I have been subscribed to Ryan Holiday's reading list email newsletter for several years now. And other than providing great reading recommendations, it has always inpired me to read more. So inspired that I thought maybe I should also start sending out a list every month of some books that I have enjoyed either that month or sometime in the past. So here it goes, for January 2023.
- The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
I first came across Amy Tan when I was taking several writing classes on Masterclass last year. I loved how she talked about stories and her experience of writing her first novel, The Joy Luck Club, and I decided to read it. I am glad I did because it is one of the most beautiful novels (you'll see the other two below) I have read last year: sad, funny, and touching. Published in 1989, it involves stories of four women who moved from China to the US and their daughters who were born and grew up in the US. It focusses on their struggles and their relationships, lives of mothers juxtaposed with that of their daughters, all while playing Mahjong.
- Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
Pachinko is a multi-generational saga and a historical fiction set in 20th century Korea and Japan. It is the story of Sunja, a teenage Korean girl who has to leave her family and go to Japan, in a time when Japan had annexed Korea. We see her story through multiple generations, along with an eclectic ensemble of characters that show the life of Koreans in Japan in that time period. It is a beautifully-written story of struggle, sacrifice, resilience, and love, that transports you to the 20th century Japan and Korea and into Sunja's world of perpetual sadness.
- Hear the Wind Sing and Pinball, 1973 by Haruki Murakami
I am a big Haruki Murakami fan, although I am fairly new to the fandom as I read "A Wild Sheep Chase" (which completes this trilogy of books called the Rat trilogy) in the beginning of last year. After that, I was hooked (as you can see from this list). After reading Norwegian Wood (you'll see below), and being mesmerized by his writing, I was interested in reading his "kitchen-table" novels. The novels he wrote at his kitchen table while running a Jazz bar in Tokyo in his late twenties/early thirties. My main goal for reading these was to see Murakami's writing when he started and compare that to the beautiful Norwegian Wood. His first two novels are quite short, more like novellas, and while I like both of them, the difference between these initial novels and his later works is HUGE. When Murakami said that he is not talented and instead has to work hard, chiseling away at each sentence to make it good, you know he means it. I would say if you are a Murakami fan, you should read these just to see how and where he started. If not, please don't make these two your first Murakami reads. Speaking of your first Murakami novel...
- Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami
If you are looking for a book to mesmerize you with its beauty and break your heart into pieces, then Murakami's Norwegian Wood is The One. There is not much I can say about this book other than the fact that after I finished reading it, I did not pick up another book for many days because I just wanted to stay in this story a bit longer. I was lost in Murakami's nostalgia, his imagery, his world that contained Toru and Naoko, not wanting to leave Murakami's reality.
- Novelist as a Vocation by Haruki Murakami
Yes. Last year was a Murakami year for me and I was excited when a new Murakami book came out last year (the english translation was released last year but the original Japanese version was released around 2015). This is his writing masterclass as a collection of essays, some of which have appeared in other places over the years. He doesn't give tips about the technicality of writing and grammar, but instead talks about what it means to be a writer, what a life as a novelist looks like, and some tips on different aspects of a novel. He also talks about his experiences and how he became a successful novelist. It was interesting to see snippets of Murakami's life just like in his other book "What I talk about when I talk about running" (which i write about more in this essay from last year).