It’s the last day of May, which means it’s time to talk about all the things I read this month. It also happens to be my birthday, which would be fun if I didn’t have to work. But I did have a nice day off yesterday, which is when I’m writing the majority of this post. You know you’re old when your idea of a nice birthday is a quiet reading day where everyone just leaves you alone. So let’s just talk about the books I read this month so I can get back to my day of doing nothing.
It was actually a pretty great reading month for me. I didn’t read anything I didn’t like, and actually read some books that might just be new favorites. I also read more books this month than I have in any other month so far this year, so that’s a win. And for those of you who have been following me a while, you know I like to tailor my reading to the monthly holidays or awareness months. This month was both Mental Health Awareness Month and Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, so I focused on that in May. I read some good books by AAPI authors and a few that discussed mental health (one that even fit both categories). And also just a bunch of other random things.
What I Read
Matrix by Lauren Groff – ★★★★☆
I don’t know why, because they are completely different stories and even time periods, but this one got kind of linked together in my head with Hamnet. Maybe it’s the historical fiction about real people, but with cottagecore vibes thing. But I loved Hamnet and was very curious about this one in particular because it is about Marie de France, who I have probably talked about way too much on this blog already because I love medieval literature. It’s also feminist and sapphic and was literally the first book on Obama’s favorite books list last year.
And I have kind of complicated feelings about this one. I liked it a lot, but didn’t love it. It was a little too religious for me (twelve years of Catholic school was more than enough), and didn’t quite mesh with what I know about Marie de France and her writing. So I’m not quite sure where Lauren Groff was going there. However, apart from that, it was a pretty good story and an interesting historical novel.
Sweet Bean Paste by Durian Sukegawa – ★★★★★
One of you mentioned this book to me a few months ago on Instagram (thank you Ghis!) and I immediately added it to my TBR. When I realized I’d already read quite a few Japanese books and decided to make a reading experiment out of it, I decided to include this one. It follows a man who kind of gives up on his dreams after being released from prison, and it just working in a little shop making dorayaki to get by. One day, an old woman comes to the shop and inquires about the help wanted sign in the window. The man is initially skeptical as the woman is, in his opinion, far too old to be useful ad is clearly crippled.
Turns out, the woman makes killer sweet bean paste, so the man decides to give her a chance. She teaches him how to actually make the sweets he sells (instead of using store-bought filling) and in the process of making the shop successful, they start to become friends. It’s a really sweet novel, with a lovely message (and some interesting Japanese history thrown in that I didn’t know about). I initially gave this one four stars, but upped it to five after I couldn’t stop thinking about it. This book definitely grew on me, and I loved how full of character it was, despite being bittersweet at times. Definitely one to check out!
Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning by Cathy Park Hong – ★★★☆☆
I couldn’t tell you how many times I have seen this book around, especially on lists with Crying in H Mart, which I read last year. And while I did enjoy Crying in H Mart and thought it was a great book, it just wasn’t for me, so I was hoping I would connect with this one a bit more. Minor Feelings is a memoir in the form of an essay collection, and discusses her feelings of inadequacy and sadness living in an America that is so racist and unwelcoming as the daughter of Korean immigrants.
I was excited to read, since it seemed like a perfect choice for Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month (and actually ended up working for Mental Health Awareness Month, too) and has amazing reviews. While I didn’t go in with super high expectations, it still let me down. I found the stories in this a little bit disjointed, and the writing felt less mature than I was expecting (I was surprised to find out the author is in her forties, I would have guessed mid-twenties based on her writing). For me, I think that affected how well the author got her point across, and I though this book was just okay. Not bad, not great, and definitely not as amazing as everyone has been saying it is.
What Are You Going Through by Sigrid Nunez– ★★★★☆
This book was somehow exactly what I was expecting and something completely different. It’s about a woman who, in the course of her life, is confided in by various people (and one cat). It’s a fictional story about how everyone you meet is going through something or has gone through something. And regardless of how we perceive their problem from the outside, it can affect them in profound ways. Which is basically what I expected (minus the cat).
But what I wasn’t expecting was just the weirdness of this novel. It was kind of quirky, which is why it ended up being a four-star read for me, instead of just three. It was just kind of a nice, short read (or listen, since I went with the audiobook) that I finished in a couple days. Sigrid Nunez is an author I hadn’t heard of before this year, but I’d definitely be interested in checking out more of her work.
Just by Looking at Him by Ryan O’Connell– ★★★★☆
I read very few ARCs anymore, but this is one caught my attention. It is about a gay TV writer with cerebral palsy… written by a gay TV writer with cerebral palsy. Which you know I had to read. I have been trying to read more books that feature disabled characters or are about disability or are by disabled authors, and I wanted to read more new releases this year, so this sounded great. I especially love that the author has first-hand knowledge of the disability he’s writing about, and thought it might be a good way to expand my own knowledge about cerebral palsy, since it’s not something I’ve experienced nor do I know anyone who has it.
I’m not quite sure the story itself was my thing – there was a lot of cheating and drugs and (a little bit of) Hollywood drama, all of which are things I don’t tend to enjoy. However, what did make this book four stars for me was partly the fact that I loved that this was a gay romance written by a gay man and also featured a disabled protagonist (and yay for diverse romance!). But mostly, it was the author’s sense of humor. I’m pretty sure sarcasm is my love language, and this book just spoke to me. Not a favorite, but I liked it. If you’re interested, this book will be released next week on June 7.
*Just by Looking at Him was provided to me by Netgalley and the published in exchange for an honest review
How High We Go in the Dark by Sequoia Nagamatsu– ★★★★★
What do I even say about this book? It’s one of the most ambitious novels I have read in a while, and it absolutely pulls it off. It’s been compared to both Cloud Atlas and Station Eleven, and I do kind of agree with that. It has the same narrative structure as Cloud Atlas, where it follows different characters over different generations (I did like this book a lot more, though). It does actually feel like reading a collection of stories more than a novel, though all the characters are linked somehow, despite hundreds of years passing over the course of this book. And, similar to Station Eleven, it’s set during and after a pandemic.
But where this book differs from those is the ending. Don’t worry, I’m not going to spoil it. But I absolutely did not see it coming. And I’m really tempted to reread this to see if I view the stories in a different light knowing how it ends. The final chapter was so different and interesting and kind of made me question everything I had just read. But it’s also what makes this book stand out.
I thoroughly enjoyed both how creative this book was and how diverse it was. Even though this book spans a huge amount of time, we get a lot of cultural aspects that feel both contemporary and vaguely familiar. This is a book about the human experience, and I thought that added so much to how we connected to the characters and how human they felt. That said, the one character that had me tearing up a bit was not human, but the fact that this book almost made me cry is a feat in and of itself (maybe I’ve just hit my emotional reading threshold or something, but books don’t make me cry or scare me at all really anymore).
Anyway, loved this one. Don’t be surprised if you see this on a favorites list at the end of the year.
The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa – ★★★★☆
I feel like I just talked about this in my Japanese bestsellers post last week, so I’ll keep this short (and you can go check out that post if you want to read more). This is about a housekeeper who is hired to take care of an aging math professor who, after sustaining a brain injury, now has a short-term memory that only lasts eighty minutes. She and the professor and her ten-year-old son end up forming a cute little family, and I thought this was just a nice read.
While I thoroughly enjoyed the core of the story and the characters, my final rating ended up being around three and a half stars (I rounded up because there is no half-star symbol and also it’s just easier). I knew going in that this was about a math professor. But had seen reviews that said this did not have a lot of actual math in it. Which was a LIE! Because there were quite a lot of both mathematical concepts and actual equations scatted throughout this book and it hurt my brain. Yes, this is totally a personal thing – I am absolutely not a math person – but I didn’t need to spend hours thinking about amicable numbers (or even really know what those are).
Overall, great little story, but the math was too distracting for me and kind of prevented me from loving this as much as I wanted to. I am definitely curious to read more books by Yoko Ogawa, though because this was a lovely book, I enjoyed her writing, and even though the math was not my thing, I was impressed by the amount of research that went into it. I’ve heard great things about The Memory Police, so I think that might be my next Ogawa book.
Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel – ★★★★★
Going into this year, I had kind of mixed feelings about Emily St. John Mandel. Station Eleven was one of the books that really got me back into reading after I graduated college and was just starting grad school. But I kind of didn’t love The Glass Hotel when I read it last year. Since it had been so long since I’d read Station Eleven, it kind of had me questioning whether or not it really was as amazing as I remember it being. Good news: I no longer have any doubts. Because Sea of Tranquility was absolutely the speculative sci-fi I wanted after Station Eleven.
That said, I am glad I read The Glass Hotel first, because some of those characters make an appearance in Sea of Tranquility. You don’t need to read it first, but Sea of Tranquility has some Glass Hotel spoilers, so if you do plan on reading both, definitely read them in order. I also don’t necessarily recommend reading this one right after How High We Go in the Dark. They’re definitely different books, but they’re similar enough in both story and structure that I had to stop a few times and remind myself that character I was waiting to see appear again was not in this book.
I was also pleasantly surprised by the audiobook as well. I’m normally not a huge fan of full-cast narration, but gave this one a shot because I really love John Lee as an audiobook narrator. And I am so glad I did. This worked so well. Again, How High We Go in the Dark had the same thing going on (I also listened to that one on audio), so and I do think this structure of following several characters over time does work really well with different narrators. So it’s growing on me.
What Happened to You?: Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing by Bruce D. Perry, MD, PhD and Oprah Winfrey – ★★★★★
When I was putting together my reading list for this month and looking to add some books that discuss mental health, this was kind of an obvious choice. It’s been recommended to me a few times, and definitely seemed like a really great book to read just in my own personal mental health journey. I’ve talked briefly about it before, but I had a lot of mental (and physical) health issues that stem from childhood trauma and I’ve been doing a lot of reading as a way to learn more about the how and why and maybe work on repairing some of the damage.
I thought this book was really great. I appreciated how this incorporated actual anecdotes from people affected by many different kinds of trauma. Having this written as an actual discussion between the two authors worked very well. It felt very approachable and friendly, but also contained so much information and so many great insights. I started reading the ebook and was highlighting so many things. I ended up purchasing a physical copy because I feel like this is something I want to just have on my shelves, and plan on going back through and flagging the things I found interesting, insightful, or helpful. I’m very happy to have read this one, both as part of my personal growth and as the perfect way to finish out Mental Health Awareness Month. Highly recommend!
What I’m Currently Reading
The Deep by Rivers Solomon, with Daveed Diggs, William Huston, and Jonathan Snipes
This is a very short book that’s taking me a while to get through. Not because I’m not enjoying it, but because there is so much packed into this little novella. I’m probably not even halfway through and it feels like I’ve read a few hundred pages of a longer fantasy novel. It’s also a lot about generational trauma, but with mermaids, so there’s a lot to take in with this one. Very much enjoying it, though. And glad I am finally reading a Rivers Solomon book. It’s taken me way too long.
What I Watched
I was kind of curious about this when it first came out in theaters earlier this year, but I never go to the movies, so I kind of forgot about it. But then I saw it was streaming, so I decided to give it a shot. I’m not huge on gangster movies, but I do enjoy Zooey Deutch movies and a big fan of Mark Rylance. This is actually the first film I’ve seen with him as the lead, but he still manages to steal whatever scene he’s in. And he was fantastic in this! Honestly, the main plot was kind of meh for me, but I am still thinking about Mark Rylance in the final scene of this movie. Not my kind of movie, but absolutely worth watching for his performance.
Sometimes I surprise myself with my movie watching habits. I don’t think of myself as a huge movie buff, but I end up kind of watching a lot of them and apparently I have favorite directors. One of them is M. Night Shyamalan. I haven’t seen all of his films, and I’m not super into scary movies, but I do like scary movies with an interesting story, and I feel like he does that well. This one was super creepy and weird, but also had a deeper message and made me think, which was great.
Also, I didn’t even realize that Nikki Amuka-Bird was in both this and The Outfit – her performances were so different in both I didn’t make the connection. Also loved her in Avenue 5. She’s another one who is kind of on the sidelines, but makes a huge impression.
When I watch TV shows, they are either comedy or true crime, there is no in between. And I am loving all of these series coming out that are based on true crime. This is about a woman who killed the friend whose husband she was having an affair with, and claimed self-defense. This show goes into the crime and the trial. And I really liked this. It was interesting, and I thought Jessica Biel did a great job as Candy (though I am curious to see the Elizabeth Olsen version on HBO later this year, because everyone is adapting the same stories now, apparently).
This is an older limited series based on a different true crime story – this one about Christopher and Susan Edwards who were convicted of killing her parents fifteen years earlier and burying them in their own backyard. I think this was kind of a big story when it came out about ten years ago (I vaguely remember reading about it), and the whole thing was kind of interesting to watch play out. Also, I adore Oliva Coleman, so I had to watch it.
(Yes, I am watching The Staircase as well, but will recap my thoughts after the series ends and I’ve seen the whole thing.)
This month, I published my very first reading experiment of 2022. I’ve been kind of on a Japanese book kick this year and thought I’d turn it into an experiment since I was already reading them. But because I had to put a twist on it, I tied in the other experiment I did with Japanese books last year, where I read a bunch of Japanese bestsellers about cats. This time, I chose five books that did not involve a single cat to see if there were just as sad as the cat books. If you want to find out, click the link above to head over to that post.
I also published a fun post this month that has been literally a year in the making. For the past twelve months, I have been using both Goodreads and The StoryGraph, which is touted as a Goodreads competitor/replacement, to track my reading. So I thought I’d share my thoughts on what I like and dislike about both, which one I’d recommend you use and/or stick with, and which one I personally enjoy better. If you’ve tried both, I’d love to hear your thoughts, too!
And that’s it for May! Thanks so much for reading! What was your favorite book this month?
And check out my bookshop, where you can buy books and also shop my curated collections of my personal favorites AND all of the books I’ve read for my reading experiments. Or you can just buy whatever books you want to. I get a small commission at no extra cost to you, and you get to support your choice of indie bookstores – it’s a win all around!