Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

What are You Reading?

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?

24 comments… add one
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    LadyInPurpleNotRed January 23, 2023, 9:23 am

    I read I’m Glad My Mom Died–very engaging and sad to read, but glad to see she’s doing okay.

    I also read The Sound of Gravel based on your recommendation–all I can say is wow.

    A fiction book I just finished and would recommend: You Made a Fool of Death with Your Beauty by Akwaeke Emezi.

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  • ktfran January 23, 2023, 9:48 am

    I need to get back into reading too. My favorite genre is suspense. Louise Penny released a new book recently that will be a good start to the new year. I love her Three Pines series.

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      Dear Wendy January 23, 2023, 10:14 am

      I rarely read suspense but there have been a couple in the past five years or so that I’ve enjoyed, and I think posted about here. Long Bright River is one I’m thinking of.

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      • ktfran January 23, 2023, 10:28 am


        The Bobbsey Twins were my first foray into suspense reading. Then, at like 12 or something, I started reading my mom’s Mary Higgins Clark books. They’re kind of predictable, but I loved the strong female characters she created. I was so sad when she passed in Jan 2020. I remember being in Kenya when I read that news. I definitely miss her yearly book release.

    • Kate January 23, 2023, 10:35 am

      The new Louise Penney one is worth reading, although all the stuff about the residents of Three Pines is not my cup of tea. But the plot is interesting.

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  • peggy January 23, 2023, 10:28 am

    The Louise Penny books are amazing. They combine interesting mystery/murder with a regular cast of police/detectives and their personal lives and connections.
    The stories often weave in events or real people from history as well. Then it is capped off with ethical and moral dilemmas and “food” for thought. They never disappoint!

    I also found a 4 books series of detective/mystery based on American history in the early years of the last century. The author is Mariah Fredericks . The main character is Jane,a ladies maid to wealthy familes. Very engaging.
    An older but excellent book on health and stress is “When the Body Says No” by Gabor Mate.

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  • Kate January 23, 2023, 10:36 am

    For people who like books like All the Light We Cannot See, definitely check out All the Broken Places. So good.

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  • CattyGoLightly January 23, 2023, 10:42 am

    I also love a good memoir. I just finished Crying in H Mart (it made me sad and incredibly hungry), and read I’m Glad My Mom Died a few months ago (also sad and centered on food, but for different reasons). I listened to You’ll Grow Out of It by Jessi Klein and Fly Girl by Ann Hood, which was about being a flight attendant in the… I want to say 80’s. It wasn’t my favorite of all time, but entertaining enough. It made me angry about past pay cuts and how little profit can be given to workers, and quality of life, and how shitty and expensive and hard everything feels sometimes, even though I don’t think this was the author’s point. At least, it wasn’t on a grand scale, I think.

    I read the Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, which was enjoyable. The older I get the harder I find it to sink into a story and remove myself from reality. I’ve been trying to read A Court of Thorns and Roses after a friend recommended it. The main character is a moron, however, and I don’t think I can go through a whole series through her POV. Which is kind of a shame because I used to love see fantasy as a kid, but I just haven’t been able to find anything in this genre that speaks to me for a long time.

    Oh!! I read The Vanishing Half over the summer and really enjoyed it.

    It’s not a new book, and I’m not an “Eat, Pray, Love” person (at least wasn’t when I picked the book up years ago), but I really enjoyed Elizabeth Gilbert’s book “The Signature of All Things.”

    I’m definitely adding some from your list to my list!

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      Dear Wendy January 23, 2023, 12:51 pm

      Ooh, definitely going to check out some of these – thanks!

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      Lucidity January 23, 2023, 2:36 pm

      I also used to love fantasy but can’t find anything that speaks to me anymore. Except – have you read The Magicians trilogy? It’s Narnia meets Harry Potter, for adults. I haven’t been able to get so engrossed in fiction for a long time. It just blew me away. I’ve reread it three times and that’s very unusual for me.

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      • CattyGoLightly January 23, 2023, 3:57 pm

        I haven’t!! I will have to check it out. I’ve been kind of desperate for a good fantasy read, but the main characters always just seem kind of half baked and prone to making terrible decisions for no good reason.

      • CattyGoLightly January 23, 2023, 3:58 pm

        (also thank you!)

  • Emily January 23, 2023, 11:32 am

    Yay memoirs!

    Molly Shannon’s memoir was so good! Im Glad my mom died is great. I actually listened to it on audible and enjoyed that.

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      Dear Wendy January 23, 2023, 12:06 pm

      Oh, I’ve been meaning to read Molly Shannon’s memoir – thanks for the reminder!

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  • Andrea January 23, 2023, 11:33 am

    I’m so glad you liked Pachinko, superb book. I’m working on my focus while reading bc it’s affected by the lure of my phone. I liked Louise Erdrich’s The Sentence. I’m reading and liking To Paradise by Hanya Yanagihara, an alternative history of the U.S., starting in NYC.

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      Dear Wendy January 23, 2023, 12:07 pm

      I checked out The Sentence last year, along with a few other books at the same time, and didn’t get to reading it before it was due back. Maybe I’ll try again.

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    • Anonymousse January 23, 2023, 7:09 pm

      Love anything Erdrich writes! She’s been busy lately, it seems. The pandemic did not slow her.

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    Moneypenny January 23, 2023, 1:29 pm

    I’m currently reading The Wine Lover’s Daughter by Anne Fadiman for my book club, and I just can’t get into it. Some chapters are engaging, and others are just not, and it’s been a struggle.

    I recently read The Glass Hotel and Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel, which were excellent. I have two more, Last Night in Montreal and The Lola Quartet sitting here and I’m looking forward to reading them!

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    MaterialsGirl January 23, 2023, 6:12 pm

    I also have been trying to read more. With young children, it can be a bit difficult squeezing in some time at the end of the day (or anytime).
    I just read Lauren Fleshman’s memoir “good for a girl.” IT IS EXCELLENT. Touches a lot on women in sports, her relationship with her father, an alcoholic, and her decisions to advocate for change. It’s profound even if you didn’t grow up on a cross country team.

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  • Anonymousse January 23, 2023, 7:20 pm

    It’s kind of funny because I would say I don’t like to read memoirs or nonfiction, I prefer fiction, epic novels…but that’s not true. Right now I’m reading in no order:

    Victoria: The Queen
    Nomads: The wanderers who shaped our world
    Desperate Remedies: Psychiatry’s turbulent quest to cure mental illness
    Spook: science tackles the afterlife

    And last but never least:

    The Talisman- by Peter Straub (Emma Straub’s dad!) and Steven King. It’s an oldie but PS was one of the first thriller writers that got under my skin. He passed last year and I’ve been rereading some of his books. Her book you mentioned above is a love letter to him, Wendy. I love her novels and how light they are but also kind of full of drama and intrigue.

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    • Anonymousse January 23, 2023, 7:41 pm

      Ha ha, I also just got Very Good Hats, a children’s books by Emma Straub. She just got viral because she was set to tour some TX public schools and read her new book but right wing moms/nuts in TX decided her liberal hate of guns and liberal use of the word fuck on her socials was too scary to let near the children.

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  • Kate January 25, 2023, 1:40 pm

    I’m on vacation and just finished A Time to Kill by John Grisham. I probably saw the movie in the 90s but the book is SO GOOD. It made me cry at the end 😢.

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