Year in review 2020: Books

Total books read: 38
🎧 Percentage that were audiobooks: 4
🍚 Percentage that were “Asian-American”: 13
🐣 Percentage chick-lit: 10
💯 Percentage non-fiction: 15
🔎Percentage not “Available Now”: 23
🇨🇦 Percentage Can Con: 12
👽Percentage that is sci-fi/speculative/dystopian fiction: 7
🏫Percentage that is YA novel: 7
✊🏿 Percentage that came from BLM recommended reading/”woke” reading: 7


🇨🇦💯🔎✊🏿Amanda Jette Knox’s Love Lives Here: A Story of Thriving in a Transgender Family (July 2019) I first learned of Knox’s story when I read her Chatelaine article “My daughter came out as trans, and it saved my marriage” although I haven’t been aware if I’ve read any other of Knox’s articles since I’ve been subscribed to the Chatelaine newsletter for years. As usual, I would wonder what her backstory – being bullied – had to do with anything but seeing her go from those beginnings to the advocacy she does for a marginalized population is inspiring. In a very easy to read language, Knox tells her family’s story and introduces readers to inclusive language and thinking. And when her spouse came out, at first I did not realize the hurdles since they already went through the daughter’s coming out. Knox’s writing was strong enough to take me through the second half and how the family reconstructed to be stronger than before.

💯 David Bach and John David Mann’s The Latte Factor: Why You Don’t Have to Be Rich to Live Rich (May 2019) My thinking was, “good gosh, haven’t we heard the advice to save money and not buy a latte every day like a decade ago?” Maybe we did, maybe Bach was on Oprah Winfrey’s show back then and only now put it into a title of the same name. It turns out that it’s not about giving up lattes if that’s not what you wish, but finding things you can do without and saving your money and the miracle of compounding interest. The theoretical results are just astounding but it meant NPY and I briefly discussed it – as in, are the kids in such a great position because we are putting money away for them – but it’s not that in practice. Still, it emphasized to me yet again how hopeful I am that the kids are good with money and maybe even mirror those anecdotes where saving from a young age gave such-and-such financial freedom enviable by peers at an early age. It seemed to me that this was much like a US version of The Wealthy Barber and at times, I was just floored and SMH how clueless Zoey was about money!

💯🐣🔎Lisa Taddeo’s Three Women (July 2019)  I saw an article (was it in Chatelaine?) that said that if you read one book in 2019, let it be Three Women. I may or may not have made it all the way through the too wordy prologue but it was a salacious non-fiction read and I ended up buying a copy for a friend celebrating her birthday in August.

🔎💯🎧 Michelle Obama’s Becoming (2018) I waited for quite a while for this and the choice to listen to it was because Michelle Obama read it herself. I even watched the Netflix special.

🔎💯🇨🇦✊🏿 Alicia Elliott’s A Mind Spread Out On The Ground (Mar 2019) This was a book club read that I managed to finish before the original book club date in mid-May, but book club was cancelled when the library closed in mid-March. It was insightful about poverty, cultural genocide, reconciliation and abuse.

🔎💯 Susan Orlean’s The Library Book (2018) I read this in June because it was the April book club book but until late March, I hadn’t canceled our April trip. I wouldn’t at all know about this book as it is concerning libraries across America, city librarians of the L.A. Public Library across the ages, and the elusive and frustrating suspect of setting it on fire in 1986. It’s all the better if you’ve been to LA Public Library but it was nice to learn some ins and out about libraries and how librarians might think.

💯🔎 Lori Gottlieb’s Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, HER Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed (Apr 2019) I thought it would be about a list of her clients but instead reads a bit like a story, a period in her life after she and her boyfriend broke up. It is intelligent and funny (in a heartbreaking way). I had to borrow it three times to finish reading it and during the second loan period, I didn’t know where I left off so I started again from around 50% and found I did read that before and finally I got to Part 4 and it was all new to me and I had to return it. Luckily VPL rolled out a “Skip the Line!” feature of getting it immediately although there are holds on it but for a shortened period. I’ve learned since to take a screenshot as my loan period is running out. I can’t absolutely rely that Overdrive will remember where I left off.

💯🔎🇨🇦 Dr. Bonnie Henry’s Soap and Water & Common Sense: The Definitive Guide to Viruses, Bacteria, Parasites, and Disease (Mar 2020) Although this was published originally in 2009, it was re-released with a new foreward dated the end of March 2020. Given Dr. Bonnie Henry became a daily fixture in British Columbian news and known Canada-wide this year and my former workplace being the BC Centre for Disease Control, this was appropriate. It set the fear in me of everything we ingest and casually encounter, but then it wore off. Except for the messaging to wash your hands – it’s message from the book and everywhere else this year!

💯Adam Kay’s This Is Going to Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Medical Resident (Dec 2019) Searching for a Instant Gratification loan in non-fiction that would also be interesting and this fit the bill nicely. Adam Kay was an ob-gyn resident in the U.K. which is doubly interesting in that there’s fascinating and funny and heartbreaking stories in medicine and new parenthood.

💯🎧 Ryder Carroll’s The Bullet Journal Method: Track the Past, Order the Present, Design the Future (2018) I have started bullet journaling twice (floral notebook and grey company notebook) and my efforts came after a quick scan of how it’s done. So it was nice to read about the creator’s intentions even if “The Why” was one big frou-frou section that reads very much like the best of self-help self-empowering books. That being said, I’ve got the “proper” notebook to bullet journal starting the first day of 2021! I didn’t manage to finish reading it during one (shortened) loan period and so I listened to the rest as an audiobook.

💯🇨🇦✊🏿 Eternity Martis’ They Said This Would Be Fun: Race, Campus Life, and Growing Up (Mar 2020) Another Instant Gratification library loan I’m glad to have added to the docket this year. The author’s interesting story is that since her Jamaican father was largely absent from her life, she grew up with her Pakistan-origin relatives who raised her in their culture. It wasn’t much of a problem during her secondary school years in Toronto but when she went to London (Ontario) to attend Western University (of Ontario), people saw her as Black first and the lessons begin for her.

Joanna Faber & Julie King’s How to Talk so Little Kids Will Listen (2017) 💯

🇨🇦👽🔎 Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments (Sept 2019) – I breezed through this one, relatively speaking (cough, Birdie and The Left Hand of Darkness) but I don’t really know what there is to say. It was pleasant to read a true dystopian fiction that didn’t involve fantasy (zombies) or stupid-ass sleeping/dream components, which is what I barely remember of The Dreamers and other stuff I seem to have read recently. I haven’t read The Handmaid’s Tale in years and years and reading The Testaments reminds me how I don’t remember all the details, or how much is filled in by the Hulu series. Nonetheless, it was satisfying but anti-climactic to have the official details about Gilead filled in.

👽🔎Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness (1969)  I noticed from the cover that in 2019, it was the 50th anniversary and my first impression was that it reads like  sci-fi from back then. Suffice it to say, I found it difficult to get through and required more than one library loan period – but I did finish it before book club. I was running late that day but – darn it – I wasn’t missing it because I did finish reading it in the nick of time. On some Top Sci-Fi of all time list, I noticed this title listed and would not have noticed it before but now – pat pat on my back – I have read it too! At one point, I  read the Wiki to see what I’ve missed since Goodreads tells me it’s book #4 of the Hainish Cycle (series). The concept is remarkably progressive and revolutionary and timely with the gender neutral society.

🔎🇨🇦Tracey Lindberg’s Birdie (2016)  Talking about slogging through a novel, I started reading the paper version provided by book club and then it took me another more than one library loan period to finish this one. I went to book club not having finished the book but made an insightful (not) comment about withdrawing as a response to huge trauma (that I did not yet know the specifics of). I found the novel to be messy and most of the time the fables and poetry did not hit me. I recall one point in debates when it was a Canada Reads contender, about Lindberg making up words and I also did not enjoy that.

🔎🇨🇦Richard Wagamese Starlight (2018) This novel was the BYOB March book club read and the libraries closed the very day of our scheduled session! I wanted to go because I finished the novel just in the nick of time and found it so enjoyable. I can’t believe it’s an unfinished novel and I cling to the interpretation that the ending was a happy one. Starlight is such a hero (sounding so girly), the baddies were so scary and the single mother (I can’t remember any names at this point of writing at the end of the year) redeemed herself so well.

🇨🇦Lesley Choyce’s Broken Man on a Halifax Pier (2019) I must have found this novel while looking for Available Now books and the title had me intritued. Little did I know that it’s a line from a Stan Rogers song (titled Barrett’s Privateers). I’m now very familiar with that song! It’s a heartwarming story / saga of a down-on-his-luck bloke and how it turned around for him in a quirky but no-illusions way – nice to have Halifax/Scotia references.

🐣Nell Freudenberger’s Lucky Girls (2003) I have no recollection what happened in this book I believe was a collection of short stories. If one of them was really special, I did not make a note. I recall not being the least bit impressed by this book but I just had to keep reading to finish it.

👽Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 (1953) This classic that is a must-read for sci-fi readers! But it was not at all what I thought it would be. I suppose it’s the disconnect reading something so old, like when I was reading The Left Hand of Darkness, like, “Okay … and how is this so relevant and prescient?”

👽🏫🔎Suzanne Collins’ The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes (May 2020) It was pretty interesting to read the story of Coriolanus Snow, how he wasn’t so innately evil but ambitious and proud and circumstances were stacked against him, and irresistable/justifiable opportunities were presented to him. And it’s not called The Ballad of Songbirds and SNAKES for no reason – those snakes and that demonic doctor! It was super graphic and I shiver again to think of it. I trust that the prequel novel fits with the original story (10th Hunger Games is classified), but I’m not such a fan that I knew offhand!

🔎✊🏿Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing (2017) This was a book club read, supposedly the last one of the season that we would discuss in June. It was soooo frustrating to see how the parents acted and it turns out there was not one ghost but two! Reading this frustrating novel made me want to hug Baby harder when I was so worried their neglect and poverty would kill the toddler despite the older brother’s best efforts!

🔎🏫🎧✊🏿Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give (2017) I had seen the title and book cover before and never really gave it a second thought. I pretty much thought “U” in the title made it a YA novel and thought nothing further. Then I saw it on one BLM recommended reading list and that convinced me to request and listen to it. It was narrated memorably by Bahni Turpin and was suspenseful at times, frustrating and gritty, but at the same time not too crazy (realistic?) because it’s a YA novel I believe.

🐣✊🏿Tayari Jones’ An American Marriage (2018) A Black man is wrongly accused and then imprisoned for a crime he did not commit. His new wife starts a new life with his best friend because the marriage is pretty much over with a 12-year sentence except he gets out after about seven years. Life is so shitty and complicated and we see it from the three perspective. It was good but a scary trend that I forgot that I finished this one and borrowed it again and was so confused where to continue reading!

🐣🔎Chandler Baker’s Whisper Network (July 2019) I can’t remember which list first recommended this novel to me and I had it on hold for so long and suspended the hold and then finally gave it a try. Although I agree with the general epithets about of the roadblocks females and mothers face, it seemed much, a bit “know-it-all”, like an unnecessary rally cry,  “Let’s appease and acknowledge everyone.” It had interesting enough characters for a fast read.

👽🔎Carole Stivers’ The Mother Code (Aug 2020) I saw it on a list (I will hopefully keep better track of reommendations in a bullet journal that I’ll start next year) and so of course I would request it being of the sci-fi and motherhood variety. When I mentioned the briefest of synopsis, when I hadn’t yet read the novel, NPY thought Raised by Wolves (a current TV show) was based on it and it’s not. IC-NANs, menacing circle of DNA (virus?), were designed and irresponsibilty released by the American military and they affected not just got their target but into archaebacteria – and I know how bad-ass archaebacteria are! There was a mystical but I could handle it and found it a little weird that Stivers would select a real Native American tribe to be immune to this fictitious affliction. Mind you, their immunity is not a reflection on their lifestyle but more so the results of relative reproductive isolation that a protective intron sequence was preserved. It read like a fun thriller like as countries went to war, overcapacity hospitals reporting non-febrile novel flu (how timely!), and how the military operated to save civilizations. The world shrank to the size of an American desert and Los Alamos become the world.

👽🔎🇨🇦🐣🏫 Mallory Tater’s The Birth Yard (Mar 2020) I saw this on an Audible Canada list of favourites books to listen to this year but haven’t noticed any buzz about it so far this year. That’s like the third “motherhood” book this year, all sci-fi-ish except this one is more dystopian and involves a cult organization rather than technology. Fitting as I end my mat leave! However, I didn’t like it. It felt formulaic: “now we’ll name everything and set up the world” except that suspension of disbelief was hard to achieve.  It is fascinating how the medication/drugs that we know of now are given to the women of the patriarchial Den to control them such as birth control pills (DiLexa), roofies (at least that’s what I think it was, or it was just weed / DociGens), ecstasy (Reposeries) and chemo (Afterols). But other than that, didn’t care much for the protagonist who didn’t seem overly special. There is only one Katniss. Her midwife, Grey, was more intriguing.

🍚 🐣👽🏫🔎 Joanne Ramos The Farm (May 2019) This novel! I think I let a hold lapse or canceled it but then seeing the title on some list renewed my interest in it. Partway through reading it, I wondered if I wasn’t reading a YA novel and it’s not as if YA won’t read about reproduction, it being years/decades away for them. Certainly, when the women were so suspicious of Golden Oaks goings on and of each other, it felt like YA/chicklit but I think it overall isn’t. And I hadn’t realized until reading it that it falls into my AA Lit definition too. I thought it was science fiction but it’s not – speculative fiction and not even that out of this realm either. As emphasized from Ramos’ Author’s Note/Mae Yu’s observation, I appreciated how the generational improvement wasn’t miraculous but like such: elders in the mother land, Jane is the immigrant generation and does not/cannot experience a windfall as a single parent who is uneduated – but her daughter has strong role models and a life and circumstances that give her the opportunities to launch ahead.

🍚💯🇨🇦 David Suzuki’s Letters to My Grandchildren (2015) I saw this title under Available Now and seem to be attracted to these books of the people who have lived and passing on their wisdom. I never watched “The Nature of Things” so I don’t know Suzuki’s TV persona and this volume was my first exposure to him as a now-elder with firm convictions and sometimes sounding like he’s shaking his cane at people, society, the state of things. At times it felt a bit like a stretch, the personal notes in such a public volume, but it was a strong plea that people/society heeds the true state of the environment and do something about it – not for him in the least, but for the future generations who live upon this earth.

🍚🐣Helen Hoang’s The Bride Test (2019) When I finished The Kiss Quotient and was simultaneously irritated and enlightened by this sub-genre of romance novels, I told myself that I had no need to read Hoang’s other novel. But I think Auntie Joan read it after I recommended and she read Kiss Quotient and she thought Bride Test was better so I requested it as well. It was surprisingly good when you ignore the “perfection” of high-functioning Khai and the implausible set-up that allows Esme to worm into his affections. I’m glad the Esme was scrappy and had an interesting backstory (poor relations and a child in Vietnam).

🍚🐣🏫🔎Abigail Hing Wen’s Loveboat, Taipei (January 2020) As someone who would have loved to know about “Love Boat” back in my time, who might have been allowed to go, who would have gotten into So Much Trouble, this felt like a must-read. But, ugh, such a YA novel with the love triangle and how teenagers save the day! At least I was introduced to a traditional Taiwanese song in the process.

🍚🐣🏫🎧Kelly Yang’s Front Desk (2018) I knew this was a YA (or even middle-school) novel and for giggles borrowed it as an audiobook. I’m sure glad I did, it’s a cute story with a good message. Plucky 10-year-old Mia in this middle school who is insecure about her immigrant English. She learned to assert herself through letters and assemble an assortment of allies. It turns out that it’s loosely based on the author’s own experiences. That being said, it’s a middle-school novel so I won’t read the next installment!

🍚🏫🐣🔎David Yoon’s Frankly in Love (Sept 2019)  So, it turns out that David Yoon is Nicola Yoon’s husband, whose book The Sun Is Also A Star last year. It’s YA to the hilt, set in high school which I would say is something light-hearted for the times but honestly it’s the book club reads that I insist on keeping up with that are the “hard” ones. I know someone who used to go by “frankly” so this name does stick out to me. There were really great characters from his best pal Q and Q’s twin sister Evon, the Limbos and Apeys. There was plenty of California/youthful lingo that I was pleased I could grasp. It was fun to read because it was smart-talking like a sitcom and I was definitely rooting for Frankenjoy. Frank’s parents run a convenience store so it’s reminiscent of Kim’s Convenience and got a little deeper into the realities. Gatherings are the sort of network that I wish I had through my parents.

🍚🔎🇨🇦Ian Hamilton’s The Mountain Master of Sha Tin (July 2019) He keeps writing them and I keep reading them. I can’t really remember what happened in this one: Xu was ill so Ava had to step in on some triad business as the gang leader in Sha Tin is causing trouble. She’s trying to explore her avenues and delay action it seems. But you can see how Hamilton is setting himself up for the next novels with the movie deal with the drug addict ex-husband, a visit to Toronto and meeting the mum. I wonder when “The Triad Years” ends.

🍚💯Julie Otsuka’s The Buddha in the Attic (2013) I list this one as non-fiction as that what I gleaned from the synopsis, that the author spoke to so many primary sources. It’s difficult to read about this kind of suffecting but I did not at all enjoy the style of the narrative. It seemed super lazy to me to just basically list all the anecdotes she gathered into categories that generally propelled the “story” forward. It felt like I was just reading phrase after phrase after phrase.

🍚💯🔎✊🏿Cathy Hong Park’s Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning (Feb 2020) Amidst the woke/inclusive/diversity reading recommendations was this one that I would request quickly. It was a little pedantic at the start but got better and it was insightful although I cannot pinpoint entirely how.

🍚🔎🇨🇦 Ian Hamilton’s Foresight (Jan 2020) Since it is a new series, it’s refreshing to visit the Chow Tung’s youth timeline. It seemed almost education this time as Hamilton explored Tung’s gang capitalizing, striking while the iron is hot, on the opening up of China by setting up shops in Shenzhen. It was verging on historical fiction which thus feels like purposeful reading!

🍚💯🔎David Chang’s Eat a Peach: A Memoir (Sept 2020) I don’t know much about Momofuku but it takes you into the mind of the kind of passion to be in the business, to expand his business the way he did, the concepts behind the restaurants which otherwise just look like different ways to make more money.

🍚Charles Yu’s Interior Chinatown (Jan 2020) Yu has some interesting titles but I did not at all enjoy this novel. It was written like a screenplay and it was so depressing and I honestly couldn’t exactly  tell or believe what was truly happening and what might be a figment of the protagonists imagination, that was instead just a scene he was acting.

🍚🔎Frances Cha’s If I Had Your Face (Apr 2020)  It’s fitting in this year where we started to watch K-dramas on Netflix (Itaewon Class followed by Crash Landing on You – NPY further watched It’s Okay Not to Be Okay) and even though it wasn’t visual, I ended up wanting some food after reading it – hangover stew! K-dramas are all the rage right now and people look so perfect and somehwat similar because what belies that is a hyper emphasis on looks. It’s an ensemble cas of characters each with their own troubles and I liked how the story moved along taking a look into their lives. Ara suffered trauma and is mute; she is roomate to Sujin who wants to be a room salon girl and will undergo surgery. Kyuri is a veteran room salon girl and sees the other side of the coin and fell for a client despite knowing better. Wonna suffered trauma at the hands of her grandmother and wants to have a baby and has only had misfortune so far. Miho is also from the orphanage but had American experience and opportunities; she is haunted by memories and guilt of the death of her good friend and boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend.

On this day..