2021 Book Reviews IX: Memoir Edition

Published in Books - 4 mins to read

This time I decided to read something a bit different to what I usually would and try some memoirs.

How Not To Be A Boy by Robert Webb

I must admit, I wouldn’t usually read a book because someone is on the current series of Strictly. But that reminded Sam to pester me to read it, and it worked, and I’m glad it did. I found Webb’s story all too relatable at times, and I suspect that’s why it was recommended to me. Having already been a huge fan of Peep Show, it was illuminating to discover just how much Webb was like his fictional counterpart Jez at times. I found it reassuring that despite being middle aged, decently famous and presumably relatively financially secure, Webb really didn’t have his life together until he turned 40, which makes me feel a lot less pressure to have mine “on track” before 30. The only thing I didn’t like about this book was that it did at times feel genuinely too familiar, and I felt as if I was going to invest time in reading a book to understand someone’s story better, perhaps it ought to be someone whose race, class, gender identity, socio-economic status and geographic location was at least slightly different to my own…

Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner

… Which was at least part of my reasoning when choosing to read Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner, best known for being the singer and guitarist of indie rock outfit Japanese Breakfast (who incidentally I already had tickets to see in April before reading this book). Zauner’s memoir details her fear of losing her Korean identity when her Seoul-born mother is dying of cancer, and her and her American through-and-through father try to care for her in their home in Oregon. Zauner’s way of connecting with her mother, as well as her own heritage, is by learning to cook Korean dishes that her mother had made as a child, but that she’d never attempted herself. It’s filled with mouthwatering descriptions of tteokbokki, budae jiggae, jjajangmyeon and of course kimchi that made me absolutely desperate to try them all myself, much to the benefit of my new favourite neighbourhood Korean restaurant Daebak. The book is spellbinding and heartbreaking - I read it in two sittings and cried during both - and is comfortably the most moving thing I’ve read all year. This book made me think deeply about the way I live my own life, and I am still carrying its ideas around in my head, whereas every other profound book I can remember reading only got to live rent free between my ears for a week or two.

If you eat food or have a family, you simply have to read this book.

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami

This book has seemed like a very obvious to read for a while now - what I’ve previously read of Murakami’s novels I’ve liked, the adaptions of his novels I’ve liked too, and as I am attempting to get more serious about running, this book seemed like a gentle transition into the quite daunting world of running literature. A collection of reflections about life in general and that of a writer, told using running as a vehicle for the story, the whole thing has a profoundly Japanese sensibility of relaxedness about it, which I loved but might not be to everyone’s cup of tea. The book is of course well-written, I am empathised a great deal with Murakami’s sense of introversion and found comfort in his contentedness in that, and enjoyed learning about running from someone who saw it as crucial for his health but wasn’t constantly seeking to push his own boundaries with it. If you like running and reading, then you’ll probably like this book, but if not then it’s one to consider missing.

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