Just like that, we are already down by one month in 2022! How time flew past us by. Only 31 days were gone but it felt like an entire year has transpired. It was fraught with challenges and changes but I am grateful that I managed to overcome these challenges. Yes, I have survived COVID19. After nearly two years of being able to dodge the virus, it finally found its way into my body. With the virus still looming, I guess it was just a matter of when I will get infected. Thankfully, I experienced only minor symptoms. All’s well now. With don’t month done, I hope that things will get better in the coming months. I fervently pray that you are all doing well, both in mind and spirit. I remain hopeful that the end of the pandemic is in sight. I can’t wait for the pandemic to end.

In terms of reading, January 2022 was a busy one. The new year ushered new opportunities and vistas to broaden my horizon, as a person and as a reader. Even before the year started, I resolved to read all my 2021 backlogs, particularly the books published in 2021. I originally planned to close 2021 by having a catch-up but the end of the year was teeming with activities. This resulted in a reading slow down towards the end of the year. Nevertheless, I was able to recover and regain my reading momentum in January 2022. With 10 books completed, it was a grand welcome to 2022. I think this is the most book I read in the first month of the year; I think I completed eight or nine last year.

I am actually happy with my output because January always tends to be my busiest book blogging month. First, I have to complete my 2021 reading wrapups, which, ironically, I haven’t completed until now. However, with just a couple of posts, I will be done. Second, I have to set my goals for the year. I have to envision how it is going to pan out. While it rarely pans out the way I designed it to be, I always find time to set my goals for the incoming year. After these wrapups, I will be working on my new year’s reading resolutions. HAHA. I still have a lot planned but before I get to them, here is a peek into how my journey went. Here is my reading list for January.

The Reading List by Sara Nisha Adams

And commencing my 2022 reading journey is Sara Nisha Adams’ The Reading List. I think it was only fitting to start the year with what I perceive is a book about books. Honestly, it wasn’t until towards the end of 2021 that I heard of Sara Nisha Adams and her novel. The book, however, immediately piqued my curiosity. Without more ado, I obtained a copy of the book and was the opener for my 2021 reading catch-up month. The Reading List was Adams’ debut novel and commenced with Mukesh, who recently lost his wife. Following her death, Mukesh felt that his relationship with his family was becoming strained. He wanted to establish a connection with his family, starting with his granddaughter, a voracious reader like her grandmother. To do this, Mukesh visited the local library where he met Aleisha. Their initial meeting did not go well but Aleisha stumbled upon a mysterious list of books, the titular “Reading List”, which included titles such as Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird, Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy, and Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner. To make amends, Aleisha recommended the list to Mukesh and what ensued was an enriching connection. Reading is a good way to make connections and this was vividly portrayed by Adams in her debut novel.

The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah

Unlike Adams, Kristin Hannah was a familiar name. I have read one of her books, On Mystic Lake, over a decade ago. I found the story generic, which compelled me to forget about her. I never expected to encounter her again over a decade thence. Her latest novel, The Four Winds, was getting hyped by fellow bloggers and readers. I was apprehensive about reading the book at first but I finally relented. Being a work of historical fiction, it was right up my alley. The first thing that caught my attention about The Four Winds was its length, not that it bothered me. The novel was set in Great Depression Midwest America. When it comes to Great Depression literature, the first name that comes to mind was Nobel Laureate in Literature John Steinbeck. Nevertheless, I distanced my thoughts from Steinbeck’s works and immersed myself in Hannah’s novel. At its heart, The Four Winds was the story of a mother, Elsa Martinelli nee Wolcott. Sickly and not much of a beauty, she was locked up by her affluent parents. But she was a spirited young woman who wanted to experience the world. In bleak and uncertain times, it was her courageous spirit that saw her and her family through.

Second Place by Rachel Cusk

One of my reading highlights in the previous year was my 2021 Booker Prize reading journey. Without design, I found myself ticking off one after the other the thirteen books longlisted for the prestigious literary prize. But not quite actually as I fell short by three books. One of the three books that I have not read was Rachel Cusk’s Second Place. Like most authors longlisted for the award (the exception was Kazuo Ishiguro), I have not read any of Cusk’s works before. It was not until the announcement of the 2021 Booker Prize longlist that I have first heard of her. Despite the lack of familiarity, I added Second Place to my growing reading list. The novel was about a middle-aged married woman M who invited a famous painter, L, to stay in her coastal estate. L was to stay in the titular “second place”, a guest house in M’s estate. M was also hoping to be painted my L but to no avail. The backstory actually intrigued me. The novel was inspired by Mabel Dodge Luhan’s 1932 memoir Lorenzo in Taos about her encounter with writer D. H. Lawrence in the early 1920s. Lawrence and his wife were invited to stay in Taos, New Mexico. Despite its length, the novel was an intriguing (and literary) take on beauty.

Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead

I was pleasantly surprised when I learned in mid-2021 that Colson Whitehead was releasing new work. His last two works, The Underground Railroad and The Nickel Boys were both critically successful; both books won the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction. It was for this reason alone that I was looking forward to reading his latest novel, Harlem Shuffle, despite my mixed reactions to his aforementioned works. I originally planned to read Harlem Shuffle last year but I kept pushing it back and thankfully, I finally found the time to read the novel in January 2022. Like his last two works, Whitehead’s eighth novel was a work of historical fiction; it has certainly become his comfort zone. Parts-crime fiction, parts-family saga, the story commenced in 1959 Harlem, New York City and followed Ray Carney. He grew up in a family of criminals but he steered clear of his family by working as a furniture salesman. Providing a contrast to his story was his cousin, Freddie; he was involved in the Harlem crime underworld. The story was juxtaposed to details of events seminal to African American history. I find Harlem Shuffle flowed more seamlessly compared to my last two Whitehead novels.

Aristotle and Dante Dive Into the Waters of the World by Benjamin Alire Sáenz  

My fifth read for the month (and the year) brought me back to a familiar name and to familiar characters. I can still vividly recall picking Benjamin Alire Sáenz’s Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe back in 2015. The cover dazzled me and the (lengthy) title piqued my interest. It ended up being one of my favorite works of young adult fiction. However, after completing the book, I felt a gaping hole, as though the story of Aristotle and Dante wasn’t entirely complete. I guess the gods of literature heard the plea of many for in 2021, Sáenz released a sequel to his beloved work, Aristotle and Dante Dive Into the Waters of the World. There was an air of familiarity that permeated the air. Unlike the first book, however, the second book veered from romantic elements. There were still traces of romance, especially at the start of the novel, but the novel explored more seminal and timely themes of identity, acceptance, racism, and discrimination in general. The story was also juxtaposed to events seminal to the LGBTQ community, which made the story all the more meaningful. If something was lacking in the novel, it would be Dante’s voice.

The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles 

Amor Towles’ The Lincoln Highway was another release I was not expecting. At the start of 2021, I finally read his sophomore novel, A Gentleman in Moscow, a work of historical fiction that left me breathless for its language and its astute study of human interactions. I was excited to hear of The Lincoln Highway’s release and learning that it was another work of historical fiction made me all the more excited for the book. The titular Lincoln Highway pertains to an actual highway that connects the American east coast with the west coast; it was one of the first highways to connect both sides of the nation. It was this highway that Emmett was hoping to navigate in his journey to San Francisco, California, the tail-end of the highway. Freshly released from a juvenile reform center, he was hoping to restart his life, along with his younger brother, Billy. However, life has other plans. Rather than moving westward, he found himself moving eastward, to the starting point of the highway. It was an immersive adventure story about misfits and starting afresh. It was also more humorous and lighter than A Gentleman in Moscow. It was, however, longer than necessary.

The Prophets by Robert Jones, Jr. 

It was in early 2021 that I have first encountered Robert Jones, Jr. His novel, The Prophets was a strong candidate for my 2021 Books I Look Forward To List. However, there were too many books that stood out and, in the end, The Prophets was dropped from the list. Nevertheless, I still kept a watch on the book and it finally became part of my reading journey in 2022. The Prophets was Jones, Jr.’s first venture into the world of novel writing. The novel captured the story of Samuel and Isaiah, two slaves who were working at the Halifax cotton plantation in the Deep South. Halifax was sometimes referred to as Empty and I would eventually learn why. The owners of the plantation were cruel to their slaves, basically treating them as outcasts. Samuel and Isaiah, on the other hand, found reprieve in each other’s company but their relationship was viewed as taboo. The story underlined several seminal themes, with the conquest for social justice the most prevalent. However, the novel suffered from its poor execution. The multiple points of view, for instance, made it a challenge to make connections with the characters, and to the story as a whole. It weighed down on the power the story held.

How Beautiful We Were by Imbolo Mbue 

And I am on roll. From the United States, my reading journey next took me to Africa. Back in 2019, Cameroonian American writer Imbolo Mbue captivated me with her debut novel, Behold The Dreamers, a modern-day tale about the financial crisis and the African diaspora. When I learned that she was releasing new work in 2021, I was beyond excited. I immediately obtained a copy of How Beautiful We Were as soon as it was released. However, it took the backseat to other books and it was only in 2022 that I was able to get to it. In the fictional village of Kosawa, children were mysteriously dying. The denizens of the village, however, have only one culprit in mind: Pexton. A couple of decades ago, the American company made its way to the African wilderness to extract oil after it made a deal with the government. However, their lack of discernment of how their negligence impacts Kosawa led to the degradation of the environment. What ensued was a tug-of-war between Pexton, the villagers, and the national government. Many lives would be lost. It would take years. It was sad. It was bleak.

Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney 

Sally Rooney’s sophomore novel, Normal People, was part of my 2019 Books I Look Forward To List. I barely had any iota on who she was back then. However, the novel’s premise caught my interest, hence, its inclusion in the aforementioned list. While I found Rooney’s language lush, I found the story too thin and the characters a little unrelatable. It was because of this that I steered clear of her third novel, Beautiful World, Where Are You, which was published in 2021. At the start. I kept reading mixed reviews on the book which kind of drew me in. I wanted to find out what was causing these divided opinions. The lyrical quality of Rooney’s language cannot be denied; one of the reasons I love Irish literature. In her third novel, she introduced a quartet of equally flawed characters, all within their late twenties to their early thirties. They were still young but the realities of the world started seeping in. How they navigate these oddballs and curves that were the focus of the story. One critical element was missing from the story and impacted my appreciation of it: the lack of character development.

Of Women and Salt by Gabriela Garcia 

Closing out my January reading journey was another debut novel, my third for the month. It was in mid-2021 that I came across Gabriela Garcia’s (I kept confusing her name with Gabriel Garcia Marquez) Of Women and Salt. I wasn’t too keen to read the book, initially. However, I am always hungry for new worlds and voices, hence, I eventually relented and obtained a copy of the book. Of Women and Salt integrates history and the contemporary to provide the readers a glimpse of the struggles of mothers and women. Carmen left Cuba after an argument with her mother, Dolores. In Miami, she raised her daughter Jeanette who, like her mother, would alienate Carmen. A childhood trauma resulted in substance abuse. There was also a gaping hole within her that needed answers: she wanted to know her family in Cuba. In another plotline, Ana and her mother Gloria found themselves being deported for the second time. The novel tackled several seminal and timely subjects. However, I wanted more of Garcia’s prose and the story of the four women. I wanted the historical contexts to be elaborated more. Nevertheless, it was a promising first work from a rising voice.

Reading Challenge Recaps
  1. My 2022 Top 22 Reading List0/22
  2. 2022 Beat The Backlist: 0/15; 10/50
  3. 2022 Books I Look Forward To List0/10
  4. Goodreads 2022 Reading Challenge: 10/70 
  5. 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die: 0/20
Book Reviews Published in January
  1. Book Review # 301: Go Tell It On the Mountain
  2. Book Review # 302: Aristotle and Dante Dive Into the Waters of the World
  3. Book Review # 303: We Need New Names
  4. Book Review # 304: The Lincoln Highway
  5. Book Review # 305: How Beautiful We Were

I planned to publish at least ten book reviews in January, hoping for it to be a good omen. However, again, I failed to meet my target. My focus was divided between my job and completing my 2021 wrap-up posts. I have quite a lot of backlogs (HAHA) and I have been promising myself to do a cleanup but I never get to have the time. Nevertheless, publishing five book reviews, I guess, is not too bad. For February, the goal remains the same: to tick off all of my backlogs. I have a long way to go, but I will take it one review at a time.

In February, my focus will still be on 2021 releases. I have already completed Ruth Ozeki’s The Book of Form and Emptiness, my second from her. I am currently reading Cloud Cuckoo Land, my second novel by Pulitzer Prize-winning writer, Anthony Doerr. I also have on queue Elif Shafak’s The Island of Missing Trees, Chibundu Onuzo’s Sankofa, and Olga Tokarczuk’s The Books of Jacob. I am also thinking about adding Jason Mott’s Hell of a Book and Jonathan Franzen’s The Crossroads. However, I must first obtain copies of these two books. From that point on, anything goes.

And that was how my January reading journey concluded. How about you fellow reader? How was your own journey? I hope you enjoyed the books you have read. For now, have a great day and weekend. As always, do keep safe, and happy reading everyone!