Another year, another reading roundup. This year I read a total of 24 books (9 novels and 15 nonfiction), not including the two books of nonfiction I abandoned. It is a low figure for me, but I did take a personal sabbatical to recover from burnout.
I listened to more audiobooks, all nonfiction, to give my eyes a rest. All in all, I managed to read every book on my short reading list that I created at the beginning of the year.
(AB) = audiobook
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Troubling Love by Elena Ferrante
Having completed Elena Ferrante's first novel, I've now gone through all of her books of fiction. This is a weird little novella that is not on the same level as her later works. Probably because I put Ferrante on such a pedestal, I found this one surprisingly dull, a bit overwrought. By her third novel, The Lost Daughter, which I read and reviewed last year, Ferrante's brilliance comes into full force. This just goes to show that genius can take time to develop.
Bliss Montage by Ling Ma
From the opening pages, I thought it would be a series of fun, quirky stories, but I was wrong. Why did I expect lightness from the author of Severance? The first two stories are essentially about domestic abuse. Many of the stories contain fantasy elements. Can't say they're always satisfying, but the book is full of interesting ideas.
Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason
I have mixed feelings about this popular novel. Protagonist Martha Friel has an unnamed mental illness causing her to not want to live. At 40, her long-suffering husband finally leaves her. I enjoyed the witty writing and the characters early on, but halfway through, I wanted to abandon the book. It's lacking in plot, and Martha is a difficult person to root for. I finished the book because I liked the other characters, but this book did not live up to the hype for me. It's a chick-lit book on anti-depressants, which seems to have become a sub-genre.
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
I'm not usually into family sagas, but this is more like a collection of interconnected short stories. I enjoyed this book so much. Spanning 300 years, Homegoing follows two half-sisters from Ghana and members of their lineage up to the present day. One sister was married off to a British soldier, and the other was captured by a rival tribe and shipped off to America as a slave. It's eye-opening to learn how every country, including those in Africa, was complicit in the slave trade. Gyasi is a wonderful and empathetic writer.
All Our Yesterdays by Natalia Ginzburg
Some of my favorite living writers are constantly singing Natalia Ginzburg's praises, so I had to read one of her novels. Translated from Italian, All Our Yesterdays is set in 1939 to 1944, before and during the war, about two families who live next door to each other. It took me some time to get into the story, but it's worth it because her writing style is so special. Ginzburg has a knack for details and the inner workings of her characters. It is a short but dense literary novel for readers who like to be challenged.
Happy Hour by Marlowe Granados
I heard about the author when she hosted an event at the Ace Hotel in Toronto. Her delightful novel, set in the early 2000s, follows two young women who move to New York for a summer, ready for adventure. They are completely broke but well-connected thanks to pretty privilege, going from party to party to rub shoulders with artists, celebrities, and intellectuals. I found the narrator's voice very charming, and while the story is light on plot, I enjoyed Isa's youthful yet wise take on life as a twenty-something finding her way.
The Guest by Emma Cline
Funny that I followed Happy Hour with another novel about a broke young woman leveraging her looks for a lavish lifestyle. However, The Guest takes a much darker turn. I started getting bored after I realized the protagonist's sole pursuit was mooching off one affluent household after another. It's too bad because the book started off strong with good writing and perceptive details on WASPs who summer in the Hamptons.
Whereabouts by Jhumpa Lahiri
The Pulitzer Prize-winning writer learned Italian as an adult. She challenged herself to write this novel in Italian and translated it to English herself. The unnamed character living in an unnamed Italian city is an academic who is slowly losing her way. It's a sad and lonely book with beautiful insights.
Yellowface by K.F. Kuang
I didn't want to read this at first because the plot is so cringe. A young white writer steals her dead Chinese-American's friend manuscript and passes off the book as her own to literary acclaim. A friend convinced me to read it, and it was more or less what she sold me: a catty, gossipy look at the publishing industry. This book is set up for discourse on race, diversity, and cultural appropriation. It's too much discourse for me. The white protagonist (who is pathetic to a comical degree) will literally go on a writer's panel and get into a debate on the depiction of Chinese characters in novels. Also a lot of rants about book culture on Goodreads, Twitter, and YouTube that cater to the extremely online. I wonder how this novel will hold up in ten years, given that the references are so rooted in the present. It's already dated since Twitter isn't even called that anymore.
Spare by Prince Harry (AB)
Prince Harry's memoir is interesting enough, I guess. He gave plenty of salacious details about himself and his family to warrant the attention and sizable book advance, but I did find some sections to drag on for too long. Being part of the royal family sounds like an absolute nightmare. They're constantly selling each other out to the press. Props to the ghostwriter J. R. Moehringer, who also wrote Andre Agassi's fantastic memoir Open, which I read years ago and has a similar cover and title concept. I'm sure this memoir wouldn't have been half as good without Moehringer's contribution.
Keys to the Kingdom by Alison A. Armstrong
I read The Queen's Code last year, and this book seems to come before that. They're both nonfiction books written in novel/parable form, cheesy but does the job in helping readers understand male/female relationship dynamics. The Keys to the Kingdom focuses on understanding men. Claudia is a grandmother who wants to pass down her knowledge of men to her daughter and grandmother, but they're not ready yet, so she finds a worthy successor in a yoga classmate, Karen, who starts coming over for weekly lessons. As cringe as it is, the book did help me understand the different phases men go through in life. There is a point when a man goes through something called "The Tunnel," for example, that really requires a woman's patience. The teachings are based on the author's decades of research and interviews with men.
The Creative Act: A Way of Being by Rick Rubin
A spiritual tome on creativity by famed music producer Rick Rubin and co-written by Neil Strauss. It puts into words what I intuitively go through in the creative writing process. This is a book I can flip through whenever I need inspiration or words of encouragement.
Psycho-Cybernetics by Maxwell Maltz
First published in the '60s, the author is a plastic surgeon who noticed that some of his patients had a drastic personality change after changing facial features, while for others, improving their looks did not improve their self-image at all. Self-esteem and success begin in the mind, and he developed some tools to help them succeed through the mind-body connection. He explains that the mind is like a machine that can be steered towards success or failure. I found this book to be similar to other books on manifesting except from a psychological and scientific point of view.
God Works Through Faith by Robert A. Russell
I had this book lying around unread for 8 years. I suppose I hadn't been ready to fully understand the teachings until recently. Written in 1957, it references Christianity, but it's for anyone who believes in God. I love this book. It aligns with the other spiritual wisdom I've learned throughout the years, and I like how he explains what faith is, certain laws of the universe, and how to activate faith and turn to God.
You, Too, Can Be Prosperous by Robert A. Russell
Similar in content to God Works Through Faith, this is a little book about manifesting wealth that reminds us to focus on having a positive mindset. We can't serve two masters—abundance and lack, faith and fear—and expect to get results. We have to keep our thoughts out of the negative path and hold them in the positive since "a man is what he thinks all day long."
The Secret to Love, Health, and Money by Rhonda Byrnes
Part of Rhonda Byrne's The Secret series on the Law of Attraction, this book is divided into sections on how to attract better relationships, health, and money. Although many parts of this book felt repetitive to her previous work, I did pick up some new tips on manifestation and healing.
The Psychology of Money by Morgan Hosel (AB)
I've been meaning to read this book for a while since it came highly recommended by two different friends. I listened to the audiobook, which is only six hours. It provides a decent foundation for financial literacy: what to do with money, what not to do, what we know about it, and what we don't know. Money (the economy, financial market, stocks) is not a hard science, and the most educated analysts can not predict what will happen. Also, accruing wealth is a balance of luck and risk. Being born in the right era helps. While there are a lot of factors we cannot control, this book does point us in the right direction on how to have financial security.
Adult Drama and Other Essays by Natalie Beach
I read this book on the strength of the author's viral essay in The Cut about her frenemy, the messy influencer Caroline Calloway. Most of the other essays are just okay. She's a good writer but her own life is too average to be interesting. Her best pieces are about Calloway. I think she just needs better material to really hit it home.
Run Towards the Danger by Sarah Polley (AB)
I'm familiar with Sarah Polley as an actress, but this book isn't your standard celebrity memoir. In these personal essays, she lays out the most uncomfortable moments in her life: her emotionally incestuous relationship with her father, her experiences being sexualized as a child actor, her complicated relationship with Jian Ghomeshi, and the struggles of recovering from a concussion. The essays often felt to me like therapy exercises that helped her confront her traumas rather than something written for an audience. I was left curious why she went into showbiz in the first place since she didn't seem to like acting very much. I would recommend this book to those recovering from concussions, difficult childbirths, or any of the other issues she experiences.
The Woman in Me by Britney Spears (AB)
When I heard samples of Michelle Williams narrating Britney Spear's memoir, I had to listen to the audiobook. It is articulate, well-paced, never dragging—ghostwriters and editors are the unsung heroes of celebrity memoirs. It frustrated and pained me to hear the details of her conservatorship. How sad when her own family behaved like the worst of all her predators. Britney's story is a cautionary tale of being an extreme people pleaser. I'm glad she learned to take back her power.
In Other Words by Jhumpa Lahiri
A bilingual memoir about the fiction author's love for the Italian language. After learning Italian as an adult, she moved with her family to Rome, where she decided to only read, write, and converse in Italian. Part travel memoir and part autobiography on the writing process, this is a beautiful book about how frustrating and fulfilling learning and writing in a foreign language can be.
The author is a life coach known for her YouTube channel and digital courses for women. I appreciate her no-nonsense teaching style, and she's pretty straightforward on the page as well. The title and cover font are cheesy, and I get looks of skepticism when I recommend it, but it does the job. The advice here is worth its weight in gold to help women succeed in all areas of life.
Because Lady Balls gave me so much value, I bought Mina's first book right after. The second edition is an expanded and updated version of the 2016 book. It's much shorter and leans more towards health and fitness. I'm already following some of her advice.
The Secret: Unlocking the Source of Joy and Fulfillment by Michael Berg
A little book containing inspiring Kabbalistic stories with lessons on how to find true fulfillment.
Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All by Michael Shellenberger
I'm very interested in the contents of this book, but I just don't have the patience to get through it. I've tried to read it several times. I'm going to find recaps of the book in articles and such at some point.
When the Body Says No: The Hidden Cause of Stress by Gabor Maté
I listened to a few chapters on audiobook, and while it is fascinating to learn how the mind-body connection links to different diseases, I would also like to get the CliffsNotes on this one.
Most of the time, I borrow books from the library and only buy books if I know I'll reread them. From all the books I read this year, these are the ones I purchased or am planning to own:
- Happy Hour by Marlowe Granados
- The Creative Act: A Way of Being by Rick Rubin
- Psycho-Cybernetics by Maxwell Maltz
- God Works Through Faith by Robert A. Russell
- You, Too, Can Be Prosperous by Robert A. Russell
- In Other Words by Jhumpa Lahiri
- Lady Balls by Mina Irfan
- Contained in Love by Mina Irfan
- The Secret: Unlocking the Source of Joy and Fulfillment by Michael Berg
Read my other annual reading roundups.