It’s a new year but I’m going to stick with this old format.
Let’s get started:
Zen and the Art of Happiness – Chris Prentiss – 5* – (Jan. 3):
This is the 4th time I’ve read this book, which is saying a lot. Ariel Bissett, of Booktube, has made it a tradition to begin each year by rereading a book she knows she’ll enjoy. In her case, she’s been choosing fiction. I chose this book because it seemed to set a good tone for the year. The number one lesson I take from this book is that we can’t control what happens to us; we can only control our reaction to it. Whether you’re religious or not, this book is written in a way that leaves you to fill in the how and why of things happening but encourages you to believe that they’re happening for good reasons. I find this book very reassuring and comforting, especially as I’m attacking a new year, ready to kick some arse.
This book was OK. I found parts of it to be very interesting and other parts to be very boring or repetitive. I think how you feel about it depends on who you are and where you are in your life. Without knowing that, it’s hard to say whether or not this would be a good book for someone. I might recommend Brené’s TED Talk on the power of vulnerability instead. It’s less commitment.
Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand – Helen Simonson – 4* – (Jan. 15):
Major Pettigrew is old-school in his beliefs and practices, but the small-minded behavior within his town is too much even for him. Some of the issues he struggled with aligned with similar ignorance going on today, so it was a timely parallel between art and reality. It wasn’t the greatest book I’ve ever read, but I appreciated that many of the characters were developed beyond what was first revealed, reminding us that we should take everyone as an individual rather than making broad judgements.
Eleanor & Park – Rainbow Rowell – 4.25* – (Jan. 20):
This was my first exposure to Rainbow Rowell and I’ll be back for more! I don’t read a lot of YA but this is the kind I like when I do. There were many heavy topics – bullying, self-esteem, abuse, racism, class issues – all dealt within the framework of a teenage romance. I found the characterizations and actions to be realistic to what I would expect of teenagers and I liked that the parents were involved in the plot. Too often in YA stories, the parents are conveniently MIA. I felt the ending (no spoilers) was perhaps a bit out-of-character with how parents and teens might act, though I could argue that in this situation, it may make sense. Still, the conclusion seemed a bit plot-driven versus character-driven.
Year of Wonders – Geraldine Brooks – 3.5* – (Jan. 25):
The first 250 pages of this book are an amazing story of a village in 1665/1666 dealing with the plague. The residents follow their rector’s vision from God and take an oath to seal themselves off from the outside world rather than spread the plague beyond their village. It’s a horrible year, all told from the POV of Anna Frith who works in the rectory and soon becomes involved with nursing the sick. When the plague year is over, it’s as if the village isn’t quite sure how to cope outside the constructs of the sickness. Nor is the book. I deducted a full star from my rating based on the last 50 pages because it turned into soap opera rubbish. It’s as if the ending were written by someone else entirely.
Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac – Gabrielle Zevin – 4* – (Jan. 30):
Another YA book and like Eleanor and Park, I picked it up thinking it would be a quick, light read. And like Eleanor and Park, it was a quick read but not necessarily light. Memoirs doesn’t deal with the number of heavy topics, but it’s still more in-depth than I would have expected. The setup is about a teen who hits her head and forgets four important years of her life. Those years include Naomi’s parents’ divorce, her mother’s remarriage, an on-going battle with her mother, her own romantic relationships, a new school, a new home, learning to drive… The teenage years are big ones to lose! It was a good book with well-developed characters and relationships. I enjoyed the mix of her wariness and also the yearning to just trust her former self’s judgement on certain things. It wasn’t earth-shattering or life-altering but I did like it better than Zevin’s other book I read, The Storied Life of AJ Fikry.
I’m off to a good start toward my goal of 40 books. I’m not sure if I can keep it up but I’m pleased to start off strong.
As for my more specific “types of reading” goals, I do have a book of short stories in progress, though I had planned to read one short story per day. That’s not quite happening (they aren’t as short as I thought!). I’m also buddy-reading a book with my husband that fits the “read more widely” criteria (Waking Up by Sam Harris). Two of those books above are non-fiction and I haven’t purchased anything to add to my TBR shelf this month (though one book I read was from the library and one was a re-read, so it’s small progress on that huge unread pile). I’ve read a total of 2010 pages so far, including the short story book and Waking Up.
Happy reading and let me know if you’ve read any of the books above or have questions about any of them!