An Open Book: What I Read in January

From buried treasure and face transplants to creative journeys and illicit email reading, 2020 started off with a month of diverse reading.

I’ve already recommended a few of my favorite books of the year to colleagues and friends. And I definitely didn’t have good things to say about some that left me feeling downright meh.

But, most importantly, I’ve also had some really interesting conversations that came out of reading these books. In having these conversations, I realized that is one of the most important things about reading. We read for entertainment, to learn, and find inspiration. But it also provides an opportunity to start a conversation about something complicated or confusing or out of your comfort zone.

I appreciate reading for reading’s sake. But, maybe, I appreciate what comes after the reading even more.

book reviews

Pirate Hunters: Treasure, Obsession, and the Search for a Legendary Pirate Ship by Robert Kurson (5/5 stars)

Three-line review: Riveting characters, adventure, treasure, and the deep sea. What’s not to love? Kurson did an awesome job weaving a specific treasure hunting trail in with historical and cultural background that brought the treasure hunting profession, geographical landscape, and historical context into focus.

The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World by Melinda Gates (5/5 stars)

Three-line review: Despite all the faults that come with wealthy white Americans financially supporting global initiatives, this book makes me feel like some massive foundations are truly working at the grassroots level to spark important change. I greatly appreciate that Gates’ is honest and transparent about her privilege, and that she is admittedly open about frequently finding herself in situations where she doesn’t know the answer. This book, born out of many difficult and intimate one-on-one conversations, is testament to the power of engaging local communities in order to empower all women in all communities everywhere.

A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle (4/5 stars)

Three-line review: A lot of people say this book changed their lives, and I understand why. This book is written for the reader, offering up page after page of the things people want to hear about how to live better, simpler, more thoughtful, and less consuming lives. It didn’t change my life and I found it off-putting that space was devoted to “vibrational energy” as if it were a scientific fact, but it was a good reminder of things I already strive to do and be in this world.

Faceless by Alyssa B. Sheinmel (4/5 stars)

Three-line review: Upon waking up after being in a coma for a month, Maisie learns she was injured by an electrical fire that destroyed much of her face. After receiving a face transplant, Maise begins the journey of navigating her relationships, physical strength, mental and emotional turmoil, day-to-day routines, and who she is deep inside despite her new face. The best thing about this YA book is that Maisie learns about and tracks her stages of mourning — something teenagers in lots of complicated situations can relate to.

book covers

Attachments by Rainbow Rowell (3/5 stars)

Three-line review: Predictable, witty, fun. If a classic Meg Ryan/Tom Hanks rom-com was a book, this would be it. A worthwhile read if you’re looking for a quick read with likable characters.

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin (2/5 stars)

Three-line review: Several people recommended this book to me, but I know my literary limits and should never have picked up a work of science fiction. Though well written, I failed to fully understand or appreciate this book’s plot. Perhaps sci-fi readers will get into this one, but it was a waste of time for me.

Creative Quest by Ahmir Questlove Thompson (2/5 stars)

Three-line review: I’m always interested in books that discuss the creative process, but this book was a weird mix of self-help and memoir and didn’t achieve either very well. It was heavy on the name dropping, and Thompson has easy access to a lot of people who opened doors for him, which doesn’t make his experience very accessible to most people. Yet, it is humbling to read that even those who seem to have it all struggle with common creative blocks.

I Still Dream About You by Fannie Flagg (2/5 stars)

Three-line review: I’ve found Flagg’s other books to be quirky and fun, but this one was as vanilla as a book can get. Flagg strayed all over the place, failing to tie up some plot lines, introducing others that didn’t make much sense, and quickly wrapping up one in particular that could have been worth savoring. It was a quick read requiring minimal mental effort, but not worth reading over the many other books on my to-read shelf.

2 Responses to “An Open Book: What I Read in January”

  1. Jill

    Always interesting to read your book reviews. The Moment of Lift (Melinda Gates) was a possible choice for our book group….and although we ultimately didn’t select it for this spring, I may suggest it again in the fall.

    • JoAnna

      It was definitely one of my favorite books in January. Beyond touting the horn for the Gates Foundation, I really appreciated how she tied together individual, community-based stories with universal, over-arching themes related to women, such as access to family planning resources, FGM, and child marriage.


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