You know the drill. It’s the end of the month and I have books to write about so that you can read them!
March was a little bit slower of a reading month (I partially blame diamond painting — don’t look at it unless you want to go down the rabbit hole). I was still able to read 16 books this month (thanks to a few days off!) though unfortunately I haven’t yet finished the HR textbook I’ve been working through little by little (is April the month? let’s see!).
This was a particularly great month for non-fiction, so if you’re looking to learn more about therapy, adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), or a Korean-American’s account of Anti-Asian bias in America, the non-fiction section might be your go-to place today!
What are you reading these days? Send me your recommendations. Reading is always better together.
Convenience Store Woman (Sayaka Murata): Convenience Store Woman, centered around long-term Convenience Store Employee Keiko, was a gem! This novel, translated to English from the Japanese, is compact but impactful. From Keiko’s perspective we learn what her life is like — and that even though she has always considered herself different, the structure of the convenience store appeals to her, and she seems happy. However, her 18 years at the same store makes those around her very unhappy as she is not advancing, not saving money, and, most important, unmarried and childless. I felt great love for Keiko throughout this book — if you like character-driven stories with quirky narrators, this book might be for you!
Flowers for Algernon (Daniel Keyes): This book was both touching and sad — perhaps melancholy is the appropriate word. The story is told from Charlie’s perspective before and after he undergoes some sort of special procedure, previously only tested on animals, that will hopefully take him from an IQ of 70 to super-human intelligence. How do the scientists know this? Because they have proved it in Algernon, a mouse. Someone in Charlie’s estranged family has given permission and this operation, which remains mysterious, proceeds.
And it works! Though Charlie’s words we see both changes in the writing (spelling, grammar, and sentence structure) as well as changes in his thoughts and experiences. It is in these sections that we see not only his growth and self-awareness, but his isolation and sadness both for his current life and how he was judged previously: “I began to see that by my astonishing growth I had made them shrink and emphasized their inadequacies. I had betrayed them and they hated me for it.” By far the saddest parts of the book are when Charlie encounters people like he used to be — people at a school for “the retarded” and a bus boy at a restaurant:
“How strange it is that people of honest feelings and sensibility, who would not take advantage of a man born without arms or legs or eyes — how such people think nothing of abusing a man born with low intelligence. It infuriated me to remember that not long ago I — like this boy — had foolishly played the clown. And I had almost forgotten. Only a short time ago I learned that people laughed at me. Now I can see that unknowingly I joined them in laughing at myself. That hurts most of all.”
This book is a product of its time, so be aware that there are now-outdated ways the author describes those with intellectual or physical disabilities. Yet I think it is important to understand how people were treated so that we continue to improve the ways that we treat each other.
All-of-a-Kind Family (Sydney Taylor): I absolutely loved this book as a little girl and it is a lovely account of historical fiction to this day! This book would be great for middle elementary-school aged children (8–10), or even younger children with some reading assistance.
Taylor writes about five sisters growing up in a tenement in New York City (Ella, Henny, Sarah, Charlotte, and Gertie… and eventually a new baby). As a Christian-ish kid this was the first book I remember that featured a Jewish family, giving me as a young reader the insight into the important practices and holidays. It was still a fun read, even 70 years after its initial publication. I’ve just discovered that there are 4(!) more books in the series so I’m looking forward to reading more of this series.
Hornet Flight (Ken Follett): I couldn’t put down this book! Something about Ken Follett and WWII makes for a great read. Hornet Flight follows several characters involved in the original Danish resistance movement, mainly young Danes (and a few English folks) trying to determine how the German Air Force, the Luftwaffe, is so successful and finding and downing Allied planes.
Almost by accident, Harald, just finishing grammar school in Denmark, stumbles across a radar installation on his home island. Harald is slowly pulled into the Danish Resistance because he wants to help. I won’t say much more because that would ruin the book’s many twists and turns. This book really flies (pun intended) so don’t be surprised if it’s harder to stop reading as the story develops!
Five Little Pigs (Agatha Christie): This was quite a creative mystery. In it, the daughter of a murderess comes to Hercule Poirot asking for a review of the case which took place 16 years prior to know if her mother was really guilty of killing her father. The book consists of Poirot speaking with lawyers and policemen and then interviewing the five other occupants at the site of the murder, both in conversation and by asking them to write a written account. Once he has done this work he brings them together and presents his theory (I was closer than before, but still didn’t get it). Christie is such a lovely author to read!
Minor Feelings (Cathy Park Hong): This book was powerful. Cathy Park Hong speaks passionately about her experiences as a Korean-American — some of it joyous, but much of it troubling and a story of being othered, even as she doesn’t fit into the black/white binary.
She writes: “In the popular imagination, Asian Americans inhabit a vague purgatorial status: not white enough nor black enough; distrusted by African Americans, ignored by whites, unless we’re being used to keep the black man down.”
These individual essays explore different elements of her identity, fiercely and unapologetically. I found the art and poetry sections to be less interesting (namely because of my own lack of interest — her talent is pretty obvious) but all-in-all I’d encourage anyone interested to hear one perspective about what it’s like to be Asian in America to read this book, especially given the spike in Anti-Asian bias since the beginning of the pandemic.
Last Boat Out of Shanghai (Helen Zia): Zia’s book is phenomenal. She details the stories of four Shanghai residents from the Japanese invasion in 1937 through the early 1950s, after Mao’s revolution. We meet first-born son Benny; Ho, a young man eager to contribute to China’s success; twice-orphaned Bing; and forgotten girl Annuo. My ignorance of this period of China’s history (well, most of China’s history) is a little bit less thanks to Zia’s detailed reporting and her careful and thoughtful retelling of four stories. This book strikes a beautiful balance between stories and history!
Maybe You Should Talk to Someone (Lori Gottlieb): FANTASTIC book — one of my favorites of 2021 thus far! Gottlieb is funny-as-hell, smart, relatable, and kind as she relates her experiences as a therapist as well as going to her own therapist. This dual-processing is just the sort of book that I love, as it helps me to see a topic from multiple angles. As someone who has attended and benefitted from therapy (no shame — destigmatize ALL THE THINGS!) I laughed out loud at some points because it reminded me of the ups and downs (and the denials) of therapy. I appreciated how she wove in additional context about therapy, about boundaries, and about her journey to becoming a therapist. Because she wove these elements together so well I couldn’t put the book down
The Deepest Well: Healing the Long-Term Effects of Childhood Adversity (Nadine Burke Harris): This book was perspective-shifting. Dr. Harris shares a narrative that is both based in her practice and research as well as her own experiences about Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACEs. This book connects these ACEs to a variety of negative or challenging health outcomes from heart disease to cancer and behavioral disorders. I’ve been working to become more empathetic to understand what people are experiencing of no fault of their own, and in this case Dr. Harris gets beyond the initial traumatic events to explain how, even after medical care and therapy, the negative health outcomes persist.
Thanks for reading along with me — and let’s see what April brings!