Reading Material, Vol. 2: June Edition

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Reading Material

Happy first of June, all! That’s how I would have started this entry had I been awake enough to write a blog post the other night. Believe me, I tried–right until I fell asleep on top of the covers. Which happens more often than you’d think. (All the time.)

Since my last public entry, I’ve written several drafts and posted one of them, before promptly shifting its privacy settings to Private. I’ve had so many ideas and so many things to talk about, but not enough energy to turn written notes and outlines into cohesive essays, and less and less confidence in my ability to string words together into intelligible sentences when not at work. For the past few weeks, I’ve been in the mental place where my officemate, another copywriter, was last year–and I’m really not enjoying it.

But there have been bright spots: being greeted upon waking up and arriving home by our one-month-old puppies, Mocha and Cappuccino (affectionately nicknamed Chino), who can now run short distances without falling over; watching great movies with friends (Mad Max: Fury Road is an absolute godsend; Sasha James of The Mary Sue wrote a great review that explains why I love it so); and getting to squeeze books into my schedule–both old (Karen Marie Moning’s Fever series) and new (two classics by advertising icon David Ogilvy). (Of course books. I don’t know where I’d be without them.)

Now, I have the terrible habit of pining after books for a long time, then impulse-buying novels on Kindle because they’re so accessible–which brings me short-lived satisfaction before making me tear at my hair, all, What was I thinking?! Which is probably why, a few days ago, I decided to list down the books I really, truly want, and refer to the list when I’m itching to “Buy Now with 1-Click ®.” I figure being more conscious of the books I buy will help me save money–or at least keep me my backlog from mutating into an even bigger monster than it already is.

So without further ado, I present to you this month’s (week’s?) top three:

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

Americanah coverWhile Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has been writing fiction since 2003 (and published her first collection of poems six years before), she recently skyrocketed to fame because of the song ***Flawless by Beyoncé, which sampled Adichie’s TEDx talk on feminism. As soon as I learned about Americanah, I downloaded a Kindle sample, devoured it, and wanted more, stat. I’ve held myself back because I want to be ready to read it—Adichie’s voice is engaging, and I’m so intrigued by the characters and settings I’ve come across so far, but I’ve mostly been reading books that require, er, less brain power—but soon, I will. It’s too good to resist for long!

Synopsis: Ifemelu and Obinze are young and in love when they depart military-ruled Nigeria for the West. Beautiful, self-assured Ifemelu heads for America, where despite her academic success, she is forced to grapple with what it means to be black for the first time. Quiet, thoughtful Obinze had hoped to join her, but with post-9/11 America closed to him, he instead plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London. Fifteen years later, they reunite in a newly democratic Nigeria, and reignite their passion—for each other and for their homeland. (Amazon / Fully Booked)

Empress Dowager Cixi by Jung Chang.

Empress Dowager Cixi coverWhen I was in high school, I was a history buff, interested in the Tudors, the Second World War, and the Russian Revolution, among others–all, I realized later, events that were very European. But a great Asian history class changed that, so when I find books about great rulers in my corner of the world, I try to find them. Like this one. While I don’t remember Empress Cixi from class, stories about ambitious women who make a difference in a patriarchal world resonate so strongly with me that I know I need this book. Soon!!!

Synopsis: In 1852, at age sixteen, Cixi was chosen as one of Emperor Xianfeng’s numerous concubines. When he died in 1861, their five-year-old son succeeded to the throne. Cixi at once launched a coup against her son’s regents and placed herself as the true source of power—governing through a silk screen that separated her from her male officials.

Drawing on newly available sources, Jung Chang comprehensively overturns Cixi’s reputation as a conservative despot. Cixi’s extraordinary reign saw the birth of modern China. Under her, the ancient country attained industries, railways, electricity, and a military with up-to-date weaponry. She abolished foot-binding, inaugurated women’s liberation, and embarked on a path to introduce voting rights. Packed with drama, this groundbreaking biography powerfully reforms our view of a crucial period in China’s—and the world’s—history. (Amazon / Fully Booked)

The Legend of Korra: The Art of the Animated Series – Book Three: Change by Bryan Konietzko, Michael Dante DiMartino, and Joaquim Dos Santos. Legend of Korra, Book Three: Change art book

All right, I’ll be honest here: When Legend of Korra was in the works, I wasn’t interested. While I loved Avatar: The Last Airbender, I didn’t find Korra‘s new, vaguely steampunk world or her own character design particularly fascinating, which was why I delayed watching it, even ignoring Book Two: Spirits when it finally came out. But Book Three: Change turned it all around, with an even more diverse cast, complex antagonists with pretty good reasons for (pardon my French) fucking shit up, and just so many things. Here’s a review that made me want the art book even more than I did when I first saw it. And real talk, this is the last book on my Need-to-Have list, but it’s the first I’m going to buy–and I wouldn’t say no to the other three art books! (Amazon / Fully Booked)

Honorable mentions: Nerd Do Well by Simon Pegg; The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert GalbraithDark Places by Gillian FlynnLockwood and Co.: The Whispering Skull by Jonathan Stroud (in paperback, please!); and of course, Avatar: The Last Airbender, The Search, number one on my to-buy list until the Legend of Korra art books appeared on my radar. Give me strength.

What have you been looking forward to reading recently? What are your favorite new reads so far this year? 🙂

Reading Material is a new feature picking up where Sea Reads left off, because the pun got old real fast. It’ll include short book reviews, my upcoming to-read list, and whatever else fits into the category because why differentiate book-related things too much?? I’ll figure it out.

Featured image by James Tarbotton, courtesy of Unsplash

Five Things Friday, Vol. 1

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Five Things Friday / Personal

Late last year, I wrote daily posts in a private blog called Five Things Everyday [sic]–my ambitious take on Rookie Magazine’s Saturday Links series–but that died out quickly because, surprise surprise, it’s hard to write every night when you’re getting used to your new job and trying to keep your social life (whatever social life you have!) alive. Recently I’ve been thinking of trying again, even if only weekly, so I’m giving it another go–sans a proper introduction for now. So without further ado, the five things this week that are worth noting:

1. Cate Blanchett coming out—or, well, not entirely. I’ve loved Cate and her powerful acting for years, so hearing that she would star in Carol, the movie adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s 1952 lesbian romance novel The Price of Salt, two years ago woke me up. As Carol‘s release date approaches, more clips have been revealed, but the most recent news is that, in the main feature of Variety’s May issue, Cate said, among many things:

When asked if this is her first turn as a lesbian, Blanchett curls her lips into a smile. “On film — or in real life?” she asks coyly. Pressed for details about whether she’s had past relationships with women, she responds: “Yes. Many times,” but doesn’t elaborate. Like Carol, who never “comes out” as a lesbian, Blanchett doesn’t necessarily rely on labels for sexual orientation. “I never thought about it,” she says of how she envisioned the character. “I don’t think Carol thought about it.”

While I’m so glad that Cate spoke up in her own way–not giving anything away except that which she wanted to be known–all the coverage I’ve seen on the Internet has focused on her having had relationships with women, which makes up all of one paragraph in the entire article. And as a fan who has seen more of Cate’s movies than read about her personal life, I also want people to read the rest of the article, which focuses not on her personal life but on her acting process while working on Carol, why she prefers theater to film acting, and the difficulties when trying to produce a movie that has been in limbo for ten years. I wish it were easier for people to take what she said as is, to know that her experience is a reality for so many people, and not to tear it apart.

Maybe a future in which people won’t have to come out to their family, friends, and loved ones is far away, but I want to dream that it is possible today–that in our own lives, we’ll work to create more accepting, welcoming atmospheres for those who need it. And I hope that tomorrow Cate will continue living her life, a little less mysterious, perhaps, a little more of herself revealed to us, but still privately, quietly, Cate.

E.T.A. During the Carol press conference at Cannes last Sunday, Cate Blanchett clarified to the audience that she had been misquoted… which, honestly, I’d had a feeling about, but I hadn’t wanted to let the moment pass! At any rate, it’s all been cleared up–for now; I’m not 100% sure what to feel or even believe, as both a writer and a Cate fan–so to end my participation in the speculation, here’s a nice article on Refinery29 that sums up my thoughts about sexual orientation and labels in general.

2. Mad Max’s “sneaky feminism”. All right, I should probably save this for when I’ve actually watched the movie—which I plan to do on Sunday!—but since Mad Max: Fury Road premiered last Thursday, I’ve read so much about the film’s 99% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, Charlize Theron’s amazing performance as Imperator Furiosa, and Eve Ensler’s involvement. (Ensler talked to the actresses, who play the slave wives of a war lord, about violence against women.) Honestly, I only started caring about the movie when the first review popped up a day before its premiere here, but I’ve never been so excited to watch a movie. Never. I can’t wait!

3. Daredevil. I started watching Netflix’s Daredevil during my downtime last weekend, and I’ve found that I’m really, really impressed. Superhero series and movies have been leaning towards dark and gritty more and more recently, and Daredevil follows that trend, but it’s smart and nuanced as well, with great characterization and humor. I finished episodes seven through ten last night and I’ve been alternately moved and disturbed—the former, by the depth of the friendship between Foggy (Elden Henson) and Matt (Charlie Cox), and both, by the many facets of the crime lord Wilson Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio). I’m finishing the first season this weekend, guaranteed. Who’s gonna stop me?

4. Mary Lambert’s music. When you listen to Same Love by Ryan Lewis and Macklemore, you’ll hear the bridge sung by a high, sweet voice: I can’t change/Even if I tried/Even if I wanted to/My love, my love, my love… That’s Mary Lambert, a singer-songwriter from Seattle I absolutely love. Last week I unwrapped her EP Welcome to the Age of My Body and album Heart on My Sleeve, and felt understood for what felt like the first time in a long time. One of my favorites is her spoken word piece Body Love, and right now my heart is breaking for When You Sleep. When you sleep, will it be with me?…

5. Puppies. My dog Cindy gave birth late last month–on Dad’s birthday, overshadowing his completely!–and her puppies, named Chino (Cappuccino) and Mocha (Caffè Mocha) by someone craving coffee really bad (I’m sorry), have been the reason for my existence–the bright spot amidst the past few weeks of late work nights, stress, and sickness. One day I’ll have to write about those lovable furballs, but for now I’ll just look at my photos, sigh happily, and head to bed with a smile on my face.

Sea Reads, Vol. 1

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Books / Sea Reads
Sea Reads, Vol. 1

The great thing about long weekends is that you get to do things you rarely had the time to do before–like sleep. Mostly sleep. But the bad thing is that they end, bringing a new work week and so much exhaustion with them, and I am not ready to give this freedom up!!

Fortunately, I did do something with this long weekend: restart this blog. And while I was around, I figured, Why not start that book review feature I had in mind way back? So here’s the first installment of this little thing I’ve called Sea Reads, about the PC Peter Grant Series by Ben Aaronovitch. And, yep, look at who’s going all the way with the Piscean-Neptune-water theme!

Originally an uninspired play on the word “seaweed” (#ITried), Sea Reads* is meant to be a regular blog feature about the books I read. While I’d love to write lengthy book reviews, I’ve been leaning towards writing casual reviews, lists, and other posts that’ll help me explain, and later remember, why I love the books I love.

So without further ado, here’s the first book/series on my list:

The PC Peter Grant Series by Ben Aaronovitch

Rivers of London by Ben AaronovitchThere are some series I never would’ve heard about if it weren’t for friends who absolutely 100% recommend them, in all their obscurity… and I’ve never been happier to have friends with good taste! (Thanks, Lucy!) The PC Peter Grant series is one of those—among my favorite discoveries this year.

The series revolves around Peter Grant, a police constable (PC) in the great City of London who interviews a ghost while waiting for coffee near a crime scene one cold evening, and ends up being recruited for a mysterious department of the Met—one that deals with (what else?) the supernatural.

With a premise like that, it could be any supernatural PI series, except it isn’t, for three main reasons:

  1. An unmistakable voice. Narrated by Peter Grant himself, who has a distinctive voice—if sometimes rambling and peppered with a lot of local slang and technical jargon—the PC Peter Grant Series offers an insider’s look at London and what it means to be a Londoner, good and bad. Self-deprecating and witty, Peter is pretty much the tour guide you wish you had, the type who’s “seen it all before”, with a dozen asides per chapter about local history, pop culture (he had me at Harry Potter and Avatar: The Last Airbender), and the daily life of a copper. How can you not like him?
  2. A modern look at magic. Practically every book I’ve ever read has a little magic in it, but none has tried to put it under a magnifying glass the way that Peter does…. and that’s needed when you’re heir to The Folly, a magical institution only consisting of two people (later three), and pretty much the last student of a dying art that would be lost forever if you didn’t work to understand it scientifically. Throughout the series, Peter tries to quantify magic through experiments, keeping note of the spells and creatures he encounters along the way. It actually made me wish the Harry Potter series were as thorough!
  3. The most diverse cast of characters I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. While London is a melting pot of culture, with over 300 languages spoken in the city alone, I rarely find books that show how diverse its population is. But within the first book alone, I came across a Muslim cryptopathologist (a convert of Scottish descent!), a detective sergeant who happens to be a lesbian, and a badass family of river goddesses with a Nigerian matriarch… and many more in the following books. It made me realize that I need to search for and read more diverse books–and TV series, too.

While Aaronovitch’s plots are interesting enough, with him combining two disparate storylines into each novel, one of my favorite things about the series is how it manages to combine the laid-back wit of a youngin’ with the respectfulness and awareness you grow to have as a member of a minority group (Peter is mixed-race, with a mother from Sierra Leone). Peter’s understanding of racism, sexism, and other institutionalized biases is highlighted by his interactions with others on the police force, as well as his relationship with his mentor DCI Thomas Nightingale, the last magician in England and actually a relic of a bygone time, as he helps Nightingale navigate a modern world, social and cultural norms included. And honestly, it’s refreshing to see a protagonist’s narration influenced by experiences and cultures we rarely ever see in supernatural fiction.

Here’s a great review by Nataliya that sums up the many reasons why I love the series–even though her review only includes the first book, Rivers of London (or Midnight Riot, as it’s known in the United States). Apparently Cityread London thought it was great, too; Rivers of London was chosen as the focus of Cityread London’s 2015 campaign!

So yeah, if you’re in the mood to try something different, give Rivers of London a go! Make sure to tell me when you do. I could always use someone new to discuss things with.

See you at the Folly!

P.S. I am, rather belatedly, realizing that my love for Rivers of London and the rest of the series mirrors my previous obsession with Jonathan Stroud’s Bartimaeus Trilogy–which is similarly sarcastic, smart, and, of course, magical. If anything, it means that British snark and sarcasm will always be my weakness, which really isn’t a problem at all.

* I might end up renaming this feature later, but it works for now!

Featured image by Jonas Nilsson Lee, courtesy of Unsplash

Returning to the source

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Personal

Growing up, I defined myself by three things: my school, my family, and my Zodiac sign. Well, if not the first two, then the last one for sure–because even then, I guess, I’d been searching for something–anything–to encapsulate who I was: the many sides of me I didn’t know how to label.

Believing in astrology influences you whether you want it or not–and I did. I was a Pisces, and I loved being described as romantic and dreamy and mystical. I was the dreamer with her head in the clouds, the girl whose eyes pricked with tears even while trying to think, not feel.

So I read books about astrology and gemstones and ghosts and soulmates. I fell in love with love, seeking stories with protagonists who were brought into lands brighter and more fantastical than those they lived in. When I wasn’t reading, I wrote stories where I could be both what I thought I was and what I needed to be: soft and elegant, and bright-eyed with sharp teeth.

University brought out different women in me, allowing me to shift from the preppy freshman who wore cardigans and pleated skirts, to the athlete who taped her knuckles and screamed out her exhaustion, and later to the student journalist who pushed herself further and further. It wasn’t rebranding, but rather allowing other selves to surface after I’d shut myself away for so long.

But since the first time I slipped off my silvery Piscean scales, I’ve kept coming back to the sea–to stories and daydreams and writing for me, whatever that means.

So this time I’m embracing it all: the twin fish, their watery blues and greens, and flowing, lengthy prose. I’m trying not to be afraid of putting myself out there and seeing what I might find–learning how to welcome emotions and writing about them once again.

And in a world that requires you to think fast, work quickly, and never stop moving, it’s a kind of bravery.

P.S. Here’s what’s been playing in my head since I woke up this morning: Taste by Braids in its soft, dreamy glory. Enjoy.