Despite 2022 being a bit of a tough year for me, it had its highlights too. The high for me was publishing my memoir – Xine’s Pack of Strays & Others, and having my father read the book. The lows – there were a few, including two deaths. My ex-husband and father of my two children died suddenly of a massive heart attack in June. And for a good part of the year, my father was battling congestive heart disease and was in and out of the hospital, having stent procedures and mitral valve clips inserted…He spent most of December in the hospital and was released into home hospice six days before passing away peacefully on Jan. 2, 2023. It was not a great way to end or start a year.
Throughout last year, I was able to rely on books to help take my mind off my troubles and escape into some other world and someone else’s life. A few years ago, I decided to turn off the TV and read and listen to books more. Since then, I have increased my reading goals, expanded my interests in topics and genres, and achieved my reading goals. I read an increasing number of physical books, eighteen books last year which made up 24% of the total number of books I read. Have really enjoyed my physical book selections which many were suggested by my Literati Book Club which sadly is no longer operating and my Book of the Month Club membership. Both clubs have introduced me to wonderful author and stories. Many of the books I read were based off recommendations from friends and family, including my Dad. I read The Rose Code because I saw that he was reading it. I’ll miss being able to talk about books with Dad.
I also read faster than I used to, proving that my English teachers were correct and that my reading would improve with practice. Too bad it took me so long to listen to them. Better late than never; you are never too old to start something new. I love curling up on the couch with the dogs, bookending me as I lose myself in a book. I’ve also started to read more on my Kindle again this year.
I love statistics – I think it may be a family thing. This is one of the reasons I love using the Goodreads website and joining their annual Reading Challenge since they tell you how many pages you read and all sorts of stats about the books you read during the year. For instance, I surpassed my goal of 57 books by reading 75 books – 129% of my goal! The shortest book was Lying at 47 pages, and the longest was The Rose Code at 624 pages. You can visit my author profile by following this link.
When I started on the Goodreads website a few years ago, I would rate a book simply by assigning a star rating. But I realized as I aged and read more and more that I would sometimes forget why I liked or disliked a particular book. So, I decided to start writing book reviews as a writing exercise and a memory one.
My 2022 Five Star list (in the order read during the year)
I realized that I have never explained my criteria for rating books, so I have separated my Rating Criteria into a post describing how I arrive at my star rating, which I include in my Goodreads and Amazon reviews of books and audiobooks.
Overall, I read a bunch of books which I really enjoyed. Learned about some authors that I was unfamiliar with, became a big fan and look forward to read more from them. Our lives are inundated with reading this, that and the other thing in quick snippets everyday thanks to the internet and social media. attention spans are shortening. Which is why disconnecting from all that noise and diving into a book feels so good.
For such a short month, I packed in quite a few reads and listens. I started the month finally finishing the January Literati Club selection, We Learn Nothing by Tim Kreider. There are a scattering of his signature cartoons throughout the book which is a collection of essays.
I struggled reading this book at first, perhaps it was just the first couple of stories that I didn’t find interesting or relatable or just juvenile in a way. However, as I kept on read, that changed when I read the line,”What dooms our best efforts to cultivate empathy and compassion is always, of course, other people.” Okay, maybe I can relate to Tim Kreider more than I thought. Then I read “you’d think that given our shared loathing for the Wall/K Street oligarchy that’s running this country like a Ponzi scheme we’d be able to put aside our brand loyalties…” I saw someone put into words so spot on describing how our government runs our country.
I enjoyed reading this book , overall, some essays more than others but it’s a good read which is sad, honest, sometimes brutally so, but truly funny. 228 pages.
I stated the month off with a selection from my historical fiction section f my TBR List and dove into What The Wind Knows by Amy Harmon.
I think fans of historical fiction with a time travel twist will enjoy this as much as I did. It’s a skilled author who can write a tale that transports not only the main character but the reader into believing they have been transported back in time and Amy Harmon does just that.
I was fascinated by the Irish history which I admit to knowing little about the country’s struggle for independence, but knew of some of the names. I found myself looking up some of the Easter Rising and some of the key players mentioned in between listening to the book and can see reading more. Although I was never one for poetry the way that W.B. Yeats’ poetry is woven into the text lowered the bar in my understanding his words which set alone, I would be more effective translating a language I have never seen before. But it adds and was so fitting to include.
This is a romantic novel and I am not one to be drawn to romance, but this book is neither too saturated in sex, although there is some, nor is it to sappy in it’s love story but just the right balance to make you see the love. I also found many times to be laughing or smiling to myself in listening to the story, particularly in the parts where Anne compares our modern day luxuries that she no longer has in 1916.
The narrators Saskia Maarleveld, Will Damron do a fantastic job. All is in all, I highly recommend this book and now I want to read more of Amy Harmon’s books. The Audible Audiobook is 12 hours, 24 minutes long.
Having been intrigued by the mythology within What They Wind Knows I decided to check out Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology next.
I am a fan of Neil Gaiman’s writing and I am an a mythology enthusiasts, so I really enjoyed listening to Norse Mythology. Gaiman’s writing is so clever and humorous and he is such a great storyteller infusing new life into these old myths. The only thing that makes this better is that Neil Gaiman is the narrator which makes the illusion of him telling you a story all the more real! The Audible Audiobook is 6 hours, 29 minutes.
With everything going on in the world today and the younger generation having no attention span whatsoever. I decided that this month I was ready to tackle the Ready Player One Series. I had a bedroom to paint and wanted something that would keep me focused while I painted. I had seen the movie Ready Player One a long time ago but since the second book came out in 2021, I decided I wanted to read the first book and then read the new book.
I loved this book! But I grew up in the 80s, so listening to this book was like reminiscing about my teen years. Ernest Cline creates a fantastic world of the future 2044 and reality is a nasty place to live so many escape to the Oasis, a virtual reality world where you can be any avatar you choose and experience things in augmented reality.
I decided to listen to this book, originally published in 2011 since Cline just came out with the sequel in 2021 so I wanted to listen to the two books back to back. I enjoyed the movie a long time ago produced by Spielberg so I wanted to check out the book.
I’m not a gamer, nor am I a programmer but thought that Cline captured the essence of someone who can become so absorbed in the gaming and computer programming world. It’s a dystopian view of the future having seen what social networking has done to some people coupled with recent announcements about the Metaverse being developed by tech giants Facebook, excuse me, META, Microsoft, Nvidia, and others, Cline’s OASIS doesn’t seem so far off from reality these days.
The protagonist is an atheist and that may bother some people, however, it did not bother me. I read some reviews where people were really put off by this. I also read so reviews that some people purchased this book for their children to listen to, probably because they simply were naive enough to think its a book about a bunch of nerds and gamers. This is not a book for 9 year olds but it is a great book for high school aged kids and above.
Ultimately I believe this book is about the importance of human interaction – face to face interaction and how important that is to have in our world. I liked Will Wheaton as the narrator, he seemed a perfect choice to me. I give this book a 4.5 rating. The Audible Audiobook is 15 hours, 40 minutes.
My next selection was based off of a recommendation by my sister, Daphne. She raved about The Power of Neuroplasticity by Shad Helmstetter. She said it had helped her “have the power to change [her] program (how [she] think[s]) from negative/ catastrophizing to positivity and productivity. So I had to check it out for myself. I actually listened to this book at the same time – not actually at the same time but during the same time period that I was listening to Ready Player Two.
This is a must listen to for everyone! Shad Helmstetter breaks down some pretty scientific stuff in an easy and understandable way – uncomplicating the complex. He gives the listener/reader the keys which they always held to unlock the endless possibilities to change their lives.
Helmstetter reinforces the evidence that how and what we think and tell ourselves matters greatly. I highly recommend to those who feel like they are stuck in a rut or have no ability to change their daily lives for the better. The Audible audiobook is 6 hours and 18 minutes long and narrated by Douglas Martin
I was disappointed in this book overall. I was a huge fan of Ready Player One but all the originality that was in that book – was missing from this book. There are some themes in the book which are worthy of exploring like man’s obsession with immortality and man playing God but they seemed to get lost. I was also particularly disappointed to see that much of the story had been ripped from a popular Japanese novel series called Sword Art Online. So much so that the author admits to this within the novel. I also found there is a lot of virtue signaling in this book.
Fans of Prince may have fun going down that rabbit hole. I have to wonder whether Prince’s Estate has already authorized usage of his music and likeness since it would be impossible to make the movie version of this book without it. Although I am a fan of Tolkien – I haven’t read The Silmarillion and thought a lot of the references so obscure they were difficult to follow.
Wil Wheaton was the narrator and I didn’t really feel like he added much to the performance, he’s a a little monotone but I since the main character Wade is the narrator of the story, I imagine Wade to be a little monotone too. The Audible Audiobook is 13 hours, 46 minutes.
Once I I had emerged from the cyberspace rabbit hole of the OASIS and the world Ernest Cline foresees, I did an about face. I wanted something short and I also wanted to continue to work on my ever growing TBR list. I started this book actually initially in 2016 on my Kindle.
I found this book to be interesting more as a writer who would potentially be writing stories which strong female characters, but many women look it as a helpful guide in their own personal lives. Perhaps I am one of the wild woman since a lot of what I thought she said was simple common sense.
I found listening to most of this reminiscent of listening to a professor lecture in college – just going on and on because they like the sound of their own voice. The only part I really enjoyed was listening to the old fairy tales and myths – then it was a treat to listen to the soothing and skilled story-telling voice of author, Clarissa Estés.
I was surprised by all the very high ratings and reviews for this book. I think it really depend on the type of person you are which will dictate how much you like the book or consider it ground-breaking and life changing. I found it to be neither. The Audible Audiobook is 2 hours, 18 minutes.
After listening to that lecture-like book, I wanted something that I could depend on. My last couple of books were rather disappointing. I always find that turning to the short story collections can be a good way to turn things around and once again I was not disappointed.
This is a fantastic collection of short stories by some of America’s greatest writers. The Audible Audiobook is 3 hours, 45 minutes.
Amy Tan’s “Rules of the Game”, performed by Freda Foh Shen. 4.5 stars – I loved this story about a young Chinese girl who becomes a chess prodigy. The relationship which Amy Tan depicts between the strict mother and her young daughter is priceless!
Donald Barthelme’s “Game”, performed by David Strathairn. 4.5 – Wow! A humorous look at what would happen when two people are left in the nuclear bunker for too long.
Eudora Welty’s “Why I Live at the P.O.”, performed by Stockard Channing. 4 – Funny story about family and getting away from them
Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Black Cat” performed by René Auberjonois. 4.5 – Classic Poe masterpiece.
Joyce Carol Oates’ “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” performed by Christine Baranski. 4 -Creepy and disturbing – really well written – 4.5
John Sayles’ “At the Anarchists’ Convention”, performed by Jerry Stiller. – Humorous 4
Alice Walker’s “Everyday Use”, performed by Carmen de Lavallade. 4 -A glimpse of how siblings look at family treasures differently
John Cheever’s “Christmas Is a Sad Season for the Poor”, performed by Malachy McCourt. 4 -Funny story about the kindness people have towards each other at Christmas.
February Wrap Up
Besides these eight books which I seemed to have plowed through this month. I also listened to the Tao Te Ching, by Lao Tzu – A New English Version read by its translator Stephen Mitchell. I have been meditating every day now for almost a year. In that time, I have also been listening to different lectures and talks about Buddhism, Taoism and Christianity. I have been listening to The Bible in A Year podcast since I never read the Bible fully and thought it would be interesting to do. I started on that journey in 2021 actually, so for me it will most likely be The Bible in Two Years, possibly Three. Listening to the Tao Te Ching for me was simply an exercise in learning the teachings of Lao Tzu. At the time I was listening I was also drawing zentangle patterns. In short, drawing zentangles a form of artistic meditation so it was the perfect companion to listen to as I drew. I purposely chose not to rate or review the Tao Te Ching, nor the Taming The Tiger Within by Thich Nhat Hanh which I also listened to shortly learning of his death. Except that I will say that it was enough to spark a curiosity to further read more of his writing in the future.
February may have been the shortest month of the year but I managed to make it a productive one bringing my total books read this year so far up to 19. My ultimate goal on Goodreads is 58, so I am 33% of the way to my ultimate goal. I am backlogged with actual physical hard copies of my Literati book club books right now. Currently still reading Smile: The Story of A Face by Sarah Ruhl and then there is the next book Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals by Oliver Burkeman. That one could come in handy as far as being able to make time for actual reading.
The problem is I get tired at night when I usually read which makes finishing impossible. I have been writing, actually editing the book I have been working on writing and hoping to get it to the stage of actually submitting to a publisher. I also was painting my bedroom last month which is why I was able to go down the rabbit hole of the Ready Player One Series (One and Two) and stay down there while I painted away the old paint which was on the walls since before I moved here 6 years ago! Yes, I have been living in the previous owners paint and carpets until last month. I always had plans to change things but other things were more important and it wasn’t that horrible until after the last two years which everyone – my kids, that is – back in my house for more months than we have lived together in 8 years. I needed a clean slate. It took 6 months from the time I ordered them – not a special order or anything – to the time they were installed. Currently I am painting another room in the house which had terra cotta colored walls. I put the first coat of primer down yesterday while listening to my current audiobook, Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Signature of All Things. I’m only a few hours into this epic 21 hour and 43 minute book, so perhaps I’ll be able to complete the room and the book around the same time.