Thursday, February 02, 2023

Everything I Read in January 2023 (in brief)


1. How to Connect (Mindfulness Essentials #8) by Thich Nhat Hanh - In June of 2022 I read a Thich Nhat Hanh book and a book of Mary Oliver's poetry and both were so refreshing that I decided to start the year with the two authors, although I got a later start on Mary Oliver. I was right, it's a good idea to start the year with Thich Nhat Hanh. While this particular book is very short (I read it on my Kindle app, which claimed it should take 37 minutes to read but then fell asleep reading so it took me a bit longer), it is the usual blend of soothing, thought-provoking, and instructional. (e-book)

2. Foster by Claire Keegan - A little girl is taken to her aunt and uncle's house for the summer, although she has no idea how long she'll be there or why she's been sent away. As the summer progresses, she learns what it means to be truly loved and cared for as her foster parents teach her to work in the kitchen and gardens, draw water from the well, and run fast. They keep her clean, well-fed, and clothed. She learns about the family's tragic past and senses that her foster parents are happy to have her around. When the summer ends, will she have to return home? Another wonderful book by Keegan, a new favorite author. I want to read everything she's written. (e-book/Hoopla)

X. Scout Stories #1 by Nick Carr - This zine is not big enough to count as a book but I think it's worth mentioning. Nick Carr is a location scout for various film productions. I started following him when he posted under the name "Scouting New York" on Facebook (and probably Twitter) for the fascinating photos of New York that he took and the stories that went with them. He has since branched out and no longer does all of his scouting in New York. This first zine has some of his stories and photos, including a series of photos of the Boneyard where planes are taken to be dismantled for parts. It's like sitting down for coffee with a very entertaining friend who has lived a full life and has time to share a handful of anecdotes. I loved it. I would love it if someone would publish a coffee table book of his stories and photos. 

3. McSweeney's, Issue #69 - I think this is the second issue of McSweeney's Quarterly Concern that I've read and I'm beginning to detect some stylistic commonalities in the choices they make. Not to say that they all sound alike but there's just a similar feel to them in some offbeat way. At any rate, I am loving McSweeney's and glad I finally took the plunge and bought a subscription, plus a couple of back issues. As always, I liked some of the stories better than others. That's always going to be true. I'm a short story fan and good with that. I like reading collections for variety, anthologies for consistency. My favorite in this issue was surprising: a story about two trans males glamping and the tension over their separate Go Fund Me accounts (one successful, one not) for the same procedure they're hoping to get. When they have an argument, one goes off for a walk and what he comes across is hilarious. I don't want to ruin it, but I just loved the absurdity of the story, "18 or 35 Miles from Perennial Square" by Max Delsohn. 

4. No Surrender: My Thirty Year War by Hiroo Onoda - If you're a WWII aficionado, you may have heard of Hiroo Onoda, a Japanese soldier who was sent to the small Philippine Island of Lubang in 1944 and stayed in the jungle for 30 years, at first with some of his comrades and then finally alone after two of them were killed. It's fascinating not only for the survival skills that they honed and how they managed to stay hidden for so long but also for the ways in which they managed to convince themselves that every attempt to lure them out of the woods because the war had ended was a ploy by the enemy (chiefly, the Americans). It's a story of determination, absolute adherence to duty, and how humans fool themselves. I was deeply touched by the ending, when Onoda left the island alone, mourning the leaving of his friends' spirits on the island when they had hoped to return to Japan together. 

5. Space Cat Visits Venus by Ruthven Todd and Paul Galdone (illustrator) - Second in the Space Cat series, the first of which I read in 2022, sees Flyball and his human now living on the moon and waiting while a new rocket is built. The two of them fly to Venus and find that under the heavy clouds that nobody can see beyond is a world lit by violet light and ruled by plants. Only a 6-legged mouse-like creature represents the animal community and the plants live on a daily ammonia rain from which Flyball and his human must protect themselves. They learn to communicate with the plants — and each other! I found it particularly fascinating how one man imagined the fantastical surface of a planet nobody has landed upon and how he visualized space flight. Published in 1955 and illustrated by the same author who illustrated the award-winning Anatole books. (e-book/Hoopla)

6. We're Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury - I followed Michael Rosen on the Bird Site for years without actually paying attention to him until he slapped back at someone who accused him of sitting in an ivory tower safely while Covid raged. Curious, I read the memoir he wrote about his experience recovering from a coma after being hospitalized with Covid. Before that, I looked him up and watched the video of him reading/performing this children's picture book that was published in 1989. What an expressive guy! I am not good with phones and kept accidentally closing the video but I loved what I saw and grabbed a copy when I came across it at Book Outlet. I love it. The ending made me laugh. Since there aren't any little ones in the house, I read it to the cats. I'm sure they enjoyed it, too. That might be what that wide-eyed look meant, right? 

7. Marshmallow by Clare Turlay Newberry - Another older children's book (originally published in 1942), I bought Marshmallow at the same time because I was craving children's books, the one thing I really, really miss about reviewing for publishers. Marshmallow is a true story, according to the author. Oliver is a tabby cat who lives indoors and has never encountered other animals. When his human brings home a tiny baby bunny, he's at first frightened and then tries to pounce on it. He's separated from the bunny but when he manages to escape from his room, Marshmallow confuses Oliver for his mother and snuggles up to him. In response, Oliver treats Marshmallow as his own kitten. So sweet and the illustrations are gorgeous. Marshmallow is a Caldecott medalist. 

8. Before and After by Andrew Shanahan - A dystopian tale about a 600-pound man. Ben Stone is morbidly obese and diabetic. On the day he is to be taken to the hospital, a wall of his apartment is removed and he's strapped down to be hoisted through the wall. But, then all hell breaks loose. A disease has stricken the world and Ben is stuck in an apartment missing the exterior wall with his tiny dog while outside there are zombie-like people who are dangerously angry, called "wraths". Ben has no food in the apartment and he can't leave. So, he drinks water and begins to lose weight. While this book is dystopian, it's really about paralyzing anxiety, bullying, fat-shaming, love and kindness (his
 mother's love for Ben; his love for his dog), and ultimately about summoning the courage to do the thing you find most difficult. Loved the author's sense of humor. 

9. Solutions and Other Problems by Allie Brosh - Allie Brosh's first book about her struggles with depression, Hyperbole and a Half, was a little too relatable to me but I loved it for that. Solutions and Other Problems does contain some stories about her mental health issues but it's less cohesive, a broad range of anecdotes with the graphic illustrations she's known for, beginning with her determination to fit into a bucket at the age of 3. Very entertaining but at times a story would lose me a bit. And, I can't relate to divorce or drug and alcohol use because I'm a teetotaler but I still enjoyed reading about her life, for better or worse, and the hilarious antics of various animals in her life. While I didn't like Solutions and Other Problems as much as I loved Hyperbole and a Half, I highly recommend it. 

10. Dodsworth in London by Tim Egan - An early reader about Dodsworth (a mole, maybe?) and his friend the duck. While visiting London, Dodsworth and the duck become separated when the duck doesn't hear Dodsworth suggesting they wait for the next bus. But, there's another duck nearby, the Royal Duck. Both get on the next bus and Dodsworth thinks the Royal Duck is his friend being goofy with a British accent and a fancy hat. Then, Dodsworth realizes his mistake and the two go searching all over London for his friend. They're having no luck till the Royal Duck suggests asking the queen for help. A cute story with a sweet tale of a character desperately searching for his friend. I had two small problems with this book. I read it because it's set in London (and I love children's books) but there was no introduction of the characters because it's not the first in the series. A brief intro would have been helpful. Second, there were some flaws in the illustrations, chiefly the police uniform and car. 

11. Call of the Wild and White Fang by Jack London - I like Jack London's short stories better than these two classics but of the two I preferred White Fang. The beatings of dog and wolf and all of the animals attacking each other were difficult reading. I guessed the point was to show that nature is merciless but that is simply the way of the Wild and a friend commented that the "law of club and fang" was included with intention, she having studied it in school. 

12. McSweeney's, Issue #68 - There were no stories that stood out enough that I remember them, a couple weeks after reading, but I enjoy the short stories and letters in McSweeney's immensely and I'm so glad I finally caved and bought a subscription. 

13. Anatomy by Dana Schwartz - In 1817, Hazel lives in a castle and is promised to the future viscount of an Edinburgh family. All her life, she's wanted to be a doctor and has conducted experiments at home. But, when she finds out that an anatomy class for aspiring doctors is going to be held, she is determined to attend. Jack is a resurrection man, an impoverished teen who digs up bodies and sells them to doctors to dissect, among other jobs. When Hazel's deception is discovered and she's kicked out of class, she enlists Jack's help bringing her bodies (and then patients) so she can continue her studies. Well written but a bit gruesome and therefore not a favorite. 

14. Life Sentences by Billy O'Callaghan - Told in three sections, each in the voice of a member of the same family over several generations, this work of historical fiction begins with Jer's POV (Jeremiah). Jer and his sister Mamie grew up with a single mother. As Mamie is laid to rest, he burns with anger at the brother-in-law who made her life miserable and ponders his own life and meaning. Nancy, Jer and Mamie's mother, is a teenager when she leaves her island home to seek a living. Young and easily swayed by the advances of handsome gardener, she falls pregnant and ends up in a workhouse. Then, she falls even further. But she summons her courage and fills her home with love, eventually making a decent home for her children. Nellie is dying in the home of her daughter. The youngest of her siblings, she is not the first to go. As she reflects on her life, she remembers the heartbreak and love and how her family held her up when she needed comfort. A beautiful, heart-filling little gem of a book. At 220 pages, it could be read in a single sitting but I chose to stretch it out, one section per day so I could stay with Jer and his family a little longer. 

My favorites of the month were Life Sentences, Foster, No Surrender, and We're Going on a Bear Hunt but of all of these, Life Sentences is the one that had the deepest impact on me. I didn't read as much as I usually do in January (typically, my biggest reading month) but it was a terrific month with lots of really great reading. 

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