Or, Birthday of Books The First
Happy New Mike Year! As I get ready for my birthday Tekayo reading on 5th February (you can join us by filling this form), I want to make an annual tradition of sharing the books I read during what I hope will be another birthday tradition - the birthday getaway.
In 10, I talked about how I planned to read e-books and magazines while I was away. Preparing for the trip included charging my e-reader so I wouldn’t need to look at my phone and loading it with titles just in case the Wi-Fi at my destination wasn’t great (good job, Young Mike).
I flew to my getaway location - my first time in a plane since the pandemic began - and figured there was no better use of my time than reading Winter in Sokcho by Elisa Shuan Dusapin (translated by Aneesa Abbas Higgins). Set in an intense period of an unnamed French-Korean narrator’s life, it captures a particular 20-something feeling very accurately - with the complications of race, desire, and filial duty. As I grow older (I speak like I’m now in my dotage), these are themes that greatly resonate and it’s always interesting to see them play out in non-Western contexts. Now for someone to write that novel, those novels, in the African context.
Some time last month, I accidentally made 3 of the same list (the Twitter List UX is…far from ideal) dedicated to literature in translation. The most popular so far is this one and the process of creating the list led me to Borderless Book Club whose January pick - Brickmakers by Selva Almada (translated by Annie McDermott) - was available at the library. It made for a whirlwind start to my getaway with its explicit depictions of sex, exploration of sexuality and examination of class. I’m hoping to read this month’s selection earlier if I can find it soon (over and above certain reading obligations that I’ll discuss in the next few months) so that I can participate in the group discussion.
I figured there was no better time to finish a book I hadn’t been able to finish the last time I’d borrowed it and the Universe conspired in my favour by granting me a skip-the-line loan. The Son of the House by Cheluchi Onyemelukwe-Onuobia first came to my attention because it was a Giller Prize finalist and I watch a few Canadian BookTubers. It gives me no joy to say it didn’t initially grab my attention and I’m not too sure I would have finished it on the second go if it wasn’t for wanting to beat the restrictions of the loan. We follow two women whose lives converge in a curious twist that really tested my ability to suspend disbelief; complicated by the fact that even I (a local!) could see the twist coming. That said, it was an interesting look at the impact of culture and history on the lives of women and the power of class.
As I read The Son of the House, I listened to Set Boundaries, Find Peace: A Guide to Reclaiming Yourself by Nedra Glover Tawwab (read by the author) and while I made jokes on Twitter about how the book dragged me, it might be the best psychology text I’ve come across in a while. It made me (re)consider my relationships, the twists and turns they’ve taken, and truly think about how I’ll show up for myself in my new year. This may have been the best birthday gift I gave myself and I immediately got a copy to revisit the insights. Shout out to the homie who led me to it.
I then had a poll where I asked the homies on Instagram and Twitter what I should read next - Love in the Big City by Sang Young Park (translated by Anton Hur) or The House of Rust by Khadija Abdalla Bajaber. The latter ended up winning and I resolved to pick up at the 17% mark where I’d abandoned it because, as I said on Twitter, I thought I am too much of a potato for it. Maybe it was the getaway, maybe it was the fact that I saw a few cats during my time away, but I couldn’t sleep I was so gripped by this book. I reconnected with an old friend during my holiday and I relayed bits of the book every time we saw each other and she got so caught up I’m sending her a copy this weekend. Nobody bring up the fact that I borrowed my copy from the library and should probably buy 2 copies while I’m at it. I avoided reviews and interviews in advance of this book so I was too distracted by the magical realism to realise it’s a moving love story with a great Sapphic thread. Now to read, listen to, and watch all the things!
As I read The House of Rust, I listened to The Secret Talker by Geling Yan (translated by Jeremy Tiang, read by Angela Lin, via Scribd - use Linda Barasa’s link for 60 free days). A fast read, it was the psychological thriller I didn’t know I needed. The way it tackles race, marriage, culture and the ways in which East-West tensions show up was thoroughly immersive and I want to read it again because That Ending Was Something.
On the day I finished The Secret Talker, I went to
heaven a library that had shelves of Pacesetters Novels and the librarian might have heard my non-whisper voice tell my friend they’re lucky I’m not a book thief because I feel like I haven’t seen one in ages. And now that I’m old enough to collect them all, the only place I have seen copies is a place where I can’t buy any.
On the eve of my birthday (aka 29th January), I started listening to The Annual Migration Of Clouds by Premee Mohamed (read by Eva Tavares) which I’d also first heard of via a Canadian BookTuber. It’s always intriguing to enter a dystopian world that does not centre the US and whose protagonist is not a man. I managed to extend my loan so I’ve set it aside for walks and I can’t wait to return to its universe. I listened to it on my birthday (30th January) but didn’t look at any print. No reason other than I made an event of the day that meant even the audiobook was listened to as I started and wound down my day.
In the grip of period fatigue (I wish we saw menstruation in books more often; it is a not-insignificant part of many people’s lives), I listened to The Legend of the Wandering King by Laura Gallego García (translated by Dan Bellm, read by Patrick Fraley). I put on a 60 minute timer and only heard maybe 10 of those. I can’t tell you much except the way it began made me wonder if I should be worried about some Orientalism. We’ll see - I have some time with it yet.
Maybe because of those worries, I started listening to Abundance by Jakob Guanzon (read by George Newbern). I knew about the cleverness of the structure but it is having quite the effect. As a person whose 20s were marked by shifting financial states and periods of significant financial precarity bordering on penury, it was such a jolt to listen to a book that details the toll an idea - money - can have on all aspects of one’s life. I can’t wait to listen to more of it because I know it’ll break my heart - it’s already cracked open my sternum.
On my trip back, I read Love in the Big City and I can’t wait for more. I suspect my post-trip fatigue means its loan will lapse before I’m done but I’ve already put a hold on it. Its Koreanness is matter-of-fact in a way that reminds me of Bajaber’s writing of Mombasa - no glossing, no explaining - the dream for a Global South reader. We are sometimes untranslatable, and that suits us just fine.
If you’re wondering how I listened to such few books, it’s because I’ll generally play them on walks. While I took daily hour-long walks, they were with a group of women who took me under their wing. Being with them reminded me that I have, over time, become tongue-tied in languages other than English and it has tempted me to uproot myself so I can be immersed in one of them. Before then - more books in those languages (Kikuyu, Kiswahili, French, Spanish) - and books in translation.
The getaway meant I had 2 consecutive weeks of e-book reading so the next 2 will be dedicated to physical books - chiefly Horrorology: The Lexicon of Fear (edited by Stephen Jones) which I let the homies choose. I have some other books lined up so look out for those.
Lastly, some Mike in the Bookish World news. Akinyi from Semi Scribbled Podcast and I had a fantastic conversation last month that she released on my birthday. It was a pleasure to discuss literature, culture, and everything in between on her podcast (which you should subscribe to if you aren’t subscribed already!). She’s a joy to speak with and her brilliant mind means I have to restart my podcast so I can have her on. You can listen to the episode here.
I hope you have a great week and a lovely time reading. Talk to you soon!