January 2021 Reading Roundup

January wasn’t a great month, but I did read some good books. Here’s a quick roundup.

January wasn’t a great month, but I did read some good books. Here’s a quick roundup.

January was a difficult month. It’s been cold and dark here in Serbia, and although we’re not on lockdown here, the Covid-19 numbers are high enough that I decided to minimise my contact with the outside world.

So it should have been an ideal month for doing lots of reading, but it didn’t quite happen that way. It’s one of those months where I look back and wonder where the time went.

Anyway, I did read some good books. Here they are:

The Great Derangement by Amitav Ghosh

The Great Derangement by Amitav Ghosh

Last year I wrote a post wondering why writers don’t write enough about climate change, and Stefanie suggested reading Amitav Ghosh’s book on this very topic. He refers to the times we are living through as “Great Derangement”—an era when future generations, if they exist, will wonder how we could have faced such a huge, species-threatening problem while writing so many books in which it plays no role.

Ghosh’s answers, like climate change itself, are varied and complex, ranging from the form of the literary novel to the increasing political focus on the individual at the expense of the communal. I plan to write a full review one day—this is definitely a book whose details I want to remember.

The Art of Extreme Self Care by Cheryl Richardson

The Art of Extreme Self Care by Cheryl Richardson

I think I’ve probably read too many self-help books at this point. This one was quite good, and I picked up a few useful things from it, but a lot of it felt like stuff I’d already read in a slightly different form somewhere else. I implemented pretty much none of it, even though better self-care was exactly what I needed this month. Probably more a reflection on my jadedness than on the book.

Signs by the Roadside by Ivo Andri?

Signs by the Roadside by Ivo Andric

Ivo Andri? is a Serbian writer best known for his monumental novel The Bridge on the Drina, which is both a novel and a history of the Balkans at the same time. Signs by the Roadside is a collection of notes from his journals written over many years, and although it’s a mixed bag, there are enough gems in there to be worth reading. My copy is suitably dog-eared.

Breasts and Eggs by Mieko Kawakami

Breasts and Eggs by Mieko Kawakami

This was a fascinating and thought-provoking Japanese novel exploring what it means to be a woman. I wrote a full review of this one last week, so I won’t rehash it here, but I’d definitely recommend this one. Read the review to find out more.

My Inventions by Nikola Tesla

My Inventions by Tesla

This was another recommendation from the comments section, this time from Erin on my 2020 roundup post. It’s very short—it’s compiled from magazine articles Tesla wrote—so it doesn’t give as much insight as you’d get from a full autobiography, but it does give a fascinating insight into Tesla’s unusual creative process. He simply visualised most of his inventions, working out all the details in his head without writing anything down. That, for him, was the most satisfying part of the process—actually building them was sometimes anticlimactic. The book also has some great anecdotes about his childhood and early life.

What Did You Read Last Month?

Not a bad reading month for me in the end. I also finished off The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson, which I’d already mentioned a little prematurely in my 2020 roundup because I loved it so much. And I listened to this wonderful reading of Beowulf by Seamus Heaney:

What were your favourite reads in January? Let me know in the comments!

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There are 13 comments

  1. My best reads of January?
    Lantana Lane by Eleanor Dark was a lovely journey to Queensland. I think you’d like it.

    I had a lot of fun with Go-Go Girls of the Apocalypse by Victor Gishler.

    Fuck America by Edgar Hilsenrath was quite a ride too and I finished the month with the excellent A summer with Proust.

    1. Thanks for the recommendations, Emma! Lantana Lane does sound good. And I’ve always meant to read Proust but never got very far, so maybe I can starrt by reading about reading Proust 😉 Those are some quite eye-catching titles for the other two!

  2. Wonderful books you’ve read, Andrew! I want to read that Mieko Kawakami book. I have that Seamus Heaney translation of Beowulf. I need to read that. It must have been wonderful listening to him read. Hope you have a wonderful reading month in February too! Happy reading!

    1. He was an excellent reader, Vishy. I’ve always been quite intimidated by the thought of reading Beowulf, but his reading made it easy and very enjoyable. Hope you get to it soon, and also the Kawakami. Happy reading to you too!

    1. I know what you mean, Aj! January was worse than usual for me in that regard, but February is turning out better so far. Thanks for stopping by, and hope things are good for you too!

    1. Thanks Gayathri! I’ve got VERY behind with replying to comments, as you can see, but I do appreciate you taking the time to stop by and say hi. Hope you’re well and having a good reading month too 🙂

  3. Tesla’s creativity process amazes me! I didn’t know this about him. I’m glad you are taking care of yourself with self-help books as well as avoiding public interaction. We are slowly opening up things here, but I’m still not about to eat inside a restaurant or exercise inside with a group. Take out and pick up services are fine. And my exercise classes are streamed online, so I’m good there too. January flies by for us because we have 2 birthdays and our anniversary, but February has been brutal as far as the cold and snow.

    1. Hi Danielle, Thanks for commenting, and sorry I got so behind with commenting that I didn’t reply. Anyway, it’s always good to hear from you, and I hope that things are better now, both in terms of Covid and the cold. I heard about February’s “Big Freeze” in the U.S., and it sounded brutal indeed.

  4. Oh, what an interesting month you’ve had. I think one of my self-care actions could be to avoid things about self-care. While I do understand the importance of maintaining healthy routines, for personal wellbeing, I think some self-care devotees would feel better about life in general if they spent an equal amount of time thinking about care-of-others. Now doesn’t THAT sound cranky! Like I could use a hot bath or a foot massage? Anyway. Isn’t Ghosh amazing? I’ve not read this one but it’s on my list. His newest novel is also set in that preoccupation, Gun Island. And cli-fi reminds me of Pitchaya Sudbanthad’s When Bangkok Wakes to Rain, told in many voices. I don’t think I have a new favourite author for the year yet, but I am really enjoying Laila Lalami’s Unconditional Citizens, an unexpectedly compelling book of essays.

    1. I’m with you on care of others! I wrote a story a few years back for the Wall Street Journal on whether money can buy happiness (https://www.wsj.com/articles/can-money-buy-happiness-heres-what-science-has-to-say-1415569538), and some of the research showed that people were happier when they spent money on other people than on themselves. I think the same probably goes for time. I find the self-care stuff useful to an extent because I tend to be good at putting other people’s needs ahead of my own, and I find that I need to balance that sometimes. But yeah, it’s also easy for self-care to become an excuse for narcissism.

      And it wouldn’t be a BIP comment without another book to add to my to-read list 🙂 Conditional Citizens sounds great! I’m not sure about the Bangkok book—I’ve read a few “novels” lately that were more like very loosely connected short-story collections, and they left me cold. Is it like that?

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