I have a very fast turnover of books. What I opened today is gone tomorrow. I usually list them in BookMooch, a book swapping site, leaving only special books behind. I'm posting a summary of my 2010 reading list by month, as I can't review everything that I read.
Most of my descriptions here are previously posted from my reviews in Shelfari and LibraryThing. I've read a total of seven books in January. Most were short books, what I'd call my "comfort books" or books with 200 pages or less. I always rely on these fast reads. They are my junk food. Sometimes the slimmer the spine, the longer it takes for me to finish it. I don't rush reading short books, especially since the end of the page is always in sight.
1. Ghosts by César Aira, translated by Chris Andrews
The insidious power of this book convinced me that I need to collect all of Aira in English. Oh yes, I will! The great news is that Aira is a prolific writer, and by prolific I mean dozens of books waiting to be translated by the likes of Chris Andrews. Better to start collecting early when there are only a handful of his novels available. What an auspicious start of my reading for the year.
2. Better by Atul Gawande
In three chapters (Diligence, Doing Right, Ingenuity), Dr. Gawande argues for the need to perform well and to do better, to be a "positive deviant," even if you feel you are just a cog in the wheel. This book can be therapeutic. It can make you feel good or, like me, feel better.
3. Pinball, 1973 by Murakami Haruki, translated by Alfred Birnbaum
"Yet when we look back on the darkness that obscures the path that brought us this far, we only come up with another indefinite 'maybe.' The only thing we perceive with any clarity is the present moment, and even that just passes by." ... I like the sentimental lyricism in this book. Pinball is Murakami's second book and it's a bit better than his debut, Hear the Wind Sing, which I read last year. I've read the pdf which is readily available online, but I have since acquired my own copy. The booklet has just been reprinted by Kodansha, available in Amazon Japan and ebay at more reasonable prices than the limited first edition. This book, like the first one, is full of references to music. The soundtrack is also available online.
4. A Wild Sheep Chase by Murakami Haruki, translated by Alfred Birnbaum
The question must be asked. Since this is the third book in the trilogy, does one need to read the first two books (Hear the Wind Sing and Pinball, 1973) in order to appreciate this one. Well, not really. I must say that this is almost a self-contained book.
Another question may cross the reader's mind. Since Murakami practically prohibited the publication outside Japan of his first two books, are they still worth reading? Of course. They give background stories to the main characters in A Wild Sheep Chase.
5. Loving Sabotage by Amélie Nothomb, translated by Andrew Wilson
Short but potent novel that is partly about communism in China, partly about the barbaric potentials of an international troop of soldiers.
Told from the point of view of a brave soldier amid a brutal and unforgiving war, this short novel brings to mind the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan. Only the soldier happens to be a nasty little girl in pigtails. Hilarious book. Chock-full of LOLs. With occasional tears in the eyes (brought about by LOLs). Unforgettable (on account of LOLs).
6. Mon by Natsume Sōseki, translated by Francis Mathy
Mon is, for me, better than Kokoro. I have a feeling that every book that Sōseki wrote is a sad or bittersweet book. Maybe except for Botchan, but I still have to read that one. I also have a feeling that Sōseki will be my favorite Japanese novelist. My impressions halfway through the book are a classic case in judging too much too early. The second half is more ruminative, more contemplative, and (I'd like to believe) redemptive. Sōseki remains my most favorite Japanese novelist.
7. Seven Nights by Jorge Luis Borges, translated by Eliot Weinberger