Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Read in March 2023

I really racked up the titles in March: 13 books finished! A lot of the books I read were graphic novels or otherwise short books, so it wasn't too out of the ordinary reading-time-wise.

Things to Look Forward To: 52 Large and Small Joys for Today and Every Day by Sophie Blackall and My Hygge Home: How to Make Home Your Happy Place by Meik Wiking were two visual books that I enjoyed looking through. Sophie Blackall is one of my favorite children's book illustrators, so I had to pick up this book for adults. It's fairly short, sometimes only a few sentences on each page. Reading through the joys she describes was a great reminder to focus on the small things (that first cup of tea!), but many of the things she writes about were not small joys for me. (For example, I am not a coffee drinker and I don't like dogs [SORRY DOG PEOPLE!!]). My Hygge Home was full of great information on how to design based on moods and experience rather than looks. I loved this; so many design books are focused on looks, not function, and are full of staged, non-lived-in homes. The downfall of this book was all of the unrelated stock images that contribute nothing. I wish they had either published this book with no images, or found actual homes to photograph.

I love reading about people's interesting jobs, and luckily I found two graphic novels on this subject this month. Factory Summers by Guy Delisle (one of my favorite graphic novelists) is about the author's summer job at a paper factory in Quebec City in the 1980s. Wow, I guess safety regulations weren't really a thing back then? Switching between day and night shifts, exhausting work, and exposure to chemicals were all part of the job. Bullying and harassment were rampant. It was worse in the oils sands, based on Kate Beaton's Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands. Isolated in the oil-production camps, sexual harassment and assault is almost a given for any woman working with men who outnumber them 50 to 1. Beaton handles this situation in her book in a sophisticated way, diving into why men change their behavior in certain environments. I think this would be a good first graphic novel for people who don't normally read this genre.

The third graphic novel I read in March was Uncomfortably Happily by Yeon-Sik Hong. I was about a third of the way into this book before I realized that it was fiction. I went into it thinking it was a memoir of the author's experiences, but it turns out it was just "based on" his life. This was a relief because the main character, also an illustrator, is a terrible person! He yells at his wife and treats her like a servant, criticizing her work (she's also an artist) and the food she cooks. He also routinely kicks and hits animals. This behavior is a manifestation of his disappointment and stress working a job he hates, but ugh, the way he behaves is just awful. I don't think he grew as a character, and I ended up not liking this book at all. It won some sort of big award in Korea though, so maybe I'm missing something culturally.

Continuing the theme of men behaving badly, I listed to Chanel Miller read her memoir, Know My Name. Chanel was raped on the campus of Stanford in 2015, and became well known when her victim impact statement was published online under a pseudonym (you can read her impact statement here.) Let me tell you, this book will make you so angry. The way Chanel was treated after her rape was abhorrent. She was blamed for the crime, questioned at every turn, while her rapist ultimately only spent a few months in jail. Everyone should read this book.

Luckily my fiction reads for the month were less intense, balancing out the heavy memoirs.

Unfortunately I didn't love The Sentence by Louise Erdich like many others did. The bookstore setting is always a draw, and the many book recommendations sprinkled throughout were fun to read. I'm never drawn in by ghost stories, though, and I thought the book dragged. It's a pandemic novel, and it seems like Erdich had some themes she wanted to address, threw them all into one book, and stirred. I do enjoy Erdich as an author, though, and will continue to read her work.

I literally just wrote "I am never drawn in by ghost stories", and although Unlikely Animals by Annie Hartnett is narrated by ghosts, I was there for it. The humor and characters in this novel reminded me of the Thursday Murder Club books. There were some sad topics addressed, with a dose of silliness to even them out.

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus is the "it" book of the moment, and I totally see why. It's easy to read and easy to love. The main character is quirky and likeable, and the bad guys are clear. As soon as I finished reading it I thought "this is totally going to be turned into a TV series", and when I looked it up, I found there's already one in the works. I love that the author is in her 60s and has had such a successful debut novel.

A Good Girl's Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson is super popular on TikTok, maybe? What do I know, I'm an out of touch millennial. I don't see the hype. Somehow a high school student ends up solving a 5-year old cold case that the police were too incompetent to solve at the time. I did like the ending which had a twist I didn't see coming, but otherwise I found the book to be too convenient and repetitive. I need to accept that I am not a YA reader.

Foster by Claire Keegan is more of a short story than a book at only 89 (small) pages. The writing was beautiful and the story was impactful. I wished there was a whole volume of Keegan's work published together so I could get more!

A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers is sci-fi, which I usually don't read - in fact I almost gave up after the first chapter, with its description of a future religion. I'm glad I didn't though, because I greatly enjoyed the world in which this book is set. It's the future earth, but instead of dystopia, it's a beautiful land where people live in tree houses, recycle and reuse everything, respect the earth, and are comforted by tea monks who listen to their problems, serve them tea, and let them lounge on cushions. It was almost enough to make me get past a talking robot :)

Have you read any of these books? What did you think?