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
I've been reading memoir in verse recently. In June I read Shout by Laurie Halse Anderson and immediately after that picked up This Is the Change: One Girl’s Story in the Fight for School Equality by Jo Ann Allen Boyce and Debbie Levy, both of which were excellent.
I don't always think poetry is a great fit for nonfiction topics--poetry is often works well to distill a topic to its essence and prompt readers to see something from a fresh perspective. I don't think poetry is typically good at conveying background information and putting events in a larger context, which is often what I want from nonfiction. But in the case of memoir, poetry can get to the heart of a story and keep things moving along--because even a really interesting life surely contains plenty of mundane details that readers won't really care about.
The latest books I have from the library are not poetry, and every time I look at them, I think about how very many words are on each page. I should probably start one of those books soon, though.
What have you been reading? Have you encountered books that you thought you wouldn't like that surprised you?
I recently read a fascinating article by Austin Kleon called "How to Read More." This article is no mere list of tips--I was pleasantly surprised by just how insightful it is. Clearly, Mr. Kleon is a big reader.
I was particularly struck by the first tip, which is "Quit reading books you don't like." As a child, I was a compulsive finisher. If I began a book, I felt obligated to see it through to the end even if I wasn't enjoying it. Of course, I had a lot more free time to fill as a child than I do now...
Kleon says, "If you aren’t getting anything out of a book, put it down, and pick up another book. Every hour you spend inching through a boring book is an hour you could’ve spent plowing through a brilliant one. When it comes to books, quitters finish more."
It's true that I read faster when a book really grabs me and I suddenly find "extra" time to read it by using time when I'm usually doing something else. I still remember taking the peperoncino to the playground one summer afternoon so that he could play with trucks in the sand while I perched on the edge of the sandbox, unable to stop reading Sweetbitter.
Do you stop reading when a book isn't holding your attention? Do you have your own tips or tricks on finding time to read? Do tell!
Do you listen much to audiobooks? I don't really, though it's not because I have something against the format.
But I do listen to audio stories (a.k.a. podcasts) with the jalapeño as he's falling asleep, and that's not all that different from an audiobook. The first podcast we tried was Little Stories for Tiny People, and I really like it--the stories are engaging and Rhea's voice is lovely and soothing. We've also listened to a lot of What If World?, and those stories tend to be wackier and not always relaxing as I'd ideally like at bedtime (though to be fair, it's not intended as a strictly bedtime podcast).
Just this weekend, we started on Circle Round, which is hosted by NPR affiliate WBUR, and...wow! There are stories from all over the world, and they're told by professional actors. So far it's keeping mother and son equally engaged, which isn't always easy.
Do you listen to audiobooks or other story-like things in audio form? Any recommendations?
I don't often reread books these days. There are just so many others I want to read, so I tend not to revisit even books I liked very much.
Last week while on vacation, I finished a book during a day trip to lovely Houston, Minnesota, and I was kicking myself for not having my next book along. While watching my boys play with their cousin at a lovely playground, it occurred to me that I'd really enjoyed the book I just finished, and perhaps I could try reading it again while I sat in the shade.
Convenience Store Woman is a fascinating little read by Japanese novelist Sayaka Murata, and I first heard about it from this article in the New York Times. The main character, Keiko, has had a part-time job at a konbini for the past eighteen years and has never had a romantic relationship, and these two things make her decidedly not normal according to her parents, her younger sister, and her peers. She relishes her defined role at the convenience store; within that environment (unlike the rest of the world), she knows exactly what is expected of her.
The prose is simple and easy to follow, and Keiko is an enjoyable enigma. As Katy Waldman wrote in the New Yorker, "For the most part, her manner is that of a friendly alien scientist, but, at times, she swerves toward the psychopathic."
What does it all mean? What exactly is the novel a commentary on? Would a Japanese reader interpret it differently than an American reader? I don't know, but I'm at the halfway point of my second read, and I'm enjoying picking up on little bits I'd overlooked the first time through.
So what have you been reading?
One of the things I love about travel is that it reminds me how big and how varied the world really is. I don't expect I'll ever travel as much as I wish I could, but at least reading books set in other places makes a pretty good consolation prize.
The book I really want to get my hands on this summer is set in Japan: Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata. A single article about it in the New York Times was enough to pique my interest.
I'd also like to find a book that covers some New Orleans history. Spending a few days there made me well aware of just how little of the region's history I know. One of the most striking things I saw there was an empty pedestal. It was only when I consulted a map and saw the name "Lee Circle" did I realize what had been there. I'd known in the abstract about statues being removed last year, but somehow it felt different when the evidence of it was right there in front of me.
So . . . what are your favorite books set in places far from your home? And more generally, what have you been reading?
Spooky was spookily on the ball with today's CoC topic. I have read a few decent books recently, but nothing I absolutely love. And I'm ready for one of those books--a summer read that sucks me in and compels me to sneak in a few pages anywhere I can. I have a distinct memory of taking the peperoncino to the playground one summer day a couple years ago so he could play with some trucks in a sandbox while I perched on the side with Sweetbitter in hand. (A prize to anyone who can dig up the LTE where I talked about that book; the search function is failing me.)
Have you read anything lately that you loved? That you hated? That you found maddeningly mediocre?
Minutes ago, I finished reading The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir by Kao Kalia Yang. Near the book's end, Kalia's grandmother dies*, and I cried my way through the chapter. It occurs to me that I was fortunate to finish the book alone on my couch and not while riding the bus.
I don't believe that a book's ability to make a person cry is any way correlated to its literary merit. However, in this case the book is quite good by any measure.
What's the last book that made you cry?
*not a spoiler, she's an old woman and we're all going to die
I have fond memories of my mom reading chapter books to me when I was young. We went through all the Little House on the Prairie books* at a pace of one chapter per night, with me curled up next to her in bed. I also recall a summer car trip when she read Johnny Tremain out loud. I don't know that I even particularly liked the story of Johnny Tremain, but I know I loved being read to.
When I had children of my own, I was ready to follow my mother's example. Starting when the jalapeño was around 4, I tried reading him chapter books, but they just didn't hold his interest. There's certainly no shortage of picture books in the world, so it's not as if we were wanting for reading material! Still, I've been delighted that recently he's been taking more of an interest in chapter books. In the past few months, we've read and loved Armstrong & Charlie by Steven B. Frank, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl, and The Girl Who Drew Butterflies: How Maria Merian's Art Changed Science by Joyce Sidman.
Do you have memories of a parent or other adult reading aloud to you--or reading a particular book to your child? And what have you been reading lately?
*I am certain she pointed out at least some of the problematic content related to Indians, though I think at the time a lot of that went completely over my head.
So, are you all set for Monday? Got the webcast bookmarked so you're sure not to miss a single moment? Don't forget, it begins at exactly 9:00 a.m., central time!
Wait, what? You have no idea what I'm talking about? It's the YMAs! (Yes, I realize that the all-caps of the post title makes it look like I merely misspelled "yams." Hush.) It's one of my absolutely favorite days of the year! This is the day when the American Library Association (and a number of related groups) announces the winners of the Newbery Medal, the Caldecott Medal, and a host of other awards.
Were you a kid who went right for all those books with a shiny award sticker on the front cover? Or did you stay as far away form them as possible? Do you have a favorite Newbery or Caldecott winner?
While I loved both my elementary school library and my public library as a kid, I didn't care all that much about seeking out books that had won awards. That said, if I had to pick a favorite Newbery winner, it would without question be A Wrinkle in Time. Following that would probably be The Black Cauldron, in Lloyd Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain series. What about you?