2023 is around the corner, and the holidays always has me reflecting on the past year. Reading has become a significant part of my life (more so this year compared to previous ones), and I thought I’d take the opportunity to mull about the books I’ve chosen to read over the past 12 months.
In January, I set a Goodreads challenge to read 40 books this year. I’m happy to report that as of now I’ve read 43/40. Here they are:
Since I exclusively use Goodreads to document my reading progress, some of the following content is shamelessly copied over from my past reviews. Writing detailed reviews helps me remember how I felt about each book and the ideas or themes that were particularly impactful to how I was feeling at that time.
Top 3 Nonfiction
The Power of Women, Denis Mukwege
This is about the hard work of an African doctor Denis Mukwege, who dedicates his life to building a hospital and treating and healing survivors of sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo). In many countries, rape is used as a weapon of war that soldiers utilize to expand their realm of control. Dr. Mukwege reinforces the point that sexual violence thrives in silence, and that we must continue to make the space for and enact proper law enforcement for incidence of sexual violence inflicted upon women.
I found this book so inspiring, well-written, and felt like it elevated the voice of a very determined person who does utterly selfless work.
Crying in H-Mart, Michelle Zauner
Michelle Zauner is a beautiful, gifted author and it was a privilege to read her book (which is in the works to turn into a feature film). I didn’t expect this to destroy me as much as it did but we observe the journey of her mom’s sudden cancer diagnosis and the impact this has on Michelle’s life. She shared memories that were both good and bad, and the roller coaster of emotions (guilt, love, anger, hopelessness, sadness, and so on) she felt throughout the progression of her mom’s cancer.
Her writing is raw and doesn’t beat around the bush. It’s important because not many authors are willing to articulate and reflect so openly on the emotions they felt at particularly traumatic or low points of their lives. It’s beautiful to see how Michelle processes her grief and honors her mom through learning how to cook traditional Korean dishes. She views H-Mart as a safe space to reconnect with her heritage.
84, Charing Cross Road, Helene Hanff
A charming collection of letters exchanged by Helene Hanff, a writer from New York City, and Frank Doel, a used book dealer at a store in London known as Marks & Co. Helen and Franke (and other workers and family members in London) write from their hearts in such a genuine way as they discuss book recommendations, send each other gifts, and ponder life together over the years. It made me smile when I remembered that I picked this book up from the Nonfiction section of the library, which means all of these letters were really written and sent and this kind of warmth and kindness actually existed between Helene and Franke, not just in an imaginary sense.
Top 3 Fiction
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, by Ocean Vuong
I feel incredibly lucky to have read this book and experienced the raw, heartbreaking prose that Ocean Vuong is vulnerable enough to share. I didn’t know it was possible to write in such an open, intentional way about various moments of life, trauma, family, death, sexuality, and more. Ocean Vuong also ties in nature and our surrounding natural world with such vivid imagery that it really puts into perspective how humans and other animals, wind, water, etc. must coexist on this planet. Parts of this book are overwhelming, sad, disturbing, and others will make you smile because you’ll probably notice excerpts seeped in nostalgia that you can relate to.
With Love, from London, by Sarah Jio
My mom recommended this book to me, and it was such a cozy read. It involves a bookstore, and I’m a sucker for books talking about bookstores. With Love from London is a story written in two perspectives — Valentina, a librarian who inherits her mother’s bookstore in London, and Eloise, her English mother whose life takes a series of turns and creates a beautiful community out of the bookstore she creates, also known as the Book Garden.
Valentina grows up believing her mother abandoned her during childhood, when in fact Eloise had to for reasons that we understand later through a series of handwritten letters she leaves her daughter, sprinkled in her favorite places in London. There’s a great deal of English charm in the way the scenes of this book are crafted, making it enjoyable from start to finish.
The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison
This was hard to read. At its core, The Bluest Eye is about love & the inability to express it effectively. It also discusses the incurrent psychological damage that Western beauty standards place on girls, and internalized racism — as raw and brazen as you can imagine. To read the darkest thoughts of a young Black girl who believes she is ugly and inferior because of what white beauty standards have taught her, is absolutely heartbreaking. I haven’t seen an author write this well about race before.
The lengths that Toni Morrison takes to explain the contexts and backstories surprised me — it’s deeply disturbing since it humanizes and almost condones some really awful things. But she does it to educate the reader about the motivations for why people do bad things, or how the environments they were placed in can cultivate horrible behavior. Tying it back to their upbringing, emotional abuse, and personal traumas.
How to Not Drown in a Glass of Water, by Angie Cruz
I know I said this was top 3 section but this book belongs in this list.
This is an entirely captivating and brutally honest set of stories told by a determined immigrant living in Washington Heights, NY. Her name is Cara Romero, a middle-aged Dominican woman with a hell of a personality. The factory she’s worked at for the past 25 years shut down and left her jobless in 2008, and the book is a series of 12 conversations she has with her career counselor as she applies for new jobs. Haven’t finished it yet but I already love her spunk, warm sense of humor, and style of storytelling.
Bottom 3 Books
Peril, by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa. This is a nonfiction book about the Trump/Biden presidential transition and a detailed account of the January 6, 2021 Capitol Riots. Politics generally isn’t what I’d gravitate toward reading so I didn’t enjoy this book a ton.
Money, A Love Story, by Kate Northrup. Honestly this was a mess of a book and I didn’t learn a single thing from it. The author’s perspective and blatant white privilege irritated me.
The Boy with a Bird in His Chest, by Emme Lund. I know a lot of people enjoyed this one but it didn’t resonate with me. The plot wasn’t compelling and I didn’t get much out of it.
Although I’ve read ~75% fiction this year, I prefer nonfiction and reading about actual, lived experiences. It provides practical ways to modify your thinking processes and way of perceiving the world. Nonfiction also makes me feel like I am using my brain more to understand what’s going on.
Most of the books I read fall into the following categories: memoirs, immigrant experiences, Japanese slice-of-life/magical realism, collections of short stories, and examinations into race/racial encounters.
Slice-of-life for sure. I love reading about pretty ordinary and relatable things, made more interesting depending on who’s writing about them or where they come from.
35/43 books I read were written by female authors. This was unintentional but fun to discover.
Repeat authors for this year are: Emily Henry, Toni Morrison, Jacqueline Woodson, Sayaka Murata, and Joan Didion — all of whom I’ve read at least 2 books by.
Unfinished & In-Progress
I cannot and do not finish every attempted book. For a long time, I used to be disappointed with leaving a book unfinished. I’ve finally come to a state of peace with not finishing a book. There’s no need to force yourself to finish a book just because you started it and committed some mental energy to it. It’s okay to stop and move on.
Some of my unfinished reads include: The Last Girl: My Story of Captivity, and My Fight Against the Islamic State, These Precious Days: Essays, and Little Fires Everywhere.
As a friend of mine recently pointed out, we all have to do something for our soul. Life can be hard, and it gets a bit easier if you keep finding things to do that truly make you happy and commit to doing them regularly for the potential of long term benefit. This could mean creating art, watching movies, working out, cooking, reading books, anything really. Just something that puts you in a peaceful place.
I love paying attention to a few common things about each book I pick up. Interesting fonts. Copyright page. Dedications. Wear and tear. Title and cover. Author biography. Book jackets. Peer reviews. Acknowledgements. I like to read while on public transit (planes, train rides, at airports) since it makes idle time more interesting and intellectually productive, or in the morning with a cup of coffee on a chill weekend.
Reading books and writing reviews has taught me a lot about myself and my own evolving interests. Things I like in other people. Things I don’t like. The more I read, the more I want to continue reading. If you made it this far, thank you! Friend me on Goodreads xoxo, and let me know what your favorite 2022 books are or what you’re excited to read next year.