Books I Read In January 2022
Starting this month, I’ll be writing a monthly round-up of the books I’m reading. Here’s the first: short reviews of everything I read in January 2022.
This means a lot of books I read don’t get a mention. But I’d like to start a conversation around reading more this year. And, in particular, reading more broadly.
So, every month I’m going to post the books I read in the month (I’m a few days late here with January). The criterion is simple: books I finished in the month, regardless of when I started. In the future I might include books I didn’t finish, but for now all of these were read in full.
So, here’s to more reading in 2022, starting with the books I read in January.
No. 91/92: notes on a Parisian commute, by Lauren Elkin
The best way to explore any new city is by bus. Not a tourist bus. Just a regular commuter bus. Hop on and see how people live in that place. This short memoir chronicles the daily commute through Paris of a lecturer during a tumultuous year of collective and personal tragedy. It’s beautiful and poignant, in a way that feels full of detail but uses language economically, almost to the point of Zen-like simplicity.
The Art of Memoir, by Mary Karr
Famous for her fearlessly frank memoirs, here Karr takes on the role of mentor to potential memoir writers. In particular, Karr addresses the excuses we often make when we tell our own stories – from not being sure exactly what happened, not wanting to offend people, and what to do if we remember a moment differently from how others do. What emerges from Karr’s reflections says something not just to writers but to anyone who wants to fully own their lived experiences.
Hyphen, by Paris Mahdavi
Many of us express more than one national identity. British Indian, or Chinese Canadian, for example. In the US, this sometimes takes a hyphen: African-American, Italian-American (although usage is changing). This short book explores though memoir, ethnography, and the history of language the question of what it means to have a hyphenated identity. Our identities are becoming more intermingled over time, and this book asks a lot of questions about what this means for us and how the language we use to describe ourselves and others can shape the society we live in.
Major Labels: A History of Popular Music in Seven Genres, by Kelefa Sanneh
This isn’t a book about musicians. At many points, Sanneh doesn’t even seem to understand how musicians think about their craft. Rather, it’s a book about constructing your identity through the music you listen to and the genres you identify with. It’s a book about the intersection of music fandom and culture. This makes the omission of some current trends, like the popularity of K Pop and the near ubiquity of Latin influences on the charts, somewhat surprising. At times, I found myself wanting to argue with how Sanneh presented music’s recent history. But that debate, were it to happen, would probably resemble so many of the impassioned debates I used to have with my friends in record stores and when comparing mix tapes, back when music was a metaphor for everything that was good in life.
Obit, by Victoria Chang
This anthology of poems is about grief, which means it’s also about hope, or, at least, about how we continue to live when people and things and places we loved are gone. The opening inscription quotes Macbeth: “Give sorrow words.” Chang digs – almost archeologically – for the roots of sorrow to find exact moments when the parts of life crack and tear and reveal wounds that may never heal.
Letters to Wendy’s, by Joe Wenderoth
Imagine visiting a fast food store every day for a year and filling out one of those customer comment cards every time. That’s the premise of this funny, tragic, and at times surreal novel. Yes, it’s a comment on fast food and consumer culture, but it’s also so much more. Not all existential epiphanies happen in chic cafés.
Still Possible, by David Whyte
A collection of new poems by the popular poet David Whyte. I was introduced to his work through the On Being Podcast and during the pandemic enjoyed his bi-monthly online talks where he reflects on poetry and life. This collection meditates on the passing of time and the slow evolution of our character. As we get older, it can feel like life is taking opportunities away from us. But it’s also true that we are realizing how many important lessons we’ve learnt from the paths we’ve walked and things we’ve observed for so long.
The Mountain Is You: Transforming Self-Sabotage into Self-Mastery, by Brianna Wiest
Self-sabotage is one of those phrases that gets thrown around, but it never really stuck for me. It just sounds so damn illogical. Why would you sabotage yourself, I wondered. But, as this book unpacks, there’s all sorts of ways we get in our own way and mess things up for ourselves, and it connects to the stories we tell about our past, our ability, and our circumstances.