February 2023 Reading Round up

The Cat Who Saved Books by Sosuke Natsukawa

GENRE: fantasy | harpervia 2021 | REVIEWED BY Esther ro

Everyone needs a cat friend like Tiger the Tabby in their lives. 

As Rintaro Natsuki, the main character of this heartwarming modern fable, navigates both the practicalities and emotional realities surrounding his grandfather’s death, he spends most of his time in his grandfather’s bookstore. The book opens with Rintaro whiling away his time at Natsuki Books and considering the uncertain future that awaits for both himself and the store. Although there are some bracing visits from his classmate Ryota Akiba and the class representative Sayo Yuzuki, Rintaro resigns himself to a certain ennui about his future – that is until Tiger the Tabby appears. Unlike Rintaro, Tiger the Tabby knows exactly what Rintaro should do: save books. 

Guided into a dream-like world, Rintaro sets out to stop crimes against books at the behest of Tiger the Tabby. Each excursion brings Rintaro face to face with those who have perverted the simple act of reading and enjoying books for profit, reputation, or out of misguided intentions. Each adventure brings Rintaro closer to acknowledging and appreciating the deep bond he shared with books, and therefore with his deceased grandfather. 

A heartwarming story, Sosuke Natsukawa’s quirky tale features a clear and distinctive message: the love of books can always be restored to those who have lost their way.  

Why We Love It: This is a novel for book lovers, cat lovers, and anyone who needs a light and inspirational tale to brighten their day.

crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner

GENRE: Memoir | KNOPF 2021 | REVIEWED BY Esther ro

Crying in H Mart marks the rites of passage in a mother-daughter relationship. This sometimes fraught, mostly endearing bond is characterized early on in a cutting description: “Her rules and expectations were exhausting, and yet if I retreated from her I was isolated and wholly responsible for entertaining myself. And so I spent my childhood divided between two impulses, engaging in the intrinsic tomboyish whims that led to her reprimands and clinging to my mother, desperate to please her.” 

What makes this innate desire to please difficult is that Michelle’s mother Chongmi, has many rules: rules about appearances, rules about conduct, and of course, rules about food. But perhaps the most difficult rule comes early in the book when Chongmi says to her often-wayward daughter: “Save ten percent of yourself.” It is a quietly devastating realization later on when Michelle understands that her mother may never have revealed her whole self, even to her daughter. After the revelation of her mother’s terminal illness, Michelle tries to recover that ten percent and reconnect with Chongmi, with varying degrees of success. 

Crying in H Mart asks: what are the ways we connect with others, and what are the ways we fail to connect? One thing that Zauner never fails to elucidate is that as fraught as the relationship between the two women can be, there is never a doubt that a strong bond exists between mother and daughter. As she says:, “Hers was tougher than tough love. It was brutal, industrial-strength. A sinewy love that never gave way to an inch of weakness. It was a love that saw what was best for you ten steps ahead, and didn’t care if it hurt like hell in the meantime.” And in writing so clearly and precisely about this love, Michelle accomplishes no small feat in showing how different, how particular, and how singular a mother’s love can look and feel. 

Why We Love It: This memoir about connection and motherhood is ultimately relatable to anyone who has struggled with how unknowable we are even to those we love the most.

Review: Quarantine Highway by Millicent Borges Accardi

Quarantine Highway by millicent borges accardi (flowersong press 2022)

Reviewed by Alex Carrigan

After the start of the COVID-19 pandemic two years ago, we’re finally beginning to see literature that addresses the global pandemic that has radically altered the world we live in. At this stage, the works we’re reading are from those who used the lockdown to produce new work and use poetry as an alternate diary. These pieces offer emotional insight into moments during this time, but because of the length of the pandemic, many of these moments blur to focus more on the emotions and details that resonated from the isolation.

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Review: Cold Enough for Snow by Jessica Au

Cold Enough for Snow by Jessica AU (New Directions 2022)

Reviewed by Hannah Wyatt

I recently read Jessica Au’s Cold Enough for Snow—a meditation-style novella that blurs the line between interior monologue and impressionism. As the narrator travels through Tokyo with her mother, she contemplates her love for art and Greek drama, the reality of her memories, and the distance between parent and child. Separation is explored in the resentment and shame the narrator feels towards her own cultural duality, as well as the ways in which she imagines her mother’s own cultural experience following her move away from Hong Kong. Themes of place, art, and literature are explored, and so is the concept of taking up space (and a lack thereof). By the end of the story, I was left with a great sense of dreaminess and wonder, questions about the transferral of parental identity, and a fondness for Au’s storytelling.

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Review: Not Flowers by Noreen Ocampo

NOt Flowers by Noreen Ocampo (Variant Literature 2022)

Reviewed by Jillian A. Fantin

Very infrequently does a poet arrest their reader in so few pages and with such a delicate touch as does Noreen Ocampo. Following her debut micro collection Teaspoons, Ocampo’s Not Flowers continues her exploration of the soft, the familial, and the power of memory. The poetry of Not Flowers reads with the serenity of a Studio Ghibli meadow combined with the timeless Victorian illustrations by Kate Greenaway, curating a fantasy-adjacent field of poetry combining memory and the senses. Nonetheless, Ocampo’s Not Flowers remains deeply rooted in the present, utilizing the power of sensorial memory to curate the speaker’s soft, loving contemporary moment. Ultimately, Ocampo disrupts the seemingly dichotomous relationship between being a flower versus a “not-flower” and finds tenderness and nostalgia to be elements of strength, rather than of weakness.

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Review: Memento Mori by Muriel Spark

Memento Mori by Muriel Spark (MacMillan 1959)

Reviewed by Patricia Steckler

In Muriel Spark’s Memento Mori, a cast of quirky, petty, and endearing septuagenarians struggle with aging while death lurks offstage. Rheumatism, hearing loss, dementia, creaky bones, leaky bladders, and missing teeth afflict this alternately lofty and low-class group. These 70-plus-year-olds muse and gossip over long-gone affairs of the heart, assorted past sexual liaisons, and engage in “the Will game,” dangling the promise of inheritance in front of their offspring and former household help. Meanwhile, enduring desires, scads of regrets, and still fuming resentments crowd their thoughts.

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Review: Disfigured: On Fairy Tales, Disability, and Making Space by Amanda Leduc

Disfigured: On Fairy tales, Disability, and Making Space by Amanda Leduc (Coach House Books 2020)

Reviewed by Katie Vogel

Within the first essay of Disfigured: On Fairy Tales, Disability, and Making Space, I encountered a Joan Didion quote with which I am familiar. It is a quote that exemplifies what Amanda Leduc does in this book, which is as much an exploration of the ways that Western fairy tales reinforce and embody beliefs about disability and happiness as it is a retelling of her own story as a disabled person. It is a reminder that the stories we tell, why we tell them, and who is or is not included in them matters. 

The quote is: “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.”

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August 2022 Reading Round Up: A Genre Fiction Buffet

It’s August! And we have three remarkably tasty reads that turn genre fiction on its head. This month, you’ll find short stories so delectable you’ll swear some passages came straight from the pages of cookbook. Plus, we’ve got a feminist Western to satisfy all your cowboy cravings and a book of literary science fiction full of violins, Faustian bargains, and donuts. Order up!

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