First Monday Book Day: Discoverability

I love a good book review. I read far more reviews of adult books* than I read actual books, though I do occasionally request books from the library based on a particularly intriguing review. Sure, I hear about books in other ways, but I like to browse through review in the New York Times over lunch, and a review is most consistently what gets me interested in a book.

However, my final read of 2019 was a book I came across by accident. I was searching the library website for Japan travel guides, and an intriguing book called The Sakura Obsession by Naoko Abe turned up. I read the description and put it on hold, and it came in just before my end-of-year time off started.

Translated from the Japanese by the author, who is from Japan and now lives in the UK, the book explores the significance of the cherry tree (sakura) in Japan and how an eccentric British guy named Collingwood Ingram came to be a proponent of the cherry tree (and lived to the age of 100). Particularly interesting to me was information about how the cherry tree was used in WWII propaganda within Japan to link the idea of blossoms falling with the idea of dying gloriously for the emperor. For a little more detail about the book, check out a review here.

Throughout the year, I read a lot of books that I feel like I "need" to read for various reasons and that's not to say I don't generally enjoy them, but it was wonderful to read a book just because I'd stumbled across it and became curious.

So how do you find out about books to read? And what have you been reading lately?

*books for grown-ups rather than children, thank you very much

60 thoughts on “First Monday Book Day: Discoverability”

  1. I'm 2/3 through William Gibson's The Peripheral so that I can read his newest, the sequel Agency. Yes, it's cyberpunk, and yes, it throws you in the deep end. I'm enjoying it.

    Our library district has moved to Libby for its ebook app tie-in, and so far I like it. It's put out by OverDrive.

    I get a monthly email from Goodreads that highlights a handful of newly released books from a few genres, and while not comprehensive, it reminds me to see what's new out there.

  2. I bought both Stalingrad and Life and Fate, Vasily Grossman's two great Russian novels, for the Girl as Hanukkah gifts. About ten lbs worth. Which I schlepped to Berlin. She chastised me for getting the English translations....

    Anyhoo, I had carry-on space for the flight home. Picked up The Three Body Problem. Read the whole thing on the flight.

    It was good, not great. I thought the ending was a bit rushed and, well, not very good. The treatment of the alien Outpost listener just...I didn't buy it. Too anthropomorphic a treatment of a very alien species for my taste.

      1. The stuff on the Cultural Revolution was compelling. I am too ignorant to judge how accurate it was.

      1. She is liking it a lot. She is a teacher here. Her goal is to go from proficient to fluent in Russian.

        We met in Berlin because (a) great city and (b) it is a hassle to get visas to visit Russia.

    1. Got half way thru Life and Fate (Life and?) and got stuck. I'll have to pick it back up.

        1. A writer friend told me Baz Luhrmann setting up Bulgakov's Master and Margarita for film. That should be fun.

  3. I recent read American Wolf by Nate Blakesee. About the introduction of Wolves into Yellowstone and how they thrived and the inherent tensions with the ranchers just outside the National Park grounds. Lots on the various wolf packs in the Park, their personalities and how they grow and wither. A very cool book if you want to know more about wolves in general and the they Yellowstone wolves.

  4. My reading took a real hit this November/December. Coaching Lego League and parenting through the holidays just sucked up a bunch of time.

    I've been working on Hiking With Nietzsche by John Kaag. It's been good, but not as good as his first one (Philosophy: An American Love Story). I think this might be because I'm much more familiar with Nietzsche than I was with many of the philosophers in the first book, so I'm not actually learning nearly as much. It's been a great survey approach though, and has helped further stoke the "read philosophy" fires burning in my soul.

    1. I loved both books and I am glad you've enjoyed them too. Have to admit they haven't made me "read more philosophy," but I am willing to read more books "about" philosophy.

      1. My next book is likely to be fiction (Le Carre's latest, specially obtained by our librarian because I once mentioned having enjoyed the Smiley trilogy. Small town libraries are the best). But I'm considering going back to Socrates after that. I was super irritated with the guy when I read him in college but with more experience in life, I've come around to a lot of his skepticism. I feel similarly about Kafka. Couldn't stand him back then. But now that I know some of the ways in which the world doesn't work...

        1. I'm trying to recall whether I tolerated him better back then or have a revisionist-history appreciation. I know I've re-read The Trial and Hunger (Hamsun) at least once.
          Huh. Kafka died at 40.

          1. I read a ton of Kafka in h.s. (in translation), then struggled through a very small bit auf Deutsch in college. I don't know why I got so hooked on him. But he seemed to pave the way for Stanislaw Lem's Memoirs Found in a Bathtub for me. I guess I am not the only one, since the Wikipedia entry on the book describes it as "Kafkaesque".

  5. Not 100% accurate, given that different editions on GoodReads will have slightly different page totals, but this is pretty dang accurate. Anyone care to guess when the Little One was born?

    1. My "Must Read" list of 2020

      How to Write an Autobiographical Novel by Alexander Chee

      Means of Ascent the second volume of Caro's LBJ series. I read Vol I back in Texas, and have had 2-4 staring at me from my bookshelf since.

      Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe, about the Troubles in NornIron

          1. I have packed the Chee book in my suitcase for three separate trips this December, but I've yet to open it.

            Now it's buried under a bunch of holiday book purchases. I'll get to it at some point...

      1. I like this idea.

        Really Want to Read 2020

        A whole bunch of really long books (500+ pages) that I've been putting off...

        - Baron Wenckheim's Homecoming by Laszlo Krasznahorkai
        Maybe my favorite author. If you haven't read Satantango, you should. It's an experience

        - The Overstory by Richard Powers
        Pulitzer Prize winner. Borrowed this from my mom over the holiday break, it sounds really interesting.

        - The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
        Pulitzer Prize winner. WGOM-approved. What more do I need?

        - Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann
        A 1000-page novel consisting of a single sentence? That's obviously for me.

        - Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James
        After A Brief History of Seven Killings, I will definitely make time for James' books.

        - Perhaps the Stars by Ada Palmer (assuming it gets published this year)
        My favorite sci-fi/fantasy series concludes. I've been waiting as patiently as I can for this book.

        - Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson (+ book 4 probably since that's out this fall)
        I've decided I'm not going to re-read books 1&2, but I'll time it so that I read books 3&4 in succession.

        - The Dreamed Part by Rodrigo Fresan
        This is a sequel to The Invented Part which had some truly great ideas and some wonderful passages. The author feeds himself to the particle accelerator at CERN in an effort to become an omniscient narrator in that one. I expect more of the same here.

        Other Fiction
        - Dead Astronauts by Jeff Vandermeer
        Another book in the Borne universe. I'm sure it will be environmental and weird.

        - Winter and Spring and probably Summer by Ali Smith
        Autumn was so amazing. I think Summer is coming out this June, so that will be the impetus for me reading the rest of these.

        - How to Write an Autobiographical Novel by Alexander Chee

        - Not About the Burqa by Mariam Khan
        My classes here are about one-third hijabi, and that is something I don't have a huge amount of experience with. The solution is obviously to read more books about it.

        1. I acquired a copy of "A Brief History of Seven Killings" from a Free Little Library.

          It's on Tier II of my to-read list for 2020.

          1. I have really wanted to read it. I even bought the audiobook and listened to a little bit of it before deciding that this is more of "physical book" kind of book.

  6. how do you find out about books to read?

    * Award shortlists/longlists
    * Publishers of previous books that I now follow on Twitter
    * Rave reviews of books from authors that I follow on Twitter
    * Perusal of the "new acquisitions" page at the library
    * Lots of year-end lists (that I find on Twitter)
    * Recommendations from real people (I'm a horrible person to recommend a book to - I read The Historian last year on Mrs. Ghost's recommendation - from 8 years ago)

  7. One of my goals this year is to take some of my library and put books in my friends' hands that I think would enjoy them. I already did this at our New Year's gathering, and he is giving it back as he found the ebook available through the library, so...success!

  8. 2019 was probably my worst reading (outside of work) year in decades. I spent way more time reading docs or typing `-h` in a terminal than anything else.

    I did revisit some Cory Doctorow and Chris Arende's Dignity will probably stick with me for a while. Glad he's back on the twitters.

    My parents gifted me a book about MN sports let downs which I can only read as some solid Fargo shade.

  9. The best books I read in December were two novels:

    This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone
    Time traveling assassins from two different futures begin to interact with each other. Shades of Romeo and Juliet, the whole thing is told mostly through letters that they leave for one another. It's a quick read, but a really well-done story that delights in being different from your average time travel sci-fi.

    Trust Exercise by Susan Choi
    Novel in three parts, and one that doesn't give you answers. But the story ends up being less about the answers and more about why those answers can't be found, even though they probably should be findable. I found it really engaging and interesting and well-constructed.

    1. I read the Kindle sample for "Time War" and wasn't grabbed. I might give it another go eventually.

  10. I'm committed to not buying any new books in 2020, and reading 1) what I have, 2) library stuff, and 3) stuff I can get online.

    I'm 1/2 thru Vol. 6 of 13 of The Entire Original Maupassant Short Stories. Dark, morose, morbid, quick, quirky, French. Great stuff with morning coffee.

    While in Scandia over the holidays I snarfed down T. Mann's The Blood of the Walsungs, Felix Krull, and Antonio Kroger. If you haven't yet read Mann, start with A Death in Venice.

    All the Light we Cannot See (A. Doerrs) was an interesting WWII read about a blind girl and her father who worked at the Paris Museum of Natural History, and steals a large diamond to keep it from the Nazis. I went there a couple of weeks ago and it was closed due to the strikes.

    The Keeper of Lost Causes (J. Adler-Olson) was part of my recent foray into Scandic Noir. Not bad. Another cup of coffee and a smoke?

    Winter's Tale (M. Helprin) was an Edwardian NYC fantasy speed-read. Big book, but fast read. I think I got that recommendation here.

    1. I'm committed to not buying any new books in 2020,

      I have a former roommate who would like a word with you.

    2. Heh, I read Winter’s Tale, probably due to a mention here ... it was a really slow read for me! I need to get better at pushing myself along a little.

      Also read and enjoyed All the Light We Cannot See.

  11. So how do you find out about books to read?
    Here's a good place to start, Man Booker.

    Of this list I've read:
    The Sense of an Ending – Julian Barnes
    The White Tiger – Aravind Ariga
    The Sea – John Banville
    Life of Pi – Yann Martel
    Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro
    Utz – Bruce Chatwin

    Also interesting on the list of winners:
    English Patient
    Schindler’s Ark
    The Handmaid’s Tale

    1. "Lincoln in the Bardo" is the only winner I've read.

      As I mentioned above, I have a copy of "A Brief History of Seven Killings" here to try to read.

      It doesn't appear I've read any others even on the shortlist. Not terribly surprising, modern fiction is not my usual reading.

    2. Yup, I've read a bunch of Man Booker nominees the past few years: The English Patient, In Our Mad and Furious City, The Milkman, Snap, From a Low and Quiet Sea, The Mars Room, Exit West, Lincoln in the Bardo, Bring Up the Bodies, Wolf Hall, His Bloody Project, and The Sellout just in the past couple of years. Some I love, some I enjoy, some don't do much for me, but I appreciate the various different stories, styles, and backgrounds of the authors.

        1. I'm sure you're shocked that The Troubles feature prominently in a story about him.

          1. "The Troubles", you say?

            I've been back on Ireland lately. I'll definitely have to look into this.

              1. Yep, it's one of three on my "Must Read" up above.

                Edit to expand: I got the Kindle sample as soon as I heard of it and was actually upset when I got to the end i wanted to keep going so much.

                I'll probably go as far as to buy a new physical copy. (I have been trying very hard to get book either at the library or secondhand)

    3. Picking two winners this year was Dumb, but whatever.

      I'll read Girl, Woman, Other, but I don't know if I'll ever get around to The Testaments. Something in me is just a bit too contrarian.

      The Booker International Prize also picks some good ones, I've liked every winner they've picked in the last four years, and the shortlist has a bunch of good books on it almost always.

  12. Only read 3 books in December:

    The Man on the Train by Bill James and Rachel McCarthy James. James sent his daughter to research newspapers at the turn of the last century to find many murders that are likely connected to the Villisca, Iowa axe murders. They show that there was likely a serial killer running amok responsible for nearly 100 murders. Not only that, they identify who he likely was. There's some bizarre prose in spots, and James can be way too much of a know-it-all at times, but it's an interesting, well-researched book.

    The Big Fella by Jane Leavy. Somehow, I don't think I had ever read a full-length biography of Babe Ruth. This was good, but not spectacular.

    God: A Human History by Reza Aslan. Very interesting book showing the transition from animism to polytheism, and then the crazy notion of the one Hebrew God above all other gods that developed (I had no idea that Hebrew God in the Old Testament was actually two different gods that were merged into one). Perhaps I'm holding it to too high of a standard because it wasn't quite as good as Zealot, but this was a very good read nonetheless.

    1. I really enjoyed reading "Zealot", so I'll put this other book by Aslan on the list as well.

      Speaking of - personal recommendations are probably 90% of my book findings.

      1. My reaction to Zealot was different. I thought it was too thin on evidence, too heavy on polemic.

  13. how do you find out about books to read?

    -book reviews in places like the NYTimes or that I hear on NPR or MPR
    -award finalists (Pulitzer, Man Booker, National Book Award, etc.)
    -perusing books friends of mine who seem to have similar tastes have rated highly on Goodreads
    -whatever random collection of historical books on my shelf grabs my attention that I haven't read yet (I inherited a lot of books from my uncle a few years ago including an extensive collection of Civil War books)

    1. or that I hear on NPR

      NBBW heard a clip on NPR and bought me the book - Elephant Company.

      An endearing, true story about a Brit who is emotionally scarred after the trenches of WWI, and retreats into the depths of Burma to heal. He becomes an elephant team lead in the teak trade, and over time develops an interesting link with the animals, leading him to creating a WWII elephant brigade. Awesome ending. Recommended read.

        1. If you get the book, note the part where when the elephants come to a river, the humans stay out of the crossing, and leave it to the female elephants, who decide when/where the crossing happens. Awesome.

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