This month I read three bestsellers with three very different female protagonists. Discovered Bionic Reading®, The Last of England, and more.
I clock in so much time searching and reading that I can’t remember how I first heard of this unique novel. Perhaps from one of you, dear readers. Yes, let’s go with that.
Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata (translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori) is about an unusual woman, Keiko, who wants nothing more than to work at her local convenience store. She finds comfort in the store’s routine despite being of marriageable age. The Guardian called it “sublimely weird” and that’s why it was such a fun read.
In print, it’s about 175 pages, and so satisfying to finish a book quickly. I also enjoyed Keiko’s outsider point of view. For me, this is where the story sings. Her observations regarding how we are supposed to behave and what’s expected of us reminded me of how an alien would view our culture.
At that moment, for the first time ever, I felt I’d become a part in the machine of society. I’ve been reborn, I thought. That day, I actually became a normal cog in society.
My husband also liked the book. In fact, when we were in 7-11 the other day, he said, “Look, there’s Keiko.” Highly recommend.
The Marriage Portrait by Maggie O’Farrell was a fantastic, beautifully written read. I’m excited to be introduced to another great author. O’Farrell was inspired by Robert Browning’s poem My Last Duchess which is based on Lucrezia de’ Medici, who married Alfonso d’Este, the Duke of Ferrara. And just a year after she married him in 1560, at only 16, she died under mysterious circumstances.
O’Farrell breathes life into outsider Lucrezia and 16th century Italy with the right amount of crazy details that make you wonder if she time-traveled there. I couldn’t read it fast enough.
She has always had a secret liking for this part of the embroidery, the ‘wrong’ side, congested with knots, striations of silk and twists of thread. How much more interesting it is, with its frank display of the labour needed to attain the perfection of the finished piece.
I had no idea what this novel was about. Based on the title and cover, I assumed it was some one-off situation or a gruesome tale of an old lady who murdered someone. Aaand I was wrong.
The Old Woman with the Knife by Gu Byeong-mo (translated by Chi-Young Kim) is about a hired thug, an “exterminator”, a 65 year old assassin who has seen younger stronger days. It’s received a lot of accolades, I think, because the protagonist is an old woman who, well, kills for a living.
She exists like an extra in a movie, woven seamlessly into a scene, behaving as if she had always been there, a retiree thrilled to take care of her grandchildren in her golden years, living the rest of her days with a frugality baked into her bones.
I can’t remember the last time I read a thriller. It’s definitely not my go-to or comfort genre. The unpredictability kept me reading, but the protagonist’s nemesis made me want to stop. Perhaps if I understood him better, I would have felt differently. Have you read this book? Or a had a similar feeling with a story?
// I discovered an app called Bionic Reading® through Jane Friedman’s newsletter. It’s supposed to help you read more deeply (in an age of skimming). But I found it also helped me to see more clearly. I just wish I could use it all the time for everything!
// The Last of England by Ford Madox Brown is a well-known painting in the UK, but I doubt if any American knows of it. Nevertheless, if you appreciate deep dives into works of art (in an age of AI) this one’s worth the look. I’ll never look at another painting the same. Thank you, dear.
// Five years ago (!) when I announced I was publishing a newsletter, Jeremy from Jeremy James in Hong Kong suggested that I put it on the blog, too. At the time, it seemed redundant, maybe even pushy because I am horrible about self-promo.
But now, I realize how much it was just plain good ‘ol common sense. So, I’ve updated my newsletter page on the blog and you can see them all on here as well. I share a little personal antidote and some links to great finds like this article from Spirituality +Health, Become a Connoisseur of Time.
How was your April?
5 replies on “April 2023 Reading Roundup”
Greetings. I’m in a book-reading slump. I hope to break out of it in May. I’ve been reading plenty of things, but not books!
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Yes, there is so much online content or even essays or articles from print magazines. Heck, when I was younger, back of cereal boxes and shampoos. I hope you find something that grabs your attention in May!
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Is April almost over? OMG, you’re right. I am STILL working my way through Anthony Doerr’s CLOUD CUCKOO LAND, which is gigantic. And I’m only reading a few pages before bed, so I might finish it this year. Needless, to say I’m not really being pulled along. But, you know, he’s written some wonderful books (I mean ALL THE LIGHT…, gorgeous, and his memoir). Also, he’s a twin parent and from Cleveland, so I feel I owe it to him. Yes, I’m a weirdo. I’m also reading an ARC of my writer friend Erin Flanagan’s COME WITH ME, a thriller, which is good and fun so far.
I liked THE OLD WOMAN WITH THE KNIFE (I might have recommended it–sorry) for being a quick read and mostly for its interesting take on aging and what that means. Her nemesis was hard to take, agreed, and I like your idea that we should understand his motivations better.
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Don’t apologize. It was good for me to read outside of my comfort zone. And I like being introduced to new authors especially translated works.
Upon reflection, I saw that I read three books in a row from the perspective of outsider women and I think by the 3rd one I was ready for something else.
It’s all about timing. 😉 Yeah, I can see a sense of author loyalty. And also a sense of, well, I’m going to get through this even if I take forever… definitely have those books too! xo
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I’m glad you discovered Maggie O’Farrel, Lani. She is such a good writer. I’ve read three of her books so far (The Distance Between Us, Hamnet, and I am, I am I am), and loved all of them. Convenient Store Woman sounds like an interesting read. I recently read Rolf Potts’ Marco Polo Didn’t Go There, which satisfied my itchy feet. He also has a podcast (I’m very into podcasts these days) called Deviate which I enjoy. I also finished Telex from Cuba by Rachel Kushner recently, which was a great read to get a sense of a specific place in a very specific time in history. Thank you for the link to the article, it was an interesting read that has me now contemplating time in a slightly more nuanced way.