Best Books of 2019

Best books of 2019 I’ve read so far:

What started off as a slow year in books picked up momentum in the second half. In an ambitious attempt I tried to decolonize my literature taste, but clearly there still needs to be more work done. I unfortunately have an extreme weakness for French authors, so that’s something that should be sussed out at some point! My current status on Goodreads says I’ve read 42 books this year, I’m still expecting two or three more books to come through — so maybe there will be more added to this list.

  • Swann’s Way I tried Proust at the end of 2018, however about 100 pages into it I gave up. I was frustrated and confused with the plot. Why on Earth does a man choose to spend 100-ish pages talking about sleeping and waking up? What is exactly the importance of a madeleine? This year I set out to try again and it seems like either my focus has improved or my ability to comprehend excessively long sentences has improved. All I can say is this book will change your life. It will awaken you to extreme degrees of sensory. You will understand what it means to look at a flower for days on end becoming enamored with its beauty. Proust’s articulation of psychology, the human mind, and the human heart is profound and oh so dear to my soul! It was a long and arduous month, but I’m so glad I got through it.
  • Madame Bovary “We are all Madame Bovary”. Surely we have all been Madame Bovary at some point, and surely we know someone who is Madame Bovary right now. Flaubert writes poetically about love, the human condition, and mindful existence in his first novel. It’s already crazy to believe that he was able to write a women’s experience this well. Yes there is adultery, yes this is considered “Desperate Housewives” to many (to all who I proudly raise my middle finger!!!), and yes this is everything you could have ever wished for in a novel! The poetic metaphors about romance, language, and betrayal — what more is there to this wild thing we all call life?
  • The Idiot This was a re-read from 2018(?). Recently I was talking to a friend who mentioned that he needed to re-read The Idiot when he read more books. After thinking about that, I decided to try re-reading it since I wanted to see how I would fare. Luckily the book did change! It’s funny how I learned to love some characters more, some less, and even empathize with some parts of the plot! Growth really does happen and I encourage everyone to go back and pick up a past book they enjoyed.
  • The Lonesome Bodybuilder I’m a huge sucker for Japanese surrealism (see Banana Yoshimoto). I find that the writing is usually brief and jarring — straight and to the point and eerily emotional. To that degree, Yukiko spares no words in this short story collection. Each story carries a brilliant feminist undertone and has a lot to tell society about how external bodies / appearances shape one’s emotional and physical experiences in the world.
  • Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love Towards the end of the year, I made a new male friend who has been pivotal in helping me embrace what it means to identify as a male. Together we read this book in our working group and interrogated some of the subjects / topics discussed. We spoke about patriarchy and its pervasiveness within everyday life. How patriarchy attacks society from male, female, and non-binary perspectives. I suggest this book to anyone who is curious about exploring the disease of patriarchy and what its societal implications are. Additionally I heavily recommend bell hooks as required reading for anyone who’s looking to learn more about love, and what it means to love emotionally.
  • Maybe You Should Talk to Someone This was a needed read for someone like me (and maybe you?!). As someone who’s constantly involved in the mental health space for volunteering, I find myself feeling too self-aware or too cognizant of trying to help myself. I’m constantly side-stepping proven techniques (validation, paraphrasing, or empathizing) to help myself and because of that, I needed to engage with a psychologist who decides to go to therapy to reconcile with herself. I wasn’t too fond of the memoir-ish writing, but I felt Lori did well to articulate what it meant to ask for help even when you think you’re too good for it.

My hopeful goal was 50 books for this year, but unfortunately Proust took up more than I thought. Needless to say I’ve become less concerned with chasing numbers and vain goals. Keep reading folks! I hope you all live hundreds, if not thousands of lives.

Bluets by Maggie Nelson

“Loneliness is solitude with a problem.”

Currently reading Bluets by Maggie Nelson. It’s okay so far, not really my type of writing because it’s nonlinear and difficult for me to follow. I’m a slow reader so it’s often hard for me to keep up with multiple stories.

However I thought the quote tied really neatly with Rilke’s quote from Letters to a Young Poet.

“For one human being to love another; that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks, the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation. I hold this to be the highest task for a bond between two people: that each protects the solitude of the other.This is the miracle that happens every time to those who really love: the more they give, the more they possess.”

And Simone de Beauvoir’s quote from The Ethics of Ambiguity:

“A freedom which is interested only in denying freedom must be denied.”

I think all of the above quotes represent the importance of independence, solitude, and protecting each other’s right to carve their own world.

Mary Oliver

“Wasn’t your friendship always as beautiful

as a flame?”

Devotions, specifically a quote from For Tom Shaw S.S.J.E (1945-2014) by Mary Oliver

I’m a sucker for poetry and lately I’ve been getting into Mary Oliver who recently passed. Her nature poetry is wonderful, but this one had me torn. Too often we value our romantic relationships, but don’t focus hardly enough on our platonic ones!

Random quote

A freedom which is interested only in denying freedom must be denied. And it is not true that the recognition of the freedom of others limits my own freedom: to be free is not to have the power to do anything you like; it is to be able to surpass the given toward an open future; the existence of others as a freedom defines my situation and is even the condition of my own freedom. I am oppressed if I am thrown into prison, but not if I am kept from throwing my neighbor into prison.

The Ethics of Ambiguity by Simone De Beauvoir

How timely.

Mediations on Race and Ethnicity / Uncomfortable Conversations / Looking Forward

Update

I was bored and decided to look back on this post. When I wrote it I was having a desperate discourse with myself, rather than the reader. I thought about why I felt that way, and in no way meant this to be a blanket statement. However I do understand that many of my peers do share this similar sentiment - not towards White people in particular, but people of different backgrounds / cultures. I wanted to take time an re-engage with myself about this. I’ve ruminated on this issue so many times after talking to different people. After a somewhat slow osmosis I started to think about the passivity of people and linking my thoughts together with Audre Lorde (which I mentioned above) and other prominent activists (James Baldwin, Malcom X, etc.) and their tendency to engage with people. I thought about the press and its gradual transitions from an honorable process (FDR) to its current polemic and violent nature.

I’m hesitant to say that it was an “Aha!” moment, rather than an “oh yeah, well I guess so” type of moment. My conclusion is that people refuse to engage with each other empathetically and with open ears. We are so concerend with replying to one another, what to say, that we lose tangent of other people’s thought streams. We don’t take the time to consume and interpret other peoples’ thoughts for what they are - rather we are quick to jump to conclusions. Similarly I am too, and I’m not going to say that this conclusion jumping isn’t warranted. But I wish we were more patient and honest with each other. I really wish we were able to expand our capability for acceptance. This isn’t a blame or anything - just an opinion.

Original Post

It’s hard to describe, but I can feel my vocabulary and mind lock up when I’m in a group of White people. I can physically feel my body tense up, and my mind contort itself in different ways. It becomes harder for me to speak. It is difficult because where I live is heavily condensed of White folks. It is difficult because they are privileged too, and in that sense, do not have the same set of experiences that I have had concerning race. This is not a disqualifier, rather it is a fact that I’ve come to accept about people; we are all different and together we need to love each other for who we are.

However there are days I wonder if I grew up conditioned by Anglo-Saxon standards. Was it because my father was an English major, and had a deeply romanticized view of White history? Was it him who told me that White people deserve a higher level of interaction and are warranted more comfort than others? Was it him who tried to make me believe that White folks are inherently more intelligent than others? There are moments when I wonder if people of color are forever doomed to the stereotypes and prejudices that have annihilated our cultures. Unfortunately I wouldn’t like to know the answer to this question.

Despite my pessimism with regards to the experiences of people of color, the reality is that it is not just us who experience discomfort and frustration around White folks. I have spoken to my friend, who is a wonderful person and a White woman. She too experiences this struggle, she speaks of it when she works in an area where there is not many White people. She tells me she is uncomfortable around people of color, and that it frustrates her to no end.

The reality is that the discomfort and emotional / physical exhaustion exists everywhere. It is this un-nameable feeling that exists within all of us. There are many questions that I have. How do we accept the differences amongst one another? How do we shatter the invisible barriers that disconnect us from each other? How can we put a name to something that we can barely explain?

I made an attempt this year at speaking up and becoming more honest with who I was. At distilling my abstract emotions into something more concrete and fulfilling. To some degree I have succeeded and to some degree, I failed.

I want to make a stronger attempt at speaking up, for the causes I deeply care for. For the pain that people struggle to admit in our most vulnerable selves. I had held back on this issue for a long time because I thought my experiences were invalid. I envisioned myself as crazy and neurotic. I thought myself to be insane and delusional. But then I realized that this discomfort is pervasive amongst all people. Of course it is a discomfort more definitive in people of color, but it is also existent in white folks too.

The question as always is how do we solve this ongoing disconnect? How do we reunite with the people who we have chosen to separate from? It is trite to say that folks should simply just love, and that through love it’ll become better. The reality is for folks to speak about it. We must listen to each other’s stories actively, validate each other’s experiences thoughtfully, and respect each other’s presence wholeheartedly. It is with these three focal points coupled with the burden of speaking up that we will unearth the pains we have hidden.

Note: Thank you to the lovely Thu Nguyen for always taking the due diligence to read over my very primitive wriitng. You are a wonderful human being who knows how to give critical and wise feedback with empathy and compassion, and have also transformed many of my pieces.