Three books from my to-read list.

There was a time not so long ago when I thought the only books I liked were sci-fi books and fantasy books. I was convinced — utterly convinced! — that there was nothing for me in any other genre out there. Why would I want to read about real life, or even fictitious real life, when I could read about, I dunno, dragons or space ships? This was a fact of the universe that could not be changed, until I had a supervisor several years ago recommend a fiction book to me (The One-in-a-Million Boy actually). I read it in like two days, and boy did it ever broaden my literary horizons.

Today I have a to-read list on Goodreads that’s 253 items long and growing almost daily. It’s become more of a shortlist I pick from when I need something to read more than a list I have a feasible chance of working through in my lifetime. I’ve got a little bit of everything featured on this shortlist, fiction and nonfiction alike. Topics are all over the board, as I quickly discovered that even mundane sounding topics can be super interesting with the right writer.

I thought maybe I’d do a feature once a month (or twice a month?) where I take three random books off my to-read list and talk about what got them there. Maybe I’ll even sell you on some of these books too.

The Aquariums of Pyongyang by Kang Chol-Hwan & Pierre Rigoulot

I discovered last year that I have a particular fascination with North Korean memoirs, nonfiction accounts, and other stories from this reclusive country. It’s tragic what the government has done to its people and its country in its blind isolationism. I’ve read five other memoirs from escapees and other perspectives into North Korea, and I’m always struck by how mistreated its citizens are, through abject poverty, terrible living conditions, starvation, work camps, the list goes on. It’s really sad. When I read those other five books last year, I read them one after the other and needed to take a break from the topic when I was done. This one will be my return to it, eventually.

The Diary of Lady Murasaki by Murasaki Shikibu

This one is an interesting inclusion on my list. Way back in the way back of 2017 I read an adaptation of Journey to the West (where the Monkey King character you see in many other books, movies, anime, and video games these days originates). I liked it well enough, but one of the suggestions Goodreads offered up when I was done with it was this interesting person. Murasaki Shikibu was the author of The Tale of Genji, commonly thought to be the world’s first novel, and written sometime before 1021 AD. Murasaki is not her real name as her real name is unknown. This diary was written by her before she completed The Tale of Genji and covers the period of time she spent at the imperial court. She sounds like a fascinating person, as she was fluent at reading and writing, unheard of for women in that time period.

Mutiny on the Bounty by Charles Nordhoff & James Norman Hall

Nautical adventure! I’m not sure there’s much more that needs to be said. I’m a big fan of the water, of boats, and of adventures, so it seems only natural to include this on my list of things to read. We had a discussion about nautical books in the Book Lover’s Club Discord server I’m in last month, and this was one of the (many) that I added that night. Other books added that night include Master and Commander by Patrick O’Brian, and Richiard Bolitho – Midshipman by Alexander Kent and Douglas Reeman. Some of these are heavier on the lingo and the details than others, but I don’t mind. Adventure books are cool.

So there you go, three books off my to-read list! I’m sure I have stories for all 200+ on the list, so I’m sure I’ll revisit this topic again!

I know why the wind-up bird sings.

I admit it, I’m a big Murakami nerd. I know, I can hear your eyes rolling from here, but I promise I’m not the pretentious type that only reads it in public with the cover prominently displayed. I don’t dramatically adjust my glasses (much) and start talking about the symbolism of wells and water and how everything in the book has meaning even if it doesn’t seem to make sense. I’ll be the first to admit that a lot of Murakami’s more obscure reference and allusions go over my rural public school head.

But I still love Murakami.

I had been putting off reading The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle for a year or so, for reasons I don’t really recall anymore. I added it to my Definitely Read These in 2020 shelf on Goodreads, and decided to read it over the quarantine period, mostly because everyone in my book club Discord server told me how good it was. I’m very glad I listened.

At its core, the book’s message is about avoiding stagnation in your life. The main character (whose name is mentioned repeatedly but is still forgettable, by design I think) leads a mundane, aimless life. He’s jobless, without goals or ambitions, and doesn’t seem very keen on changing that. He’s not lazy exactly, maybe adrift is a better word? He’s married too, but his marriage seems passionless and emotionless. A phonecall (one of several, Murakami uses the telephone as a literary device) sets him on a new course, and most of the book is devoted to him being put into increasingly uncomfortable and bizarre circumstances as he tries to hold on desperately to his stagnant life. The book’s climax comes when he realizes that he *has* to move forward, and to do that he has to confront all the things that had been threatening him up to that point. It’s only then that his life, stagnant and unmoving up until then, finally starts moving on.

Of course, Murakami does what Murakami does and frosts that core message with beautiful imagery, themes, allusions, and a whole host of characters that really double as something (or someone) else in his life. There’s a lot to unpack in his books, and he is one of the only writers that I would willingly re-read (I never re-read books, truth). His writing style is super unique, and I find it super compelling as well. Either you really click with it, or you really don’t.

This ended up on my list of favorites for this year. 5 stars, would definitely read again.

Not exactly wuxia, not exactly unwelcome.

What up book nerds! I realize I’ve been quiet for a week or more now, but we had a hot water heater breathe its last breath (gurgle its last….gurgle?) and I’ve been helping my husband with the fallout projects. I’m getting a new laundry area out of the deal, so it felt appropriate to pitch in.

Unfortunately because I’ve been doing that, I haven’t had as much time to read as I normally do, and I’ve been reading some truly monster-sized books, so my forward progress on my book goals for the year is basically nil. I did, however, have an ARC opportunity fall in my lap for Zen Cho’s The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water thanks to NetGalley and MacMillan Tor/Forge publishing, and I couldn’t pass up a cover like that. It’s gorgeous. Fortunately it was also a short novella (I think it came in at 160 pages or something like that), so I was able to knock it out in a few days.

The book blurb claimed it was for wuxia fans, but I found very little wuxia in the actual book. For people who are unaware of what the wuxia genre is, it’s a Chinese word literally translated as “martial heroes” and encompasses martial arts adventures. Think Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, or any other movie/book you’ve read where the weapons and moves are all named, the action is exaggerated and fantastical, and sometimes there’s some humor involved. This novella had very little of any of that, but despite not getting what I was expecting, I greatly enjoyed my time with this book. Where I expected fantastical fight scenes, I got a quiet and thoughtful story about motives, relationships, theology, and what makes a family. The author also includes some LGBT themes which I think were handled well. I’m taking great care to not leave spoilers here, but I will say that I found the ending touching and a satisfying conclusion to this short novella.

In terms of shortcomings, I will say that this book was light on descriptions and details. Places, actions, and characters are all very minimally introduced and described, which sometimes made it difficult for me to “see” how things were playing out. Things also (by novella necessity, I guess) play out rather quickly, and some character developments and motives take place more rapidly than maybe is believable. I found it easy to overlook a lot of these flaws, though, because I was enjoying the novella so much.

I rated this 4 stars on Goodreads for how much I enjoyed it despite not finding the wuxia elements I expected based on the blurb. I took a star off for those missing elements, and also the minor shortcomings I pointed out above. If anything I’ve said here sounds interesting to you (even if it’s the cover art alone), I recommend giving this novella a try. Let me know what you think!

What I’ve been reading this week.

I haven’t forgotten about this already, I swear. I was feeling under the weather this weekend, and didn’t have the energy to post. We’re back to our regularly unscheduled program now, or should be anyway.

Just to touch on briefly what I’ve been reading, here’s a weekly(ish) roundup! I’ll try and do this weekly, but we’ll see how things go. I have post ideas lined up, I just have to actually, y’know, do the thing about writing them.

The Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas (pg. 343/1276)

I’m making good time through this book, despite it being so long and taking some time off the last few days to rest. It’s a surprisingly easy read for it being both a classic book and so long, but I suppose if it were boring and dense I wouldn’t be bothering with it. The plot lagged a little in the beginning while the author set the stage, but now that Dantes is well on his path of benevolence and revenge it’s moving fairly quickly. I’m super interested to see how he deals with the people who wronged him, as up until now he’s just been visiting kindness on his friends and benefactors. I also am very unfamiliar with the plot past this point, so I’m excited to fill in this huge book-shaped hole in my classics knowledge.

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle – Haruki Murakami (pg. 146/607)

On the other side of the coin, I’m slowly making my way through this book. It’s a good book, but deep, and requires my two brain cells to do more than they’re accustomed to in order to really get meaning out of what I’m reading. Because I was sick I put this one on the back burner a little bit, but I’m eager to put some serious time into it. I’ll be up front and say that it isn’t grabbing me as much as other Murakami books have, but someone on my Instagram post (@eric.in.words) pointed out that it’s a book that you don’t realize you like it so much until you’re done with it. I pondered that for a minute and realized that that’s my feelings for a lot of his works. They aren’t in-the-moment grabbers, but books you think a lot about when you’re done. It was encouraging to hear, and I’m planning on enjoying the ride and assessing my feelings about it when I’m done.

And that’s really all I made progress on this week. I also have an audiobook on hold, but because I haven’t really gone anywhere (thanks COVID-19!) I haven’t really had an opportunity to finish it off.

Thanks to my cat Cleo for being such a patient book prop.

What I’ve been reading this week.

I’m still in the process of cementing a schedule for this blog, but one of the things I do want to consistently include is a weekly recap of what I’ve been reading. I think this will let me better cement my thoughts about my books, and you guys are a captive audience anyway and are subject to my whims and fancy. I’m thinking Saturday is a good day for this, mostly because today is Saturday and it seemed like a good idea today. This is how most of my ideas work, actually. I’ll try and keep it spoiler free as best I can.

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle – Haruki Murakami (pg. 56/607)

Not the easiest author to read, but still consistently one of my favorites. Haruki Murakami’s style is very surreal, and can be a lot to unpack sometimes. Even though The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is one of his better known works (and highly rated), it’s taken me several years to finally sit down and read it. I’m not very far in, but I’ve enjoyed what I’ve read so far. I’ve never been good at deep diving into what an author really means and tracking down each obscure reference, so a lot of my experience with Murakami is at face value. Nevertheless, his descriptions and writing style of even the most mundane actions never fail to pull me in and let me live life alongside the main character. It’s not the most action-oriented book ever (so far?), but I’m still enjoying it.

The Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas (pg. 52/1276(!!!))

The longest book I’ve ever sat down to read, by quite a few hundred pages (I think the longest up ’til now was Brent Weeks’ The Burning White at 992). It’s always been one of those books I felt like I should read but never had the time to. Luckily for me, my friends at the Book Lover’s Club Discord server started a buddy read of this doorstop of a book this month, with the intent of us all finishing it by the end of June. I remain cautiously optimistic that I’ll be able to meet this deadline.

So far not a lot has been going on in the book, but I’m only 52 pages in (that’s 4% for anyone keeping track at home). I’ve just been introduced to a lot of the main players, the plot has been set up by the antagonists, and partially executed. I look forward to seeing where “The Count” comes in, what/where “Monte Cristo” is (other than a sandwich), and how our protagonist handles things. I know very little specifics about the plot, so I’m going in mostly blind.

Refuse to Choose! – Barbara Sher (83%)

I made a blog post about this book specifically earlier this week so I’ll keep this brief-ish. I’ve read a lot since even the post I made, and have come away with a lot of different noteworthy realizations and practices that will maybe help going forward. I don’t really know what the end goal of this is, since I have a career goal I’m excited about and a tolerant husband who lets me indulge most of my whims, but having some additional organizational tools in my arsenal might help going forward.

In addition to the realization that I’m a “scanner”, the book also drilled down and explored the different types of “scanners” and how they tick. I’m a bit of a Sybil (major clutter problem, pulled in a million different project directions at once and act on none of them, afraid I’ll never complete anything), a Jack-of-all-Trades (good at a lot of things I try but never master any, wish I had a passion in just one thing), and a Wanderer (interested in unrelated activities/knowledge for no reason, intrigued by things other people find boring, lack direction). From these chapters, I also started creating a OneNote board outlining all the different projects I’d like to work on, and some information about each of them. I also split apart “work” projects from “play” projects because I felt like the distinction was necessary. One of the quotes the author related from someone she interviewed really hit home especially hard:

“I sat in the middle of all the things I’d started and dropped, and they seemed like a worthless waste of time.”

Barbara Sher, “Refuse to Choose!” pg. 37

This is a deep fear of mine. I’ve never really wanted fame, fortune, or a ton of recognition for anything I do, but I do desperately want to matter. I want to leave behind something that someone else finds value in, even if it’s just a small project at work (or a vanity blog on the internet, apparently). I have started so many projects that I’ve just dropped for no reason other than losing interest, forgetting about it, or getting discouraged. This book really outlined a lot of my fears in a clear way, and it’s giving me tools to address some of them. I can’t really ask for anything more than that from a book.

So, that’s what I’ve been up to this week! Have you been reading anything? Let me know in the comments!

Refuse to Choose! Or, my justification for a messy shelf.

Here on the island of misfit projects…

After kvetching about not having anything to do this month, a friend asked, “What sort of creative project would you like to accomplish?” I lined up a whole postit note of things, ranging from learning how to knit to photography. Instead of being motivated for a creative project, I was tasked this week with reading Barbara Sher’s Refuse to Choose! by that same friend. I’m not sure how to take that.

I’m almost positive this is my first self help book I’ve ever read, and just the fact that I felt the need to explain myself shows how much I avoid the genre. It’s a vast sea of motivational posters, cash grabs, and don’t-do-stupid-things-with-your-money advice that just never had anything for me. Because I respect my friend’s advice, though, I’m giving it a shot.

I’m currently a third of the way through, and I find myself nodding along with a lot of what’s being presented to me. I’ve learned that I’m (supposedly) a “scanner”, or someone who dabbles in a lot of different things because our minds are (supposedly) wired differently. I start projects and don’t finish them. I have project ideas and don’t act on them. I enjoy my job because I never really know what I’m going to be doing on a daily basis. Creative solutions are my jam. “Boredom is excruciating” the author states, something me and this blog can attest to. I also am afraid of anything less than perfection, so the vast majority of my projects are never completed. Despite that, I’m also afraid of never completing a project and never leaving a mark that I ever existed. It’s a strange world in the mind of a (supposedly) “scanner”, and this book has been mildly uncomfortable to read.

There’s not a lot in the way of scientific fact in the book, and even the term “scanner” is coined by the author herself, so it’s hard to say how much of this is actually true. At the point of the book where I’m at there’s been a lot of self-affirmation and encouragement that being a “scanner” isn’t wrong, but not a lot in the way of steps to take from here. She suggests making a “Scanner Daybook”, which essentially is just a notebook of ideas and projects you’re supposed to write in daily, as well as writing prompts and such while you’re reading her book. I haven’t been keeping one because I’m not sure how badly I need it.

So I guess this is just a meandering way of saying that I’m cautiously enjoying this book, if only for the self affirmation and encouragement to keep half-starting projects and not actually completing anything. This blog wouldn’t exist if I wasn’t reading the book, I don’t think. How meta.