Pod Review December 25-31 & Favorites

Last day of the year, last post of 2021… and a whole lot of podcasts! I hope you all were able to have a more rested week, whether you were working or not, … and I hope you might have had time for books and podcasts? I sure did, especially as I had a stupid cold (not Covid, just the regular ol’ annoying sort) that made me want to stay on the couch with my box of Kleenex and do nothing. I listened to a lot of yearly recaps and future goals while thinking of my own. I didn’t try any new podcasts this week, but hang on, I will recap this 2021 endeavor just below. Here are the podcasts of the week:

  • Best of Both Worlds: 2021 in Review part 1: Favorites
  • Radiolab: Mixtape: The Wandering Soul. Did you know that the US Army try to undermine Vietnamese soldiers’ morale by broadcasting eery, creepy sounds in the jungle, to let them think these were the cries of wandering souls of dead soldiers?
  • Maintenance Phase: Dr. Oz. I can’t believe I used to read the articles of this guy on Oprah magazine and sort of took them seriously!
  • Where Should we begin with Esther Perel: What are they now – a romantic revival
  • Best of Both Worlds: 2022 Goals, an annual tradition
  • Maintenance Phase: The Sleep Loss Epidemic
  • ICYMI: The toothpaste mystery taking over Tiktok
  • Short Wave: Want to start reading Sci-fi and Fantasy? Here’s a beginner’s guide
  • Short Wave: Using Math to Rethink Gender (encore); I learnt about congressive vs. ingressive people (learn more here)
  • Sinica: Psychologist George Hu on Mental Health in China
  • NPR Throughline: The Monster of We; I’d never heard of Ayn Rand, but I was really fascinated by her life and theories in defense of capitalism.
  • 10 Things to Tell you by Laura Tremaine #149 10 takeaways from 2021; Spoiler Alert, she’s (too!) stopping the podcast!
  • Radiolab Mixtape: Help?
  • Where should we begin with Esther Perel. Friendship, my reliable gift
  • Happier with Gretchen Rubin #357 We reveal the yearly challenge
  • Best of both worlds: Personal highlights, hits & misses
  • Sorta Awesome #367 Debriefing Christmas. Just for the once, Meg and her husband’s banter was just the idle fun I needed
  • American Vigilante: Episodes 7 and 8
  • Radiolab: Vanishing Words
  • The Next Right Thing with Emily P. Freeman #206 what worked in 2021

Over the course of 2021, I tried 86 new podcasts!! This is far more than I’d ever expected… and I’m glad I got so intentional about it. I tried so many shows that were recommended here and there and really everywhere, spanning from true crime to mom podcasts, from money to bizarre Tiktok trends… and of course there were big fat fails as well as huge successes. I can’t just pick one favorite, but here are the top ones:

  • Floodlines by The Atlantic. A 8-part investigative analysis and retelling of hurricane Katrina
  • The Lazarus Heist. A 10-part series about North-Korean cyber-attacks. If you think it doesn’t have anything to do with you, think again. You’re reading this on a computer or a phone, and that’s all what they need.
  • NPR Short Wave. Daily short science tidbits, often something fun to talk about with the kids
  • Maintenance Phase. Debunking all the myths around body image, nutrition, diet, and more, is what Michael Hobbes and Aubrey Gordon are set to do. It’s eye-opening… and if you try it starting a new diet won’t probably be among your Jan. 1st resolutions.

I want to keep trying new shows in 2022, but perhaps not at such a crazy pace, as I explore more of the back catalogue of the shows I already discovered (I confess some show titles I wrote down don’t evoke anything to me anymore… oops!). I’m aiming for 50 new shows, and so, bring your recommendations!

Now, I’ll be back to my kitchen to prepare for our NYE celebrations… I traditionally do a tall pile of waffles for the whole family 🧇🧇🧇, with my earbuds in of course! Happy new year to you all and see you next year!

2021 Favorites & Stats

I seem to be the last one to name favorites, but I wait until the last minute to gather the statistics and make sure I don’t forget a book (would I forget? have you even a clue how forgetful I am? That’s the secret reason why I keep a blog, folks!) and make sure to *not* finish another book at the end of the year.

I read a lot in 2021, even more than in 2020 which was already a personal record: 96 books… But shh, some of them are mangas which I devour in one afternoon apiece.

In retrospect, the theme of 2021 seems to have been “on repeat”. 2021 was the second year of the pandemic and I felt that not much new occurred, which is of course, not true. We are no longer in the “unprecedented times”, and I can’t say it’s a good or a bad thing. I might have transposed the feeling of “same old” into my literary choices: I wanted some continuity and some comfort, and so I read many books by the same authors. The truth is, I often say I would return to a beloved author and I rarely did… up to now. 5 books by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö (!!), 4 by Simenon, 3 by Ann Cleeves, 3 by Elly Griffiths, 3 by Michael Connelly, and lots of pairs. I even tried parallel reading (2 books by the same author at the same time) and I will do it again.

I kept my review copies at a low level (only 13 books this year, well below the target I’d set, probably because I’ve become more selective with Netgalley) and managed to read 43 books from my own shelves. I read 10 short story collections, which is the same figure for the 3rd year (ugh…), but most of them were awesome (Between Sylvia Townsend Warner, Lily King and Margaret Atwood, don’t make me choose one) but I managed to bump up the number of Asian writers to 20, and the share of non-US/UK writers to 42% (in part, I confess, thanks to my love of mangas).

I’m glad to have read more non-fiction this year. This opened up new possibilities (investigative journalism! medicine books! historical true crime!) and I’m eager to continue in 2022. It was difficult to choose my favorite non-fiction this year (such a new feeling!): I eventually picked The Ratline by Philippe Sands, an investigation into the life and mysterious death of a Nazi dignitary.

In literary fiction, several titles have been dazzling. The first is a French classics (on the verge of non fiction even): Dora Bruder by Patrick Modiano. He received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2014:

“for the art of memory with which he has evoked the most ungraspable human destinies and uncovered the life-world of the occupation.”

From the Nobel Prize page

A second title was a confirmation of an author I discovered with Station Eleven. The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel was just as great: evocative and layered and a whole world that is difficult to sum up in a few short words.

The third title is a complete discovery (and a chance one at that, it was just a last minute grab from the library new acquisitions shelves!): Claire Keegan’s Foster was precious and emotional, and I loved every line of the writing.

I have not set any concrete goals for 2022 (yet) but at the very least I’ll read something by those 3 writers!

TBR Tag

I have indeed some finished books to write about, but today I’d much rather play! Inspired by Laila from Big Reading Life, here is a book tag that had me poring over my wishlist and will probably inspire you to do the same!

How Do You Keep Track On Your TBR list?

Goodreads exclusively. I’d done writing titles on a notebook, they forever get lost and forgotten. Everything in one place is much more efficient. Now, that’s not to say that I’m very consistent with Goodreads either. I go for long stretches where I think about a particular author, and then I never check his/her particular books on Goodreads, I just check on my library catalogue whatever they have by this author. I also keep blog posts tagged in my RSS Feed aggregator (Feedly), but I refuse to consider it a TBR list. It’s only a compendium of inspiration, where I might or might not take ideas to transfer towards my TBR list.

Is Your TBR Mostly Print or E-Book?

I’m an opportunist in terms of format. As long as I have the title I want, I don’t care. I tried once or twice to check if any of the books on my wishlist was on Amazon Kindle’s special deals, but it was not worth the effort.

How Do You Determine Which Books from Your TBR to Read Next?

Whim of the moment. As I read several books in parallel, I have books for different moods.

Name a Book That Has Been on your TBR the Longest

One Fine Day by Mollie Panter-Downes, whose short stories I enjoyed more than once.

Name A Book You Recently Added to Your TBR list

The Singer’s Gun by Emily St John Mandel, recommended by Laila after I finished The Glass Hotel

Is there a book on your TBR list that’s there strictly because of its beautiful cover?

I am influenced by cover art when I’m in a bookshop or a library, not so much when I read a blog post about it, which is the main source of titles gathered in my Goodreads TBR. The Crow Folk by Mark Stay has a gorgeous cover and called on me from the bookshop WH Smith in Paris, last time I went… end of August. As much as I am a library lover, I often feel overwhelmed in bookshops where the pressure to sell is way stronger.

Is there a book on your TBR that you plan on never actually reading?

I sometimes weed out my TBR list on Goodreads, so I could pretend my list is clean, but I have some lingering doubts that I will read Watership Down now that I have seen the sheer size of the thing. Same for other ambitious, high-brow or non-fiction reads that are out of my comfort zone. But I still keep them, just in case I will find the courage to start. Some books I own a copy of are even more difficult to weed out. There are also some titles I put “on hold”, because I wasn’t in the right mood and I have not decided if I should quit or try again, for example Sunburn by Laura Lippman.

Name an unpublished book on your list that you’re excited for

To nobody’s surprise, the next Michael Connelly: The Dark Hours. But also, the next Emily St. John Mandel, the next Lazy Genius book by Kendra Adachi…

Is there a book on your TBR that basically everyone has read but you?

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn? But to make up for it I’ve read her next novel The Huntress.

Is there a book on your TBR that everyone recommends you read?

I’d say everyone has said that I should read Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys, but I’m a little shy. Also, in another genre, Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine.

A book on your TBR you’re very excited to read

I’m very much looking forward to reading The Terrorists by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö because it will be the final book from 10 mysteries I’d started reading haphazardly and then grew totally serious about it!

The Number of Books on Your TBR Shelf

181. Now this is totally underestimated. I could probably add another forty easily.

If you had fun reading my answers, consider yourself tagged! I’m always so curious about other book lovers’ habits!

A Sunday in Paris

I don’t often blog about anything else here but books and podcasts, but I guess you’d enjoy a small treat and a rare visit to one of Paris’ literary landmark: the Shakespeare and Co. bookstore, a few steps away from Notre Dame and the Seine.

It’s been 4 months since we ventured to Paris, and now that the strict lock-down has eased up, we could enjoy a visit to this favorite place!

It was weird to see Paris without its cohort of tourists, and Shakespeare and Co was not its usual elbow-to-elbow jam-packed old self. It was both sad and precious. For once, I could really look at the books and take my time to watch and remember. I attended the Other Writing Group there for several years until the birth of my first son. At that time, George Whitman was still in his apartment next to the meeting room (he died in 2011 at 98). Despite the lack of tourists the bookstore is still open and busy, and I hope that it remains so for long years to come!

Six Degrees of Separation – May

It’s May, let’s play! Six degrees of Separation is a game hosted by Kathy at Books are my Favourite and Best and the rule is easy: Start at the same place as other wonderful readers, add six books, and see where you end up.

I haven’t read the initial book this month: Beezus and Ramona by Beverly Cleary, but I’ve heard of Cleary through a lot of enthusiastic and nostalgic readers. The book is about two sisters, told from the big sis’ perspective. (Here I could have gone to Jane Austen’s Bennett sisters, but I took another option because five sisters were just too many)

(1) It’s a bit of a stretch but it made me think of the Hong Kong book Second Sister by Chan Ho-kei, where the big sister, who has become the head of the household, investigates the death of her little sister. This story has a lot of internet stalking in it… (Here I could have taken any women-stalking-serial-killer route, like the one in “In a Lonely Place” by Dorothy B. Hughes, but I wanted to keep the computer hacker idea)

(2) Which made me think of I See You by Clare Mackintosh, where an ordinary suburban mother is stalked through internet as she takes her commuting train, just like another victim… (Here I could have jumped on the “Girl on the Train” bandwagon, but I took another option because I only saw the movie and didn’t like it so much)

(3) Another British woman waiting for her train would be Joan Scudamore from “Absent in the Spring” by Agatha Christie writing as Mary Westmacott. She’s stuck in the middle of the desert and the train is not coming, delayed by bad weather, and the proper Mrs. Scudamore descends into a full-blown break-down (Here I could have gone to any Agatha Christie bestseller, but I didn’t want to go the cozy British village route)

(4) I preferred another book with a break-down in the desert: “The Sheltering Sky” by Paul Bowles. I’m pretty sure that if Mrs. Scudamore and Kit and Port would have ended up in the same hotel in the desert, they would have ignored each other completely, as they could not have more different views on traveling and experiencing foreign cultures. (Here I could have gone to any travel account, possible one from Nicolas Bouvier, my French-speaking favorite travel writer, but I feared that it would lead me to a dead-end)

(5) And so I chose “Goodbye to Berlin” by Christopher Isherwood instead. Because of Sally Bowles, who shares the family name with the previous writer, and Paul Bowled indeed knew Christopher Isherwood in Berlin in the early 1930s. There are so many books set in the interwar period in Berlin, and Philip Kerr immediately came to mind, but I didn’t want to finish a game that started with someone as nice and good as Beverly Cleary with Nazis, so I went for a Berlin book set at a later period.

(6) I chose “Red Love“, a memoir about growing up in East Berlin, by Maxim Leo, a memorable book about family life in the German Democratic Republic (as in: on the bad side of the Berlin wall). In my memory, Max Leo is a single boy, very unlike the sisters Beezus and Ramona, but he has a challenging personality, slowly learning how to ask hard questions to the adults around him.

This game made me travel round the world, from Oregon to Hong Kong, from London to Africa, and finally landing in Berlin! I’m afraid I took this children’s classics towards dark and possibly immoral directions. Where would you land?

In which I Dispel a Self-proclaimed Book Myth

I am always saying that I don’t own or buy many books, and that’s very true in terms of $, but out of curiosity, I tracked the books I got in February (which is also, I must add, the month of my birthday). And I was dumbfounded to discover that somehow 10 books had been added to my shelves over one single month! I swear I had no idea… Here is my totally underestimated bounty:

  1. Pierre Bayard, How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read – because I wanted to be able to underline the book myself
  2. Pierre Bayard, Aurais-je été résistant ou bourreau ? (because I could not stop at one Pierre Bayard only)
  3. Ruth Rendell, Piranha to Scurfy: And Other Stories; from my local little free library
  4. Paul French, Midnight in Peking, a historical true crime book that has been sitting on my wishlist for years and I needed a little something to get free shipping from Amazon (yeah, that’s an excuse)
  5. Maggie O’Farrell, Hamnet (a birthday present)
  6. Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit (another birthday present by my dear husband)
  7. The Three Musketeers by Dumas, a free Kindle edition so that I will be able to read along with my son
  8. Ann Cleeves, Cold Earth (Shetland series), it was one of the monthly Amazon offers, I couldn’t resist to check when I was ordering the three musketeers
  9. Suncranes and other stories, from Netgalley, a short story collection from Mongolia, because short story + faraway country = 💙
  10. The Rules of Arrangement, a Netgalley romance set in Mumbai (what did I say just before about faraway countries? I’m really itching for travel after one year at home…)

I won’t even ask you to guess which one I’ll tackle first, as I have chose Midnight in Peking for my Unreadshelf Challenge of March, and my son and I have already also started the Three Musketeers. But because this small February experiment was so eye-opening, I will continue in March to track how many books I’ve got, and I really hope the figure will dwindle soon, because otherwise we’ll soon have a real estate problem!

2020 Book Roundup & Favorites

How cool that we get to start this new year with a long weekend before returning to work! Going to the library the second day of the year feels also super good (although our beloved librarians seemed a bit tired this morning). For many aspects, 2020 will certainly be the year people would love to forget. But in matter of books, it was actually not so bad for me! Now is time for my favorite nerdish-bookish activity of the beginning of the year… the stats!

I have read more in 2020 than in 2019, which was already a good reading year. In fact, I read more than any year since I record it (since 2007!), and this is of course a collateral impact of staying home with a lot of stress. I read 94 books, and from that number 44 came from my own shelves! This is way more than last year, when I started counting (and focusing on this goal), and I have to thank the #Unreadshelf challenge for that… but also the closing of libraries for more than 2 months 😥. I kept my Netgalley books mostly under control (which means under 20, in my mind). I’m also glad that I managed to read 11 short stories collection, and 13 books of non-fiction. I want to keep that numbers for 2021.

I read more books, but I didn’t really stretch myself to try new or challenging books. The key word for pandemic reading was: Comfort books. Does that surprise anyone? It means more American and British books than before, less translated literature (only 18%, which is the lowest proportion since I started counting). I definitely should try to do better in 2021 (except if another global catastrophe strikes again).

It’s weird because from that many books I read, I had some difficulty to find my favorites. I confess readily that I read some fluffy and forgettable books in 2020. But it’s as if the world events muted the strong emotions that I got from reading great books. But don’t be afraid, after looking at my long list, I was reminded of them all. After all, that’s exactly why I keep a list and a blog!

My favorite short stories collections:

My favorite mysteries:

  • The Late Show by Michael Connelly, because he brought a breath of fresh air and energy with a new heroine
  • Second Sister by Chan Ho-kei, because there’s always something clever and unexpected around the corner and it’s set in one of my favorite places, Hong Kong.

My favorite novels:

Shiny New Books!

What do you do when you’re stressed out? I’m not a eating-my-way-through-the-ice-cream-tub person, I’m not a sweating-it-out-by-running-a-half-marathon person, I’m inclined to stress-shopping, of the bookish variety. I normally don’t buy so many books for space reasons, but a few weeks ago I splurged and those two shiny new books have arrived yesterday:

When 2020 gives me lemons…

It’s ironic that none of them are fiction and that both of them are linked to blog / podcasts / social media I’m following.

I was also experimenting with online booksellers other than Amazon (sending books overseas without horrible posting fees, that is), and so far I’m really happy with my experience with The Book Depository (for new books in English). I have chosen Momox for second-hand books in English and Gibert for French books, because they have a local branch in my town. The delivery takes some time, but I can’t say that I have nothing to read at home, so I don’t really mind. Have you tried alternatives to Amazon? Have you purchased any new books recently?

Blogiversary!

Yesterday my blog turned 14! Contrary to teens of that age, there was no big party, pizza and deafening music, it was a rather lowkey Sunday, cold and rainy and windy, where I didn’t even blog!

I turn to Google to understand better what 14 years old are supposed to be into: besides puberty signs (my blog isn’t going to grow hair anywhere soon 🤨), it mentions rebellion tendencies and getting mixed up with the wrong crowd. Uh-oh?

On the contrary, I have a feeling that this blog helped me get mixed up with the best crowd: book-bloggers and book-lovers!

In Internet years, 14 years is a very, very long time. A 14-year-old blog is a mature activity that has carved its own space in my life through highs and lows. I’ve never been a once-a-day blogger, but I can manage 2 posts about books and 1 post about podcasts each week, even when the world is breaking havoc on the outside. If we can spin anything positive out of 2020, it’s about the importance of self-care and routines. Blogging is my own self-care routine! (and how else can I remember all the books I’ve read?)

I know that the Internet has proclaimed blogs to be a thing of the past, but I happily dissent. I’m not very talented at taking artful pictures of books, and I feel I have rather more to say than in an Instagram post or a Goodreads review. All this to say: this blog is going to stay!

Random Bookish Thoughts March 29

  • Mid-March I was at an all-time low with the books I’d selected for the month’s Unreadshelf challenge. My anxiety has sky-rocketed and reading a book of weird Israeli short stories or a manual teaching me the best way to not yell at my kids didn’t seem really relevant. I even considered quitting altogether.
  • Today, 2 days before the end of the month and after two full weeks of strict confinement, things are definitely better, and like the good (?) student I was, I’m making huge progress under tight deadline. I may not finish the short story collection, but the parenting guide is almost to its end.
  • Speaking of progress, remember my Dracula readalong project with my elder son? We’re now starting chapter 13 (ominous number!) and it’s been great fun all along. (although it’s a chunkster and not all parts of the plot are equally fascinating).
  • We also tried to find a little more about real Transylvania through Google maps, about 1890s fashion for men and women, about blood transfusion history and blood types (I don’t think I will spoil much if I tell you that some character needs a blood transfusion, and the fittest is deemed more appropriate, without any checks for his blood type).
  • I’m not back to my normal reading pace, but yesterday I broke down and actually bought 2 books on Kindle! Dear Mr. Smithereens has ordered a huge history biography of Lord Mountbatten, but I’ve indulged in something way less serious, and a lot more comforting: a romance praised by Anne Bogel : Headliners, by Lucy Parker, and The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey, a cozy mystery set in 1920s Bombay. Both were less than 3$, so I can’t say I’ve been splurging too much, and it was instant delivery (in this weird period when mail people are not coming much anymore). Bets are open on which I’ll start first!