We have already chalked up two months of 2022! Wow. Time does zoom past us. Reading-wise, February 2022 was an extension of my January 2022 reading journey. When the year started, reading read all my 2021 backlogs, particularly the books published in 2021, formed part of my new year’s resolutions. I originally intended to read these books towards the end of 2021. Unfortunately, the end of the year was teeming with activities I barely had time to read. This adversely affected my reading momentum. Nevertheless, I was able to recover and regain my reading momentum in the first two months of 2022. My reading journey was also an eclectic mix of new (to me) and familiar authors who explored a variety of subjects and themes.
With 19 books (one recently completed this March) completed this year so far, 2022 is certainly a busy reading year. I am very happy with my output because the first two months of the year tend to be my busiest book blogging months. Thankfully, I was able to complete all my 2021 reading wrapups in February. Unfortunately, I was not able to set my reading goals and resolutions for the year. I am having second thoughts on doing it this March as it is a little late already. But that is something I still have to consider. While it rarely pans out the way I designed it to be, I always find time to set my goals for the incoming year. I still have a lot planned for the year but before I get to them, here is a peek into how my February reading journey went.
The Book of Form and Emptiness by Ruth Ozeki
It has been almost half a decade (or perhaps longer) since I read my first novel by Ruth Ozeki. I barely had any iota on who she was but I took a risk with A Tale for the Time Being. It was an unusual experience. It was unique but it had me divided. When I learned of Ozeki’s latest novel, The Book of Form and Emptiness, I dismissed it. I finally relented after coming across several positive reviews on the book. Moreover, 2022 was shaping up to be the year of giving second chances. And I am glad I gave the book a second chance. At the heart of Ozeki’s fourth novel was Benny Oh. The only son of Kenji, a half-Japanese half-Korean clarinetist, and Annabelle, an American studying to be a librarian. Apart from his mixed heritage, there was nothing beyond the ordinary that sets Benny apart from his peers. That was until a year following the accidental death of his father. He started to hear the things around him talking. It set into motion events a journey of self-discovery and self-healing, both for Benny and his mother. The Book of Form and Emptiness is a labyrinthine novel about loss, mental health, consumerism, and the role of literature in our lives.
Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr
Like Ozeki, it has been some time since I read my last novel by Anthony Doerr. My introduction to Doerr’s prose was in 2017 when I read his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, All the Light We Cannot See. There was something about the book’s cover and title that reeled me in. While I understand the importance of the book, I was let down by the novel’s other facets. This, however, did not preclude me from trying his other works. This “trying his other works”, however, came almost five years later when I added his 2021 novel, Cloud Cuckoo Land to my reading list; I was surprised to learn about his latest release. Like his prior work, the novel’s main characters were children, or at least young for the majority of the story. What stands out in Cloud Cuckoo Land was its ambition. It was certainly very lofty. It integrated various elements of historical fiction, environmental commentaries, and even speculative fiction. Like Ozeki’s book, Cloud Cuckoo Land also explored the role of literature, books, and reading in our lives. At times, however, the novel crumbles under the weight of its ambition. It was uneven at parts but it was an experience nonetheless.
Hell of a Book by Jason Mott
Prior to the publication of Hell of a Book, Jason Mott had already published three novels, with his debut even adapted into a television series. Unfortunately, I have not heard of him nor have I read any of his works. Things changed when his latest novel won the 2021 National Book Award for Fiction. My lack of knowledge about Mott and his prose did not preclude me from adding his latest novel to my growing reading list and in 2022, Hell of a Book became part of my reading journey. It is my third consecutive book that dealt with reading and literature. The novel charts the journey of a nameless narrator as he toured across the United States following the (surprisingly) successful publication of his debut novel, Hell of a Book. In general, the book explored the meaning of being Black in contemporary America, with the unnamed author being its microcosm. There is a satirical nature to the novel. I often struggle with satire but I found Mott’s satire easier to dissect. I also appreciated the discourses on race, identity, and the plight of Black writers compared to White writers.
The Island of Missing Trees by Elif Shafak
After a trio of Americans (who also belong to various ethnicities), my reading journey landed me on a familiar name. Turkish-British writer Elif Shafak first won me over with her 2019 Booker Prize-shortlisted work, 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World. However, I was underwhelmed by The Bastard of Istanbul which made me reluctant to read her latest novel, The Island of Missing Trees. Despite being disguised as a romance story, The Island of Missing Trees, at its heart, explores the contemporary history of Cyprus. The novel followed two timelines. In present-time London, teenager Ada Kazantzakis was reeling from the demise of her mother while her father, Kostas, was withdrawing into his own world. Their life was unsettled with the unexpected entry of Meryem, Ada’s aunt who she has never met. Adding texture to the novel is the voice of a tree, a fig tree, which Kostas transported from Cyprus to London. I was still underwhelmed by the novel for I felt that the historical contexts were underexplored. It was still a good primer to the contemporary history of Cyprus.
Sankofa by Chibundu Onuzo
Like Jason Mott and Hell of a Book, it was towards the end of 2021 that I have first come across Chibundu Onuzo and Sankofa. Chibundu Onuzo, I have learned, is a heralded Nigerian novelist; Nigerians are my most-read group of African writers. One of the first things that caught my attention was the book’s title. What is a Sankofa? The word was foreign to me, piquing my interest in the book further. Onuzo’s third novel, Sankofa commenced in present-day London. Following the death of her mother, Anna Bain uncovered a diary left by her father to her mother. She grew up not knowing her father and now that she was in her fifties, her father’s diary was a revelation. Caught at personal crossroads – she was at the cusp of divorce – Anna resolved to find out who her father is. Her sleuthing brought her to Bamana, a (fictional) Western African nation in which her father served as a dictator. There are wonderful scenes vividly captured by Onuzo’s prose that astounded me. It was good but I was still in want of something. By the way, Sankofa is a mythical bird that “flies forward with its head facing back.”
Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen
Jonathan Franzen’s 2021 novel, Crossroads was another testament to 2022 being a year of literary redemption (to me at least). Like in the cases of Ozeki, Doerr, and Hannah, I wasn’t a fan of the first novel by Franzen I read. I found Freedom a very tedious read and it kept me from reading The Corrections although my copy of the book has been gathering dust for years now. I decided to give Franzen’s prose a second chance through Crossroads; many a literary pundit has cited it as one of the best books of 2021. Crossroads is literally about crossroads that were encountered by the Hildebrants. Set in the 1970s in the suburban fictional town of New Prospect, Illinois, Crossroads charts the story of the six members of the family. Russ and Marion’s marriage is on the brink of collapsing. Cracks have been showing for years but it was increasingly becoming more apparent. Between them are four children, each with his/her own personality and his/her own concern. While it can get tedious at parts, Crossroads was the heartwarming portrait of a family, of their concerns, and of how they redeem themselves.
Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid
I am always up for a new reading adventure. However, one of the names that I have previously avoided was Taylor Jenkins Reid. I had this erroneous notion that her works belonged to the young adult genre. The titles of her works were also not stimulating my brain. But then things changed after I read the synopsis of The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, the first Reid novel I acquired. However, it was Malibu Rising that I read first considering that I am in the midst of a 2021 catch-up reading journey. Set in 1980s California, Malibu Rising is the story of the four children of Mick Riva and June. Mick was a worldwide popular singer who abandoned his wife and children. June, taken to the bottle, accidentally drowned herself, leaving Nina, Jay, Hud, and Kit to fend for themselves. I liked the dynamics between the siblings. However, I wished that Reid elucidated on the challenges that they had to overcome to live up to their father’s name rather than jumping from hardship to success in an instant. Nevertheless, the writing was accessible.
Heaven by Mieko Kawakami
I closed my February 2022 reading journey with a familiar name. I first came across Mieko Kawakami in 2020 when the translated version of her novel, Breasts and Eggs became an international sensation. I liked Breasts and Eggs even though I felt like the nuances of Japanese literature were not properly translated. Nevertheless, it made me look forward to reading Mieko’s latest translated novel, Heaven (2021). Originally published in 2009 as Hevun, the novel charts the story of an anonymous fourteen-year-old male high school student in 1991 Japan. He was not particularly bright but one thing about him stands out. He has a lazy eye on his right eye. This made him the subject of bullying from his fellow male students. My first reaction to the book was that it was lacking in its conclusion. But the more I thought about it, the more that it started making sense. The ending was predictable but was inevitable. The book was also more on the philosophical side, which, at times, made the book not make sense. There was a deep rumination on suicide that was breathtaking. Without being preachy, Kawakami provided me a deeper insight into her prose.
Reading Challenge Recaps
- My 2022 Top 22 Reading List: 2/22
- 2022 Beat The Backlist: 0/15; 18/50
- 2022 Books I Look Forward To List: 0/10
- Goodreads 2022 Reading Challenge: 18/70
- 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die: 0/20
Book Reviews Published in February
- Book Review # 306: Beautiful World, Where Are You
- Book Review # 307: Cry, the Beloved Country
- Book Review # 308: The Book of Form and Emptiness
- Book Review # 309: Cloud Cuckoo Land
- Book Review # 310: Hell of a Book
- Book Review # 311: Anthills of the Savannah
- Book Review # 312: The Bastard of Istanbul
- Book Review # 313: The Island of Missing Trees
- Book Review # 314: Burger’s Daughter
- Book Review # 315: Aké: The Years of Childhood
- Book Review # 316: The Thief and the Dogs
For the first time in a while, I completed at least ten book reviews in February. I ended the month with eleven book reviews, the highest tally I have in a month; my previous record was ten. I don’t know where I found the industriousness to complete all of this but I am still glad for I have made a dent in my backlogs. I have now completed all my March 2021 pending book reviews. I am now looking at completing the four books left pending from my April 2021 reading journey. I just hope I sustain this momentum. My target for March is fifteen book reviews. I am crossing my fingers.
As March is International Women’s Month, my focus will shift from 2021 book releases to novels by female writers. I have already completed Olga Tokarczuk’s seminal and labyrinthine masterpiece, The Books of Jacob; it is my third novel from the 2018 Nobel Prize in Literature winner. I am currently reading Tove Ditlevesen’s memoir, The Copenhagen Trilogy. It was towards the end of 2021 that I first heard of Ditlevsen whose trio of memoirs was collectively published as a single volume early in 2021 for the first time. I also have on queue Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley, Maryse Condé’s Segu, Toni Morrison’s Paradise, and Donna Tartt’s The Little Friend.
And that was how my February 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!