Books I Read In May 2022
Here’s my latest reading list from the month of May, with some poetry, memoir, art history, and brain science.
May found me travelling again, with long flights to and from Australia. This gave me a chance to do a little more reading than normal.
I was also able to finish some books that had been on my reading pile for quite a while.
Art & Energy: How Culture Changes by Barry Lord
We’re accustomed to thinking of art as evolving through different historical stages. Sometimes we connect that to broader cultural and political trends. In this highly original book, we’re encouraged to see art as a product of society’s relationship to its sources of energy and power. Water, steam, coal, oil… all begat different ways of organizing society, and art changed to reflect and challenge these changes. By positioning art at the intersection of economics and technology, Lord manages to create one of the most original and compelling arguments for how we should understand the way art shapes and influences culture. A fascinating book.
Crying In H Mart by Michelle Zauner
This memoir follows the author as she deals with the untimely death of her mother from cancer. Food – and especially recreating her mother’s favourite dishes – becomes central to this story of grief, coming of age, and reconciling mixed racial identities. Zauner is also the lead singer and guitarist of Grammy-nominated band Japanese Breakfast and proves herself here as a talented memoirist. One of the best books I’ve read this year.
Highcastle: A Remembrance by Stanisław Lem
My unfulfilled “lockdown project” was to read through the work of Lem, which had recently been released in new translations by MIT Press. Highcastle is a part memoir, part literary autobiography that opens a window into the origins of Lem’s imagination. Unfortunately, the prose is sometimes hard to take. Is a phrase like “…I wisely remained conservative as to content” meant to be witty and playful or pretentious and obtuse? Highcastle is at its best when Lem describes the world he grew up in. It’s there where Lem’s humour and creativity shine through, but the book is almost impenetrable when he takes us deep inside his own thoughts and theories.
How To Build A Healthy Brain by Kimberley Wilson
We are starting to learn more about the way diet affects our mental health. In this book, Wilson, a clinical psychologist with a master’s in nutrition (and a former finalist on The Great British Bake Off), unpacks a wealth of academically supported knowledge on how our bodies process food and how that shapes our brain and impacts our mental well-being. There are no fad diets or weird food trends here, just lots of detail and explanation and clear guidance on how to improve your health. Highly recommended.
The Trees Witness Everything by Victoria Chang
Waka is a set of syllabic forms used in the Japanese court during the Middle Ages. Here, Chang uses the forms along with titles from the work of W.S. Merlin to create a stirring collection of nature poems. Chang has quickly become one of my favourite contemporary poets. I was impressed by an earlier collection of hers, Obit, in January. Once again Chang has produced an exceptional piece of work.
We Are The Words: The Master Memoir Class by Beth Kephart
I wasn’t looking to read another book on the craft of writing, but Kephart is such a prolific writer and highly regarded teacher of writing that I relented. I’m glad I did. The best parts of this book are brilliant, full of clear practical ideas for improving your writing. If you’re trying to become better at crafting words at any level, there’s something here for you. But especially if you’re working on memoir, creative nonfiction, or any kind of biographical writing, then this book is full of suggestions that will make your work richer and a more rewarding read.
Some Are Always Hungry by Jihyun Yun
Nothing is as it seems and everything tells a story in this collection of poems. Like Crying in H Mart, this book excavates the Korean-American experience through family story and culinary culture. But in place of memoir and personal experience, we have daring poetry and intergenerational trauma. My favourites were the poems that played on the form of a recipe, with cooking instructions becoming unmoored from the kitchen and taking on a transcendent quality.
Other Books I’ve Read In 2022
Rather than use some other app or service I’ve chosen to collect all my reading here on the blog from now on. You can see my reading lists from other months here.
Books I Read In April 2022
Books I Read In March 2022
Books I Read In February 2022
Books I Read In January 2022