phoenix extravagant by yoon ha lee

sometimes so much time lapses between me buying a book and me reading it that i completely forget why i bought it (i should get better with my notes, shouldn’t i). with this one i won’t put it past me that it was the cover that did it.

“phoenix extravagant” is a fantasy action page-turner of a book. gyen jebi is desperate to get a job, but them being an artist there isn’t much choice, so they end up working for invading forces’ military. which bad from all angles – their sister is militantly anti-colonial government, gyen jebi themself is a pacifist, and the project they are assigned to is very much a suicide mission.

on top of this tightly spun plot we have beautiful small details that make the book feel lived in.

allusions to real historical events – when japan colonised korea – were transparent enough that even i, who knows next to nothing about history of korea, picked up on them. i’m now determined to fill the (wide and deep) gaps in my historical knowledge.

having said alll the above, i want to highlight that “phoenix extravagant” doesn’t feel or read heavy. it’s a really fun read, that has a huge benefit of sticking with in your head long after you closed the book.

white feminism by koa beck

if you ever harboured a thought that feminism fits into a single narrative, this book does a great job of expanding your understaning of the history of feminism as political concept and activist movement.

as it often happens with modern non-fiction, “white feminism” is very usa-centric. nevertheless it is still of interest and use for non-american readers not just due to pervasive influence of american mainstream culture and media, but also because the evolution of feminism elsewhere has large overlaps with events and trends described by koa beck.

the myth of normal by gabor maté

gabor maté is an established name in the psychology trauma field. combined with a recommendation from a professional psychologist, and several glowing reviews from professional critics, i was curious about “the myth of normal”.

the book makes a robust case explaining what is wrong with the most of modern societies, how we got here, and in the final part tries to give you tools on how to fix things at least on the personal level. but the most important achievement of this work, from my point of view, is the clear albeit lenghty explanation that psychological trauma is ubiquitous.

the final part is where it falls a little bit short, because so many root causes are systemic, therefore require systemic solutions. i am still tempted to say – read this book if you can’t get into therapy.

galatea by madeline miller

this is a short story published separately on the back of success enjoyed by other two miller’s books – “the song of achilles” and “circe”.

madeline miller is a convincing story teller who uses ancient greek mythology as a template to draw a subtly different picture, different from conventional narrative. this time she takes the well-known story of pygmalion and tells it from galatea’s point of view. miller puts woman’s narrative in the centre – something that classic literature doesn’t do well, so modern writers are filling the gap.

the left hand of darkness by ursula le guin

it’s been a while since i read a book so slow-paced and yet this immersive. first half is almost exclusively exposition, done in a masterful way – reader is almost as uninformed as the narrator, who is a visiting human from our future earth to a new world. ambassador of space travel on a planet that doesn’t have flying transport.

i don’t think it will be a spoiler if i mention that the key difference between terran humans and gethenian ones is biological. ursula le guin thought out how a world would look like if humans were not split into duality of men and women. she paints a convincing picture that had me longing for gethen, despite its horrible climate.

heaven by mieko kawakami

my second book from this author, and definitely not the last. i want to read everything kawakami has written and would write. thankfully her books are proving to be popular and therefore more likely to be translated into english.

“heaven” describes the life of one middle-schooler who is cruelly bullied at school and his tentative friendship with another classmate who suffers from the same treatment. as you can imagine, it’s not a book you read as a pick-me-up. but don’t let that put you off. “heaven” puts into words both ugliness and beauty of human condition.

piranesi by susanna clarke

i did not like this book, and i’m almost surprised by it.
maybe because my expectations were too high (there was so much praise from many different people), maybe because this is not my thing.

formally “piranesi” shares a lot of features with things i consistently rate 3, 4, and 5 on 5-point scale. but the narration style, abruptness of resolution, and the take on animism put me off.

for some reason, modern interpretations of animism don’t sit right with me. and i might be completely wrong, and there is none of that in “piranesi”. but that’s what i picked up.

nothing but my body by tilly lawless

“nothing but my body” is a fictionalised memoir of a young sex worker in australia, recounting end of 2019 and 2020. so, very recent and very time-specific. though, i don’t think it will age badly, because the themes of the book are timeless and relatable. said themes include climate change catastrophe, inherent economic inequality of capitalistic society and power dynamic associated with it, discrimination of minority groups. and, of course, ins and outs of sex work.

such a good book, clicked with me just so. though i would imagine it’s not for everyone.

if you decide to read it, note that the novel includes descriptions of sex, casual drug use, problems with addiction, and acts of self-harm.

conversations with friends by sally rooney

rooney’s debut novel, but not my first book of hers. like so many others, i discovered “normal people” first, and liked it enough to seek out other works.

“conversations with friends” tried hard at being sincere, and mostly succeeded. what it didn’t do is make me empathise with any of the characters. i felt like a distant observer belonging to a different species reading through a field report.

the story revolves around frances, the narrator, and her relationships with people around. she’s young, confused, and arrogant (the way most young people are), thus all relationships end up incredibly messy. though, is there any other type way of interacting with people? we are messy creatures in the end.

p.s. here goes the usual gripe with cover blurbs. me and some newspapers have wildly different definitions of “funny”. i saw nothing funny in this novel.

the lady tasting tea by david salsburg

full title of the book is “the lady tasting tea: how statistics revolutionized science in the twentieth century”, and the content matches it accurately.

this book is a valiant effort to described mathematical discoveries without a single formula. as the author says in the foreword, his wife convinced him to write a nonmathematical book about people who made the statistical revolution.

my overall rating is that “the lady tasting tea” was a useful book to read, and at times even enjoyable. by the end of it i don’t know any more about statistical methods of analysis, but have much better understanding why said methods are everywhere in modern science.

tokyo ueno station by yu miri

“tokyo ueno station” is one of those books that i would have never found if not for someone’s recommendation.

this is a sad story about a life filled with loneliness and many misfortunes. the main character didn’t get a single break from the universe.

on the macro level, the book sheds light on classism in japanese society, attitude towards homeless people, and hardships of working class. themes that i haven’t yet encountered in my exploration of japanese literature.

the house of spirits by isabel allende

until recently, when i thought of latin american literature, it was gabriel garcia marques, jorje amadu, borges, julio cortasar, and mario vargas llosa who came to mind. do you notice the trend? all of them are men. but it’s not like the rich and incredibly versatile field of latin american literature doesn’t have any women writers. i just didn’t know about any of them.

if you are like me, then let me offer you The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende. this book is one of magical realism masterpieces deeply rooted in the joys and sorrows of everyday life. the novel’s events take place in unnamed country in south america, in the first half of XX century – far from us both in time and space. yet, you will feel empathy and kinship with the incredible women who are in the centre of the story – nivea, clara, and alba.

a word of warning: the book covers quite heavy topics and has brief graphic descriptions of acts of misogyny, violence, civil war, classism, and racism.

the long way to a small angry planet by becky chambers

the novel is part of “wayfairer” series, but what i love about this series is that they all stand on their own, and even can be read out of order. in this one you get to live through an adventure with the crew of one space ship. at first i got strong “firefly” tv show mood, but the similarity ended with the setting. the plot and character development was deeply unique.

if you liked “..angry planet”, it goes without saying that you would like the rest of the cycle. beyond chambers, i’d say you could check out robert sheckley’s short stories – good old classics, that mostly aged well.

i have been planning to read “the long way to a small angry planet” after reading “the close and common orbit”, but it was quite down on my to-read list until someone whose opinion i value a lot recommended it to me as a book that brings good mood. (spoiler: this was a good advice).

p.s. if i could change one thing about becky chambers books, it would the titles. they are so difficult to remember.

highly irregular by arika okrent

“highly irregular” is such a fun book. it was recommended by gretchen mcculoch on the “lingthusiasm” podcast. obviously it is about linguistics.

there are many, many books about english language, as one would expect. however, since the subject continuously evolves, each subsequent book has something new to say, including this one. of course, it’s light pop-science, you won’t become a champollion of the twenty first century after reading it, but does every non-fiction book has to be useful?

connections by karl deisseroth

“connections” is a refreshing non-fiction where the author tells you about one new thing without making himself sound like a new saviour of the world.

dr deisseroth knows one thing – optogenetics, he knows it well, and is eager to take the reader on the journey of discovering it.

i appreciated author’s transparency about the context. he was clear where it was so called pure science and where it’s fictionalised narrative. after finishing the book i felt like having learnt something new about psychiatry as a profession.