March 2020 Wrap-up

I thought the world was off to a rough start back in January, but March really takes the cake this year. At the start of the month, I took some time off reading and blogging to be with my family for my grandmother’s wake, and just one week after we buried her, Metro Manila was placed under community quarantine (in effect, a lockdown). It’s already Day 17 of quarantine but every time I wake up I still feel that everything’s so surreal, this can’t be happening, our lives will never be the same, etc., etc.—and it’s all I can do to keep myself from panicking.

Thankfully, reading and blogging has kept me sane these past two weeks. I really wouldn’t know what to do with myself if I didn’t have this blog (and you guys to talk about books with!). This month, I’m really happy I was able to read 12 books, five of them from the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2020 Longlist. Here’s a rundown of everything.


2020-03 Wrap-upNote: Titles link to my reviews.

The FlatshareThe Flatshare by Beth O’Leary – ★★★★½ – This is a slow-burn, feel-good epistolary romance using the roommates / “there’s only one bed” trope. Leon is renting out his flat because he needs the money. Tiffy needs to find a cheap place to stay because she needs to move out of her ex’s flat fast. Of course, it makes perfect sense for Tiffy to move in. You’d expect the romance to ensue once she does, but Tiffy and Leon never actually see each other face-to-face until halfway through the book; instead, O’Leary uses that time to flesh out the characters and to build on their dynamic through their exchanging post-it notes. This was a very satisfying read and I highly recommend it.

The White CastleThe White Castle by Orhan Pamuk – ★★★★ – I picked this up thanks to Diana’s post on doppelgängers in books, and I ended up enjoying it immensely. Set in a semi-mythical 17th-century Istanbul, The White Castle follows a young Italian scholar who was sold as a slave to a man known as Hoja, or “master”, who happens to be a dead ringer for himself. The novella is a thought-provoking exploration of identity and self-reflection, as well as the fraught relationship between Turkey and the West. (On a side note, this turned out to be an unexpectedly topical read—there was a plague in the middle of the book, which they tried to contain by what we now know as social distancing. There really is no escaping COVID…)

Weather

Weather by Jenny Offill – ★★★★ – This book had a lot going against it for me: I generally don’t take to books that aren’t plot- or character-driven; I’m skeptical towards books that advocate for something, especially something as abstract as climate change; and I generally find it difficult to get into books with ‘poetic’ storytelling. So I was pleasantly surprised when I ended up liking Weather. The entire book revolves around a woman worrying about climate change and her loved ones, and I found myself resonating with her constant, low-level unease, restlessness, and anxiety. It reminds me a lot of how the world is dealing with the pandemic now. Full review to come next week.

Girl, Woman, OtherGirl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo – ★★★★ – This was awarded the Booker Prize for Fiction last year and longlisted for this year’s Women’s Prize for Fiction, and now I see what the fuss is all about. In a series of loosely-connected stories, Girl, Woman, Other depicts the struggles and triumphs of twelve women of different backgrounds and ethnicities, and of all shapes and sizes and sexualities. The characters here are ‘woke’ and progressive, but Evaristo also gently makes fun of them for it, which saves them from becoming caricatures. While I was initially intimated by the prose-poem-like form, I eventually warmed up to it, as it had the rare combination of being experimental but feeling entirely natural to read. Full review to come next week.

ChemistryChemistry by Weike Wang – ★★★★ – There are novels that vividly remind me of a particular time in my life, and Chemistry is one of those. This brings me back to my grandmother’s wake, when, for some reason, this book was able to hold my attention when I couldn’t read anything longer than a takeout menu. Chemistry follows a young Chinese-American PhD student as she navigates grad school lab politics and her thorny familial and romantic relationships. The similarity to my own experience (I’m Chinese-Filipino and in grad school, albeit in psychology instead of chemistry) and the sharp, clear prose made it an easy and emotionally resonant read.

Red at the BoneRed at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson – ★★★★ – I felt like I was off to a good start on the Women’s Prize longlist when I finished this. In rhythmic and beautiful prose, Red at the Bone explores the lives of two black families across three generations. It interrogates our current notions of parenthood—especially motherhood—and offers an alternative to the traditional set-up of the nuclear family. A quick but thought-provoking read.

The Worst Best ManThe Worst Best Man by Mia Sosa – ★★★★ – The Worst Best Man is an enemies-to-lovers romance between Lina, a wedding planner, and Max, the brother of her ex-fiancé who’d left her at the altar. The banter was great and Sosa really knows how to write sex scenes. Also, Lina is Brazilian, so there were a lot of references to Brazilian culture. I can’t vouch for the accuracy of the cultural representation, but I did find its incorporation into Lina’s identity and life very seamless.

After I'm GoneAfter I’m Gone by Laura Lippman – ★★★★ – This was basically a murder mystery with a family saga tucked inside it, so of course I loved it. After I’m Gone follows the thread of two mysteries. The first is a traditional whodunnit: A detective unearths a cold case and tries to figure out who killed Julie Saxony, a businesswoman who was once famous for being the mistress of Felix Brewer, a wanted criminal who disappeared years ago. The second story follows what happens to Felix’s family after he disappears, told from the perspective of each family member. In the end, I was far more invested in the Brewer family than the murder, and I stayed up all night to finish this.

Introvert PowerIntrovert Power by Dr. Laurie Helgoe – ★★★★ – I’d say this book is similar to Quiet by Susan Cain, only with less historical anecdotes and more psychology. The author explains the key differences of introverts and extroverts in a way that neither maligns extroverts nor overly glorifies introverts, and offers very useful tips for navigating social situations where much extroverting is required. I should mention, though, that those who are most likely to benefit from reading this are those “accessible introverts”, as Helgoe calls them, who believe extraversion is a standard they can’t quite attain. I feel like I’m an accessible introvert, so I found this extremely helpful, if only as a reminder that I don’t “have to be” more extroverted.

QueenieQueenie by Candice Carty-Williams ★★★ – Queenie follows a 25-year-old Jamaican-British woman as she deals with the aftermath of a break-up and her struggles with mental health. While I appreciated the unsparing portrayal of sexism and racism in dating and in the workplace, the first two-thirds felt repetitive, and there was a shift in the last third of the book that diluted the social commentary it tried to make in the first part. Overall Queenie is a buzzy and relevant “millennial” novel that sadly fell short in execution.

This Is How You Lose the Time WarThis Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone ★★★ – This Is How You Lose the Time War is a piece of speculative fiction with the premise of utilizing time travel to win a war, and it explores this through the letters of two top agents in opposing factions. The world-building felt too thin for me, and once the characters fell in love the letters became unbearably flowery. This had pretty high ratings on Goodreads from sci-fi fans, though, so I guess it worked for some people.

The Dutch HouseThe Dutch House by Ann Patchett ★★½ – The Dutch House follows a pair of siblings—Danny, the narrator, and Maeve, his elder sister by seven years—from their childhood in the titular Dutch house to their adulthood. For a book that’s supposed to be a character study, I found its characters to be rather flat and passive, the plot nonexistent, and its portrayal of women highly problematic. This was my most anticipated read from the longlist, so I was really disappointed at how this turned out.


Other Posts This Month


Well, that’s it for my March in reading. It’s ironic that the books I was most looking forward to—This Is How You Lose the Time War and The Dutch House—turned out to be huge disappointments, and the ones I was apprehensive about—Weather and Girl, Woman, Other—emerged near the top of my list. Other surprises this month were The Flatshare, The White Castle, and Chemistry, all of which I picked up on a whim. (Maybe there’s a moral here somewhere about lowering my expectations for books? Hmmm…)

My overall rating for this month was 3.75, which is my lowest average monthly rating for this year, but still higher than my average Goodreads rating of 3.37. (I’m surprised by how low my overall is but I suppose this was pulled down by my 2019 ratings, when, for some reason, I was stuck reading romances I barely enjoyed.) So I’d say that March was a great month. Huzzah! Hopefully I’ll have a great month in reading in April, too.

How about you, how was your March? What sort of books did you get to read during quarantine? I’d love to hear about it in the comments. 🙂

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18 thoughts on “March 2020 Wrap-up

  1. Great post and most of these all look like good books. I am glad you enjoyed Pamuk’s “The White Castle” – actually I am currently in the middle of Pamuk’s other book “My Name is Red” and it is just mind-blowing. I don’t want to advertise my reads, but if in future you want to read more about medieval Istanbul, West and East clashes/relations and art, this one is also good.

    I want to say again that I completely agree with you on The Dutch House. I actually gave it a score of three out of five because of the language, but now I think I should have given it a score of two or two and a half like you because I can hardly remember what it was all about now – meaning it is not memorable too. Maybe Patchett does not realise this but her characters are not fresh and actually can now be viewed as stereotypical and caricaturish – maybe she wanted to pay tribute to older historical books that are classics, I don’t know – anyway it just did not work at all.

    1. Thank you! I’m actually quite thankful to you because it’s really one of the best fiction books I’ve read in awhile in terms of portraying character—Pamuk is an astonishingly astute observer of human emotion. I was so fascinated by the mind games between the narrator and Hoja, and how there was such a fine line between jealousy and admiration for them, heightened by how similar they were in appearance. Plus, THAT ENDING. When I put down the book I was like “WHO IS THE REAL NARRATOR???” I’m rambling now but it was really a great book. I’m sure to check out his works in the future, especially what you’re reading now. I find I’m rather liking the medieval Istanbul setting.

      I’m glad we agree, and you’re right, it wasn’t memorable. If I had waited a week to write that review I wouldn’t know what to say about it anymore. I can see how the unfailingly supportive sibling relationship could appeal to readers, but after reading a well-written sibling relationship in Weather and the dynamic between the characters in The White Castle, it just emphasized how bland their dynamic was. Thank you for sharing your thoughts 🙂

  2. I hope April is a better month for you. Your reading this month looks awesome though! I put Chemistry on my TBR a long time ago but never got to it… your synopsis reminds me why I was interested in it! I’ll have to get to it soon. And can’t wait to see your review of Girl, Woman, Other!

  3. Reading and blogging are definitely proving to be helpful distractions for me at the moment as well!

    I’m currently reading Weather, so I’m excited to see your full review of that one 😊 I hope you discover some great reads in April!

  4. I’d never heard the term “accessible introverts” before, but I get the idea. I’ve always referred to myself as a “performative introvert.” I will highly confuse people with my energy and brassiness and then just utterly collapse, leaving a party without saying goodbye to a single person. I’ve discovered that a weird place to find other performative introverts is in theater.

    I read two memoirs about caring for animals that really sat well with me, for some reason making it easier to focus during quarantine that any other type of book. One was about a lesbian couple raising sheep and the other was about a gender non-conforming individual helping train horses at a prison ranch. I’ve been trying to finish the audiobook of The Song of Achilles, but the more it goes on, the less interested I am, especially since we know Achilles is going to die.

    1. That also makes sense, and you’re right, I’ve met theatre people who are be introverts but who do really well onstage. I also usually have a lot of energy at the start of a social interaction and will be very inquisitive and chatty, but one hour in I just want to find a corner to tuck myself in.

      That’s a very interesting and very niche genre! I’ve never heard of books like that before but I’ll check them out. There was a turbulent time in my life when I was very much into nature poetry, so I can see how memoirs about caring for animals could be soothing or grounding.

      Ack, I’m mostly ambivalent about Miller’s works so I’m not sure if I can encourage you there. 😅 I think I put off finishing it for awhile as well, on account of being underwhelmed. But I did find myself still affected when Achilles died, so there’s that. If you do get to finish it though I’d love to hear your thoughts. 🙂

      1. I have just under two hours left on The Song of Achilles audiobook, and I haven’t picked it up in days. At this point, I’m thinking I might just quit. I’m not sure!

  5. Literary Elephant

    It looks like you had a good reading month! I’m glad books and blogging are helping you cope, they’ve been a huge crutch for me getting through this time as well.

    So happy that you enjoyed Girl, Woman, Other! And Chemistry- that’s been on my TBR forever and it’s encouraging to see another positive reaction to it. Bummer about Dutch House- I’m picking that one up next from the longlist, and definitely lowering my expectations.

    I hope you’ll have some excellent reading ahead of you in April as well! 🙂

    1. Thank you! I mainly liked Chemistry because of how much I could relate to it, but I suppose a 20-something woman’s struggle to find herself and to pick herself up after a career failure would resonate with a lot of other people. 🙂 I hope you’ll have better luck with Dutch House than I have. Happy reading to you as well! 🙂

  6. I’m impressed by your great reading month! The general state of the world has led to me reading less, despite having more time than before. But I am very thankful to have books and book blogs amidst all the chaos. Introvert Power sounds like a really interest read and something that might be relevant for me.

    1. Thank you! I know what you mean—to be honest, things didn’t really pick up for me until the second half of March, and even then I started and discarded a lot of books before I found my groove.

      I’m glad it interested you! I highlighted a lot of passages from it and keep them in a note to remind myself. I hope you’ll find it helpful as well. 🙂

  7. Pingback: Wrap Up March 2020 or it’s Women’s Prize Season! – I have thoughts on books

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