Goodreads Challenge 2019!

It’s nearing the end of 2019 so you know what that means – it’s time to sum up my reading (yay!). 2019 was a good year. Overall, I surpassed my Goodreads challenge of reading 52 books this year by clocking 67 books!

Here’s the list divided into novels, short story collections, nonfiction, memoir, poetry, and graphic novels/comics. The ones I’ve starred are the ones that had a considerable impact on me.

Novels

  1. Welcome to Lagos by Chibundu Onuzo
  2. Patsy by Nicole Dennis-Benn
  3. The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan *
  4. The Star Side of Bird Hill by Naomi Jackson
  5. Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney
  6. Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok *
  7. Lucy by Jamaica Kincaid
  8. Augustown by Kei Miller *
  9. Golden Child by Claire Adam
  10. Here Comes The Sun by Nicole Dennis Benn *
  11. My New American Life by Francine Prose
  12. I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
  13. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith *
  14. A House For Mr. Biswas by VS Naipaul *
  15. Crick, Crack Monkey by Merle Hodge
  16. Annie John by Jamaica Kincaid *
  17. Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
  18. Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery *
  19. My Enemy’s Cherry Tree by Wang Ting-Kuo
  20. A View of the Empire at Sunset by Caryl Philips *
  21. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
  22. The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas
  23. Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie
  24. Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
  25. Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat *
  26. Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams

Short story collections

  1. Trinidad Noir: The Classics edited by Earl Lovelace and Robert Antoni
  2. What It Means When A Man Falls From the Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah
  3. How to Love a Jamaican by Alexia Arthurs *
  4. A Kitchen in the Corner of the House by Ambai
  5. The Transformation and Other Stories by Franz Kafka
  6. Jokes for the Gunmen by Mazen Maarouf
  7. Stranger Things Happen by Kelly Link *

Nonfiction

  1. Three Tigers, One Mountain by Michael Booth *
  2. Thin Places by Jordan Kisner *
  3. VS Naipaul’s Journeys by Sanjay Krishnan
  4. Stories that Stick by Kindra Hall
  5. Online Marketing for Busy Authors by Fauzia Burke
  6. Writing is Essential by Judine Slaughter
  7. Elements of Fiction by Walter Mosley
  8. Footnotes by Peter Fiennes
  9. We Need New Stories by Nesrine Malik
  10. Focal Point by Brian Tracy
  11. Beyond Guilt Trips by Anu Taranath
  12. An Uncommon Atlas by Alastair Bonnett
  13. The Bells of Old Tokyo by Anna Sherman
  14. Cuba Then, Cuba Now by Joshua-Jelly Shapiro
  15. Imaginary Homelands by Salman Rushdie
  16. Diasporic (Dis)locations by Brinda J Mehta *
  17. The Good Immigrant edited by Nikesh Shukla
  18. How to Read and Why by Harold Bloom
  19. The Minimalist Home by Joshua Becker
  20. Unconventional Medicine by Chris Kresser
  21. How to Polish Your Manuscript in 10 Days by Anne Victory

Memoir

  1. In Other Words by Jhumpa Lahiri
  2. At Home in the World by Tsh Oxenreider
  3. The Other Side of Paradise by Staceyann Chin
  4. Autumn Light by Pico Iyer
  5. Educated by Tara Westover *
  6. Apple, Tree by Lisa Funderburg
  7. Malaya by Cinelle Barnes *
  8. A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid *
  9. A Map to the Door of No Return by Dionne Brand
  10. Magic Realism for Non-Believers by Anika Fajardo *
  11. Belonging by bell hooks *

Graphic Novel/Comics

  1. The Wonderful World of Sazae San by Machiko Hasegawa

Poetry

  1. Modern Sudanese Poetry by Adil Babikir

How many books did you read this year? What were your favorites?

What I read in autumn 2019

With winter fast approaching, I think it’s a good time to review what I read over the autumn months. As the weather cooled down, I started to burrow into books again, particularly nonfiction/memoir.  Here are the highlights.

Educated by Tara Westover

This memoir blew me away. I was astounded at the author’s spare upbringing with a fundamentalist Mormon father with idiosyncratic beliefs about education, government, modern medicine, and work. The book largely wrestles with the conflict between family obligation and self-actualization. Westover ends up reaching the apex in education with a PhD from Cambridge University but also suffers familial estrangement. I guess you win some, you lose some.

Autumn Light by Pico Iyer

This memoir reflects on the losses the author’s family has suffered in recent years. First, his father-in-law passes away and his mother-in-law has to be put in home because she suffers from dementia. Second, he wrestles with the fact that his mother lives alone in California. Third, Iyer deals with an estranged brother-in-law whom he has never met. He also shares his experiences with his local ping pong club in Nara. 

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

This series of interlocking stories follow four Chinese immigrant women from war-torn China to contemporary San Francisco. There, these women navigate cross-cultural waters, marriages, and often conflicted relationships with their American-born daughters. Although I hate to say it, Tan’s writing often comes across as “magical” and “exotic.” However, her storytelling and evocative imagery certainly captivate the reader.

The Other Side of Paradise by Staceyann Chin

This autobiographical memoir was shocking and often heartbreaking. Young Staceyann did not have an easy life and it is amazing she was able to make it so far in spite of her life challenges.

Patsy by Nicole Dennis-Benn

After reading Here Comes The Sun, I was eager to devour this Jamaican author’s sophomore novel. It follows the adventures of Patsy who leaves her daughter behind in Jamaica to start a new life and follow an old lover in Brooklyn.

What it Means When a Man Falls from The Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah

I first read one of her stories on Granta and was happy to read the rest of them in this delightful collection. However, my favorite story remains “Who Will Greet You at Home.” So haunting!

Welcome to Lagos by Chibundu Onuzo 

This novel was not at all what I expected. The plot moves along swiftly and deals with corruption in political life and civil unrest in Nigeria. Recommended if you like plot-driven novels.

At Home in the World by Tsh Oxenreider

This memoir follows a family of five who literally travel around the world. When I first started reading it, I was genuinely shocked that the family also visited many places I landed during my own 3 month-long RTW trip with uni friends. The book made traveling with a young family enticing because of the hands-on education the kids received on the road.

In Other Words by Jhumpa Lahiri

I wanted to hear the author’s thoughts on writing in a non-native tongue, namely Italian. While reading, I was able to draw a lot of parallels between her struggles learning the language in the native country and my struggles trying to get my head around learning Japanese in Japan.

Trinidad Noir: The Classics ed. by Earl Lovelace and Robert Antoni

Because I enjoyed the first Trinidad Noir from Akashic Books, I decided to read this “classics” version. It includes a lot of reprints from canonical Caribbean authors like VS Naipaul, CLR James, Eric Roach, Derek Walcott, and Sam Selvon. However, because of this, many of the reprints fail to fall under the noir writing genre. The stories that did captivate the noir literary style included work by Sharon Millar, Elizabeth Hackshaw-Walcott, Elizabeth Nunez, Wayne Brown, and Shani Mootoo.

What are you reading right now for fall?

Review: The Bells of Old Tokyo

As a fairly new expat living in the land of the rising sun, it’s always interesting to hear the perspectives of seasoned expats who have called this place home for several years.

Anna Sherman moved to Asia in 2001 and The Bells of Old Tokyo: Meditations of Time and a City is her first book. In this part-memoir/ part travelogue, Sherman retraces the steps taken by composer Yoshimura Hiroshi in his book, Edo’s Bells of Time, listening for the chime of the old city’s bells in the silent spaces of her loud, 21st century metropolis. Her prose is both lyrical and clipped, as she meditates on seasonal time-keeping in old Edo and contrasts it with digital time-keeping in modern-day Tokyo.

She shows how the traditional Japanese conception of time as non-linear is constantly at odds with Japan’s adoption of progressive, mechanical Western time, a push and pull struggle that mirrors Japan’s juggling between its slick, contemporary image as a postmodern mecca and its ancient Eastern roots. This conflict is also evident in Tokyo’s constant reinvention of itself, forever destroying and rebuilding its spaces so that nothing ever remains permanent, even the author’s beloved coffee shop in the bowels of the enigmatic capital city.

Overall, The Bells of Old Tokyo is a fresh take on a much-admired and much-misunderstood city and highly recommended for anyone who wants to probe into what really makes the Japanese capital tick.

Disclaimer: I received this book as a digital Advance Reader Copy (ARC) from the publishers in exchange for my honest review.

Review: Cuba Then, Cuba Now

Firstly, I found Cuba Then, Cuba Now, the title of the Vintage Short by travel writer Joshua Jelly-Shapiro, to be a bit misleading. It promised reflective essays on Cuba – then and now, but the bulk of the book spoke about another Caribbean island, Jamaica. In fact, Cuba Then, Cuba Now included many excerpts from Shapiro’s first book, Island People: The Caribbean and the World.

Shapiro’s three chapters on Jamaica certainly brought the island alive with keen observations of its people, history, and culture. I liked that the narrative voice was attuned to Jamaican patois, particularly the brand spoken by its Rastafarian community.

The introduction and the chapter on Cuba, however, somehow didn’t make much of an impact on me as a Caribbean-born reader and writer. That said, I enjoyed reading this title and would really like to read Island People next.

Disclaimer: I received this book as a digital Advance Reader Copy (ARC) from the publishers in exchange for my honest review.

Have you read it?

Review: Homeland

“He saw him standing on the shore of the Vistula Spit, scanning the sea with his binoculars – ‘When are they going to come and get us?’ – while behind him the refugee wagons rumbled from the east to west and west to east. Jonathan pounded the armrest with his fist and the words kept hammering in his brain – all for nothing! ALL FOR NOTHING! He didn’t mean the death of his mother or of his father, who’d had to ‘bite the dust,’ or the sofa beds his uncle manufactured, but the suffering of all creatures, the flesh lashed to the stake, the calf he had seen bound and gagged, the torture chamber in the Marienburg, the shuffling procession of mankind beneath the condemning sky.
It’s all for nothing, he thought again and again. And: Who’s to blame?” –
Homeland by Walter Kempowski (Granta, 2018)

I’ll be honest. Before I received Homeland from the publishers, I had never heard of Walter Kempowski before. However, the good thing about reading literature in translation is that you discover voices from all over the world, not just from the English-speaking and writing world. The novel was translated from German by Charlotte Collins. In Homeland, the story is set in 1988, pre-Berlin Wall fall. We follow Jonathan Fabrizius, a writer who goes on a press road trip from Hamburg to former East Prussia/Poland and ends up revisiting the homeland he never really knew. A common theme that runs throughout the work is an existential angst associated with the futility of war, violence, suffering, and death. Reading this work, I was also sharply reminded of my short story “Homecoming” in We Mark Your Memory that explores similar themes of identity, homeland, and belonging. He’s definitely a writer I’d like to read more of.