And just like that, 12 months have passed. Time really did flew past us, eleven months have already gone by and in a couple of days, we are going to wave goodbye to 2020. Despite the challenging and uncertain times, I hope everyone is remaining optimistic for better times. I am hoping that everyone is safe even though the the virus’ remains ubiquitous. I am hoping that things would start looking up in the coming year.
Reading-wise, December is essentially an extension of November. I started the month with my 800th novel, Parallel Stories by Péter Nádas. It was my longest read for 2020 although I read two more books which are also at least 1,000 pages long. After hurdling this labyrinthine work, I set out to complete as many “new” books as I can. For a backlist reader like me, 2020 is uncharacteristically filled with “new” reads. Although I started reading “new” books only in July, I managed to end the year with a whopping 26 “new” books. It is a landmark achievement because I never read more than 15 new books in the past.
I have read 15 of the 26 new books during the last two months of the year. (Wow, I didn’t believe I could achieve that). Of this number, I have read nine in December alone. I was certainly on a tear in December for I completed 10 books. I think this is just the third or fourth time I read at least ten books in a month. The holidays did allow me more time to read more books. Without more ado, here are the magnificent reads I had in December.
Parallel Stories by Péter Nádas
I have never heard of or read about Hungarian writer Péter Nádas until the lead up to the 2018/2019 Nobel Prize in Literature. He was favored by many a literary pundit as a possible winner. This naturally piqued my interest and with luck, I managed to find a copy of one of his works in a local book reseller. Parallel Stories was quite lengthy but it further fueled my desire to read the book, hence its inclusion in my 2020 Top 20 Reading List. It is a massive tale about the Second World War and its far-reaching impact. Despite the bleak atmosphere, I enjoyed the virtual tour around Budapest where most of the story was set. Apart from the historical context, it was brimming with sexual overtones, especially in the first half. It was a memorable read to say the east.
How Much of These Hills is Gold by C Pam Zhang
C Pam Zhang’s How Much of These Hills is Gold is one of the titles that I have been looking forward to this year, especially after it was longlisted for the 2020 Man Booker Prize. Availing a copy of the book was another thing. I have been on the look out for quite a long time but I never found a copy. I was about to give up but I managed to find a bookseller who had an available copy. Without more ado, I immersed into the narrative. It is the story of two sisters, Sam and Lucy, who suddenly found themselves alone after their father’s untimely death. Parts coming-of-age, parts-historical, what I loved about the book was its folkloric elements whilst immersing in seminal themes such as the quintessence of the American Dream and the immigrant narrative.
Woven in Moonlight by Isabel Ibanez
Just like How Much of These Hills is Gold, Isabel Ibanez’s Woven in Moonlight is one of the 2020 titles that I have listed in my 2020 Top 10 Books I Look Forward To. The first thing that enchanted me about the novel was its cover. I know it looks a little puerile (haha) but it is still fascinating, and magical. The story behind Woven in Moonlight was inspired by the politics and history of Ibanez’s native country of Bolivia. Ibanez weaves the story of Ximena who was send as a decoy for the real Illustrian condesa. She was sent to the castle of Atoc, the “fake” king of Inkasisa who overthrew the Illustrians. References to actual events and people is unmistakable. Overall, it was an interesting read.
Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell
From the magical land of Inkasisa, my next literary journey transported me to Elizabethan England. Maggie O’Farrell’s Hamnet was recently announced as the winner of the 2020 Women’s Prize of Fiction. It was for this reason that I bought a copy of the book; plus, a fellow book blogger recommended it to me. A historical novel touted as a “novel of the plague”, it is the story of Hamnet, the son of famed English playwright William Shakespeare. Shakespeare, however, was never directly named in the story and his presence was fleeting. Hamnet is the emotionally-charged story about love – a mother’s love for her children, a sibling’s love for her/his siblings. This moving narrative was complimented by O’Farrell’s lyrical writing.
Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu
From the past to the present, from one award-winning novel to another, my next literary destination is a fictional Chinatown located somewhere in Southern California. Charles Yu’s Interior Chinatown was never part of my reading list. However, my interest was piqued after it was announced as the winner of the 2020 US National Book Awards. I immediately added it to my reading list and purchased a copy; it didn’t take long before I started reading it. Interior Chinatown is the story of a bigtime actor wannabe named Willis Yu. However, he is constantly relegated to bit parts or just being the Generic Asian Man. It is an entertaining but enlightening read that obscures the realities faced by Asian Americans. The story also reminded me of a lighter and wittier version of How Much of These Hills is Gold.
The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune
One of the books that I keep hearing noise from is TJ Klune’s The House in the Cerulean Sea. Many a book blogger kept featuring this book. It has become ubiquitous that I finally decided to take a dip into his narrative; I have never heard of or read any of Klune’s books before this year. One of the things that caught my attention is the fancy book cover; December is the month of the fancy book covers. It made me look forward to the enchanting narrative that Klune wove. The House in the Cerulean Sea is the story of Linus Baker, a caseworker employed by the Department in Charge of Magical Youth (DICOMY). At 40-years-old, he lived a rather dull and pedestrian existence until he was assigned by the Extremely Upper Management to a confidential (and “dangerous”) task. What Linus never expected was that it was going to be a life-changing experience.
Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo
I first heard of Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 as a movie adaptation in South Korea. It was top billed by no less than Gong Yoo of Train to Busan fame. When I learned that the Korean novel was translated into English and published this year, I was on my toes and ordered a copy of the book. It did take sometime before it got delivered but it came before the year ended (thankfully). Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 is as popular as it is controversial. Through the story of a woman named Kim Jiyoung, the novel sheds a light on the systemic and institutional misogyny that Korean society has been wrapped in. Curiously, whilst it highlighted a seminal and timely subject, I was barely moved by the story. The writing felt more like a social commentary rather than a moving literary piece.
The Beauty of Your Face by Sahar Mustafah
Sahar Mustafah’s The Beauty of Your Face is the ninth book I completed from my 2020 Top 10 Books I Look Forward to List, underscoring how much of a landmark year 2020 has been – at least in terms of reading. With nine of the ten books, my list this year is the most successful since I started doing this list. The Beauty of Your Face is the story of Afaf Rahman, the daughter of Palestinian immigrants, is the principal of Nurrideen School for Girls, a Muslim school in the Chicago suburbs. Weaving back and forth between the past and the present, it is the poignant story of a young woman who bravely faced the discrimination that comes along with the American Dream narrative. It is also the story of modern America that is radicalized by misinformation and the internet.
Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy
Touted by many a literary pundit as one of the best books of 2020, it didn’t take long for a copy of Charlotte McConaghy’s Migrations to find itself in my bookshelf. It had a pull that I found irresistible. Migrations commences with the novel’s primary character, Franny Stone, finding herself in Greenland. She was a woman on a mission: to follow the Arctic terns in what may be their last migration. However, she needs someone to transport her. That was when she met the dashing but enigmatic Ennis Malone, the captain of the fishing vessel Saghani. As the story moves forward, Franny’s story unspools, shrouding the entire story in an unexpected tenterhook. What is her story and why is she keen on following the Arctic tern? Migrations is an engaging tale, albeit a bleak and realistic outlook of our future.
Shine by Jessica Jung
I knew former Girl’s Generation member Jessica Jung was publishing her debut novel this year because I have been following several pages related to Korea. I also have an inkling on her story. Nevertheless, I was ambivalent about buying and reading her book. That was until I encountered some positive reviews about her novel from non-Kpop stans. This piqued my interest and the bandwagoner and me simply cannot resist. Shine takes the readers into the stringent process of training and choosing future KPop idols through its main character, Rachel Kim, whilst at the same time underlining some relevant and timely issues that hound modern South Korea. It was, overall, an entertaining read with a positive message. Of the books I read in December, Shine had the least engaging cover.
Current Read: Utopia Avenue by David Mitchell
My current read is an overflow from my 2020 “new” books venture. David Mitchell has become one of my favorite authors because of his madcap tales, The Bone Clocks and Cloud Atlas. However, I wasn’t too keen on Utopia Avenue. It took some positive reviews to change my mind so I am now reading my third Mitchell. This is also my second read for the year, after Jing-Jing Lee’s How We Disappeared. The titular Utopia Avenue is a band formed in late 1960s London. It introduces four (or five) interesting characters. For a Mitchell novel, I find it a little underwhelming although I am just a little under 200 pages done. I am still hopeful that things will look up though. This is, after all, David Mitchell.
Reading Challenge Recaps
- My 2020 Top 20 Reading List: 20/20
- Beat The Backlist: 12/12
- My 2020 10 Books I Look Forward To List: 9/10
- Gooodreads 2020 Reading Challenge: 93/85*
- Year of the Asian Reading Challenge: 25/20**
- 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die: 26/20
*I have updated my Goodread reading challenge tally from 80 books to 85 as I am way ahead of my target.
**I included Israeli-American Ilana Masad in the count.
Book Reviews Published in December
- Book Review # 217: The Vanishing Half
- Book Review # 218: The Help
- Book Review # 219: Cold Mountain
- Book Review # 220: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian
- Book Review # 221: How Much of These Hills is Gold
- Book Review # 222: The House in the Cerulean Sea
- Book Review # 223: Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982
I definitely ended December and the year with aplomb. I read 10 books, ended the year with 93 books in total, the most I had since I started reading. I guess I am getting my groove back, at least where book blogging and reading are both concerned. Writing mini reviews in Goodreads helped in completing some of my book reviews although I still have some pending June 2020 book reviews; at least I have something to look forward to in January 2021.
I will be carrying on this reading momentum into the new year; I am hoping to finish 2021 with at least 90 books again. Haha. I have, so far, completed reading one book and currently reading another one. However, the year-end closing activities are hampering me from reading as many pages as I can. Nonetheless, once these closing activities are done, I will be picking up my pace again.
How about you readers? How was your December reading journey? I hope you had a great journey. You can also share your experiences in the comment box.
Happy reading everyone!
– Charles W. Eliot
“Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers.”