like Big Little Lies, you’ll probably enjoy this one, too.

Just finished: Catch and Kill by Ronan Farrow

Image result for catch and kill

I’ve been eagerly anticipating this book for months and finally got a chance to read it, then I tore through it in two nights. Catch and Kill tells the story of Farrow’s struggle to report on Harvey Weinstein’s serial predation and other stories that launched the #MeToo movement, through the lens of his own experiences with fame and fear and the behind-the-scenes industry politics at NBC. As a reader, I found it engrossing, and as a maybe-aspiring future journalist, I found it inspiring. (But also scary.) I was almost put off on the first page by his characterization of two spies’ identities of Russian and Ukrainian as a “distinction without a difference,” but once I moved past that the rest was great. And sometimes sickening, in the non-Drag Race sense. I’m planning to listen to the podcast next.

Currently reading: The Secret Commonwealth by Philip Pullman

Image result for the secret commonwealth

Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy is probably my favorite book series ever (sorry, Stephenie Meyer!), and I was so excited to read about grown-up Lyra in this second book in his new trilogy, The Book of Dust. I’m in the thick of it right now (in fact, I tore myself away from reading it to write this blog post and accomplish at least one productive thing today) and really enjoying it so far. The newer books have a different tenor than the original trilogy, which helps to make them distinct, and it’s so wonderful to be back in Pullman’s world.

Currently reading: Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

Image result for ninth house by leigh bardugo

Earlier this year, I devoured several of Bardugo’s other books and was utterly sucked into her fantasy world in the best way. I was intrigued by the prospect of this novel, which takes place at real-world Yale, but I shouldn’t have been surprised to find out that it also contains some fantastical elements. So far, it’s interesting, but I don’t think I like it as much as her other work. Part of that is the dearth of characters to root for in Ninth House, whereas her beloved novel Six of Crows had plenty. Since I haven’t bought this book and it’s still on hold at the library, I’ve been reading a few chapters each time I pass by a bookstore and have an hour to kill, so it still might take me awhile to finish it. I’ll reserve final judgement until then.

On deck: The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

Image result for the testaments margaret atwood

Like everyone else I know, I read The Handmaid’s Tale a few years ago when the Hulu series was first making a splash and loved it. I still haven’t watched more than a few episodes of the series, but I’m looking forward to reading the follow-up.

On deck: Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Image result for where the crawdads sing

This book is the next one for my book club, so I need to start reading it soon. I know almost nothing about it, only that everyone who’s mentioned it to me says it’s great. It seems like I will enjoy it, so I’m looking forward to digging in during my travels this winter break!

On deck: The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2019

Image result for best science and nature writing of 2019

I read this anthology a few years ago and it was wonderful. It gave me the chance to read some incredible works that I wouldn’t have come across otherwise and that I still cherish to this day, like “The Big Kill” by Elizabeth Kolbert and “The Empathy Exams” by Leslie Jamison. I picked this year’s edition up on impulse because I’ll be traveling soon and need some good airplane/airport/remote field station reading material.

Hope you enjoyed this updated list of what I’ve been procrastinating my real work for! What’re you reading lately?

What am I reading? Happy October!

Hello, friends! Can you believe it’s October already?! I can’t! But I’m pretty pumped. It’s shaping up to be a good month, in part because I have some great books to read.

For the past year or so, I’ve been trying to get back into reading for pleasure. As an undergrad, I didn’t really feel like I had time—and if I ever did read a novel, it would usually suck me in and I would ignore my schoolwork for the next 36-48 hours while I finished it. Also, to be honest (and I imagine this is pretty common), watching Netflix and scrolling mindlessly through social media has taken up a lot of the leisure time that I used to spend on reading. But since graduating last year, I’ve read a lot more books than I have in awhile. I’m trying to keep this up now that I’m back in (grad) school, and so far, pretty good!

Today, I’m sharing some books I have read lately, what I’m reading now, and what’s sitting on my bookshelf, waiting patiently…

Just finished: The Overstory by Richard Powers

Photo from Amazon

People have been recommending this book to me for months, so I finally picked it up a couple weeks ago! It’s a book about trees, people, and how they interact—so, VERY much up my alley. As you can see from the cover, it won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction last year. Pretty neat!

I enjoyed this book a lot. It tells interweaving stories across generations, with a hefty dose of wonder at the amazing and underappreciated things that trees do. I can get behind that! I must confess, though, this book was hyped up to me SO much before I read it that it didn’t quite live up to the high expectations. There were also a few moments of the author’s writing about women that made me raise an eyebrow. I still enjoyed it quite a lot, and I liked most of the characters (especially Patty. I love you, Patty!!), but it wasn’t favorite-book-status for me. If you like people, trees, and/or stories spanning decades, I would definitely recommend it!

(One final note: I went into this book and read about the first quarter of it thinking it was nonfiction. Yes, I know it says “A Novel” right there on the cover, front and center. Somehow I missed that the first dozen times I opened it. I kept wondering, “How did this guy get these random people across America to give him incredibly detailed accounts of their childhoods and family history?” Finally, the words “A Novel” permeated my brain. I was so impressed with Richard Powers’ journalistic prowess, but the book makes a LOT more sense as a work of fiction.)

(Okay, I lied. I have another, more final note. I keep accidentally referring to this book as “The Understory” instead of The Overstory. Similarly to how I sometimes mix up cellulose and cellulite. Yikes.)

Just finished: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Photo from Wikipedia

Apparently, I missed the media circus around The Night Circus when it was published in 2011. My friend Shelby recommended it to me awhile ago, and I checked it out from the library several times, but never got around to reading it until this past weekend. Well, now I get what all the fuss is about! Despite initially throwing me off with its unique writing style, this book sucked me in to a delightful fantasy-grounded-in-reality world that I haven’t yet stopped thinking about.

The Night Circus‘ central premise is its title—a circus that is only open at night—but it’s also a love story, a fairy tale, and a story about telling stories. To me, it was pure wish fulfillment, in the best way possible. The book was filled with gratuitous, detailed descriptions of the circus itself, as well as the beautiful gowns worn by the main character and an ornate clock that plays a surprisingly significant role in the story. The star-crossed-lovers dynamic was both familiar and fresh. It’s a story that reminded me why I fell in love with reading in the first place. It also inspired some of my goals for the upcoming months, oddly enough—I’ll elaborate on that in an upcoming post. 🙂

Overall, I ended up liking this book more than I thought I would! If you (like me, apparently) were living under a rock in 2011 and haven’t read it yet, and you enjoy a splash of fantasy, I would recommend it.

Currently reading: Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami

Photo from Amazon

Murakami is my friend Cate’s favorite author, so I’ve been meaning to read one of his books for awhile now. When I saw that this one was on Barack Obama’s list of recommended reads for the year, I put it at the top of my library checkout list. Thanks, Obama!

Men Without Women is a book of short stories. Again, the title does a lot of work here in explaining the premise. As of writing this post, I’ve only read the first of seven stories, and I’m enjoying it so far. Translated from Japanese, Murakami’s writing has a deceptively simple yet direct and powerful quality. It reminds me a bit of Therese Marie Mailhot, whose memoir Heart Berries I read earlier this year. (Shoutout to the ACPC book club!) I’m looking forward to finishing this one.

On deck: A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami

Photo from Goodreads

I decided to go all in on the Murakami (thanks, Cate!) and checked out another one of his books for later. A Wild Sheep Chase is a novel, not a short story collection, so I’m excited to mix it up and read that one soon.

On deck: Educated by Tara Westover

Photo from Amazon

I’ve heard a lot of buzz about this book this year, and I intend to check it out of the library soon! As far as I know, it’s a memoir about a woman who comes from a Kimmy Schmidt-like upbringing and becomes, well, educated. Looking forward to switching it up with some creative nonfiction.

That’s what’s on my bookshelf for now! (Well…not entirely, but I have some details to save for the upcoming post I hinted at above.) Have you read any of these books? What did you think? What’s on your bookshelf? Do you have any recommendations for me? Let me know, and see you next time!