reading recap: may 2017

I read 13 books in May! Even though several were short and several were on audio, this might be a personal record for me. I also already hit 50 books (currently sitting at 51)! I can’t believe it. I guess this is what happens when you listen to audiobooks all day while you draw.

  • The Hearts of Men (audio) … Nickolas Butler, read by Adam Verner
  • Frankenstein (audio) … Mary Shelley, read by various
  • The Leavers (audio) … Lisa Ko, read by Emily Woo Zeller
  • The Road to Jonestown (audio) … Jeff Guinn, read by George Newbern
  • What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky (ebook) … Lesley Nneka Arimah
  • There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé (ebook) … Morgan Parker
  • The Teacher Wars … Dana Goldstein
  • Men Without Women: Stories (audio) … Haruki Murakami, read by various
  • Life’s Work (audio) … Dr. Willie Parker, read by Caz Harleaux
  • The Radium Girls (audio) … Kate Moore, read by Angela Brazil
  • Drinking: A Love Story (ebook) … Caroline Knapp
  • Parable of the Sower (ebook) … Octavia E. Butler
  • Bitch Planet, Book One … Kelly Sue DeConnick with Valentine De Landro

My favorites for the month, as usual, were the non-fictions: The Road to JonestownThe Teacher WarsLife’s WorkThe Radium Girls, and Drinking: A Love Story. I was fascinated by Jonestown and Radium, while Teacher Wars and Life’s Work are important pieces to understanding where we are on the topics of education and abortion today. Drinking was personal and raw, and made me think more deeply about my own use and relationship with alcohol.

Of the fictions, The Hearts of Men and What It Means When A Man Falls from the Sky really stand out to me, as well as a few stories from Men Without WomenParable of the Sower and Bitch Planet were recent picks for my international book club with my friend Anthony, and it was so great to read these along with him.

This last month I made a detailed plan for catching up on book posts here. I want to write a little bit about everything and I WILL get to it all! I’m traveling for several weeks in June and July, so I’m not sure how many posts I can write up and schedule ahead, but I’ll try my best to keep this space active a bit while I’m away.

I’m currently listening to Going Clear on audio, the exposé on Scientology that came out a few years ago, and it’s riveting so far. I also recently purchased Van Gogh’s Ear and Pachinko, which I’ve had my eye on for weeks! I also would like to pick up Chris Haye’s A Colony in a Nation and Roxane Gay’s new one, Hunger, while I’m on the road this summer. What are you planning for summer reading?
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reading recap: december 2016

Happy new year! I hope 2017 will be better in many ways and on many levels than 2016, and I’m going to do my part here in Singapore any way I can. December was hard; being away from my family during the holidays for basically the first time ever. But it was also weird since my routine is basically non-existent and the weather is perpetually summery, so it doesn’t exactly feel like “winter” and “holidays” here to me so much.

I managed to get a little bit of reading done last month. Here are my books for December:

december-recap

  • Tilting Our Plates to Catch the Light … Cyril Wong
  • Phenomenal Woman (ebook) … Maya Angelou
  • We Gon’ Be Alright: Notes on Race and Resegregation … Jeff Chang
  • A Life in Parts (audio) … Bryan Cranston, read by author
  • Children of the New World: Stories … Alexander Weinstein
  • I’m Thinking of Ending Things (ebook) … Iain Reid

Except for the Cranston memoir, everything was on the short side: essays, short stories, poetry. I liked all these, not a bad one in the bunch, but probably my favorite reads for the month were We Gon’ Be Alright by Jeff Chang and I’m Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid. The essays in We Gon’ Be Alright include deeper looks at Ferguson, racism in higher education, the morphed definition of “diversity,” #OscarsSoWhite, growing up Asian American, Beyoncé’s Lemonade, current segregation in K-12 education, and much more. It was short, timely, and I can’t recommend it enough.

I’m Thinking of Ending Things, also very short, took a little bit to get into and was slightly plain at first, but piqued my curiosity more with every chapter that I couldn’t put it down by the end and had to read the last few pages twice. This one was a library ebook I put on hold back in October for Halloween and it finally came though!

Children of the New World was overall very good, with only a couple of sleepers in the collection. I loved the premise of the through-line—an imagined near-future where technology is even more prevalent in the daily lives of humans. The stories that stood out to me in particular were “Heartland,” “Children of the New World,” “Rocket Night,” and “Ice Age.”

Bryan Cranston’s new memoir, A Life in Parts, was another library hold come through. It was fantastic on audio, hearing the actor himself talk about his many personal and professional experiences, including his most famous roles as Hal (Malcolm in the Middle) and Walter White (Breaking Bad). Nothing too deep or earth-shattering, but a solid celebrity memoir. I was inspired to re-watch Breaking Bad after reading this one!

I’m not normally a poetry person, but I ended up reading two more collections to close out 2016! Tilting Our Plates to Catch the Light was written by a local Singaporean poet, and I picked it up as a Christmas gift for my mom, but ended up reading it first before I mailed it home. It’s a beautiful collection about love, with additional themes of time, death, and distance. Phenomenal Woman is, of course, by the indomitable Maya Angelou. I’ve read this before, it’s only four poem, but I felt after what happened in November, it was time for a revisit. “Still, I Rise” is an all-time favorite.

My “best of 2016” posts are coming soon!
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reading recap: november 2016

Well… that happened. You know what I’m talking about. I think based on the books I read and love you can probably guess my political views. It has been surreal watching it all unfold from here in Singapore. Just surreal and frustrating and infuriating. Someone here recently asked me how I was doing after the election, and being crappy at hiding my feelings, I responded, “Oh, boiling over with rage.” “Still?” YES STILL, ALWAYS. Anyway. Needless to say, the election results didn’t exactly change my TBR entirely, as I have consistently been interested in learning more about social movements and justice, race, religion, history, politics, and culture. But the result certainly bumped certain books to the top of my list, and I did look up more books to add to the list. The result also stalled my book reading for about a week. I’m back into it though. Reading, educating myself, practicing empathy and understanding, and listening (and donating, writing emails, and signing petitions) are what I can do from abroad.

Here are my books for November:

november-reading

  • Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City (audio) … Matthew Desmond
  • milk and honey (ebook) … Rupi Kaur
  • Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman (ebook) … Lindy West
  • No god but God (audio) … Reza Aslan
  • Mo’ Meta Blues: The World According to Questlove … Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson

I gave up participating in Non-Fiction November… sort of. Now looking at my list, I realize I read all non fiction except one. All these books were fabulous except for the the one fiction.

My favorites were Evicted and Mo’ Meta BluesEvicted and also No god but God are absolutely essential reads right now. Evicted follows several families in the Milwaukee area, trapped in the vicious cycle of poverty exacerbated by addiction, disability, unemployment, and more impossibly cruel circumstances. It is extremely well written—intimate portraits of these very real people and their very real problems. Desmond humanizes an epidemic and makes clear that welfare and housing assistance reforms are necessary immediately.

Mo’ Meta Blues was just a delight—Questlove is just a charming, humble, thoughtful human being. I’ve loved the Roots for a long time so this has been on my list since it came out in 2013. In his memoir, Questlove keeps it light while going deep at the same time, which is a real feat. Important moments in his own personal and Roots’ histories are referenced with cultural progression in the U.S., and his philosophical musings about the states of pop culture, hip-hop, and music criticism were intelligent and spot on. I wish I had kept a list going of all the songs and records he mentions in order to listen to them all later. I loved it.

No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam is an accessible and informative book—Aslan brings to life the intricate, sprawling history of Islam and expands on its current varieties as well as how the religion has existed and relates in the world, including in the U.S. in the twenty-first century. This was an illuminating and fascinating book for me, especially right now.

Shrill was so much fun! I went from laughing out loud to feeling enraged to uplifted and empowered, often all in the same chapter. West didn’t come off as shrill at all to me, she’s insightful and self-aware of her own self and society. An excellent feminist read, I loved it—read it all in two days. Milk and honey was just okay. It started strong, but lost me halfway through. Only a few poems were truly striking, but many I breezed right over. Some were trite and some lacked originality—I know I’ve heard or read a few of the lines before in some of these poems. I was pretty disappointed in this poetry collection, it’s been sadly over-hyped in my opinion.

Here’s hoping for a better month to close out the year…
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in the house upon the dirt between the lake and the woods

After seeing it reviewed by Rory at Fourth Street Review, In the House upon the Dirt between the Lake and the Woods by Matt Bell has been on my radar. A few weeks ago, it became available on audio through my library. From Goodreads:

In this epic, mythical debut novel, a newly-wed couple escapes the busy confusion of their homeland for a distant and almost-uninhabited lakeshore. They plan to live there simply, to fish the lake, to trap the nearby woods, and build a house upon the dirt between where they can raise a family. But as their every pregnancy fails, the child-obsessed husband begins to rage at this new world: the song-spun objects somehow created by his wife’s beautiful singing voice, the giant and sentient bear that rules the beasts of the woods, the second moon weighing down the fabric of their starless sky, and the labyrinth of memory dug into the earth beneath their house.

This is a tough book to review! I was very intrigued by the darkness of the premise, and though I felt like giving up a few times I’m glad I ultimately stuck it out. In the House has so many converging elements, including magical realism, horror, folklore… even some action and mystery thrown in. “Mythical” is just about the perfect word to describe it overall, too. The breakdown of the couple’s marriage is painful, the husband’s descent into fury is kind of frightening, even. It just made me think, how far is this man going to go? Is this even about having children anymore? It was really thought-provoking. Charlie Thurston narrated this audio version, and I had to set it to 1.5x speed—normal was just a little lethargic for me! But the clip of his voice at 1.5x made the poetic nature of the prose much more theatrical.

I don’t think In the House is for everyone—ratings on Goodreads are starkly divided. Once I let go of things making sense and just went with the dreamy quality of the story I enjoyed it a lot more.

I’m counting In the House as book two of five for the KC Library’s Love on the Rocks Adult Winter Reading Program.

Listened to audiobook from January 13 to February 5, 2015.

power politics

In anticipation of the lecture on Monday, last week I squeezed in Power Politics by Margaret Atwood instead of what I had otherwise planned on reading. From Goodreads:

Margaret Atwood’s Power Politics first appeared in 1971, startling its audience with its vital dance of woman and man. Thirty years later it still startles, and is just as iconoclastic as ever. These poems occupy all at once the intimate, the political, and the mythic. Here Atwood makes us realize that we may think our own personal dichotomies are unique, but really they are multiple and universal. Clear, direct, wry, unrelenting—Atwood’s poetic powers are honed to perfection in this important early work.

I’m no expert when it comes to poetry—I usually don’t have the patience to let the words completely soak in—but I love Margaret Atwood and have heard that Power Politics is a decent place to start with her poems. She had me from the very first page:

you fit into me
like a hook into an eye

a fish hook
an open eye

Badass.

I didn’t quite get a sense of separate poems—it was more like one long poem. There is a very strong sense of love, pain, violence, and betrayal. The jilted lover’s intense focus on “You” is especially powerful. There were parts of the collection that resonated deeply and made me reflect on the dark, angry thoughts and feelings that I may have experienced after particularly arduous breakups. I was pretty busy last week, otherwise I’m sure I could have read the whole collection in one sitting (even less than an hour) rather than over a few days. I’m counting this as one of my reads for the KC Library’s Love on the Rocks Adult Winter Reading Program.

Read from January 29 to 31, 2015.

mini-reviews: feminists, citizen, beard

I had a wonderful week celebrating the holidays in Wisconsin last week! I was able to squeeze in three short books before the end of the year, plus a couple of audiobooks (reviews coming soon for those). Here are my brief thoughts on each:

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is the text of her 2013 TED talk, a short essay I read in one 30–40 minute sitting. Since it it so short, Adichie doesn’t go into extensive details or analysis, just lays out the topic in clear, concise language mostly based on her own personal experiences. This could easily be expanded into several essays, and was a great complement to a couple of the essays in Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist (my review). I appreciated that Adichie doesn’t get angry here, nor does she place blame on any group for the way things are, only urges everyone, women and men alike, to recognize there is a problem and to do all we can as a collective society to fix it. She recognizes there are fundamental, biological differences between men and women, but why the social differences? She gives a great example of cooking historically being a “female” thing, while men are generally off the hook (though feeding oneself is a necessary life skill, no matter your gender). I really enjoyed this, and just got Adichie’s Americanah in the mail and I’m looking forward to reading it in 2015! [Read on December 24, 2014.]

Next, I read Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine. What a powerful, timely collection of prose poetry. Everyone—regardless of race, color, creed, socioeconomic status, etc.—should take a few hours to read this book soon. Formed in brief vignettes ranging from seemingly innocuous encounters in everyday situations (errands, appointments, job interviews, etc.) to more egregious aggressions on an national or international stage (Serena Williams’s televised tennis matches, for example), Citizen reveals expectations, assumptions, and behaviors that millions of Americans deal with on a daily basis in their lives, things that have very real after-effects on people, body and soul. This books is an accessible expression of the complexity and reality of race issues historically right up to today. [Read from December 27 to 28, 2014.]

My gift to my husband this year for Christmas (in addition to The Lego Movie… best wife ever!) was a copy of Stephen Collins’s The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil. Nick has a beautiful, glorious long red beard which looks fantastic on him, so beards have become quite a topic of conversation in our lives the past year. I thought this would be a fun gift and it was! I read it in one sitting after Nick finished. This strikingly illustrated black-and-white graphic novel is about Dave, a dude who lives on an impossibly tidy island called Here, surrounded by the ominous There (dystopia or utopia?). Several themes exist in Gigantic Beard—existential crises, general ennui, fear of the unknown and “otherness,” society being evermore connected but evermore alone, fitting in vs. individualism, and so on. This is just begging to be a Pixar feature-length film. Also, I thought it was hilarious that Dave’s iTunes suggested R. Kelly’s Ignition Remix after playing the Bangles’ Eternal Flame. [Read on December 29, 2014.]