January 2023 in Books: Out of Five Cats Reviews

The Book Shelf Editorial Assistant Shelby writes her book reviews in the best way: out of five cats.

It’s that time of month again and like clockwork I’m here to tell review all the books I read in January 2023. You can find streams of fiction reviews, but I’m here to give nonfiction the attention it deserves. How can you resist real stories?

Sometimes real life is better than fiction. If any of these catch your fancy, you’ll find yourself inspired.

Let’s dig in:

Educated by Tara Westover

Educated: A Memoir: Amazon.co.uk: Westover, Tara: 9780399590504: Books

Tara Westover has led a strange and fascinating life so far. Growing up with her siblings in her Idaho isolated homestead, Tara is not permitted to attend public school and has a sketchy view of the outside world. She has no birth certificate and is raised a fundamentalist Mormon and survivalist. This book was absolutely fascinating. It’s a chronicle of self-motivation and self-discovery. Tara’s upbringing lands her a place at Cambridge University, which is what caught me by surprise when I read the blurb.

Of course, after reading her story, my understanding of faith and the education system has really changed. And although I don’t know Tara, I feel so proud of her using education to overcome the scars of religious abuse and trauma.

  • “It’s strange how you give the people you love so much power over you.”
  • “We are all of us more complicated than the roles we are assigned in the stories other people tell.”
  • “Whomever you become, whatever you make yourself into, that is who you always were.” 

I rate this book 5/5 cats!

Quiet by Susan Cain

Image credit: Goodreads

Without exposing The Book Shelf team too much, I can confirm introverts outnumber the extroverts. Now, when I took the Myers–Briggs test, I found my personality was pretty introverted, too. I started to reflect on introversion and how my mind works, then I discovered this book.

This book taught me that all the moments my introversion caused me to seem prude, snobbish, or bored made me feel like there was some inherently wrong with me. I couldn’t be valued or understood. Actually, I can be valued and understood on a level that allows me to remain comfortable. I adored this book and Susan made me feel like all the abnormalities were – actually – normal.

  • “There’s zero correlation between being the best talker and having the best ideas.” 
  • “Spend your free time the way you like, not the way you think you’re supposed to.” 
  • “Don’t think of introversion as something that needs to be cured.” 

I rate this 3/5 cats!

Being Mortal by Atul Gawande

Mortality. As the dreaded quater-life crisis nears, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to live and die well. What better place to start than with understanding modern medicine, technology, hospitals, and doctors.

The most eye-opening parts are understanding different types of care: palliative, assisted-living, nursing homes, and hospices. I also appreciate that the Atul acknowledges the emotional distress for both patient and loved one. As death is still a taboo for many cultures, I find learning about it helps ease the confusion which saturates the topic.

I must say that Atul uses very simple language (a make or break for some readers) but for me, and being new to the topic of mortality, I appreciated this. For such a difficult subject, Atul is so eloquent and compassionate. I havelearned a lot, but also feeling a little lost for concrete answers to life’s difficult questions.

  • “How we seek to spend our time may depend on how much time we perceive ourselves to have.”
  • “We’ve been wrong about what our job is in medicine. We think our job is to ensure health and survival. But really it is larger than that. It is to enable well-being.” 
  • “Courage is strength in the face of knowledge of what is to be feared or hoped. Wisdom is prudent strength.”  

I rate this book 4/5 cats!

Midnight in Chernobyl by Adam Higginbotham

Midnight in Chernobyl tells the true story of the worst nuclear accident in the history of the world. The Department of Internal Affairs of the (former) USSR writes: “The situation is normal. The radiation level is rising.”

This book includes two opposing statements from a group career-dedicated bureaucrats frozen in shock as their manager fails to evacuate the nearby town of Pripyat. The leaders of the plant were crazed and couldn’t or wouldn’t act to save lives, those of their workers or the town’s people. They also actively sought to cover it up. The government of the USSR also committed this criminal negligence. They hid the accident from the world and also their own people.
This book demonstrated the complete lack of moral and ethics for all the years before and after the meltdown. It’s written extremely well. The narrative voice is informative and expressive, captivating me from page 1.

  • “Only when he showed her the dark specks of graphite on the leaves of her strawberry plants did she agree to return home.” 
  • “Brobdingnagian.” 
  • “If we survive until the morning, we’ll live forever.” 

I rate this book 4/5 cats!

If you want to find out how to write well (it starts with coffee) we share tips in our monthly newsletter. Or, if you can’t wait, then check out our Writer’s Guide. Find us on socials, our website and Goodreads to get notified whenever we publish something new.

We’re here to help writers — we’re here to help you. 

By Shelby Jones