It’s the end of the month and that means… another blog with my favorite books of the month!
2021 continues to be a great year for reading — this month I was able to finish 13 books. I have been working through three different work-related books (one of them a textbook) so I imagine I will finish them in March and get a bit of a bump, number-wise. As you can tell, I love to read — so I’m trying to focus on the experience and not just the numbers (we all have our areas of growth).
One thing I’m starting to do is re-read some of the books on my shelves. The purpose here is twofold — firstly, I want to make sure that if a book has a spot on my shelf that it deserves to stay there, and secondly because I loved the book enough to keep it, why not read it and love it all over again? Two of those re-reads (She’s Come Undone and Missoula) made my favorites list below.
What are you reading these days? As you can imagine I’m always looking for recommendations! My stacks are getting a little bit shorter but I have much to read before I indulge in another book shopping run… or that’s what I tell myself…
Interior Chinatown (Charles Yu): WOW. I love genre-busting books and Yu has certainly written one in Interior Chinatown. This book is irreverent, funny, and sad, and includes important information about the Asian-American experience. Written as a script, it follows the story of Willis Wu, a young Chinese-American man who plays bit-parts in television — and in life. But he dreams of becoming Kung Fu Guy, the best possible role for an Asian Guy. Wu skillfully explores stereotypes of Asian-American men, poking fun at how the media portrays them and how others see them. Should he assimilate? Is it even possible for him? What identity can he chose — and what identities are available? Every so often I find a book that is hard to describe but a fantastic reading experience, and this is one of those books.
Chronicler of the Winds (Henning Mankell): This book had a magical and mystical quality to it, and it was somewhat unlike anything I had ever read. Set in what is believe to be Maputo, the capital of Mozambique, this story is a retelling of a story. A baker named Jose Antonio discovers a street kid shot and bleeding in the theater that abuts his bakery. He carries him to the rooftop to tend to his injuries but shortly realizes he should go to a hospital. However, Nelio, the 10-year-old boy, refuses to go. Instead he asks that Jose Antonio listen to his story and remember it for him. The writing (translated into English from Swedish — yes, really) is lyric and poetic, two words I try to never use in reviews because it sounds snobby. But it was, and I really enjoyed this book.
Miss Iceland (Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir): Ólafsdóttir is such a fantastic author! I enjoy the sparseness of Icelandic fiction to begin with, but her characters really come alive despite the short chapters and simple settings. This book follows Helka, her best friends from growing up (DJ and Isey), her boyfriend “The Poet,” and, occasionally, her family at home in rural Iceland. More than anything Hekla wants to be an author, but there are no famous Icelandic female authors, and not much support from those around her. This book is the best sort of character-driven novel! There is minimal plot and setting, so if you love this type of fiction, pick up this book — or anything else by Ólafsdóttir!
The ABC Murders (Agatha Christie): Sometimes I just need a little Hercule Poirot in my life. Poirot receives a letter warning him of an upcoming murder… and then another, and another. The ABC Killer emerges (murders in Andover, then in Bexhill, and then in Churston). How far will this killing spree continue, and who is the murderer? Interestingly we meet who we believe to be the killer very early on in the novel, a man whose initials are — wait for it — ABC. How will Poirot catch him, and is this all that meets the eye? As always you’ll have to read along and see if you can figure it out in time (as always, I didn’t).
She’s Come Undone (Wally Lamb): I loved this book when I read it 15 years ago and I still love it today! This novel centers around Delores, taking us from her early childhood memories of getting a television all the way up through her early 30s. Despite some of the critical reviews, I found that Lamb did a superb job writing from the female perspective — something I thought when I read the book in my early 20s as much as I do now in my late 30s. He captures the inner world and thoughts of Delores so beautifully, and through every trial and tribulation, you, the reader, are rooting for her to overcome all of them. I appreciated the complexity of the characters, especially her mom and her grandmother. Without spoiling it, the arc of the story was surprising but still satisfying.
Last Hope Island (Lynne Olson): Wow — what a book! I love history, especially WW2, but I don’t find many books that I enjoy about the topic because they are dense and dry. This book, while almost 500 pages, was neither. This book follows WW2 from a British and Allied Europe perspective, which was refreshing as most of what I have learned is from an American perspective. Some of the interesting dynamics that this book covers were relatively unknown to me, such as how Britain and the other large Allied countries (US and Russia) disregarded the perspectives of the smaller European countries (such as The Netherlands or Poland), even refusing to liberate certain countries in order to push into Germany faster. It was particularly interesting to see the dynamics between Occupied France and Free France, as well as the Big 3’s refusal to advocate for Czechoslovakia or Poland, who were immediately absorbed by the USSR post-war. I also appreciated learning about the different resistance groups across the occupied countries — the small acts that saved downed pilots, Jews, or political dissidents carried out by millions of ordinary people.
Rarely are people purely good or evil — and this book reminds us that motivations are complex. If you are a WW2 buff and want a history book that reads like a novel, I recommend this book!
The Collected Schizophrenias (Esme Weijun Wang): This was a fantastic book, just as good as it was billed (to be fair, I give it 4.5 stars, but I round down on Goodreads). Wang writes about her experience with schizophrenia, bipolar type, as well as her dealings with the healthcare and mental health system. She doesn’t hold back — she shares in great detail her challenges, triumphs, and how others’ perceptions of her and her mental illness share her experiences. On my quest to understand different perspectives, this one was truly unique. Consider this book if you would like to expand your thinking on mental illness.
The Truths We Hold (Kamala Harris): There’s much I didn’t know about Kamala (let’s say it together — “comma-la”) until reading this book. There are so many versions of her in the media so it was helpful to learn her story from her perspective, as well as what has driven her to serve in public office. Released in 2018, this book does not cover her presidential bid or vice-presidential election. Harris seems to be a grind-it-out politician, the type that I respect. Many of the efforts she speaks of were not flashy (say, school truancy) but these were the initiatives that made an impact on her constituents. Her voice is strong in this book and I walked away feeling like I knew her much better.
Know My Name (Chanel Miller): Wow, I could not put down this book. Miller is a powerhouse — not just as a writer, but as a person. Known for a long time as Emily Doe, Miller was sexually assaulted by Brock Turner at a Stanford fraternity party. This story details Miller’s entire journey throughout the process — the highs and the lows, the triumphs and the disappointments. Having just read a book detailing rape and sexual assault four or five years prior I had hoped to see progress, especially in a progressive place like Palo Alto. But the myths and biases against women in sexual assault and rape are so pervasive that they impact Miller too. This book should be required reading for all, especially for young people learning what consent really means.
Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town (Jon Krakauer): I had first read this book when it came out a few years ago and decided to read it again post #metoo to see how it landed. This book still feels relevant given that rape and sexual assault are still so persistent, especially on college campuses.
Krakauer uses the University of Montana in Missoula as a representative campus and follows the story of several young women who were raped or assaulted. As upsetting as the violence against them can be the response of police and prosecutors and the general public is what really made my stomach turn, especially for the accused who were part of the Griz’s beloved football team.
And thus ends my favorite picks for March! I’m already midway through two fantastic books, so I have high hopes for the next installment in this series. Happy reading, y’all! See you at the end of March!