Welcome to my May wrap-up! May still sucked for the world, but it did suck a little less for me, mainly because school has picked up again. I mentioned before that I’m unlikely to feel productive unless people expect things of me, so having obligations to fulfil this May has been a relief.
The downside, though, is that I’m way behind on blogging, because it takes me awhile to adjust to change and re-establish routines, but also, much to my surprise I haven’t done so poorly in terms of reading! I was able to read 17 books this May, which isn’t bad at all.
Wow, writing this wrap-up post feels like crawling out of a cave and squinting at the sun for the first time in awhile. Seriously, where did April go??? This month is just a huge blob in my mind. I think ever since my university called off classes because of our city’s crappy internet connection (it’s a legit concern—I can’t even turn my video on during calls), I lost all motivation to study. Plus, when classes were cancelled, my work as a graduate assistant was also cancelled, so I went from working and studying ~50 hours a week to just ~10 hours a week for revising our paper. Before this, I hadn’t realized how disorienting having so much free time is.
I know that I’m speaking from an extremely privileged position when I say this, since other people are facing job insecurity now or even risking their lives to treat COVID patients, but I think it’s possible to recognise their reality while seeking to understand mine. I’m starting to think don’t do well with too much free time—I’m more motivated and productive when I know that someone is holding me accountable, so unless someone expects something of me, I’m not inclined to set my own goals. Without the external pressures, my brain assumes it’s not needed and goes into hibernation.
So April is basically a ‘hibernation’ month for me—I hit pause on (almost) all my career plans and responsibilities and retreated to my happy place, i.e. reading and blogging. Does anybody else have these cycles of extreme productivity and extreme ‘laziness’ too? Back when I first started working I tried to be productive at a steady clip, but I found myself burning out easily and getting sick more often. Now I’m wondering if long fallow periods like this are actually essential to my ability to be productive… But anyway, that’s for another post.
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.
I’m back!!! Gah, I feel like I’ve been away for a looooong time! Between adjusting to the start of the semester, starting my 21K preps, taking time off to be with my family for my grandmother’s passing, and the hullabaloo over the outbreak, I feel like I haven’t had much time to sit down to write and think!
5. Love’s Executioner and Other Tales of Psychotherapy by Irvin Yalom– ★★★★☆ – A fascinating read from one of the greatest psychotherapists of contemporary times. Personally, as a psychologist, I found it useful for the author’s brutal honesty in describing his own feelings during the therapeutic encounter. At times it could be brutally honest, though – he describes in detail his own visceral and unexamined bias against ‘fat women’, which struck me as misogynistic – but overall still very instructive.
6.Appetites: Why Women Want by Caroline Knapp– ★★★★★ – Part psychological exploration, feminist critique, and memoir, Appetites explores the way that society curbs women’s desires – whether it be for food, love, or sex – and how that manifests in particular pathologies. This was a powerful invective that nevertheless ended on the hopeful note of women accepting and claiming their desires in a healthy manner. Full review to come.
7.How Fiction Works by James Wood– ★★★★★ – Here, the renowned critic James Wood turns his attention to a particular element of fiction – narrator, consciousness, metaphor, character – and, like a craftsman, breaks it down to its simplest components to make readers see why it worked (and, in a few cases, why it didn’t). A nuanced and lucidly-written analysis of fiction that transported me back to my favorite lit-crit class in college, and made me more aware of the fact that the little details do matter. Read my mini-review here.
8. How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell– ★★★★★ – In this book, Odell criticizes the imperative to be productive and the ways it’s currently being addressed by tech gurus and productivity experts. She also offers a way of resisting that doesn’t pander to capitalist agenda, instead requiring widespread changes in community planning and environmental policy. A tough but ultimately rewarding read. Full review to come.
🌟 Favorite Nonfiction of the Month 🌟
What were your favourite nonfiction reads for January? I’d love to hear about it in the comments! 👇
Hi guys! I’m back with my fiction wrap-up for this month. I read 11 fiction books this January, and I’m pretty glad that I turned out enjoying nearly all of them. Here they are:
Now for a quick rundown of my thoughts on them, grouped according to genre.
1. The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware – ★★★☆☆ (2.5) – A nanny receives a job offer that seems too good to be true, from a family that’s too perfect to be real. Creepy and atmospheric, this book excels in portraying the gothic and the uncanny, but fails in its execution as a thriller. Read my full review here.
2. The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie (Hercule Poirot #1) – ★★★☆☆ – Poirot and Captain Hastings investigate the poisoning of an ostensibly benevolent yet controlling family matriarch in her bedroom, and all her family members are suspect. This work is a diamond-in-the-rough, containing all of the familiar elements that we’ve come to recognize as Christie’s style, but without the polished plotting and the genre-defying twists that she’s really known for. Read my mini-review here.
3. Evil under the Sun by Agatha Christie (Hercule Poirot #24) – ★★★☆☆ – A famous actress is murdered on the seaside resort where Poirot is taking his vacation. Whereas in The Mysterious Affair at Styles everyone seemed to have motive, in Evil under the Sun, not many seem to have motive enough. This book was more bloated than usual with inconsequential characters and a gimmicky murder set-up. Read my mini-review here.
4. TheA.B.C. Murders by Agatha Christie (Hercule Poirot #13) – ★★★★☆ – A serial killer sets Poirot up as his enemy and taunts him to figure out his identity before he chooses his next victim. Deservedly called one of Christie’s masterpieces, this work showcases not only Christie’s genius with mystery conventions but also her ability to capture both amusing and profound insights about human behaviour in one or two deftly-written sentences.
5. Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz (Susan Ryeland #1) – ★★★★★ (4.5) – Editor Susan Ryeland thinks she’s in for another normal day at work when their most famous author’s latest manuscript for a murder mystery lands on her desk. But the deeper she gets in the story, the more she realizes that the manuscript holds the clues to a real-life murder. This was a gripping, tightly plotted book-within-a-book that pays homage to Agatha Christie while at the same time changing up the conventions of the genre. Read my mini-review here.
6. What Happened at Midnight by Courtney Milan – ★★★★☆ – I love reading Milan because she portrays her heroines as both strong, passionate, and reasonable – a combination that isn’t as common as you might think. In this novella, John hunts down his ex-fiancée who flees after her father was found to have embezzled thousands of pounds from their business. But when he finds her, he realizes that her situation is not what it seems. Short, sweet, and steamy, and great as a quick read before going to bed.
7.A Wallflower Christmas by Lisa Kleypas (Wallflowers #4.5) – ★★★★☆ – I stumbled on this courtesy of Erin’s review at The Smut Report (thanks guys!). I find that I always have reservations after I read a Kleypas novel, especially about her heroes, but at the same time I can’t seem to stop reading them. In this novella, an irreverent, nouveau-rich American rake falls for a proper yet dowry-less English miss (who, we learn from the subtext, is ‘not like other girls’). As usual, I find such setups highly implausible in real life, but then again, I’m not here for the reality. A cozy read that hit all the right notes.
8. What I Did for a Duke by Julie Ann Long (Pennyroyal Green #5) – ★★★★★ – This was a reread, and I’m happy to find that it was even better than the first time. What begins as a ploy to seduce the little sister of the man who wronged him turns into something more. I loved the banter, and I loved that the plot grew organically from the personalities of the characters rather than being tacked to get the romance moving. The result is a refreshing historical romance with real character growth, surprisingly meaningful fluff, and just the right amount of angst. One of my favorite HRs of all time.
9. [YA Fantasy] A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin (Earthsea Cycle #1) – ★★★★☆ – A talented young wizard overestimates his abilities and unleashes an evil beyond his control. Written with a cadence and rhythm more similar to lyrical ballads rather than contemporary YA, A Wizard of Earthsea was a slow immersion into a vividly imagined world where magic is both life-giving and dangerous, and each magical act ladened with a consequences commensurate to the power unleashed. Read my full review here.
10. [Classics] Gigi and The Cat by Colette – ★★★★☆ – This book consists of two novellas in one. Gigi is the story of a courtesan who defies her family’s expectations of her, and The Cat features comical a love triangle between a young man, his new wife, and his cat. Both are charming comedies of manners written in gorgeous prose that explore how women test the limits of their independence and self-expression in a society that restricts their freedom.
11. [Contemporary] Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson – ★★★★☆ – In this novel, Lillian, a woman in her mid-thirties in a dead-end career, is tasked to babysit twins who can spontaneously combust. This ostensibly gimmicky novel turns out to be nothing but: it dwells only briefly on the absurd premise before going on to explore the bonds of friendship and family between its characters and the way that love can grow between the most unlikely of people. A surprisingly heartwarming novel with an offbeat narrator and characters you grow to love, Nothing to See Here has a lot to offer, and will appeal to all kinds of readers. Full review to come.
🌟 Favorite Fiction of the Month 🌟
What were your favourite fiction reads for January? What genre, character, storyline, or even book cover did you find yourself drawn to this month, and why? I’d love to hear about it in the comments! 👇
I’m a bit late for this post, but better late than never! Welcome to the overview of my first monthly wrap-up. January hasn’t been great for the world, but one tiny bright spot is that personally, it’s been a great month reading-wise. This January, I was able to finish 19 books (!!!) out of my goal of 75.
I’m going to relish this while I can, because I’ll only get to read this much again in December…
Anyway, since I tend to babble on endlessly and I don’t want to dump everything in a single post, I split my wrap-up into three parts: an overview (Part 1), fiction wrap-up (Part 2), and a nonfiction wrap-up (Part 3). For this post, I’ll talk about the patterns across all the books I’ve read this month and what I felt about my reading overall.
Here’s a snapshot of my January 2020 in reading:
Also, because I love numbers and graphs (only when it comes to my reading lol), here are a couple of pie charts summarizing my January reading.
✨ I read more fiction than nonfiction. I’m happy about this since I already read a lot of academic stuff for school, so I prefer my reading life to be as different as possible to counterbalance it.
✨ I picked up a lot of mysteries and thrillers this January. I only discovered how fun mysteries and thrillers could be last year, after I read my first Christie book. Despite that, I don’t think I viscerally felt the “mystery/thriller” craving until this month, and I guess it reflects how I’m really coming to love the genre.
✨ I was able to read across a variety of genres. I was surprised to find most of my interests represented here in my January 2020 list. For the longest time, I felt insecure about my tastes because I thought it made me seem inconsistent. Aren’t people just supposed to be predominantly ‘YA’ or ‘literary’ or ‘nonfiction’? But then this month, I’ve begun to reframe ‘inconsistent’ to ‘eclectic’, and considered that this eclecticism could reflect my interest in a number of topics rather than an inherent personality flaw. This year, I want to embrace my own tastes and resist the urge to confine myself to being predominantly one kind of reader – and reject the idea that there can be one kind of reader in the first place.
✨ Overall impression: quantity over quality? I’m very much a mood reader, so I don’t consciously set reading goals and just reach for whatever I feel like at the time. I think my reading this month reflected that urge.
This has its upsides and downsides. The upside is that I get to scratch my book itches all the time. This wasn’t always the case – back in college, reading was closely tied to homework and requirements, so I faced anything with text with a diffuse sense of dread. It was so bad that I read less than ten books during my four years there. It was only after college that I began to miss reading, but I wanted my experience to be as un-college-like as possible: I wanted to have fun while reading, and to not police my tastes. So I gave myself permission to read all the genres I’d avoided because my professors didn’t deem them worthy of study – self-help, YA fantasy, YA romance, historical/paranormal/sports romance, murder mysteries, domestic thrillers, etc. – and only thing requirement I had was that I’d stop reading once the book stopped being fun to read. And it was a success! I had a lot of fun and I learned to love reading again.
But the downside to this approach is that I’ve neglected the other reason why I fell in love with reading – which is to be intellectually challenged, or to learn something new, or to see something from a different perspective. After all, there’s also pleasure to be taken from encountering an inventive novelistic form or a perfectly written sentence. To use the trite dichotomy, reading not only nourishes me emotionally but also intellectually, and I don’t think I’ve read much books recently that do the latter.
So, something I want to try this month is to be more aware of my reading moods, and to deliberately choose books that don’t necessarily satisfy my immediate book craving (YA, romance, thriller) but might be intellectually rewarding in the end. That doesn’t mean I’m going to abstain from so-called genre fiction altogether – I just want to be more conscious of creating a balance between my two reading needs.
In sum, my reading was off to a great start this January, but I think there’s still room for experimentation and improvement.
Aaaand… That’s it for this post! Tomorrow, I’ll be posting a round-up of all the fiction books I’ve read this month. Hope you stay tuned. 🙂
What did you think of your reading this month? What were your January reading goals, and were you able to meet them? What about yourself as a reader this month that surprised you? Let me know in the comments! I’d love to hear from you 🙂