And just like that, we are one month down in 2023. It seems like yesterday when we were all welcoming 2023 brimming with enthusiasm. Nearly three years into this pandemic, things surely are looking up; I even recently came from an international trip, my first in over five years. I sure hope that we keep this momentum. I did feel like January stretched a little longer than it did, hence, the many memes filling up my timeline. I was also very busy, being an accountant and all. I am just glad that we are nearly done with all our year-end compliance activities. To everyone, I hope that January has been filled with blessings. I pray that the rest of the year will be one of great news, healing, and positive energy. More importantly, I hope everyone will be healthy and happy.

Reading-wise, my January 2023 reading journey is very similar to how I opened my 2022 reading journey. In the past month, I have been reading works released in 2022, those that I have already purchased but I wasn’t able to get around reading last year. This journey did commence back in December 2022 when all but one book I read was published in 2022; the only exception being Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy. It was a healthy mix of compelling literary works from various genres, from works of historical fiction to gothic fiction to some with magical realist elements. It was also a great way to open up my 2022 reading journey, setting the tone for what I hope would be another record-breaking year. Before I lose it in a swirl of words, here is a peek into how my December journey shaped up. Happy reading!

Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver

Commencing my 2023 reading journey was Barbara Kingsolver’s latest novel, Demon CopperheadDemon Copperhead – I kept mistaking it as Copperfield! – was my third novel by Kingsolver and quite honestly, I wasn’t really keen on reading the book when I learned about its release. Ironically, I resolved to read lesser works of American writers this year but I opened it up with one. Initially, nothing about the title appealed to me. My mind changed when, later in 2022, the book was included in many a Best 2022 Books list. Besides, it has been three years since I read one of Kingsolver’s works. Upon reading the blurb, it finally hit me, the connection that I failed to make when I first encountered the book. Demon Copperhead was, in a way, a play around Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield which happens to be one of my all-time favorite reads. The eponymous Demon was Damon Fields whose name evolved to Demon. His hair color also earned him the nickname Copperhead, hence, the book’s title. The book’s hero was born in a trailer in Lee County, Virginia, to a mother who was addicted to drugs. Demon would then narrate his own story. We follow him as he navigates the complexities of life, with the coming-of-age novel dealing with the hero’s personal concerns such as drugs, the foster care system, the complexities of relationships, and also death. There were tender moments and moments of hilarity, perfectly balanced by Kingsolver’s prose. Overall, it was a great way to open up my 2023 reading journey.

The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida by Shehan Karunatilaka

If there was one book I was badly looking forward to, it would have to be Shehan Karunatilaka’s The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida. I have never heard of the Sri Lankan writer and had it not been for the Booker Prize, I would have not heard of him. The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida was among the first books that piqued my interest when the longlist was released. There was something about the book’s title that I fancied. My interest in the book ballooned when it won the prestigious literary prize; it was a big year for South Asian Literature at the Booker Prize as Geetanjali Shree’s Tomb of Sand won the Booker International Prize. Obtaining a copy of the book was another subject. When the opportunity arose, I did not hold back. As expected, there was nothing normal about the book. When the novel commenced, the titular Maali Almeida woke up in a place he least expected to be: the place between heaven and hell. The year was 1990 and Almeida was unsure what happened to him. He, however, had seven moons to uncover what happened. We learn that he was a photographer by profession and was all over Sri Lanka, capturing images of the civil war that hounded the island from the early 1980s until 2009. The novel was very graphic. After all, the main character was a photographer and he was capturing the atrocities of the war. The chilling images were riddled with wit and humor. Karunatilaka managed to shed light on this tumultuous section of Sri Lanka’s contemporary history.

The Last Chairlift by John Irving

Honestly, I wasn’t even aware that John Irving was releasing new work in 2022. I only learned about it later in the year when it was already available in bookstores. Even though I was fresh from an Irving novel, The World According to Garp, my first by Irving in nearly three years, I didn’t hesitate in obtaining a copy of The Last Chairlift, the fifth novel by John Irving I read. As can be expected from Irving, his new book was thick, something I am no stranger to. At the heart of The Last Chairlift was Adam, the illegitimate son of Rachel Brewster. Rachel, or Little Ray as she would fondly be referred to, was a slalom skier who participated in the 1941 National Downhill and Slalom Championships held at Aspen, Colorado. She did not win but she went home pregnant, with the identity of the father a mystery to her parents and two older sisters. Adam would try to solve this mystery himself. In ways more than one, The Lasts Chairlift was your typical Irving novel. The novel did remind me of The World According to Garp. Both Garp and Adam were illegitimate sons born to virtually absent mothers whom they adored nonetheless. They grew up around Philip Exeter Academy in Exeter, New Hampshire. Politics was prevalent in both books; a common mantra in Irving’s novel is the realization that everything is political. Adam and Garps’s political awakening was seminal in the story. The brand of politics in Irving’s latest novel focused on sexual identity. It was, as always, a thought-provoking novel; one can’t expect anything less from Irving. The story, however, dragged and was repetitive.

Neruda on the Park by Cleyvis Natera

From a familiar writer to an unfamiliar one. I barely had any iota about who Cleyvis Natera was when I first encountered her last year while searching for second-quarter releases. The book immediately grabbed my attention because of its title. I mean, who hasn’t heard of the Chilean poet? It didn’t take much for me to be convinced to read the book. Neruda on the Park was the debut novel of the Dominican writer; Natera was born in the Dominican Republic and later on migrated to the United States when she was ten. Reading the book is also aligned with my goal of reading at least ten works by Latin American writers this year. Neruda on the Park introduced a mother-and-daughter tandem. Eusebia, the mother, grew up in the Dominican Republic but was forced to move to the United States to join her husband, Vladimir. The couple had a daughter, Luz. The family settled in a Dominican neighborhood called Nothar Park. Luz would then become a corporate lawyer at the age of 29, only to find herself fired from her job. Luz’s conundrum was one of two major strands that make up the story. The other strand involved the gentrification of Nothar Park which was envisioned by developers to be a model community of the future. That was when Eusebia, after a fall, decided to intercede. The novel was typical of Latin American writers who grew up in the United States although the story had bright spots. It was good and compelling at parts but not great. It held enough to occupy my imagination.

Yonder by Jabari Asim

Jabari Asim was another writer who I am quite unfamiliar with. Had it not been a fellow book reader, I might not have even thought about obtaining a copy of his latest book, Yonder. I have been meaning to get around the book during the previous year but other books got in the way and Yonder was left to gather dust on my bookshelf. This 2022 reading catch-up has allowed me to finally delve into this book. Asim, I have learned, has been a prolific writer and Yonder was his third novel; he also wrote short stories, poetry, and children’s stories. When I started reading Yonder, I had no expectations of it. Once I opened the first pages of the book, I was slowly reeled in by the compelling voices that haunted the pages of the book. The novel transported me to the slavery era Deep South. The setting was a plantation, Placid Hall, owned by Randolph “Cannonball” Greene who also owned two other plantations, Pleasant Grove and Two Forks. The novel’s main voices, however, were William, Margaret, Cato, and Pandora. Each character gave his or her account of how they were taken forcefully from their homeland by Thieves and sold to Greene; the group would refer to themselves as the “Stolens”. The story reminded me of Robert Jones Jr.’s The Prophets. I did like Yonder better, however. A review of the book I read also highlighted the parallels between this book and Ta-Nehisi Coates’s The Water Dancer. While I haven’t read Coates’s debut novel, Yonder was the image of it I had in my mind.

People Person by Candice Carty-Williams

Candice Carty-Williams was a name that rang a bell to me as her debut novel, Queenie, was pretty ubiquitous when it was released. I kept reading positive feedback on the book but it would get buried at the back of my mind until a couple of years later when I encountered Carty-Williams again but through her latest novel, People Person. Curious about the British writer’s prose, I obtained the book. There were two lenses through which to study the book’s title. The first one is the literal people person, the amiable type who easily melds into his environment. This was Cyril Pennington, a bus driver and a Casanova of some sort. His charms worked on four different women with whom he would father five children: Nikisha, Danny, Dimple, Lizzie, and Prynce. His four children, however, were not aware of each other’s existence until Cyril decided to be a “good father” for one day, basically kidnapping all his children and introducing them to each other. The siblings would then move forward from this awkward first meeting and forget about each other until an emergency brought them back together, albeit not by their choice. While the plot, at times, felt implausible, I was amused by how Carty-Williams explored family dynamics. Beyond families, the book also grappled with some timely and seminal subjects, such as the frailties of our online lives, identity, and sexuality. The second layer of a people person, as would be revealed in the concluding pages of the book, pertains to an individual who has a keen understanding of those around her/him.

The Hacienda by Isabel Cañas

Like Neruda on the Park, it was while researching for 2022 second quarter releases to look forward to that I came across Isabel Cañas’ The Hacienda. I have neither heard of nor read any of the works of the Mexican American writer. This, however, did not preclude me from wanting to read her novel. While I was able to obtain a copy of the book, I was not able to read it last year, hence, I made it part of my early 2023 reading catch-up. The Hacienda, I would later on learn, was Cañas’ debut novel. One of the first things that caught my attention about the book was its cover which reminded me of the image I have of Manderley, the famed estate in Daphne du Maurier’s classic Rebecca – at least a Mexican version of it. Sure enough, the story did echo some elements of the literary classic. The book also reminded me of the work of another Mexican writer, Silvia Moreno Garcia’s Mexican Gothic. At the heart of the story was Beatriz who married Don Rodolfo Solórzano to ensure her future. Beatriz’s father, a general during the Mexican War, was executed following the war’s conclusion. The marriage gave Beatriz no recourse but to move to the Mexican countryside, to the Solórzano’s vast estate, San Isidro, the titular hacienda. The house was huge but everyone, including Don Rodolfo’s sister, refuses to remain at the house beyond the dark. As history clashed with the supernatural, mysteries floated to the surface. The novel’s romantic overtones gave it an even more interesting albeit predictable landscape.

The Candy House by Jennifer Egan

To be honest, I was ambivalent about exploring Jennifer Egan’s oeuvre. Sure, her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel A Visit from the Goon Squad was listed as one of 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die but learning about the discourse on its classification concerned me. I changed my mind when I learned about the release of Egan’s latest novel, The Candy House in 2022. I learned that it was a sequel to the aforementioned Goon Squad. I then gave both books a chance; I would end up liking Goon Squad, something I did not expect. A couple of months later, I would read The Candy House. As can be expected from a sequel, The Candy House involved several characters who were present in its predecessor. At its heart, the latest book provided an update on the main characters in the Goon Squad. Some of them have also grown up and pursued careers of their own. Some lost their charm while some gained renewed confidence. Both books would also share several attributes, such as their digression from traditional literary structures. Time was a relative concept as the story weaved in and out of the future and the past. The Candy House‘s structure, however, was not as pervasive as the Goon Squad. Memory was a seminal subject in the story and so was the exploration of the impact of technology on our lives, particularly how living online, i.e. social media, has adversely impacted us. As always, Egan does not fail to reel the readers in with her innovative writing.

Reading Challenge Recaps
  1. My 2023 Top 23 Reading List1/23
  2. 2023 Beat The Backlist: 0/20; 8/60
  3. 2023 Books I Look Forward To List0/10
  4. Goodreads 2023 Reading Challenge: 8/70
  5. 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die: 0/20
  6. New Books Challenge: 0/15
Book Reviews Published in January
  1. Book Review # 408: The Ice Palace
  2. Book Review # 409: Berta Isla

As I mentioned above, I have been kept occupied by my job. As a result, I was able to complete a very measly two book reviews. This is, by far, my lowest output in a month since I started writing book reviews. This is on top of the fact that I am resuming most of my pre-pandemic activities, from playing sports to going out with friends. All of these resulted in why I am lagging behind in my 2022 book reviews; I have pending reviews as far back as April 2022. With the majority of my year-end compliance reporting done, I am hoping to catch up on these pending reviews. I sure hope I can get back my groove and start publishing at least ten book reviews a month, something I last achieved last July. I just need to regain that momentum. I will just take it one step at a time in the meantime.

This February, I am pivoting toward European literature. I already started it with James Joyce’s Dubliners. As I have mentioned previously, I am not that inclined to read collections of short stories. I made an exception for I was hoping that Dubliners would prepare me for my moment of reckoning with the Irish writer’s popular work, Ulysses. Ulysses, which I am currently reading, is the 1000th novel I read. The book was originally part of my 2017 Top 20 reading list but I had to give up midway through the book because it barely made sense. I, however, resolved to read it at a later time, when I have “matured” as a reader. The moment of reckoning finally arrived and I must say, despite being daunted again, that I am appreciating and understanding the story this time around. I am just less than two hundred pages away from finishing the story and I can’t wait to see how Leopold Bloom’s journey across Dublin concludes.

After Ulysses, I have lined up more works of European literature that are part of my active reading challenges. I have Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting and Emma Donoghue’s Room on deck. These are two books, so far, that I am intent on reading after which, anything goes. I just might read the second and third books in Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time; I am currently working on my review of the first book. I’ll see how the month goes. As February is rather short, I am expecting that I might extend up until March before journeying to other parts of the literary world.

2022 was a big year and I hope that 2023 will be an even bigger year. And that was how I started my 2023 reading journey. 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!