What I read: January

So, looks like I just have to put an actual reading goal on Goodreads and – surprise, surprise – I read. Who knew?  

I read (and listened to one) a total of NINE books in January, which means, I already read more than half the number of books I read in 2016. I am also already more than 35% done with my annual reading goal. Fascinating. We’ll see if I can keep this up, but… but…  this means I can totally do a monthly book review now, right? Because I really don’t want to wait until the end of the year to recommend some of the books to you (although, if you follow me on Goodreads, you’re pretty much in the loop anyway!).

Your pace or mine? by Lisa Jackson (★★★★★) – This was a great read. If you are a runner, you want to check out this book, especially if you’re not an elite runner and sometimes struggle with the comparison game. Lisa calls herself a “back-of-the-pack”-runner and even though she never finished a race first, she has one of the most refreshing and uplifting perspectives on the sport of running that I’ve seen so far. It puts a whole new spin on what it means to be a runner!

Atmospheric Disturbances: Scenes from a Marriage by Maggie May Etheridge (★★★★☆) – This is a short essay about marriage and mental illness. Worth your time.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver (★★★★★) – I LOVED this book! It made me feel good about having a “higher” food budget by buying local and organic whenever I can. Of course, it also opened my eyes to the fact that there are gazillion things I can do better and this book has inspired me to try hard. I don’t have a farm where I can raise chickens and plant every vegetable, but even a few potted plants are a good investment! This was not just well researched and a great argument for thinking about food, where it comes from and also what it takes to farm sustainably, but also a well written and funny memoir of one family’s attempt to eat exclusively local for one year as an experiment… which turned out to be the new way of life!

Every Soul a Star by Wendy  Mass (★★★★★)  – This is technically a book for children/young adults, but I really loved the story and how it was built around the event of a solar eclipse, this rare event that makes everybody stop in awe in light of the extraordinariness that is nature and the universe. There is a lot of geeky stuff in here that I enjoyed, but it’s also a story of unlikely friendship and how experiences can shape people. The story is told through the eyes of the three main teenage characters – Ally, Bree, and Jack. Although the characters are quite stereotypical, you couldn’t help but like them instantly and it was delightful ‘watching’ them change and grow over the course of the story. 
Oh, and have you ever witnessed a solar eclipse? I was lucky to witness the one in Germany in 1999 and it was a once in a lifetime experience. This was a lovely story built around the unique experience of a solar eclipse.

Everything I never told you by Celeste Ng (★★★★★) – This book was amazing. The way Celeste Ng wove the storyline of this family together was beautiful and although the summary reads like a mystery novel (after all, we’re trying to understand the death of a teenager), this is so much more. This book was comprised of everything that makes up a life: love, family, family dynamics, grief, birth, racism, interracial relations, struggles, secrets and truths, sacrifices and the difficulty to find one’s place in the world. It’s a heavy story because we learn how Lydia holds the thread of this family together while simultaneously falling apart under its pressure, but it’s also a story of hope.
I also especially enjoyed the juxtaposition of what it means to be different: as a foreigner (Lydia’s Dad) and as a woman in a society that has not yet accepted women as equals (Lydia’s Mom).

The Ramblers by Aidan Donnelley Rowley (★★★★☆) – I’ve had mixed feelings about this book. I love Aidan’s writing style, I have been reading her (personal) blog for a long time and I really wanted to like her book. I have only read this one (she has written another one before this one) and while I did enjoy it overall, there were a few things that bugged me. The three main characters – Clio, Smith, and Tate –  were likable enough and I wanted to engage in their stories. They all come with some baggage, sure,  but also with a huge amount of privilege that ran like a common thread through the whole book. Hotel-building wealthy boyfriends, Yale degrees, rich parents that finance apartments in Manhattan. The struggles (divorce, breakups) almost seemed silly in the grand scheme of things (although I don’t want to downplay the emotional turmoil such a thing can have), and then the topic of mental illness seemed to be thrown in just for good measure. I am a little bit sensitive in this regard because I feel if you bring up such an important topic, the story needs to be an advocate against the stigma (which I didn’t feel was the case). What bothered me most is that all of the “issues” are resolved over the span of the book, which covers about a week in the lives of the characters.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (★★★★☆) – I had no idea about the history of the HeLa-cells which tells you that this book needed to be written. I was a little frustrated here and there with details of the Lacks family (did we really need to know about all the illnesses and lack of education, or was it essential to the story?) and  the “jumping around on the timeline” and would have preferred a more chronological approach to the story of Henrietta Lacks, but overall I thought the book was well- researched and gave me a lot of food for thought. 

Me before you by Jojo Moyes (★★★★★) – I loved everything about this book. It was a tragedy, with a romantic-comedic twist and it was bittersweet to read. I loved the relationship between Lou and Will and laughed out loud and cried quiet tears at the end. I’ve read that some people thought this booked made the case that the life of a disabled person isn’t worth anything, but I couldn’t disagree more. I felt the topic of assisted suicide just emphasized that in the end, only the person him/herself can make this decision and that nobody can know what it’s like unless they’ve experienced it themselves. For me, the story was hopeful and uplifting in a weird way and I am looking forward to reading the sequel.

And here’s my one audiobook:

What I talk about when I talk about running by Haruki Murakami ( ★★★☆☆) – I was (and still am) really hesitant about audiobooks. I have a hard enough time with podcasts as it is, but I thought I should give audiobooks at least a proper chance. I listened to this book on my (long) runs and since this was a book about running written by a long-distance runner, I found it quite interesting (content-wise), although I am still not quite sure if I like the idea of ‘being read to’. Maybe it also comes down to who is narrating and/or the topic of the book? 
I am not sure this book would be interesting to anyone who doesn’t have some sort of connection to running, but I enjoyed some of the thought processes that Murakami described surrounding training, races and running in general.

What are you reading right now? Recommend one book to me in the comments!

  1. There’s nothing wrong with reading YA! Those are some of my favorite books. I just finished Girl in Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow and OMG it was great. Dealing with mental illness and cutting – serious subjects that were addressed beautifully.

    1. No, there is absolutely nothing wrong with YA, I just pointed it out so people know :)

  2. Dang, way to go on this strong month of reading! I hope you keep it up, selfishly, as I love hearing about books that others love! I’ve read 6 out of 9 of these books and they were all books I really enjoyed. I actually liked the Ramblers quite a bit, although I see what you mean about it being tidied up in the span of a week. And it’s definitely a ‘rich person’s problems’ book. But I enjoyed it for what it was and felt like it was nice to read about a group of 30 somethings that are still figuring things out…

    I’m really glad you loved Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, though, as that is a book that I just adored. I definitely think you should not feel bad about how much you spend on groceries. I have definitely changed my approach to how I shop as I try to buy from the organic farmer’s at our farmer’s market and I signed up for a meat share through the farmer’s market after reading this book. I wish I lived in an area of the country where I could eat locally grown produce for a larger part of the year but that’s just not feasible in the north. But I do want to work on canning more things. I was canning salsa and marinara sauce when I was reading this book, though, so it was cool that I was doing the same thing she was!

    1. I definitely liked Aiden’s writing style and I overall liked the Ramblers too (that’s why I gave it four stars)! :)

      I think you recommended Animal, Vegetable, Miracle to me and I am so glad I read it!

  3. Whoa, strong reading month! I think I need to add The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks to my to-read list. Everyone seems to love it.

    1. I had no idea where that came from… going from 13 books in a whole year to 9 in a month, but I like it :)
      The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is definitely a really interesting book and I would recommend it.

  4. I miss reading SO much. But there just isn’t any time. And if you’re thinking, “but Marie, you commute on a metro system!” Yes I do, and I usually half nap. :D Maybe one of these days I’ll find the time to read again, but good to see your reviews as I make a note of some of the books to hopefully read one day!

    1. I totally understand that you don’t have much time in your day and I TOTALLY get that you nap on the metro!! Mamas don’t get much sleep!

  5. Way to go on your reading this month, San! Look at you go!! :) I’ve read 3 of these books and actually abandoned The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. The story itself was interesting, but it just didn’t hold my attention.

    My favorite book in January was The Mothers by Brit Bennett, and I totally recommend that one for you!

    1. Thank you! I surprised myself :) You are one of my major reading inspirations. Thank you for the recommendation!

  6. That’s an impressive list, San! I just started Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance. I haven’t read much of it yet, but will recommend it anyway. Next on my list is Modern Lovers by Emma Straub (again), which I had to return to the library before I could finish.

    1. Thanks Eva! I surprised myself… and thanks for the recommendations!

  7. Animal, Vegetable, Mineral!! I loved that one too! And I am *still* thinking about Henrietta Lacks and her family, I actually think the details about their family history and current state, with the minimal education and access to information was really interesting; they knew so little, and the pieces they were told, in general, they wildly misunderstood, and no one–not researchers or geneticists or whatever–ever took the time to try and explain what was going on. For me it raised a TON of issues about informed consent, healthcare in the US, and access to education and information.


    1. I love that you loved those two books. They definitely gave me a lot to think about too!

  8. I totally agree with you on the Celeste Ng, Barbara Kingsolver, and Jojo Moyes books! It’s been a while since I read Immortal Life… and your comment about the non-chronological narrative style reminded me that I found that a little jarring back when I read it too, but I hadn’t remembered that I thought so until I read your review. I totally agree with Eva’s recommendation of Hillbilly Elegy: Vance’s perspective is fascinating because he can both understand the mindset that he grew up around and yet at the same time he can distance himself enough from it to be able to evaluate it. Evicted was fascinating too. Can you tell that I totally gravitate toward the sociology category? ;-)

    Right now, I’m reading Dark Money by Jane Mayer. Some of it is already familiar to me because she discusses the Kochs and I read Sons of Wichita a while back, but I’m still enjoying it.

  9. I am right there with you on Everything I Never Told You & Me Before You. I adored both of those books so much! I also felt the same way about the time jumps in Henrietta Lacks, it got a bit confusing to me with all the jumping around. I’ve been really into Liane Moriarty books lately (apparently I’m late to the game) but they’ve all been so entertaining.

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