Tag Archives: Michelle Min Sterling

Book Serendipity, Mid-December 2022 to Mid-February 2023

I call it “Book Serendipity” when two or more books that I read at the same time or in quick succession have something in common – the more bizarre, the better. This is a regular feature of mine every few months. Because I usually have 20–30 books on the go at once, I suppose I’m more prone to such incidents. The following are in roughly chronological order.

My biggest overall coincidence set this time was around Korean culture, especially food:

  • A demanding Korean/American mother (“Umma”) in Sea Change by Gina Chung, Camp Zero by Michelle Min Sterling, and Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner.
  • In the Chung and Zauner, she has eyebrows tattooed on.
  • In the Chung and Sterling, there’s also a mall setting.
  • Winter in Sokcho by Elisa Shua Dusapin was set in South Korea and mentioned a lot of the same cultural factors and foods. KIMCHI (which I’ve never had) was inescapable in these four books.

And the rest…

  • The concept of Satan as “the enemy” in God’s Ex-Girlfriend by Gloria Beth Amodeo and All of Us Together in the End by Matthew Vollmer, two 2023 memoirs I reviewed for Foreword Reviews.

 

  • A mention of the Newsboys (my favourite Christian rock band when I was a teenager) in God’s Ex-Girlfriend by Gloria Beth Amodeo and, of all places, Animal Life by Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir (the context: a list of songs with “Born” in the title; theirs is called – you guessed it! – “Born Again”).
  • Two Moores in my stack at once: Birds of America by Lorrie Moore and The Distance from Slaughter County by Steven Moore.

 

  • A chapter in The Distance from Slaughter County by Steven Moore is called “Fight Night” and I was reading the early pages of Fight Night by Miriam Toews at the same time.

 

  • A story in Birds of America by Lorrie Moore is called “Real Estate” and I was reading Real Estate by Deborah Levy at the same time.
  • The Virgil quote “there are tears at the heart of things” and the theme of melancholy link Bittersweet by Susan Cain and The Heart of Things by Richard Holloway.

 

  • A character who stutters in Bournville by Jonathan Coe and A Place Called Winter by Patrick Gale.
  • (Werther’s) butterscotch candies are mentioned in Leila and the Blue Fox by Kiran Millwood Hargrave, Our Missing Hearts by Celeste Ng, What Napoleon Could Not Do by DK Nnuro, and How to Be Sad by Helen Russell.

 

  • A mother who loves going to church in Bournville by Jonathan Coe and Born a Crime by Trevor Noah.

 

  • The metaphor of a girl trapped in a block of marble ready to have her identity carved out in Sea Change by Gina Chung and Everything’s Changing by Chelsea Stickle.

  • When I read a short story about a landmine-detecting rat in Everything’s Changing by Chelsea Stickle, I knew it wasn’t the first time I’d encountered that very specific setup. It took some digging, but I found out the other was in Attrib. by Eley Williams.

 

  • Shane McCrae, whose forthcoming memoir Pulling the Chariot of the Sun I was also reading, is a named poetic influence/source in More Sky by Joe Varrick-Carty.
  • I’m sure that after the one in Margaret Atwood’s The Door I encountered another poem about a frozen cat … but can’t now find it for the life of me.

 

  • A character named Marnie in Martha Quest by Doris Lessing and City of Friends by Joanna Trollope.

 

  • Cape Verdean immigrants in the Boston area, then and now, in Daughters of Nantucket by Julie Gerstenblatt and The War for Gloria by Atticus Lish.
  • Someone swaps green tea for coffee in Bittersweet by Susan Cain and City of Friends by Joanna Trollope.

 

  • A half-French, half-Asian protagonist in a novella translated from the French: A Single Rose by Muriel Barbery and Winter in Sokcho by Elisa Shua Dusapin.

 

  • A (semi-)historical lesbian couple as a subject of historical fiction in Daughters of Nantucket by Julie Gerstenblatt and Chase of the Wild Goose by Mary Gordon.

  • A lesbian couple with a ten-year age gap breaks up because the one partner wants a baby and the other does not in My Mother Says by Stine Pilgaard and City of Friends by Joanna Trollope.

 

  • After I specifically read three Frost Fairs books … 18th-century frolics on the frozen Thames were mentioned in The Secret Diaries of Charles Ignatius Sancho by Paterson Joseph.

  • As I was reading The Secret Diaries of Charles Ignatius Sancho by Paterson Joseph, I saw him briefly mentioned in How to Be Sad by Helen Russell.

 

  • From one 139-page book about a foreigner’s wanderings in Kyoto (often taking in temples) to another: I followed up A Single Rose by Muriel Barbery with How Kyoto Breaks Your Heart by Florentyna Leow.
  • Persimmon jam is mentioned in Winter in Sokcho by Elisa Shua Dusapin and How Kyoto Breaks Your Heart by Florentyna Leow.

 

  • A brave post-tragedy trip to a mothers and babies group ends abruptly when people are awkward or rude in All My Wild Mothers by Victoria Bennett and How to Be Sad by Helen Russell.
  • As I was reading What We Talk about when We Talk about Love by Raymond Carver, I encountered a snippet from his poetry as a chapter epigraph in Bittersweet by Susan Cain.

 

  • Sexologist Havelock Ellis inspired one of the main characters in The New Life by Tom Crewe and is mentioned in passing in Martha Quest by Doris Lessing.

 

What’s the weirdest reading coincidence you’ve had lately?

Women’s Prize 2023: Longlist Predictions vs. Wishes

I’ve been working on a list of novels eligible for this year’s Women’s Prize since … this time last year. Unusual for me to be so prepared! It shows how invested I’ve become in this prize over the years. For instance, last year my book club was part of an official shadowing scheme, which was great fun.

We’re now less than a month out from the longlist, which will be announced on 7 March. Like last year, I’ve separated my predictions from a wish list; two titles overlap. Here’s a reminder of the parameters, taken from the website:

“Any woman writing in English – whatever her nationality, country of residence, age or subject matter – is eligible. Novels must be published in the United Kingdom between 1 April in the year the Prize calls for entries, and 31 March the following year, when the Prize is announced. … The Prize only accepts novels entered by publishers, who may each submit a maximum of two titles per imprint, depending on size, and one title for imprints with a list of ten fiction titles or fewer published in a year. Previously shortlisted and winning authors are given a ‘free pass’.”

This year I dutifully kept tabs on publisher quotas as I compiled my lists. I also attempted to bear in mind the interests of this year’s judges (also from the website): “Chair of Judges, author and journalist Louise Minchin, is joined by award-winning novelist Rachel Joyce; author, journalist and podcaster Irenosen Okojie; bestselling author and journalist Bella Mackie and MP for Hampstead and Kilburn Tulip Siddiq.”

 

Predictions

A Spell of Good Things, Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀

Birnam Wood, Eleanor Catton

Joan, Katherine J. Chen

Maame, Jessica George

Really Good, Actually, Monica Heisey

Trespasses, Louise Kennedy

The Night Ship, Jess Kidd (my review)

Demon Copperhead, Barbara Kingsolver (my review)

Our Missing Hearts, Celeste Ng (my review)

The Marriage Portrait, Maggie O’Farrell

I’m a Fan, Sheena Patel

Elektra, Jennifer Saint

Best of Friends, Kamila Shamsie

River Sing Me Home, Eleanor Shearer

Lucy by the Sea, Elizabeth Strout – currently reading

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, Gabrielle Zevin (my review)

 

Wish List

How Not to Drown in a Glass of Water, Angie Cruz

The Weather Woman, Sally Gardner (my review)

Maame, Jessica George

The Great Reclamation, Rachel Heng

Bad Cree, Jessica Johns

I Have Some Questions for You, Rebecca Makkai – currently reading

Sea of Tranquillity, Emily St. John Mandel (my review)

The Hero of This Book, Elizabeth McCracken (my review)

Nightcrawling, Leila Mottley (my review)

We All Want Impossible Things, Catherine Newman – currently reading

Everything the Light Touches, Janice Pariat (my review)

Camp Zero, Michelle Min Sterling – review pending for Shelf Awareness

Briefly, A Delicious Life, Nell Stevens (my review)

This Time Tomorrow, Emma Straub (my review)

Fight Night, Miriam Toews – currently reading

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, Gabrielle Zevin (my review)

Of course, even if I’m lucky, I’ll still only get a few right across these two lists, and I’ll be kicking myself over the ones I considered but didn’t include, and marvelling at all the ones I’ve never heard of…

What would you like to see on the longlist?

 

~BREAKING NEWS: There are plans afoot to start a Women’s Prize for Non-Fiction. Now seeking funding to start in 2024. More details here.~


Appendix

(A further 99 eligible novels that were on my radar but didn’t make the cut:)

 

Hester, Laurie Lico Albanese

Rose and the Burma Sky, Rosanna Amaka

Milk Teeth, Jessica Andrews

Clara & Olivia, Lucy Ashe

Wet Paint, Chloë Ashby

Shrines of Gaiety, Kate Atkinson

Honey & Spice, Bolu Babalola

Hell Bent, Leigh Bardugo

Either/Or, Elif Batuman

Girls They Write Songs About, Carlene Bauer

seven steeples, Sara Baume

The Witches of Vardo, Anya Bergman

Shadow Girls, Carol Birch

Permission, Jo Bloom

Horse, Geraldine Brooks

Glory, NoViolet Bulawayo

Mother’s Day, Abigail Burdess

Instructions for the Working Day, Joanna Campbell

People Person, Candice Carty-Williams

Disorientation, Elaine Hsieh Chou

The Book of Eve, Meg Clothier

Cult Classic, Sloane Crosley

The Things We Do to Our Friends, Heather Darwent

The Bewitching, Jill Dawson

Common Decency, Susannah Dickey

Theatre of Marvels, L.M. Dillsworth

Haven, Emma Donoghue

History Keeps Me Awake at Night, Christy Edwall

The Candy House, Jennifer Egan

Dazzling, Chikodili Emelumadu

You Made a Fool of Death with Your Beauty, Akwaeke Emezi

there are more things, Yara Rodrigues Fowler

Factory Girls, Michelle Gallen

Lessons in Chemistry, Bonnie Garmus

The Illuminated, Anindita Ghose

Your Driver Is Waiting, Priya Guns

The Rabbit Hutch, Tess Gunty

The Dance Tree, Kiran Millwood Hargrave

Weyward, Emilia Hart

Other People Manage, Ellen Hawley

Stone Blind, Natalie Haynes

The Cloisters, Katy Hays

Motherthing, Ainslie Hogarth

The Unfolding, A.M. Homes

The White Rock, Anna Hope

They’re Going to Love You, Meg Howrey

Housebreaking, Colleen Hubbard

Vladimir, Julia May Jonas

This Is Gonna End in Tears, Liza Klaussmann

The Applicant, Nazli Koca

Babel, R.F. Kuang

Yerba Buena, Nina Lacour

The Swimmers, Chloe Lane

The Book of Goose, Yiyun Li

Amazing Grace Adams, Fran Littlewood

All the Little Bird Hearts, Viktoria Lloyd-Barlow

Now She Is Witch, Kirsty Logan

The Chosen, Elizabeth Lowry

The Home Scar, Kathleen MacMahon

Very Cold People, Sarah Manguso

All This Could Be Different, Sarah Thankam Mathews

Becky, Sarah May

The Dog of the North, Elizabeth McKenzie

Dinosaurs, Lydia Millet

Young Women, Jessica Moor

The Garnett Girls, Georgina Moore

Black Butterflies, Priscilla Morris

Lapvona, Ottessa Moshfegh

Someone Else’s Shoes, Jojo Moyes

The Men, Sandra Newman

True Biz, Sara Nović

Babysitter, Joyce Carol Oates

Tomorrow I Become a Woman, Aiwanose Odafen

Things They Lost, Okwiri Oduor

The Human Origins of Beatrice Porter and Other Essential Ghosts, Soraya Palmer

The Things that We Lost, Jyoti Patel

Still Water, Rebecca Pert

Stargazer, Laurie Petrou

Ruth & Pen, Emilie Pine

Delphi, Clare Pollard

The Whalebone Theatre, Joanna Quinn

The Poet, Louisa Reid

Carrie Soto Is Back, Taylor Jenkins Reid

Kick the Latch, Kathryn Scanlan

Blue Hour, Sarah Schmidt

After Sappho, Selby Wynn Schwartz

Signal Fires, Dani Shapiro

A Dangerous Business, Jane Smiley

Companion Piece, Ali Smith

Memphis, Tara M. Stringfellow

Flight, Lynn Steger Strong

Brutes, Dizz Tate

Madwoman, Louisa Treger

I Laugh Me Broken, Bridget van der Zijpp

I’m Sorry You Feel That Way, Rebecca Wait

The Schoolhouse, Sophie Ward

Sweet, Soft, Plenty Rhythm, Laura Warrell

The Odyssey, Lara Williams

A Complicated Matter, Anne Youngson

Avalon, Nell Zink

December Reading Plans

November is always a busy blogging month what with co-hosting Novellas in November and making small contributions to several other challenges: Nonfiction November, German Literature Month, and Margaret Atwood Reading Month.

In the final month of the year, my ambitions are always split:

I want to get to as many 2022 releases as possible … but I also want to dip a toe into the 2023 offerings.

I need to work on my review copy backlog … but I also want to relax and read some cosy wintry or holiday-themed stuff.

I want to get to the library books I’ve had out for ages … but I also want to spend some time reading from my shelves.

And that’s not even to mention my second year of McKitterick Prize judging (my manuscript longlist is due at the end of January).

My set-aside shelves (yes, literal shelves plural) are beyond ridiculous, and I have another partial shelf of review books not yet started. I do feel bad that I’ve accepted so many 2022 books for review and not read them, let alone reviewed them. But books are patient, and I’m going to cut myself some slack given that my year has contained two of the most stressful events possible (buying and moving into a house, and the death of a close family member).

I’m not even going to show you my preposterous backlog, because my WordPress media library is at capacity. “Looks like you have used 3.0 GB of your 3.0 GB upload limit (99%).” I’ll have to work on deleting lots of old images later on this month so that I can post photos of my best-of stacks towards the end of the year.

So, for December I’ll work a bit on all of the above. My one final challenge to self is “Diverse December” – not official since 2020, when Naomi Frisby spearheaded it, but worth doing anyway. This is the second year that I’ve specifically monitored my reading of BIPOC authors. Last year, I managed 18.5%. I have no idea where I stand now, but would like to see a higher total.

I’ll start with a December review book, A Down Home Meal for These Difficult Times by Meron Hadero, and see how I go from there. I was a lucky recipient of a proof copy of The Late Americans by Brandon Taylor, one of my new favourite authors; it doesn’t come out until May 23 in the USA and June 22 in the UK, but I will also see if I can read it early. Another potential 2023 release I have by a BIPOC author is Camp Zero by Michelle Min Sterling, a debut dystopian novel about climate refugees, which arrived unsolicited last month.

Among the other tempting options on my dedicated BIPOC-author shelf:

Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam

Black Buck by Mateo Askaripour

Fruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras

The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai

Diamond Hill by Kit Fan

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry

Still Born by Guadalupe Nettel

The Last of Her Kind by Sigrid Nunez

Names of the Women by Jeet Thayil


What are your year-end bookish plans? Happy December reading!