Tuesday, February 7, 2023

January reads

I did not set resolutions this year, but one of my goals for 2023 is to read more. "Read more" is pretty abstract, but I think the plan is to aim for 10 books this year. I can average one a month, taking a couple months off if things get busy. 

These days I borrow ebooks from the library to read on my Kindle, which is very convenient although sometimes annoying because I have to wait for the books I want to be available. I miss collecting books — I got rid of approximately 200 when we moved, and now have only two small bookcases in the house. It was so hard to decide what to keep! There's something about holding a real book in hand, and it's nice to reminisce about what you've read by seeing the book on your shelf. (Don't tell Matt, but I think we could potentially install some floating shelves and expand my collection again, which I'd really love to do.)

It's also easier to give up on a book three chapters in when it's just a borrowed digital copy. Honestly, I've been a lot more cut-throat about giving up on books that don't grab me, because I don't have time to read books that bore me. That's been very liberating!

For example, it seems that most contemporary romance books these days are written in First Person Present Tense and that's an immediate non-starter for me. Now, I can opt out. Thank goodness for previews and library books.

Anyway, all that said, I plan to keep track of what I've read this year on the blog, so without further adieu, here are my January reads:

Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake by Alexis Hall

I enjoyed this one! I wanted something light and easy to kickstart this habit, and this book was exactly that. It combined two of my favorite things (romance and The Great British Bakeoff), plus witty writing to boot. I really like Hall's writing (I read A Lady for a Duke late last year) and will probably read more of his stuff this year.

Besides the cozy feeling this book inspired, it also just felt good to be reading again. There's nothing to analyze here, but I do think one reason I liked this book so much was that it actually drew me in and kept me engaged through to the end when I was expecting to be unable to finish...or worried that I'd lost my attention span and joy of reading altogether.

The Soulmate Equation by Christina Lauren

Another easy-to-read romance. I am starting to get a feel for what contemporary romances lean toward: a harried single mother who's stalwart and independent, and maybe a little reluctant to start dating, finds true love in unexpected places. I generally think kids are pretty hard to write well, but in Rosaline and this one, that's not the case at all. 

I liked the conceit here: a scientist builds a dating app that matches people based on genetics. There's a necessity for willing-suspension-of-disbelief here, but hey, that's what romances are for, right? The way the science is explained is good enough for me. It's a potentially tricky subject that's handled well.

This romance delves into a sort of enemies-to-lovers/forced-dating trope, so if that's your thing, I definitely recommend it. I found myself frustrated with the main character in the first quarter of the book, but eventually I warmed up to her. (Or she stopped being a stick-in-the-mud, which I guess was kind of the point. A protagonist's gotta have a journey, right?) The writing is pithy and modern; overall, this was a fast and fun read.

Spare by Prince Harry

Branching into some non-fiction, I was pleased I got this as quickly as I did. The library had 50 copies when I placed my hold, and by the time I got the book, they'd obtained 184 more!

Be warned: I have a lot of thoughts about this book. On the one hand, I think anything in a celebrity memoir has to be taken with a grain of salt. On the other hand, the stories are told completely without embellishment, and Harry states right up front that his memories aren't always to be trusted. He also doesn't try to excuse away or hide his own embarrassing or unflattering actions.

Some major takeaways: Reading about the way he dealt (or didn't) with his mother's death was especially moving. How can you read about a 12-year-old losing a parent in such an infamous way and not be moved? His private grief was a spectacle for the public, and you know those repressed Brits...best not to cry where anyone can see you. 

Likewise, Harry's detailed account of his military service was eye-opening for me, and his recounting of meeting Meghan Markle and taking on the British tabloids added an interesting layer to what I'd already seen on Netflix – the press is so ubiquitous throughout the book, you almost start to shrug it off...which is probably the point. You kind of stop noticing how egregious the headlines are, and then once the escalation begins, you're really smacked in the face with how bad it all is.

When the Oprah interview came out, I wondered when Harry began therapy – before or after meeting Meghan – and this book answered that question. It also delved into his acting out in the years after Princess Diana's death, his self-medicating (and self-harm), and the way the press salivated over those stories and wrote provocative headlines when it was so clear that he was a kid who'd undergone trauma and wasn't getting so much as a hug to comfort him.

I know this was Harry's story, but throughout I wondered how William felt in those same moments in history, and I kept thinking what a shame it is that the future monarch has less freedom than the "Spare" and therefore can never share his side of things. As Spare, Harry felt cast aside; as the Heir, I'm sure William felt stymied and trapped. 

Harry doesn't speak ill of his brother; even in unflattering moments, he seems to make excuses for him or allow that, when under pressure and when tensions run high, regrettable things are said and unfortunate things happen. I felt he tried to be very fair.

Most of the royal family comes across as complex – sometimes heartless, sometimes lost – but Harry never says a bad word about anyone other than reporters/paparazzi. The stories speak for themselves, and we are left to draw our own conclusions about what sort of people make up the British royal family and what sort of atmosphere they create in their households. (I was left feeling that, for such powerful people, the in-family competition makes them look ridiculous, and it would be very lonely to be a member. At one point I realized they insist on sucking up to the press just to ensure fawning headlines once they're dead, which is just pathetic.)

The writing is minimalist and the tone fairly straight-forward, which suits a celebrity memoir where most of the subjects are still alive. If you've watched the Netflix documentary, the last third of the book feels a little anticlimactic, but I still recommend reading it if you're interested in the monarchy, dysfunctional families, celebrity memoirs, or stories about overcoming PTSD and emotional neglect/abuse.

Harry points out multiple times that most people who write about the monarchy are unofficial biographers who pretty much make things up, so why not read something straight from the source for once?

Anyway, that's my January reading list, done! I started light and finished with something much heavier; I'm pretty impressed I got through three books this early in the year. Let's see what February has in store!


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