January 2019 reading round-up

lunchtime reading
Lunchtime reading.

I feel like a lot has happened already this year, especially considering two weeks were written off by having a bad cold (it’s still lingering but on the way out now). I had a birthday, we’ve spent time with friends, had a weekend away. Which handily included long train rides for reading.

Because one of my birthday presents was a box set of Penguin Mini Classics, I’ve decided that this year in-between each full-sized book I will read either a comic or a mini book. In addition to giving me a sample of lots of authors I’ve been meaning to read, it also makes my numbers on Goodreads look really good!

Like last year, February looks set to be much colder than January so I foresee some cosy reading days ahead.

Books read

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
This family saga follows the fate of Koreans living in Japan through the bulk of the twentieth century. It’s fascinating, moving and, for me, informative.

Diary of a Tokyo Teen by Christine Mari Inzer
This comic was drawn by Inzer – a Japanese girl whose family moved to the US when she was six – when she visited her grandparents near Tokyo for the summer before she turned 16. It feels like it was originally intended as an explanation for her American schoolfriends of life in Japan (she originally self-published before a Canadian publisher picked it up) but it also works as a fun, light look at Japan from someone who both is and isn’t a native.

The Last Family in England by Matt Haig
I love Haig and this is a lovely book, but I feel like maybe he was in a bad place when he wrote it. It’s sad and bleak and I think the it briefly broke me a little bit. It’s the story of an ordinary family in an ordinary British suburb, but they’re on the brink of disintegrating. And it’s narrated by the family dog, which sounds like a terrible idea but actually works really well. I do recommend this book but maybe don’t read it if you’re feeling down.

Bread and a Dog by Natsuko Kuwahara
Tim gave me this for Christmas after he stumbled on it in our new local bookshop. It’s a photo project by a Japanese baker-turned-food photographer. Kuwahara has photographed her dog Kipple looking hungrily at her meals – mostly breakfasts – and given the photos humorous captions. There’s also a short section of recipes at the back and bios of Kipple and also the cat Kuro, who occasionally pops up in the photos. It feels a lot like a Tumblr and indeed Kuwahara does have an Instagram account that I now follow.

How to be a Kosovan Bride by Naomi Hamill
This highly stylised novel does a great job of telling the history of one of the world’s newest countries. Hamill uses folk tales, memory and repetition to explore ideas of belonging and identity in a truly original way.

Why I am Not Going to Buy a Computer by Wendell Berry
This pair of essays by American poet, novelist and farmer Berry were written in 1987 and 1990. As the title says, they are about his decision not to switch to using a computer. He uses environmental, feminist and sociological reasoning. I largely agree with his fundamental ideas, but many of his specific arguments felt childishly short-sighted. By the end of the book I was thoroughly fed up with his stubborn tirade.

Pompeii Awakened by Judith Harris
When we visited Pompeii last year our one disappointment was the lack of information at the excavations site. Even armed with the official guide book, we were confused about what some buildings were and which bits had been reconstructed. So I searched for a book not about Pompeii pre-AD 79, but about the rediscovery of the town since 1748. Harris tracks the uncovering of Herculaneum and Pompeii up to the present day – a story that encompasses much of the political history of Europe over the same years and the development of archaeology.