FO: Midas Hat

This winter has been a slower knitting one. I still have a knit tie that I haven’t posted about because the recipient has not been wearing it much. I’ll have to get that one out in the next few weeks.

After finishing my wedding shawl in September, I was inspired to plan for more lace shawls and sweaters in my future. I took stock of my large yarn stash and realized that if I wanted to buy new yarn for shawl pattern and jumpers, I need to knit the stash down more. As a result and a shift in my hobbies, I’ve knitting hats.

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Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell

This memoir by George Orwell was quite a grim yet interesting read. It’s Eric Blair’s (aka Orwell) experiences as a casual kitchen labourer in Paris and as a tramp in London. There were a few disturbing moments and quite a number of depressing ones.

It was not easy to read but strangely fascinating owing to it being well written. Blair has a way of painting the characters he meets. The Paris section reads like a dark comedy. I understand there is some debate about how factual the book is. It does read like fiction in many ways. However, it also has elements of being stranger than fiction. I could believe it and it’s almost frightening how dirty and rough life could be for the down and out in the past. There was some good social history and commentary. In some respects, I think I like this book more than reading 1984. It has been almost 20 years since I read 1984, but I do remember it being similarly grimy and dreary. However, this memoir has more interesting characters as it were.

I know that Blair played around with the sequence events and that he truly was not a homeless person and didn’t need to be a tramp in the London section. I found the Paris section more realistic in terms of how he described his work and his constant undernourishment. His musings on poverty and work throughout the book was thought provoking as well. It echoes some of my own views about work and being efficient and profitable.

I would not read this book again but it was a a fascinating and well written book. I would have said the same even if it was a completely fictional book.

Read Feb 7-9, 2021.

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong

It’s been awhile since I read a literary novel like this one. The author is a poet and this is his first novel.

This is a very well written first novel. The prose is so sparse yet so powerful. The storyline and the characters are heavy though. As a first generation immigrant and someone who had not the most peaceful relationship with my mother growing up, some of the scenes between the narrator and his mother hit me hard. It was a difficult read for me at times. I do admire the style and it makes me wish I could write and express feelings and moments so well.

I do have to read something lighter again to lift myself up. I thought it was a very good novel.

Read Feb 2-3, 2021.

The Girl from the Other Side – Siúl a Rún by Nagabe (Vol 1-8)

I discovered this manga series through Good Reads. I’ve read volumes 1-8 which were all available through my library. Volume 9 should be coming to me in the next month or so. I think there is a total of 11 or 12 in the series.

There is something so captivating about this medieval fairy tale manga about a girl and a creature from the “Outside” a kind of a monster with history. There is no audience stand in and like the characters, the reader is discovering the mystery of the Outside and the curse of the monsters.

Sometimes, it was a bit frustrating to read about a little girl’s reactions to things or watch “Teacher” the monster character full of doubts and self-pity. On the whole, I found the story really interesting and compelling. It really made use of the black and white visual medium. It had moments of levity and humour. It’s oddly wholesome at times. There’s horror but there is a lot of tenderness between the two main characters as well. It’s really effective character work.

I am looking forward to the last few instalments. Recommended for graphic novel and manga lovers.

Read Dec 2020-January 2021.

21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari

I have mixed feelings about this book and sometimes about Harari too. On the one hand, Harari does offer some interesting and thought provoking ideas about history, the current world order, and philosophy. On the other hand, I also find his style of writing a bit meandering.

The first part of the book has a lot of what if scenarios for the 21st century. This bored me early on and I put the book on hold for weeks. There are definitely moments where I agreed with Harari including views on religion, fake news, and how ignorant human beings are.

I find more issue with his style of presentation. This book was done in response to questions he is asked and it feels like a haphazard mix of random topics. I do not think there is an actual premise of the book. It feels more like a patchwork of ideas and discussions the author has.

I learned a couple of things and appreciated his philosophy on some things. I would give this about 2.5-3 stars. It was very boring in parts but I also found myself agreeing with some of it or seeing things in a different way. It also made me think that more people should read these kind of books but they are not likely to for the same reason I struggled with it. His short chapter and recommendations on how to not be brainwashed was interesting and I’d have more about that.

The author notes how complex the world is and now this book review is more complex than usual. Overall, I am glad I finished it and don’t regret it. I would be wary about recommending it to anyone though.

Read Dec 15, 2020 to Jan 24, 2021.

The Borrowers series by Mary Norton

I know some people read cozy mysteries and romance novels as their comfort reading. I am finding that young adult / children’s books and graphic novels are my comfort reading.

I read the first Borrowers at the end of 2019. I liked it enough to read the rest of the series in the past couple of months. Overall, I really liked this series. I wish I had read it when I was younger but I definitely appreciate it as an adult. There’s a lot of whimsical details. As a cozy novel, the adventures and conflicts are mostly resolved by the end of each novel.

I liked all the core characters and found the world building so interesting too. I liked both the outdoor and indoor adventures. I adored Arietty and I wish the adventures would continue. The last book The Borrowers Avenged did have a bit of an abrupt ending. I know that almost twenty series separated book four and five. Maybe Norton also planned another book or vignette after the last book. The epilogue seemed tacked on as well. I wonder what other adventures Arietty and her family got to after moving to their final home.

This was a wonderful series to read during the holidays and in winter. I am really happy that I keep finding children and young adult gems like these.

Read December 2020- January 2021.

Dear Fahrenheit 451: Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks by Annie Spence

I love books about books. I think it’s because it’s an intimate and special kind of love. For me growing up as a lonely kid, books were some of my best friends. I’d spend summers at the library. I’d wonder about book characters and their lives. Reading about how how other people love and think about books so deeply is cathartic.

This author and others who wrote lovingly about books gets it. Maybe some of my friends loves books like I do as this author does but they don’t talk about it with me that way. Nowadays, I have joined a book club which I attend (virtually) where we can talk about my passion for books more. It’s still lovely to read about reading though.

This book has funny and insightful letters to books that the author a librarian has encountered. The last half of the book are all book recommendations. Spence is an older millennial so we have overlapping tastes. We both love Jeffrey Eugenides among other things. Not everyone would appreciate the recs, but they can be helpful.

Definitely a recommendation if you love books about books and libraries.

Read November 15-18, 2020.

Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me by Mariko Tamaki

This is the young adult graphic novel about teenage relationships romantic and otherwise. In recent years, I’ve found some of my favourite reads have been young adult graphic novels. They consistently deliver interesting storytelling.

I liked this one too. The art is done in the mostly black and white manga style so it’s not as elaborate or fancy as some other graphic novels, but it works. The story is about a girl named Freddy and her and on and off again relationship with Laura Dean. Laura’s character is not particularly developed but it works as a purpose to Freddy’s journey and development.

I related to the storyline. I think a lot of people have been in a relationship with someone who did not treat them well. Like Freddy, my first love ran hot and cold and caused me a lot of grief. The novel actually has a good reflection on love and breakups towards the end. It seems obvious in retrospect how being in love does not mean you can not leave someone. Love is really not in enough in cases where you are putting someone ahead of so much else in your life.

A good read and recommended if you can relate to these kind of relationships. It’s universal and part of the growing up process.

Read November 15, 2020.

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

I remember reading The Night Circus fondly. I gave it a high rating and review. Some years later, I realized I had no memory of the plot or the characters other than that it was about a love story. That is not unusual because I’ve read hundreds of novels in my life so I often forget when I’ve even read a book. Still, Night Circus couldn’t have been that good if I forgot that much of it. As a result, I went into reading this book cautiously optimistic.

I think there are elements in The Starless Sea which are polarizing overall. I think most readers will either love it or they won’t. I wish I could say I liked this a lot, but I came away a bit disappointed.

The novel is divided in parts. Perspectives and story lines changed between chapters. This is a bit disorienting at first especially since I did not know what was going on. Even when things started coming together slowly, the book still felt a bit aimless overall. As a result, I was not very absorbed by this book. I managed to read it in two sittings mostly out of a desire to finish the book before returning it to the library. While things did happen and there was the occasional small conflict or mystery, I just felt the book itself did not lead anywhere substantive. It did not have a cohesive plot. Worse of all, I found the characters very poorly developed. I actually liked Zach the protagonist and a number of the characters. I wanted to know more about them, but it never went deeply into their motivations or stories. I even felt Zach became less developed over the course of the novel. At the beginning, I was with him as I was with Alice in Alice in the Wonderland. By the end, I did not understand what he or any of these people were doing anymore. There is even a love story that comes almost out of nowhere. I did not really know much about Zach’s love interest. All of a sudden, they were declaring feelings for each other which I did not see coming. I preferred the other romantic relationships in the book but again, they were only glossed over.

In the past, when I had problems following the book’s direction and characters, I wondered if it’s because I was not paying enough attention or reading it too quickly. However, after I read this book, I found a couple of reviews on Good Reads which expressed the same things on the lack of development and plot.

I will end on positive notes. The book is well written in terms of its world building. It’s a love letter to myths and storytelling. I would have been fine with Zach spending most of the novel in his beautiful, magical hotel room. Those moments in the book felt lush, cozy, and immersive. While the characters were undeveloped for me, I do not think everyone would have a problem with it. The characters had a lot of potential. I do not dislike the book and I am glad I read it.

I reread my review of the Night Circus after reading this book and even though I remember very few details from it, it sounds like I enjoyed the relationships more. The experience of reading that book seemed more enjoyable too. I do think Morgenstern is a good storyteller so I will read another of her books.

Read November 2-3, 2020.

FO: Leaves Of Grass

This lace pi shawl was my heirloom knit. How do I define an heirloom knit? I think it’s one that I wanted to invest a lot more in terms of the material and the time. I did invest more in the yarn and pattern, but I had to rush to finish it as my September became hectic. I was knitting it everyday for about a week to finish it. I even had a little cramping. I finished this two days before the ceremony and the blocking was finished drying the day before. I really wish I had more time to enjoy the knitting because it is absolutely beautiful.

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The Mosquito by Timothy C. Winegard

This book took me awhile to read. It was a recommendation from Pop Culture Happy Hour and I did like reading the beginning.

I have a background in public health. I love history. I am one of those people who get bitten frequently to the point where I don’t like camping or being in the woods too long. The bites tend to be big and very itchy too. It’s a real nuisance and inconvenience. With all that in mind, this book was right up my alley.

The author is a Canadian academic in the US with a background in military history so there is a huge focus on human conflict and mosquito borne illnesses. The focus is largely on Western countries. I would have preferred more history in Asia, Africa and Oceania.

I like the first half of the book as it had a wider history of the ancient world, but as the book progressed, the focus became more centred around American history. The author does a good job of depicting historical facts and anecdotes for a wide audience. However, this is still a a dense history book. I had to return it to the library and when I tried reading the ebook version, I find it difficult to get into the subject matter. With dense books, I much prefer the book format over ebook. As a consequence and of other factors (the pandemic closing my local library for months), I only picked this book again after a year and finished where I left off.

The writing is fine. I do think the author also has some melodramatic tendencies when talking about the mosquito. There is a lot to learn from this book especially if you are not familiar with some health or military history. Even with my background in both, I learned a few things. I do not regret picking this book up but it’s less fun than when I started.

If you like military and health history, I’d recommend a peak into this book.

Started reading August 30, 2019. On hold from September 4, 2019. Resumed late September 2020. Finished on October 6, 2020.

The Way You Make Me Feel by Maurene Goo

This was so wholesome. It’s a bit cheesy and silly since there are some contrived plot devices like in a teen romcom. Still, I enjoyed reading it.

When I was a teenager, I was skipping contemporary young adult fiction in favour of adult fiction or the classics. YA as a genre has come a long way in 20 years. There is a lot more choice and diversity. When I was growing up, there weren’t a lot of young adult books written about the Asian experience in North America or the West. I felt most YA novels did not represent my experiences so after awhile, I stopped reading them. In recent years, there has been much more choice in this arena even with the controversies in the publishing industry.

Case in point, while I’m not Asian or Korean American, I understood and related to these characters a lot more than YA books I read growing up. I got the jokes and the cultural references. While the protagonist Clara was annoying at times and too much of a smartass, she grew through the book. There are some genuine moments of character development and relationships grow believably in a teen book kind of way. I find it so light and almost effortless to see myself in Clara’s LA. It helps that I’ve gone and spent a holiday in Koreatown, LA. I liked all the characters with the exception of some of Clara’s old crew who read as being very two dimensional.

I am looking forward to reading more from the author. It’s been awhile since I’ve found an author who delivers light, breezy, and enjoyable fluffy novels.

Read Aug 27-28, 2020.