It's been a very busy fall/winter but thankfully, there's always time for reading. Here's what has been keeping me sane for the past few months:
Mr. Penumbra's 24-hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
It's rare that I browse library shelves these days: normally I put items on hold based on suggestions or my mile-long For Later list. But my partner and I were heading off on a road trip and needed audio-books stat, so I quickly scanned the shelf and grabbed a few that looked interesting.
This one was a winner. It's a light-hearted mystery/adventure story dealing with secret societies, code-breaking, Google, and of course, an old bookstore. I grabbed it because the summary compared it to Neal Stephenson (one of my favourite authors) and Haruki Murakami (someone I've always meant to read) and while I don't think it quite lived up to their artistry, it made the hours in the car fly by.
In fact, we were so intent on finishing it that when there was a scratch on the last CD and we couldn't listen to the final chapter, I got the hard copy from the library and Matt read it to me while I washed dishes.
My Year of Meats by Ruth Ozeki
I fell hard for Ozeki's book A Tale for the Time Being (which I wrote about in this post) and wanted to get my hands on anything else by her. This one is about the American and Japanese meat industries, reality TV, love, loneliness, culture shock, and the search for the truth. It's her first novel and while it took me a little while to get into it I was racing through it before long. A large cast of characters from both Japan and the U.S. are eloquently drawn and pitted against each other with both hilarious and tragic results.
Fifteen Dogs: An Apologue by André Alexis
This was my last pick for book club and while I can't say that I always enjoyed reading it (one scene in particular had me weeping big fat tears into the bowl of soup I was eating) it was a really engaging read and provoked a lot of discussion in our book club. Apollo and Hermes bet on whether human intelligence will make fifteen dogs more or less miserable than humans and it all hinges on whether any of them feel happy in their final moments before death. The dogs' lives after the change are pretty brutal but the exploration of consciousness, and especially of language, is fascinating.
The Gap of Time: The Winter's Tale Retold (Hogarth Shakespeare) by Jeanette Winterson
Since I loved the Margaret Atwood retelling of The Tempest so much (see this post), I thought I would try another Shakespeare retelling from the Hogarth series by one of my favourite authors. Winterson tackles the Winter's Tale, one of Shakespeare's "problem plays", and the result is a delight. Her writing has always sparkled with deep truth and magic for me and this story was no different.
A Breath of Snow and Ashes by Diana Gabaldon
I've been slowly working my way through the Outlander series and this is the 6th book. These characters have become so familiar that I tend to gravitate towards these stories during times of stress. I was really happy that I could download the audiobook on my phone so that I could take it everywhere with me. There were a few sleepless nights back in September when I listened to this for hours before nodding off: it felt like the company of good friends.
Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life by Thich Nhất Hạnh
I love Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh's writings. They're so simple but can truly transform the way you see the world, if you let them. This book has been my bedtime reading for the past few weeks, helping to soothe me into sleep. Some of my favourite quotes include:
"When we do not trouble ourselves about whether or not something is a work of art, if we just act in each moment with composure and mindfulness, each minute of our life is a work of art."
"Are you massaging our Mother Earth every time your foot touches her? Are you planting seeds of joy and peace?"
"Each time you look at a tangerine, you can see deeply into it. You can see everything in the universe in one tangerine."
Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone by Brené Brown
This book should be required reading. Brown talks about learning how to belong to yourself so that you can find belonging everywhere, about the difference between belonging and fitting in, how to compassionately stand up to bullshit, and so much more. This could be a manual for survival in our fractured, angry world. This is how we find our way back to each other and how we make the world better.
To me the most important takeaway is:
"If we can find a way to feel hurt rather than spread hurt, we can change."
Paper Girls 1 & 2 by Brian K. Vaughan
I'm loving this series so far! A young girl out on her paper route in 1988 makes some new friends while time-travelling and fighting aliens.
The Encyclopedia of Early Earth by Isabel Greenberg
Humanity's origin stories, beautifully re-imagined and centred around one character: a travelling story-teller from the land of Nord (modeled after the Inuit) who is looking for a missing piece of himself. These made-up myths and legends are beautifully illustrated and hauntingly poignant.
Boundless by Jillian Tamaki
A collection of graphic short stories about whimsical and heart-rending subjects like a woman who finds herself shrinking a little more each day, a woman who finds herself obsessed with her online alter-ego, and a cult that forms up around a mysterious recording. Each one is a lovely nugget of image and story perfectly combined.