the bookshelf

2023 | 2022

rating system:

★★★★★ excellent | | ★★★★ good | | ★★★ okay | | ★★ meh | | ★ bad

currently reading:

Assassin's Quest
Robin Hobb
Smilla's Sense of Snow
Peter Høeg,
translator: Tiina Nunnally
Figure Drawing: Design and Invention
Michael Hampton

currently listening to:


Guards! Guards!
Terry Pratchett

★★★★☆ (4.5/5)
2/8/23 → 2/22/23
Guards! Guards! is the 8th book in the Discworld series and the 1st book in the City Watch arc. The story takes place in the grimy city of Ankh-Morpork. The Night Watch is in charge of patrolling the city at night but as the years have passed, the Watch has diminished in its prestige and importance to the city. In the present day, the Night Watch is only staffed by three people: the often-drunk Captain Vimes, the semi-unreliable Sergeant Colon, and the shifty Corporal Nobbs. However, a new volunteer named Carrot has arrived to bolster their ranks and just in time, as a secret brotherhood has managed to summon a dragon and plans to overthrow Vetinari, the Patrician of Ankh-Morpork, and install a puppet king.

This is my first Discworld book so I wasn't sure what to expect, but I'm pleasantly surprised. I thought that this book was very charming. I loved how Pratchett played with language. I've read many books with many different styles of prose, but I haven't come across one that manipulates language quite like Pratchett does. His writing is very clever. I enjoyed the jokes interwoven throughout the narrative, although some of the pop culture references went over my head. I think my favorite part of the book was the characters. Each character felt distinct and purposeful, and added some aspect to the overall story. My favorite character is Lady Ramkin, although I also liked Vimes, Nobby, and the Patrician. Errol was very adorable as well. I liked how the city was a character in and of itself. I loved the way Pratchett described it, such as how he mentioned that you were more likely to suffocate in the river than drown. His descriptions are very unconventional, but provide a clear picture of what he wants to depict. I also enjoyed the way Pratchett did commentary in this book, where he would offer perspectives and allow the readers to think and come to conclusions for themselves. (Babel I'm looking at you.) He had various characters representing various viewpoints, such as Vimes and the Patrician, which made his commentary feel balanced. Vimes and Vetinari view the world in entirely different ways but each of their perspectives had good points and were relatable. Anyway, I had a blast reading Guards! Guards! I think the Discworld books will make good 'palate cleansers' when I'm in the mood.

Here are two of my favorite quotes from this book:
“They avoided one another's faces, for fear of what they might see mirrored there. Each man thought: one of the others is bound to say something soon, some protest, and then I'll murmur agreement, not actually say anything, I'm not stupid as that, but definitely murmur very firmly, so that the others will be in no doubt that I thoroughly disapprove, because at a time like this it behooves all decent men to nearly stand up and be almost heard...
No one said anything. The cowards, thought each man.”

“Down there - he said - are people who will follow any dragon, worship any god, ignore any inequity. All out of a kind of humdrum, everyday badness. Not the really high, creative loathsomeness of the great sinners, but a sort of mass-produced darkness of the soul. Sin, you might say, without a trace of originality. They accept evil not because they say yes, but because they don't say no.”

My Year of Rest and Relaxation
Ottessa Moshfegh

★★★★☆ (4/5)
2/8/23 → 2/15/23
My Year of Rest and Relaxation follows a wealthy and beautiful unnamed protagonist as she lives in New York during 2000/2001. She attended college at Columbia University, where she majored in art history and met her best friend, Reva. During her freshman year, her father died of cancer and her mother died soon after by suicide. Now, she lives in the Upper East Side of Manhattan. After being fired from her job at an art gallery, she decides to sleep for an entire year in order to reset her life. With the help of disreputable psychiatrist Dr. Tuttle, she spends an entire year in a drug-induced haze, sleeping the time away. However, her rest is frequently interrupted by Reva, who makes unannounced visits to vent about her life. As time passes, the protagonist begins to rely on stronger medications for her rest. Unfortunately, these pills have a side effect of causing her to blackout for days on end. One day, she wakes up to discover that she had gone clubbing in her 'sleep'. Another, she wakes up on the train to attend a funeral she planned to skip. Her actions in her sleep are at odds with her waking intentions, and so the protagonist decides to take drastic measures to ensure that she sleeps in peace by locking herself in her apartment for the rest of the year.

Listened to this via audiobook. Overall, I enjoyed the book. None of the characters are 'likable' and I liked them for it. Our protagonist is self-absorbed, apathetic, and cruel at times. She is clearly depressed and projects her worst qualities onto Reva, who is vapid and envious. Both are deeply unhappy, and express this unhappiness in different ways. From a brief look at other reviews, it seems like a common complaint is that the characters are unlikable and unrelatable. But personally, I found the protagonist's desire to sleep for a year to be very relatable. I've suffered from depression in the past and during that time, I wanted nothing more than to put my life on pause and sleep. If I could just get enough rest, then surely I would feel better and my problems would be solved.

The author does a great job in depicting the tedium and lethargy that comes from depression. This book isn't a thriller by any means, but there is a sense of tension throughout the book. It takes place in 2001 in New York and the Twin Towers are mentioned casually a few times. So, as the book progressed, I was waiting with slight dread. Although I liked the bittersweet ending, I felt like it was a bit rushed. The author spends a lot of time depicting the protagonist's drug-induced year of rest but the ending was quick and rather sudden. I would have liked it if more pages were dedicated to the protagonist getting readjusted to living normally and her character development.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
J.K. Rowling

★★★★★ (5/5)
2/2/23 → 2/8/23
Continuing my reread (relisten?) of this series with the Jim Dale audiobooks. I'm not sure if he did his whiny tone less or if I just got used to it, but his voices for characters like Hermione and Draco irritated me less this book. Speaking of Hermione and Draco, I'm trying to figure out why a significant portion of the old fandom used to ship Dramione because good lord is Draco absolutely awful to poor Hermione in this book. I don't get it. As I mentioned in my other review, these books are incredibly nostalgic for me so I can't really give an unbiased review. Is this book and the first one worthy of 5 stars? Don't know, but I still love them! This will be my first reread of the entire series since whenever the last book came out so I'm curious to see how I'll feel as an adult. Already, my opinions of some characters are different now that I'm older. When I was a kid, I absolutely loathed Snape. Now, I think he's pretty hilarious. I mean, he's kind of shitty for being so mean to a bunch of middle schoolers, but he is very funny.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
J.K. Rowling

★★★★★ (5/5)
1/14/23 → 1/25/23
I can't really give an unbiased review of this book because of how nostalgic it is for me. Objectively, I could probably find some faults with the plot and worldbuilding, but reading this book is always a joy. 5/5 stars. This was my first time listening to the audiobook version. I listened to the American version narrated by Jim Dale. The audio quality was surprisingly good, considering how old it is. I thought that Dale did a great job in narrating overall. However, I'm so used to the voices from the movies that hearing his take on characters was a little strange. He mispronounced a few names (such as Voldemort) but I heard he fixes this in later books. I wasn't the biggest fan of his voice for Malfoy and I didn't like the whiny tone he would sometimes use while voicing lines. He would use this tone while narrating many of Hermione's lines and it was a little annoying. But despite these nitpicks, I overall enjoyed the experience. I'm excited to listen to the other books and have a new way of experiencing the series.

R.F. Kuang

★★☆☆☆ (2/5)
10/23/22 → 1/16/23
Babel follows a young Chinese man named Robin, who is raised by an English professor so that he may one day study at the prestigious Babel Institute of Translation at Oxford. There, he befriends three fellow students named Ramy, Victoire, and Letty. As they pursue their education in translation and the mysterious magic of silver-working at Babel, Robin is contacted by a mysterious society that opposes Babel and the British Empire. Robin uncovers secrets and a plot to instigate a war against China, and he must decide just how far he is willing to go to fight against oppression and colonialism.

Well, this was a disappointment. Babel is one of the longest 500-something page books I've read in a while. Reading this book was like chewing cardboard. The first 2/3 of it was pretty boring and although it picked up in the end, I'm still lukewarm towards it. The characters were flat and one-note mouthpieces for the author. Although I agree with Kuang on all her points, by the end I was getting annoyed by her constant soapboxing. I don't mind commentary in books. In fact, I usually quite like it. Well done commentary will often elevate a book for me. However, I prefer the commentary to be more subtle. Rather than telling you how to think, I like it when the author leaves you to come to your own conclusions. Kuang's subtlety is like me taking a sledgehammer to a ceramics shop. Additionally, the worldbuilding was really bad. I'd prefer that Kuang had written this as historical fiction, because the worldbuilding clearly wasn't thought through. Or better yet, she should have written this as nonfiction, because this book felt like an essay in novel form.

The last half of the book especially reminded me of an essay. Much like how I would rush to the end of an essay while writing it for class, Kuang rushed to conclude this book and the arguments she was presenting. Initially upon finishing the book, I thought that the pacing was very slow. Upon reflection, I realized that the only way it felt like that was because I was bored throughout the majority of the story. In reality, the book's pacing is actually quite rushed. Kuang breezes through the characters' time at school. I mean, it takes pretty much no time for Robin to become radicalized and join what is essentially a terrorist group.

The worldbuilding doesn't really make sense and I get the feeling that Kuang didn't fully think things through. What I don't get was what was the point of making this a fantasy novel? What was the point of silver-working? The existence of magic should have ramifications and consequences on the course of history and the structure of society, religion, economy, and culture. However, the existence of silver-working literally did nothing to change Britain's history or the history of the entire world. If the magic didn't effect anything, then what was the point of it? The magic system itself wasn't great and left me a little confused. I'm fine with soft magic systems were things aren't explained and just work. However, Kuang constantly kept trying to explain the magic system and it didn't really make sense to me. For instance, the magic can only be done by people intimately familiar with languages and only 'real' languages, spoken by people, work. However, there was mention of an experiment were scholars locked themselves away to learn old English, to use it for their magic. If they could use old English for match pairs, then why couldn't they use a fake language that was well-studied and used under similar circumstances? For all intents and purposes, old English would be equivalent to a fake language, as pretty much no one could speak or understand it.

I think my biggest issue with this book are the characters. The characterization was very shallow and I didn't really feel like the characters developed much over the course of the book. They predominantly served as vehicles through which Kuang delivers arguments and observations that she wants the reader to hear, regardless of whether or not it makes sense for that character think that specific thing or make that specific observation. The viewpoints held by many of the characters didn't make sense, especially in a historical context. They felt very modern. For instance, given his upbringing, it didn't make sense that Robin was so anti-colonialism and anti-racism (at least initially), considering that he was adopted at a young age and raised in upper class British society. He was immersed in British culture and surrounded by Englishmen espousing pro-British pro-colonial ideals all the time. And yet, even as a young man, he could identify racism and succinctly observe the racist power structures around him. It would have been far more interesting for him to have been blind to these things, and perhaps even defend it, while other characters like Ramy and Victoire could offer different views. This would have made the characters more interesting and created conflict for them to develop as characters. Instead, Robin found himself with a cohort of like-minded individuals who had very modern takes on racism and colonialism. This also applies to Victoire and Letty, who were bashing sexism from the get-go. In reality, the concept of feminism would have been vastly different at that historical time period, and women's suffrage wouldn't really pick up until decades later in England.

This is a minor nitpick, but I don't really get why the footnotes were included. They were largely unnecessary and felt like a crutch for Kuang to either cram in some extra commentary about colonialism, or a way for her to cheat and provide insight to character motivations that we would never get from Robin's limited perspective.

The one thing I did like was the argument that Kuang was trying to make. I agree with her belief that violence is necessary in order to enact change, especially when it comes to systemic oppression and racism. Although 'violence' might not be the right word. I don't think that anyone has to be hurt or killed, but I do agree with her that disruption is required for actual change to occur. Unless people are inconvenienced in some way, issues will most likely be brushed over and ignored. It is only when people are forced to confront problems that they address them.

Anyway, I thought that this book was pretty mediocre. Everything in the novel felt like a way for Kuang to make the points she was trying to make, not to tell a story. This is especially frustrating for me because I agree with her viewpoints and would love to read a good novel that explore these themes in a compelling way. Unfortunately, Babel was not that novel.

Jesus, Interrupted
Bart D. Ehrman

★★★★☆ (4.5/5)
1/4/23 → 1/14/23
I listened to this via audiobook. The content was very interesting, if a bit dry. A lot of the information covered isn't new to me. However, for some parts, I only knew the basic gist so I appreciated the more in-depth analysis provided by Ehrman. I think that this is a pretty good starting point if you're interested in learning more about the inconsistencies and historical veracity of the New Testament. Ehrman is very even-handed and fair in his analysis of the Bible, and he treats the text and Christianity as a whole with respect.

This isn't a book I'd normally gravitate towards. I was raised Christian but sometime around middle school, I realized I didn't believe in any of it. Afterward, I started having some serious issues with the religion and its followers, and distanced myself from it. Now, I consider myself an agnostic atheist. For part of my life, I avoided anything to do with Christianity and was a bit of an edgy atheist in high school lol. But recently, I've started to become interested in learning about the historicity of the religion. How Christianity developed as a religion is utterly fascinating, and it boggles the mind how much modern day Christianity differs from early Christianity, and how Christ the religious figure differs from the historical Jesus of Nazareth.

This specific author first came on my radar after I heard an amusing anecdote about him. He is a professor at UNC-Chapel Hill and apparently, people at that university will hold prayer circles for students that are taking his classes. It's not unusual for students to question their faith after taking his class, and so Ehrman has developed a rather notorious reputation amongst the religious at Chapel Hill.

Nettle & Bone
T. Kingfisher

★★☆☆☆ (2.5/5)
1/5/23 → 1/9/23
Nettle & Bone is a fairy tale-esque novella following Princess Marra on her quest to save her older sister, Kania. After her eldest sister Damia mysteriously dies following her marriage to Prince Vorling of a neighboring kingdom, Marra is sent to live at a convent as a nun and Kania marries Vorling. However, Marra learns that Vorling is abusive towards Kania and she fears for her sister's life. And so, Marra decides to try to save her by killing Vorling. Along the way, Marra recruits the help of the dust-wife, an enigmatic and powerful gravewitch, an undead dog made of bones, an ex-knight, and an elderly fairy godmother.

I thought that this novella was fine. Just fine. I did have some issues with it though. I think my biggest complaint was that the pacing was inconsistent. Despite its relatively short length, the pacing dragged at times, especially in the middle. According to the author's note, this novella initially began as a short story, and you can kind of tell. I didn't particularly care for the romantic subplot between Marra and Fenris, and felt like it was pretty bland. There were a few times in the story where I got confused, as something would be revealed but I thought that it had already been revealed earlier. For instance, Fenris confessed to Marra that he knew about her secret identity as a princess. But she was still a little surprised, even though just before, she had announced that she was a princess when they found Agnes. Like girl, the man has ears. Why are you surprised?

The world building wasn't the best but I'll cut it some slack since it's a novella. It just feels a little lazy. Tonally, the novella was a bit strange. The writing was quirky at times (perhaps too quirky for my taste), and it felt like the author couldn't decide if she wanted the story to be a cozy fantasy or a dark fairy tale with horror elements. Because of that, the tone felt very uneven, where it was trying to be eerie and spooky while also warm and lighthearted. In the end, it didn't really achieve either.

In terms of characters, Agnes and the dust-wife were the standouts for me. There's a severe lack of old women in fantasy, and both of them were delightful. Fenris was very generic and forgettable, much like his romance with Marra. As for Marra herself, she was 30 years old but acted very much like a young adult. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, as naive and clueless 30 year olds certain exist, but it felt like Marra could have easily been a teen rather than an adult. It felt like the author just aged her up to make this novella an adult story, rather than YA. I understand that this novella is meant to be fairy tale-esque, but the motivations of the characters felt a little weak for me. They were all risking their lives to complete this quest, but I had trouble believing that they would all be onboard to sacrifice their lives. None of them really knew Marra or Kania (and Marra wasn't even close to Kania), so I didn't find it truly believable that they were ride or die to save Kania when ultimately they had no stake in the outcome.


Life Ceremony
Sayaka Murata,
translator: Ginny Tapley Takemori

★★★☆☆ (3.5/5)
12/27/22 → 12/30/22
This is the last book I'll read this year and the last book I need to reach my goal of reading 50 books. Woohoo! Anyway, this is a short story collection that was recently released in English. I saw it in my library's 'New Books' section so I grabbed it on impulse. This is the second thing I've read by Sayaka Murata. Overall, I really like her writing but the stories were kind of hit or miss for me. My favorites were the two stories featuring the elderly women, Yoshiko and Kikue. They were surprisingly cute. The weirdest short story for me is 'Poochie'. It's not the weirdest in terms of concepts, but the identity of who Poochie is made me a little uncomfortable, especially when Poochie is cared for by two high school girls. It was pretty bizarre. I really enjoyed the language in 'Eating the City'. Sayaka Murata does an amazing job in describing society and how her protagonists often feel alienated by it.

Steal Like an Artist
Austin Kleon

★★★☆☆ (3/5)
12/26/22 → 12/27/22
This was alright, I guess. Nice to have finally read it. The advice given in this book is pretty basic and nothing you haven't heard before. The author encourages you to copy (not plagiarize) from your inspirations by taking aspects you like and applying it to your own work. He suggests keeping a commonplace book to jot down your thoughts and ideas. He says to compile what inspires you somewhere, either digitally or physically, so that you can reference them later for ideas and inspiration. Kleon emphasizes that keeping a routine is important in order to maintain the momentum you need to accomplish your creative tasks. As I said, all very basic advice. Still, this book is very short and while the advice is basic, it's also solid. According to the library app, I read the ebook in under an hour total. Not bad. A random interesting part of the book was when Kleon said, "In chapter one, I quote from Ecclesiastes, “there is nothing new under the sun”, but almost two millennia before that line was written, the Egyptian poet Khakheperresenb was already complaining that the good words had been used up. The idea that there's nothing new is at least 4,000 years old." The fact that people have been complaining about how hard it is to be original for at least 4,000 years is pretty funny.

Exit Strategy
Martha Wells

★★★☆☆ (3/5)
12/19/22 → 12/24/22
Listened to this via audiobook. I've complained about the narrator before but since both this novella and the prior one were available, I checked them both out at the same time. Exit Strategy is the fourth installment in The Murderbot Diaries. In this novella, we see Murderbot encounter familiar faces and the main storyline we've been following gets wrapped up. Overall, it was okay.

Fever Dream
Samanta Schweblin,
translator: Megan McDowell

★★★☆☆ (3/5)
12/20/22 → 12/22/22
I read Mouthful of Birds, a short story collection by this author last year and it was one of my favorite reads of the year. So, I was excited to finally get to this novella. Unfortunately, I didn't like it as much. Fever Dream is told in a conversation between two characters, a mother named Amanda, and a boy named David. The narrative has no chapter breaks and is just one paragraph after another, giving it a very suffocating atmosphere as you read on, trying to figure out what is going on. From the short story collection I've read, I knew to expect that I wouldn't fully understand the story. My primary disappointment is that this novella didn't feel as weird or dark as I would have liked. There are a few creepy parts, but it felt a lot more tame than Mouthful of Birds. The story deals a lot with the anxieties of parents when it comes to protecting their children. Maybe that's also why I didn't like it as much because I can't really relate to that fear.

John Williams

★★★★★ (5/5)
12/12/22 → 12/19/22
Never would have guessed that a novel about the life of a boring Missouri farmer-turned-English professor would make me emotional, but here we are. Stoner is a classic American novel following the life of William Stoner. The book opens by describing Stoner as an unremarkable man who lived an unremarkable life. After his death, he would be mostly forgotten at the university he taught at and overall, didn't really make an impact on his students. Then, it follows his childhood during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He was born to a family of poor Missouri farmers and his parents send him to the University of Missouri to study agriculture. While there, Stoner lived life in a day to day blur until one day, during an English class, he 'awakens' and realizes his love for literature. From then on, he drops his agricultural studies without telling his parents and studies English. It isn't until the day he graduates that he lets his parents know. He attends graduate school at the same university and also teaches. During his time at graduate school, World War I breaks out and many students and faculty leave to join the war efforts. Stoner decides to remain behind. He becomes infatuated with a woman he meets at a party, named Edith, and decides to marry her. Unfortunately, their marriage would be an unhappy and very dysfunctional one, wherein his wife weaponizes their only daughter, Grace, against him and Stoner becomes very distant. Stoner's life continues at the university. He makes enemies with a fellow professor, which ends up hurting his career. He has an affair with one of the other professors there, and realizes what it's like to be in love. Ironically, his relationships with Edith and Grace improve during this affair, as Edith knows of it but doesn't mind it. Unfortunately, the affair comes to an abrupt end when it threatens both of their careers. After this, the book follows Stoner's middle years teaching at the university. There are some ups but mostly downs, as his life is seemingly one disappointment after the other. Eventually, Stoner enters the latter years of his life. Stoner's health abruptly worsens and he learns he has stage four cancer. As his life comes to an end, a now adult Grace visits him one last time and he realizes that Grace, much like Edith, will never be happy. After she leaves, he contemplates his life, thinking initially that it was a failure and then that it was wrong to think of it as a failure. One afternoon, when he is alone, Stoner passes away.

I thought John Williams's writing was beautiful and very accessible for a classic. He has a way of describing things simplistically, but in a manner that is still very impactful. For instance, when Stoner tells his parents that he will graduate with an English degree and won't be taking over his father's farm, Williams writes, "He felt his inadequacy to the goal he had so recklessly chosen and felt the attraction of the world he had abandoned. He grieved for his own loss and for that of his parents, and even in his grief felt himself drawing away from them." In these two sentences, Williams is able to reflect the disappointment and sadness that comes when a child does not fulfill their parents' dreams and chooses their own path. While many authors would choose to dwell on this point, Williams moves swiftly on. It's only when you pause to reflect does the writing gut-punch you.

In addition to his writing, I loved the way Williams depicted his characters. He writes them with such love and care that you really get a feel for who they are as a person. By the end of the book, even if I didn't like a character, I had empathy for them. I especially felt for Edith and Grace. They're both truly tragic characters, where Edith is extremely bitter from never having the freedom to live her own life as a woman in the early-mid 1900s. She entered a marriage with a man she didn't like to escape her parents and, in the early days of their marriage, was forced to endure sex with Stoner, first to consummate their marriage and then to conceive Grace. Despite hating her father and feeling smothered by her mother, Edith acts in the same way towards Grace by controlling every aspect of Grace's life. Because Edith is very emotionally volatile, Grace follows along and tries to please her mother. But eventually, much like Edith, Grace breaks. She purposefully gets impregnated out of wedlock so that she can escape the dysfunctional household she grew up in. But Grace becomes an alcoholic and, like her father, an absent parent. It's all very tragic. Stoner himself is a pretty tragic character. He's fairly passive and you can see all of the decisions he has made and the way they've negatively affected his life. It's very easy to say that 'he should have done this or that'. One of the biggest questions I had while reading this was, 'Why did he didn't he just divorce Edith?'. I'm not sure what divorce laws looked at the time, but they were both miserable and Edith had other family that could have supported her. However, Stoner made his decisions with the information he had at the time and did his best in life. There are some novels that are sad because they are one tragedy after the other. Stoner is sad because it depicts a lifetime of quiet disappointments. It's a very melancholic novel, and serves as a warning against being too passive in life. It may have snuck in at the very end to be the best book I've read this year.

Rogue Protocol
Martha Wells

★★★☆☆ (3.5/5)
12/18/22 → 12/19/22
Listened to this via audiobook. Wouldn't recommend. The audiobook narrator has a very boring voice that made it feel like I was listening to a nonfiction audiobook, not an audiobook for a sci-fi novella. The narrator is also a man, which surprisingly bothered me. Normally, I don't really care but the titular Murderbot character is an android with no gender. Guess I was imagining Murderbot to have a more feminine sounding voice? Anyway, there isn't much I can say about the plot of this book as it's the third in a series. You follow the antisocial Murderbot as it tries to investigate a corrupt corporation while avoiding detection as a rogue android. The plot is okay and since it's a series of (mostly) novellas, there isn't much depth. The star of this series is Murderbot the character. It struggles to act 'normally' around humans and accurately interpret their behavior. Because of this, Murderbot is quite socially anxious for a robot built to kill things. Murderbot enjoys binging shows and does not like dealing with people. Despite its insistence that it doesn't care for humans, Murderbot clearly does, which makes its grumpiness around people all the more entertaining. As a whole, I think that The Murderbot Diaries are an entertaining read, if a bit over-rated. They make for a good 'palate cleanser'. Would highly recommend reading these from a library, if available, because Tor is tripping with these novella prices.

Convenience Store Woman
Sayaka Murata,
translator: Ginny Tapley Takemori

★★★★☆ (4.5/5)
12/10/22 → 12/11/22
Really enjoyed this book. Initially, I thought that the incel character Shiraha was a bit much, what with him constantly going on about society and the Stone Age or whatever. His character just seemed a bit too on the nose. Then, I thought back to my experiences of interacting with incels and incel-adjacent men online and in real life and was like, "Actually never mind". Murata really captured the lack of self-awareness in men like Shiraha. It's funny that he constantly called Keiko useless for being an unmarried convenience store worker in her mid-late 30s, but then didn't seem to realize that if she was useless, then he was worse than useless for being fired from the convenience store. The irony of it all.

Perhaps it's because I've worked at a convenience store before, but I really related to Keiko's character. There is a certain satisfaction that comes from a well organized and smoothly running store that I haven't gotten at any 'real' jobs I've worked since. I liked her direct observations about people and thought that her commentary was a bit funny at times. I related to her experience with 'masking' and adopting other peoples' mannerisms to try to fit in. It's truly sad that due to societal expectations, her very existence is considered abnormal. The meddling of her sister and friends to try to get her married or into a 'respectable' job was frustrating. Keiko was causing no harm and was a contributing member of society as a convenience store worker. If she's content with her life, there's no need to change it just because it doesn't meet society's lofty standards.

Adult Children of
Emotionally Immature Parents

Lindsay C. Gibson

★★★★☆ (4.5/5)
11/27/22 → 12/11/22
In this book, the author describes the four types of emotionally neglectful parents (emotional, driven, passive, and aggressive), the effects they have on their children, and how to identify emotionally immature people based on these categories. She discusses the ways children tend to react to the abusive behaviors of their parents (either by becoming an internalizer, someone that retreats inwardly, or an externalizer, someone that lashes out from their pain). The author then offers ways to have a healthier relationship with your emotionally neglectful parents by establishing firm boundaries, letting go of toxic thought patterns, and taking a step back in terms of your expectations of a relationship. Often times, the children of emotionally neglectful parents will chase after their parents, desperate for their approval. Unfortunately, this will never end in happiness. Unless your parent chooses to change (and you can't make that change for them), nothing good will come of this. Instead, the author suggests to have a more distant relationship with your parents to match the emotional capacity that they're capable of/ comfortable with (or cut them off entirely if they're too toxic).

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. I ended up highlighting quite a few passages in my ebook copy and saved them for personal reference. A lot of the things the author discusses resonated with me and my experiences. I appreciated the thoughtful approach she took in writing this book. However, I wish she would have included a section on identifying and addressing the emotionally immature behaviors in the readers themselves. The author even points out several times that emotionally immature parents are often the result of being emotionally neglected in their own childhoods. Therefore, it stands that the readers of this book would be a bit emotionally immature as well.

The Princess Bride: an Illustrated Edition
William Goldman

★★★☆☆ (3.5/5)
11/26/22 → 12/4/22
Pleasantly surprised upon reading this. I've watched The Princess Bride movie before and was hesitant to pick up the book, since I already loved the movie so much. The movie is brilliantly casted and utterly charming. Thankfully, I found that the book was just as charming (with the exception of a few scenes). I still like the movie better, but the book is also good. The narration is witty and comedic, and it was nice to get to learn more about the characters. Fezzik remains my favorite. My primary issue with this book are the asides written from the author's fictitious persona. He comes across as being sleezy and bitter. I especially hated the first part of the book, which was written entirely from this perspective, before the story actually began. In this, the fictional version of the author derides his son as being too fat, seems distant towards his wife, and ogles women while being away from home to work on a movie deal. I understand that this part of the book is entirely fictional, but I still found it unpleasant to read and it took away from my enjoyment of the book. I highly recommend skipping this part and, in general, only skimming through the author's asides. They're not that important and only distract from the story. All you need to know is that the author is writing an abridgment of a fictional version of The Princess Bride, where he gets rid of the boring stuff. The actual story that follows is that abridged version. While I thought the framing narrative of the book was interesting, with it being a story about a story, ultimately I felt like the asides were the weakest part of the book.

The Return of the King
J.R.R. Tolkien

★★★★☆ (4/5)
11/22/22 → 12/2/22
Listened to this via audiobook. Andy Serkis did a phenomenal job with the narration. Feels good to have finally read the LotR trilogy. Now I can call myself a True Fantasy Fan™. Overall, I thought that this book was good. I think the second is my favorite in the trilogy, but I enjoyed The Return of the King. A common complaint I see is that the latter half of the book is like an extended epilogue, but I kind of liked it. It was nice to see things calm down and for characters to get some time to breathe and relax after their harrowing journey and battles. The only part that dragged for me was the Scouring of the Shire, the penultimate chapter in the book. I didn't know what to expect but I've heard so much about this chapter in particular. A common criticism of the film adaptation was that it was left out, and I've always heard about how important this chapter is and how harrowing the scouring of the Shire was. And I gotta say, I'm kind of disappointed. I can see the purpose of the chapter but after having it hyped up, it definitely didn't meet my expectations. I didn't know what the 'scouring' would entail, but I imagined the Shire being razed to the ground. Instead, what I got was gentrification basically.

I think my favorite part about this book, and the trilogy as a whole, is that Frodo's quest ends in failure. He fails to destroy the One Ring by succumbing to its power, and it's really only thanks to luck and circumstance that the Ring is ever destroyed. I also liked that Frodo is permanently changed from being a Ring-bearer and clearly suffers from trauma. A lot of people knock on LotR nowadays for being basic and boring, since it's the archetypical high fantasy story. But Tolkien did two things (quest failing and protagonist suffering from PTSD and is never 'cured') that many modern authors still shy away from. I also enjoyed the friendships between characters. The friendships were very wholesome and it was refreshing to read about characters that weren't afraid to express their affection and appreciation for others.

Letters to a Young Poet
Rainer Maria Rilke,
translator: Charlie Louth

★★★★★ (5/5)
11/25/22 → 11/25/22
Read this in a day since it's so short. In this nonfiction classic, renowned Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke responds to the letters of a young man who asks for his advice on life and poetry. Over the course of several years, Rilke would write ten* heartfelt letters to the man, discussing loneliness and solitude, and providing encouragement. (*Rilke actually wrote 11, but 1 letter was never published.) The man's circumstances mirrors Rilke's own when he was younger and so, in many ways, Rilke is not only addressing the man but his younger self. One thing that stood out to me while reading this was how earnest and humble Rilke was. Although I got the feeling that Rilke wasn't too pleased when he was sent the young poet's poetry to critique, he responded humbly and offered some gentle insights into the young poet's problems. I borrowed a copy of this from the library, but I'd like to get my own copy to reread and annotate. There were quite a few passages that I enjoyed but I think the one that caught my attention the most was Rilke's brief discussion surrounding feminism. It's surprisingly progressive, considering that Rilke is a man writing from the early 1900s. In it, Rilke writes:
This humanity which inhabits woman, brought to term in pain and humiliation, will, once she has shrugged off the conventions of mere femininity through the transformations of her outward status, come clearly to light, and men, who today do not yet feel it approaching, will be taken by surprise and struck down by it. [...]One day there will be girls and women whose name will no longer just signify the opposite of the male but something in their own right, something which does not make one think of any supplement or limit but only of life and existence: the female human being.
It's a very hopeful passage, and a bit depressing reading it in modern times. Rilke writes that one day women will no longer be viewed as the opposite of men or a lesser version of men, but as human beings worthy of respect in their own right. But even today, that isn't the case. Even today, women are seen as inferior broken versions of men and are abused, dehumanized, and belittled by society. It's pretty disheartening that over 100 years later, some things haven't changed.

How Will You Measure Your Life?
Clayton M. Christensen, James Allworth, Karen Dillon

★★☆☆☆ (2.5/5)
11/18/22 → 11/21/22
Listened to this via audiobook. Meh. Basic life advice for the Harvard Business School type. The only good thing about it is that it's short. Aside from that, pretty mediocre.

Building a Second Brain
Tiago Forte

★★★☆☆ (3/5)
10/14/22 → 11/20/22
Decided to read this after seeing several recommendations about it floating around the internet. It was alright. Nothing too revolutionary. The author talks about his way of organizing all of his notes and thoughts digitally in a 'second brain', inspired by the commonplace books of older generations. The second brain is supposed to be an extension of your own, in which you offload the burden of remembering things by recording and organizing them digitally for easy retrieval. This way, you can focus on thinking creatively and problem-solving without worrying about forgetting information or ideas. I've been using various digital note-taking apps for years now, so the ideas presented here aren't exactly new to me. Still I think the book was decent, if a bit too long.

Amanda Montell

★★★☆☆ (3/5)
10/20/22 → 10/31/22
A pretty surface level and ultimately lackluster read. I'm not sure what I was expecting but it wasn't what I got. Cultish gives several anecdotes about cults or cult-adjacent groups (from Heaven's Gate to MLMs to exercise enthusiasts) and examines the commonalities in language and behavior between these groups. Or at least, that's what it claims to do. Unfortunately for me, I found the author's analysis to be pretty basic and slightly disorganized. The book isn't bad, just incredibly average and forgettable. I listened to this via audiobook and thought the audiobook production was fine.

Ordinary Monsters
J.M. Miro

★★★☆☆ (3/5)
10/10/22 → 10/22/22
Ordinary Monsters is the first book in The Talents trilogy. In this alternate world set in the 1800s, children are sometimes born with rare magical powers and are called talents. Because the talents could be dangerous to themselves and others if left alone and because the general populace doesn't know about them, agents are tasked by the Cairndale Institute in Scotland to find and retrieve these superpowered children so that they may grow up in safety. Alice Quicke and her partner, Frank Coulton, are two such agents. They are sent on a mission to find Charlie Ovid (a 16 year old Black orphan imprisoned in Mississippi) and Marlowe (an 8 year old British orphan living at a travelling circus in Illinois). However, along the way, they realize that a man once thought dead has reappeared and is on the hunt for the children. And the Cairndale Institute isn't as safe as they had thought. Dark forces are on the rise and threaten to tear down the barriers between the living and the dead.

This book is pretty long and I didn't enjoy it as much as I had hoped. I still liked it (3 is a good rating!) but it was just... fine. The prose was a bit clunky at times, especially towards the end. I think the author was trying to mimic a more old-fashioned writing style since the book takes place in the 1800s, but he wasn't fully successful. The character work felt a bit shallow at times. A lot of telling, not showing. Additionally, the book felt repetitive towards the end— both in terms of reveals and the general narrative. The book was a little obtuse and it felt like with each piece of information we learned, that information would later turn out to be incorrect in some way, and we would learn new information. This cycle would repeat a few more times and by the end, I was a little exasperated (and confused) by all of the reveals. It got to a point where whenever we learned something about a character, I would kind of ignore it because I knew that somehow, that information wasn't fully accurate and would be corrected later. Another confusing aspect was the character motivations— not because the author was trying to be mysterious but because the characterization was clumsily done and he was trying to handle too many plot threads. I'm still not quite sure if I fully understand the motivations of one of the antagonists.

Anyway, despite all of my complaining, I did actually like this book overall. Marlowe, Alice, and Jacob Marber were the standout characters for me. I appreciated that all of the female characters were interesting and strong in their own way, even the minor characters (shoutout to my girl, Brynt). I enjoyed the dark, magical Victorian setting as well. However, this was a book that while reading, I was aware the entire time that I was reading a book. I was never fully invested in the characters or the story. Due to this, and my aforementioned gripes, I'm giving it a 3/5 stars. I'm not sure if I'll continue in the series when the next book eventually comes out.