Updated: Jan 1, 2021
**NEW READS POSTED AT THE BOTTOM**
I’m challenging myself this year to read as many books as I can. At first my goal was to read 10 books, but I quickly passed that benchmark, and have just found myself being interested in reading more. I’ll continually update this list as I read on. So here’s a list of the books I’ve read so far.
PACHINKO BY MIN JIN LEE Pachinko was super hyped in 2019. So when I got a chance to borrow a copy of it, I decided to grab the near 500 page book and give it a go. I’m not usually attracted to thick books, but I had time and didn’t want to judge.
I love this book for the author’s writing and ability to storytell ever so effortlessly. It’s a story of a multi-generational family, primarily focused on the matriarch. We do get chapters from other character’s perspectives, and we get to know more about the reality of people’s lives during the Japanese occupation of Korea, life when Korea was one, as well as the early days of Koreans living in Japan.
The main character goes through a lot, though she doesn’t really express it on the outside. The author brings us into her thoughts and her desires and fears, showing us the complexity of the main character. One example of this is seen whenever she’s around her first love:
“She would always believe that he was someone else, that he wasn’t himself but some fanciful idea of a foreign person; she would always feel like she was someone special because she had condescended to be with someone everyone else hated. His presence would prove to the world that she was a good person, an educated person a liberal person.” — MIN JIN LEE, PACHINKO
The thing I especially didn’t like was the sudden cut-off of story arcs. Like, we would be introduced to some character and get to know them for a while, then suddenly their story is over, and we go back to the main storyline. I don’t know if that’s a stylistic thing, but that’s something that bugged me enough to not fully love this book.
EVERYTHING I NEVER TOLD YOU BY CELESTE NG This book was very manipulative - which I think worked for it. This is about a daughter who goes missing and ends up being found dead. Actually, that’s the premise, but it’s really about how a dysfunctional family comes to be. And what I like about that is that it’s not so obviously dysfunctional - there’s no big drama, no drastic event - it all kind of happens gradually and quietly, which I found very realistic. The writing was impeccable - the revealing of this picture perfect family’s heartbreak was emotional and really sad, to the point that I focused more on the issues than how the daughter died. Then in the end, I realized it really didn’t matter how she physically died, she was kind of already destined to die, the way we go to see her family history. That’s why I mean that this book was so manipulative! At first I thought my goal was to solve the mystery of this girl’s death - but actually, there’s nothing to solve.
FALL FOR ANYTHING BY COURTNEY SUMMERS I think there was a point where I stopped reading this one for a while and picked up another book before returning to finish it. I really wanted to love this book… It’s about this girl trying to figure out why her father committed suicide. This book was similar to Everything I Never Told You in the sense that there was no concrete answer to the mystery, which would be fine, but I felt the way it was executed was a cop out. It was the equivalent to, “Well, we never know what people are thinking anyway, so let’s just accept the fact.” And this is true, but it’s just so unsettling, and I didn’t understand why that did not transfer over to the main character at the end of the book. Anyway, this book has some good writing. The author does a good job of creating a minimal world, with few people, few distractions. She also does a good job presenting a teenage girl voice, and some of the dumb things they do because of complicated feelings or things they don’t really know how to place or handle.
MY SISTER, THE SERIAL KILLER BY OYINKAN BRAITHWAITE So during the break I took during Fall for Anything, I spotted the book, My sister, the serial killer, and grabbed it, hoping that it would cure my reading dissatisfaction. And it did.
This book was so hilarious, I think I laughed out loud a couple of times. This book was so easy to read, it was smart, fun, and emotional at times. I really loved how this author didn’t cater to the cliche Africanness one might find in many African fiction. It’s not nichey African. It really could be a story placed in any setting outside of Nigeria.
It’s a story about familial bonds - the lengths one finds themselves going to save a person just because of the unchosen relationship that makes them overly loyal. It’s a story about choosing that relationship every time even if it means taking the fall for it. I read that this was the author’s debut book, and I was so shocked, because if her first book is this great, then wow, her future work will be so amazing.
READY PLAYER ONE BY ERNEST CLINE This book. This book restored my hope in the search for books that I find enjoyable! This book is a gem! I know a movie came out, but I saw the trailer and got so disappointed, so I’m not even going to try and spoil the interpretation I have of this book. This book is about so many things. It’s about internet addiction, depression, all things mental health, government failure, society failure, corruption, finding meaning, avoiding reality. It’s about so much that I really can’t sum it up. It’s beautiful, sad, emotional, funny, fun, enjoyable, entertaining, exciting, educational, possibly prophetic, satirical.
It takes place in a dystopian world, and in this dystopia there is a utopia once anyone logs on to the internet as an avatar of their real life self. This book took me into the world of this utopia, where my imagination just flared and went wild. It was so rich with description and imagery that I get why this was given a movie adaptation.
It reads like a 500-600 page book, though it’s only 300ish pages. A lot is crammed in these 300 pages, though, which is why I needed to take a break every now and then. This book is very sci-fi/fantasy/gaming/80s pop culture nostalgia oriented, though it’s not really necessary to be inclined to any of those areas to enjoy this read. The author is very generous in not sounding stuck up to those who may not be familiar. He also explains and gives references that to me didn’t seem overwhelming, but I get how it could be for some people.
I loved the main character, Wade, from the get go. He was so easy to support and root for. I felt for him and his troubled reality, and cheered for his successes. This was quite an emotional rollercoaster just based on how much I was emotionally invested in him. I think I teared a bit. I was so sad when it was over, but in a good way.
THERE THERE BY TOMMY ORANGE This book just silenced me.
In fact I don’t think I can write anything about it, because I don’t know if I’m supposed to have a response.
Tommy Orange portrays various Native people living in (or having a tie to) Oakland, California. All these characters all end up at a powwow - which is a big event showcasing Native American heritage. The stories are very raw and unkempt, somewhat hopeless. Every story reads as though there’s a curse hanging around these characters’ lives, which acts as symbolism through the entire book.
The ending is so abrupt, paralyzing, and a little overwhelming, just because I was not giving time to react. It was kind of like, “Wait. Did what I think just happen actually just happened?” I had to read it again, because my reaction time was too slow to accept an outcome that I didn’t want to believe was true, even though there were many signs pointing to it. There are so many issues this book includes: mental illnesses, dysfunctional families, teen pregnancy, addiction, death, crime, abuse. Though it doesn’t specifically talk about them, these themes are kind of just part of a story, they are not the focus.
I loved this book. There were so many beautifully written moments. There were so many hopelessly sad moments. There were so many moments to where I just had to give all my attention - mainly because the pace was slow and steady - until the end.
There’s a scene where a character is talking amongst a group about Native American youth and mental illness, and how it’s society’s fault. He says,
“We’ve boarded up windows and made better nets to catch them, found more convincing ways to tell them not to jump. They’re making the decision that it’s better to be dead and gone than to be alive in what we have here, this life, the one we made for them, the one they’ve inherited. And we’re either involved and have a hand in each one of their deaths, just like I did with my brother, or we’re absent, which is still involvement, just like silence is not just silence but is not speaking up.” — TOMMY ORANGE, THERE THERE
Tommy Orange fills this book with such quotes - ones that are so deep yet so plain for everyone to see and understand - but not really enough to be able to fix it.
LOOKING FOR ALASKA BY JOHN GREEN I finally got on the John Green band wagon and read two of his books. The first one, Looking for Alaska, I was excited about just because of the description I read about it. So of course I got my hopes up. Bad idea. This book ended so bland for me.
The first half was great - I was into the main characters, the supporting characters, their world, their interests and all - then the second half came. I honestly thought this was just going to be a fun story of bored and overachieving well meaning kids in a boarding school, but no. When I realized the direction it was going in, the second half till the end just killed it for me. I felt like the second half had an identity crisis, where it wasn’t sure what it was trying to be - and that sort of weighed it down a little more for me.
TURTLES ALL THE WAY DOWN BY JOHN GREEN I was hoping this would be my John Green redemption book. I liked it a lot better than Looking for Alaska, but not enough to recommend it. The premise was great, the story was great. I liked how we got to see the world of a teenager with OCD. There was nothing dramatic about her illness (except for the one part where she has a massive breakdown). But besides that, I think Green does a good job of trying to show us a normal life for our main character. It’s a good story - sweet, simple.
MY YEAR OF REST AND RELAXATION BY OTTESSA MOSHFEGH I read this book because of one youtuber who really hyped it up. It’s such a strange book, honestly, I don’t know if I liked it at all.
Our main character is a young girl who becomes a pill addict in order to sleep as much as she can - it sounds really funny, which it is, but there’s more to it.
It’s full of humour, satire, very realistic pointless relationships, memory, and weirdness. I especially liked the dialogue, the irony of having a best friend (or any relationship, really) that the character doesn’t really care about for the most part but is dependant on. This entire book shows us a character who’s tired of forcing the life that’s been set up for her, and she decides to get rid of that life by sleeping through it. At first, I thought I had this character figured out and knew why she was doing what she was doing, but it’s a little more complicated. Through flashback and memory, we try and understand this character who sort of goes through a journey of renewal.
THE ROAD BY CORMAC MCCARTHY This book. (It’s going to be a good book if I start out with “This book”!) Seriously, this book I think needs to be on those lists of what to read for every year. It’s so good. This book, I can’t even describe it.
McCarthy seems to break all the rules of being a writer, and writing a book that people will enjoy. He doesn’t use speech marks, he doesn’t give us information we don’t really need to know about, he doesn’t give much setting. This book should be boring, like really boring! For 85% of the book, we are following the two main characters walking on a road. That’s it.
But! The road is a dangerous, unpredictable place. This book is about a father and son trying to survive in a post apocalyptic world. It is gritty, it is scary, it is sad. I wanted to cry at the beginning, just because I was feeling so much anxiety of what would come in the end. And that’s what makes McCarthy so amazing. Because he starts with nothing, then makes my mind do all the work in believing there must be more to what he’s shown us on the page.
Then the end came. It was totally not the ending I had predicted with certainty from the beginning. But then when I saw the actual ending coming, I wondered where in the story it had “changed”. This author is a genius. I don’t know if it’s manipulation or what. But he’s so sly about changing the story without changing it. This book is a GEM! Must read for writers.
ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND BY LEWIS CARROLL This book is a trip! I only read it because I found it free online and thought it would be interesting to read this fairytale(?) that everyone knows about. This book made absolutely no sense at all! I didn’t get it - I was laughing through most of it, because all the characters around Alice are so confused, which only made me more confused.
I was going to read the sequel, Through The Looking Glass and What Alice Found There, but now I’m not so sure. This one is definitely an overrated children’s book. Maybe it’s just best to be a film or an art piece.
AS SIMPLE AS SNOW BY GREGORY GALLOWAY It’s books like these that make me mad - -Books that start off with a bang, then end with such lackluster.
Basic teenage boy with a basic life falls in love with nonsensical goth girl, who adds excitement to his life. Girl disappears, leaving strange clues that drive boy insane trying to figure out what happened.
The first third of this book was great - full of suspense and mystery, wit, interest - all that. The second third, too much focus on supernatural/fantasy-like things that all seemed to be untrue or made up. Too much focus on the girl the main character likes, and the push for me to care about her.
The final third was a complete waste of my attention. Way too much speculation/theories/randomness/strangeness that never seemed to resolve or do anything for the story. The ending was such a dud, that I can’t even say I’m underwhelmed. Ughh. This book was recommended to me a while back, and now that I’ve finally come to read it, I can’t say how disappointed I am.