Last year, in addition to formally stepping back from DW for about eight months – and now I’m formally stepping back in a little more regularly! – I also informally stepped back from reading books. The latter break definitely wasn’t planned; it just kind of happened. I checked out fewer books from the library, I don’t think I bought any books at all, and of the twenty-five or so books I borrowed, I only got through maybe seven or eight of them. It was the least amount of book-reading I think I’ve ever done in a year. I did a lot of other things with my time – not all of it embarrassing or wasteful! – but this year, I’m making a concerted effort to read more books again. And I realized that, for me, that means focusing a little more on memoirs, since that’s my favorite genre. Yes, it took me until 46 years old to figure out that reading one’s favorite genre 75% of the time rather than like 25% of the time increases one’s enjoyment of reading!
Anyway, as part of my effort to read more this year, I’d love to talk books with you all. I’ll start!
Yesterday I finished reading a memoir called Acne by Lisa Chinn (who is not an Asian American writer, despite the sound of her name, but is actually half Caucasian and half African American) – a story about Chinn’s fucked up and sad childhood and the horrible acne she has endured, off and on, since she was ten years old, the year her parents split and a few years before her brother would get brain cancer and lose his eyesight and hearing. Despite her grim upbringing, Chinn’s voice crackles with sardonic humor. And her compassion and love for her family, despite their giant flaws, is the enduring theme.
Of the few books I read last year, the ones I liked the most were:
The Sound of Gravel
A devastating memoir about growing up in a polygamist family in Mexico and various areas of the Southwest with a deeply flawed and negligent mother whose capabilities could never measure up to her love.
Eva’s Story: A Survivor’s Story
Eva is the (still living) posthumous stepsister of Anne Frank (her mother married Anne’s father after the war), and she was 15 when her family was sent to a concentration camp. This is the story of how she and her mother survived and went on to make new, long lives for themselves.
Once More We Saw Stars
A memoir about a married couple living in Brooklyn who lose their toddler to a freak accident and learn to pick up the pieces and carry on through their grief.
The novel is a sprawling saga that “chronicles the hopes and dreams of a Korean immigrant family across four generations as they leave their homeland in an indomitable quest to survive and thrive.” This was turned into a TV series that aired last year, but I haven’t seen it yet.
And honorable mention:
The Invisible Kingdom: Reimagining Chronic Illness
Part memoir, part investigative journalism into the web of autoimmunities, of which I have several (including one the author shares), which I’m sure is why this book resonated so much with me. Interesting info is shared with compassion, empathy, and understanding, and it gave me a better sense of what’s going on with my body, especially in relation to a medical system that has a long way to go in effectively treating the myriad chronic illnesses so many of us have.
After I finished Acne yesterday, I immediately started a memoir called Minor Feelings: an Asian American Reckoning, which is part memoir, part cultural critique of life in the US for Asian Americans. And on my holds list, currently: A Heart That Works, a memoir by actor Rob Delaney about the loss of his toddler son to cancer; I’m Glad My Mom Died, which I don’t know anything about beyond the title and that lots of people love it. And two novels, both with the same word in their titles: This Time Tomorrow by Emma Straub, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin. I also will likely add to my holds list a book called Young Mungo by Douglas Stuart (author of Shuggie Bain), which my friend – and former His Take contributor – Matty raved about recently, and he and I tend to like similar books.
Have you read any of these? Are any on your own list to read this year? What are some faves? Do you have any reading goals and/or strategies to read more?