I came in to this week with a mission to read a few books I have really wanted to get into, but have been a little scared of. As a sensitive person, I find that books that pack an emotional punch can really take a toll on me, and I have learned that I need the time and space to read and process them.
I finished three books this week, all of which were great. However two of them were also emotionally intense, powerful, inspiring thought-provoking, and incredibly timely in terms of the immigration issues we are facing today, both in the United States and around the world. I only wish I had gotten Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West in time to complete the trio.
The books I finished this week were:
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
I finished this 500+ page book in one sitting because it was that compelling. It took me a bit to get into it because it is in the typical family saga format where perspective can shift rapidly, and the timeline sometimes jumps by a few years rather suddenly. In addition, there is a point, maybe about a third of the way through where the thrust of the story felt like it switched directions abruptly and it sort of threw me off.
I am saying these things because in the end I LOVED this book, and it made me cry (I am a total book crier, so this wasn’t totally unexpected, but I can’t remember the last book I read that made me feel that way). In fact, many of the things I mention above added to my enjoyment of the book, especially the abruptness, because as I think of it now, these moments were so abrupt for the characters and maybe the writing helped capture this feeling.
I honestly don’t want to say anything about the plot here, because this is one of those books that I was so happy not to know that much about. All I can say is that it is about the experience of Koreans immigrating to Japan, and the subtlety of the emotional storytelling is masterful. Please read this book!
Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue
This book was also about immigration, but closer to home. It tells the story of a young Cameroonian couple trying to make it in New York City, and what happens when the husband, Jende, finds work with an executive at Lehman Brothers shortly before the financial crisis of 2008.
I started this book weeks ago, and haven’t picked it up because I haven’t felt able to deal with the emotional impact I expected it to have. It was an exceptional novel, and a wonderful debut novel at that, but I don’t know that I felt quite the same emotional pull as I did with Pachinko.
If the premise of the novel sounds at all interesting to you, this is a good book to read! Not only is it really pertinent to our current social climate, the characters in this book are complex but likable, and it is actually a wonderful window into the financial crisis and what it was actually about even though that plays out in the background.
Cibola Burn by James S. A. Corey
I mentioned that Corey was my “token male author” in a post earlier this week. I was happy to get finish this book on audio which I had started before I decided to do this project. Cibola Burn is part of an ongoing series called The Expanse, and is the story of what happens when we discover life (and aliens) outside of the solar system. It has been called a space opera, but what draws me to the series are the nuanced ideas that they develop about what would happen when humans began living in space and some of them could no longer return to Earth due to their inability to withstand the gravity.
This is not science fiction that espouses ideas of a better more benevolent future, but it is a fascinating look at ideas of space travel and space living. I knew I loved this series when they spent multiple pages in the second or third book describing the ways in which living in space affected childbirth and maternal mortality.
There is just something about these books. They drag, they are impossibly long, and often feel cheesy and over the top, and just like in Star Trek, the day is usually saved at the last possible second, but just when you feel like it is too much, Corey will start describing the minutia of what it takes to survive in this environment, and I am drawn back into the world.
What went well: I feel satisfied with the books I read this week. They were great books, and I also feel like I got to see some of multiple perspectives I am looking for.
What didn’t go well: I feel tired. These were all big heavy books, and I want a little bit of a break. But there are so many books out there that feel big and important like this, and I also want to read them all!
I am driving this week so I have a few books lined up to listen to on audiobook. I am listening to The Gene: An Intimate History by Siddhartha Mukherjee, and when I get through that I will probably move on to either Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke or the next book in the Expanse series.
In terms of physical books, I have two books of short stories I am dying to read at the moment, and I feel like that might be a nice break from the huge books I am listening to. They are:
The Purple Swamp Hen and Other Stories by Penelope Lively (it comes out in May…reading ARCs always makes me feel like a boss)
Whatever Happened to Interracial Love? by Kathleen Collins