Thursday, January 28, 2021

January 2021 Book Reflections

One thing I'm noticing - in light of my recent goal to not shop as much for my closet for the next several months, in order to focus on finishing my student loan repayment - is that this goal is... not very good for my blog writing inspiration. After all, the main focus of my blog is arguably clothes and shopping - even if I also discuss other topics - so when I'm not very interested in either thing, I have far less to write about! This is on top of the general difficulty of blogging since March 2020, after COVID-19 shutdowns began in the US and dramatically changed our day-to-day lives. 

Separately, I felt somewhat... not sad, exactly, but maybe wistful...  about how difficult it was for me to consistently read for fun for most of 2020, even with all the additional time I spent at home. Not long before, from around September 2019 through March 2020 - when work was especially hard and my billable hours particularly many - books and reading were a major source of comfort, just about the only thing that could take my mind away from work-related stress for a while. So it was surprising to me that reading couldn't fill that role for me again, or provide quite that same comfort and distraction, after March 2020. 

For 2021, I'm going to try blogging each month about the books I've read, and I'll maybe also mention the ones I couldn't finish if I think they're also worthy of some comment. Maybe it'll help encourage me to read more for fun this year. I also generally enjoy talking about, or writing about, the books I've read. It'll be a very low-pressure or no-pressure kind of project, I definitely don't have a goal to read a particular number of books this year or anything like that. 

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As you'll see, I enjoy books from a fairly wide range of genres. I would say that page-turners like horror novels, thrillers, or murder mystery police procedural-type series form the backbone of my overall volume of reading. Though there are many other genres I enjoy and that might also feature regularly. That's definitely all reflected in this month's selection. These books are listed in the order in which I finished reading them: 

  • The Silent Wife by Karin Slaughter - Over the years, I've mentioned my fondness for Karin Slaughter books a few times. I find her a very reliable author for murder mystery or police procedural-type thrillers, I've read through almost her entire catalog and enjoyed every single book. But be warned that many of the crimes described in her books tend to involve sexual assault or extremely violent murders, and while Slaughter doesn't write about these acts in a gratuitous way -  it's a very small portion of any given book - the matter-of-fact descriptions might still be off-putting to some. 
  • The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue - This is my third Emma Donoghue novel (I've also read Room and The Wonder), and I've enjoyed her work a lot. Out of these books, I think Room is the most famous, and it's also stylistically quite unlike the other two, which are both more straightforward historical fiction. This book focuses on a nurse and her work over a few days during the 1918 flu pandemic, so it felt like a fitting novel for these times. 
  • The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins - I enjoyed reading The Hunger Games trilogy, so I was curious about this prequel. This book is nowhere near as engaging or fast-paced as the original series - and the future President Snow is a far less pleasant narrator than Katniss, not just in terms of his moral compass but also in terms of being more passive and less self-aware - but I must say, it still grabbed my attention and I couldn't put it down. There's a lot of not-so-nice things one could say about this book: I found the world-building clunky and I don't think the story makes that much sense. I also absolutely detest main characters or narrators who are in near-full denial about or almost completely lack self-awareness about the fact they're actively choosing to do bad things. (I don't mind an objectively unpleasant main character who does terrible things - longtime readers here may recall my somewhat... unusual fondness for Gone Girl's Amy Dunne - and it's fine if they have some fatal flaws or blind spots they don't fully acknowledge, but that's not what's going on in this novel.) But these days, not many books can hold my attention as well as this one did, so it may still be worth picking up for someone who enjoyed The Hunger Games
  • The Chalk Man by C.J. Tudor - This is my second C.J. Tudor novel, after The Hiding Place. Both books initially appear to straddle the line between the horror and murder mystery genres, it was not immediately clear whether there was a supernatural explanation for what was happening. I find these to be fairly quick, light reads, not the best thing ever, but readable and entertaining. It's worth giving it a try from the library if one is already interested in horror or thrillers. (There's a moderate amount of murder or other violent acts in these stories, but there's not much detail provided about those events.) 
  • Hidden Valley Road by Robert Kolker - This is, hands down, my favorite of this month's books. It's just a very well-written deep dive into the story of a large family profoundly affected by schizophrenia, with six of 12 children diagnosed. It's such a good book, but also incredibly sad, as the disease brought considerable pain and tragedy into all their lives over several decades. This book reminded me somewhat of Andrew Solomon's Far From the Tree, which is also extremely well-written and also addressed the theme of families grappling with the difficulties of caring for children who are indelibly different from their parents, including when the children's differences sometimes cause harm or grief to other family members. 

I also picked up one book this month I ultimately couldn't finish: Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld. I really enjoy Sittenfeld's writing, I've read three of her other books to date (American Wife, Eligible, and the short story collection You Think It, I'll Say Itand enjoyed them all greatly. But the premise of this novel - about Hilary Rodham in an alternate universe where she didn't marry Bill Clinton, and yes, they're referred to by their real names - was just too weird for me, essentially fanfiction about real people. The book is well-written, tasteful, and definitely not trying to be overly salacious, but the concept was just too strange for me to stick with. 

Have you read anything good recently? If you've read any of the books I mentioned, what did you think?

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