Wrapping up 2021 with my final book haul post. At the start of the year, it was part of my resolution to read more and buy fewer books. For the nth year running, I failed at this attempt, and if my December book haul is any indicator, I failed horribly. This is ironic considering the restrictions imposed due to COVID 19 but I guess the accessibility of buying books online made the restrictions a superficial defense against buying more books. LOL. Before I lose myself again in words, here are the books I have purchased during the last month of 2021.
Title: The Book of Form and Emptiness
Author: Ruth Ozeki
Publishing Date: 2021
No. of Pages: 546
Synopsis: One year after the death of his beloved musician father, thirteen-year-old Benny Oh begins to hear voices. The voices belong to the things in his house – a sneaker, a broken Christmas ornament, a piece of wilted lettuce. Although Benny doesn’t understand what these things are saying, he can sense their emotional tone; some are pleasant, but others are snide, angry, and full of pain. When his mother, Annabelle, develops a hoarding problem, the voices grow more clamorous.
At first, Benny tries to ignore them, but soon the voices follow him outside the house, onto the street and at school, driving him at last to seek refuge in the silence of a large public library, where objects are well-behaved and know to speak in whispers. There, Benny discovers a strange new world. He falls in love with a mesmerizing street artist, who uses the library as her performance space. He meets a homeless philosopher-poet, who encourages him to ask important questions and find his own voice amongst the many. And he meets his very own Book – a talking thing – who narrates Benny’s life and teaches him to listen to the things that truly matter.
With its blend of sympathetic characters, riveting plot, and vibrant engagement with everything from jazz, to climate change, to our attachment to material possessions, The Book of Form and Emptiness is classic Ruth Ozeki – bold, wise, poignant, playful, humane, and heartbreaking.
Title: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo
Author: Taylor Jenkins Reid
Publisher: Washington Square Press Atria
Publishing Date: May 2018
No. of Pages: 385
Synopsis: Reclusive Hollywood icon Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life. But when she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant to write her story, no one is more astounded than Monique herself.
Determined to use this opportunity to jump-start her career, Monique listens in fascination. From making her way to Los Angeles in the 1950s to leaving show business in the ’80s – and of course, the seven husbands along the way – Evelyn unspools a tale of ruthless ambition, unexpected friendship, and great forbidden love. But as Evelyn’s story nears its conclusion, it becomes clear that her life intersects with Monique’s own in tragic and irreversible ways.
Written with Reid’s signature talent for creating “complex, likable characters” (Real Simple), this is a mesmerizing journey through the splendor of Old Hollywood into the sobering realities of the present day as two women struggle with what it means – and what it costs – to face the truth.
Author: Chibundu Onuzo
Publishing Date: 2021
No. of Pages: 294
Synopsis: After years of being a daughter, a wife, and a mother, Anna finally has the time to wonder who she really is. But the only person who can tell her – her mother, the only parent who raised her – is dead.
Searching through her mother’s belongings one day, Anna uncovers a few clues about her father, whom she never knew. Student diaries chronicle his involvement in radical politics in 1970s London, involvement that eventually led him to return to Africa, where he became the president – some would say dictator – of a small nation in West Africa. And he is still alive.
When Anna decides to track her father down, a journey begins that is disarmingly moving, funny, and fascinating. It raises universal questions of race and belonging, the overseas experience for the African diaspora, and the search for a family’s hidden roots. Masterful in its examination of freedom, prejudice, and personal and public inheritance, Sankofa is a story for anyone who has ever gone looking for a clear identity or home and found something more complex in its place.
Title: The Reading List
Author: Sara Nicha Adams
Publisher: William Morrow
Publishing Date: 2021
No. of Pages: 368
Synopsis: Widower Mukesh lives a quiet life in West London, where he shops every Wednesday, goes to temple, and worries about his granddaughter Priya, who hides in her room reading while he spends his evenings watching nature documentaries.
Aleisha is a bright but anxious teenager working at the local library when she discovers a forgotten slip of paper in the back of To Kill a Mockingbird. It’s a list of novels that she’s never heard of before. Intrigued, she impulsively decides to read every book on the list, one after the other. As each story gives up its magic, the books transport Aleisha away from the painful realities she’s facing at home.
When Mukesh arrives at the library desperate to forge a connection with his bookworm granddaughter, Aleisha wonders if the books might be a lifeline for him too. So begins a new chapter for both of them, as the reading list creates a bond between two lonely souls and even circulates throughout their community, its impact widening as readers learn how fiction can teach them so much about joy and sorrow and real life…
Title: Then the Fish Swallowed Him
Author: Amir Ahmadi Arian
Publishing Date: 2021
No. of Pages: 275
Synopsis: A bus driver in politically fraught Tehran, Yunus Turabi avoids confrontation, but everyone has their breaking point. Yunus has reached his. Handcuffed and blindfolded, he arrives at the infamous Evin prison. Inside, he meets Hajj Saeed, his personal interrogator. As a cat-and-mouse mind game unfolds, and as Yunus struggles to stay one step ahead of Saeed, he must decide to keep on fighting or submit to the system of lies that upholds the power of those in charge.
Title: The Cat Inside
Author: William S. Burroughs
Publisher: Penguin Books
Publishing Date: 2002
No. of Pages: 94
Synopsis: Originally published as a limited-edition volume, The Cat Inside is William S. Burrough’s moving and witty discourse on cats, one that combines deadpan routines and ream passages with a heartwarming account of his unexpected friendships with the many cats he has known. It is also a meditation on the long, mysterious relationship between cats and their human hosts, which Burroughs traces back to the Egyptian cult of the “animal other.” With its street sense, arcane erudition, and whiplash prose, The Cat Inside is a genuine revelation for Burroughs fans and cat lovers alike.
Title: Jamaica Inn
Author: Daphne Du Maurier
Publishing Date: 2015
No. of Pages: 302
Synopsis: After the death of her mother, Mary Yellan crosses the windswept Cornish moors to Jamaica Inn, the home of her Aunt Patience. There she finds Patience a changed woman, downtrodden by her domineering, vicious husband Joss Merlyn. Mary discovers that the inn is a front for a lawless gang of criminals, and is unwillingly dragged into their dangerous world of smuggling and murder. Despite herself, she becomes powerfully attracted to a man she dares not trust – Joss Merly’s brother. Before long Mary will be forced to cross her own moral line to save herself.
Author: Chuck Palahniuk
Publishing Date: 2018
No. of Pages: 289
Synopsis: Tender Branson – last surviving member of the Creedish Death Cult – is dictating his life story into the recorder of Flight 2039, cruising on autopilot at 39,000 feet somewhere over the Pacific Ocean. He is all alone in the airplane, which will crash shortly into the vast Australian outback. But before it does, Branson will unfold the tale of his journey from an obedient Creedish child and humble domestic servant to an ultra-buffed steroid- and collagen-packed media messiah.
Title: When the Emperor was Divine
Author: Julie Otsuka
Publisher: Anchor Books
Publishing Date: October 2003
No. of Pages: 144
Synopsis: On a sunny day in Berkeley, California, in 1942, a woman sees a sign in a post office window, returns to her home, and matter-of-factly begins to pack her family’s possessions. Like thousands of other Japanese Americans they have been reclassified, virtually overnight, as enemy aliens and are about to be uprooted from their home and sent to a dusty internment camp in the Utah desert.
In this lean and devastatingly evocative first novel, Julie Otsuka tells their story from five flawlessly realized points of view and conveys the exact emotional texture of their experience: the thin-walled barracks and barbed-wire fences, the omnipresent fear and loneliness, the unheralded feats of heroism. When the Emperor Was Divine is a work of enormous power that makes a shameful episode of our history as immediate as today’s headlines.
Title: A Christmas Carol
Author: Charles Dickens
Publishing Date: 2020
No. of Pages: 109
Synopsis: It is the festive season, but flint-hearted Ebenezer Scrooge is altogether lacking in Christmas cheer. “Bah! Humbug!” is Scrooge’s verdict on those who wish to make merry. His desire to be left alone in his freezing counting-house is disrupted by the terrifying ghostly appearance of Jacob Marley, Scrooge’s deceased business partner. Marley has been condemned to wander the earth, weighed down by a chain of cash-boxes, keys, padlocks and ledgers – the things that sustained him in life. The same restless fate awaits Scrooge unless he can mend his ways, but along the path to salvation he must face three more uncomfortable spectral visits…
No work of fiction captures the spirit of Christmas better than the heartwarming, life-affirming tale of Scrooge’s transformation, which extols the redeeming power of love and charity.
Title: The Reluctant Fundamentalist
Author: Mohsin Hamid
Publishing Date: 2008
No. of Pages: 184
Synopsis: At a café table in Lahore, a bearded Pakistani man converses with an uneasy American stranger. As dusk deepens to night, he begins the tale that has brought them to this fateful encounter…
Changez is living an immigrant’s dream of America. At the top of his class at Princeton, he is snapped up by an elite valuation firm. He thrives on the energy of New York, and his budding romance with elegant, beautiful Erica promises entry into Manhattan society at the same exalted level once occupied by his own family back in Lahore.
But in the wake of September 11, Changez finds his position in his adopted city suddenly overturned and his relationship with Erica shifting. And Changez’s own identity is in seismic shift as well, unearthing allegiances more fundamental than money, power, and maybe even love.
Title: The Overstory
Author: Richard Power
Publishing Date: 2019
No. of Pages: 502
Synopsis: Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winner Richard Powers’s twelfth novel is a sweeping, impassioned work of activism and resistance that is also a stunning evocation of – and paean to – the natural world. From the roots to the crown and back to the seeds, The Overstory unfolds in concentric rings of interlocking fables that range from antebellum New York to the late twentieth-century Timber Wars of the Pacific Northwest and beyond. There is a world alongside ours – vast, slow, interconnected, resourceful, magnificently inventive, and almost invisible to us. This is the story of a handful of people who learn how to see that world and who are drawn up into its unfolding catastrophe.
Title: The Women of Troy
Author: Pat Barker
Publishing Date: 2021
No. of Pages: 284
Synopsis: Troy has fallen, and the victorious Greeks are eager to return home with the spoils of an endless war – including the women of Troy themselves. They await a fair wind for the Aegean.
It does not come, because the gods are offended. The body of King Priam lies unburied and desecrated, and so the victors remain in suspension, camped in the shadows of the city they destroyed as the coalition that held them together begins to unravel. Old feuds resurface, and new suspicions and rivalries begin to fester.
Largely unnoticed by her captors, the onetime Trojan queen Briseis, who was formerly Achilles’s slave but now belongs to his companion Alcimus, quietly takes in these developments. She forges alliances where she can – with Priam’s aged with, the defiant Hecuba, and with the disgraced soothsayer Calchas – all the while shrewdly seeking her path to revenge.
Title: The Books of Jacob
Author: Olga Tokarczuk
Translator: Jennifer Croft
Publisher: Riverhead Books
Publishing Date: 2021
No. of Pages: 961
Synopsis: In the mid-eighteenth century, as a new unrest begins to sweep Europe, a young Jew of mysterious origins arrives in a village in Poland. Visited by what seem to be ecstatic experiences, Jacob Frank casts a charismatic spell. In the decade to come, he and his increasingly fervent followers will crisscross the Habsburg and Ottoman empires as he reinvents himself again and again, converts to Islam and then to Catholicism, is pilloried as a heretic one moment, hailed as the Messiah the next – all amid rumors of his sect’s secret rituals and radical beliefs. The story of Rank, a real historical figure around whom mystery and controversy swirl to this day, is an ideal canvas for Olga Tokarczuk’s genius and unparalleled reach. Narrated through the perspectives of his contemporaries – those who revere him, those who revile him, the friend who betrays him, the lone woman who sees him for what he is – The Books of Jacob captures a world on the cusp of precipitous change, searching for certainty and longing for transcendence.