When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir by Patrisse Khan-Cullors
This book really got to me. I was in my first year of college when the #BlackLivesMatter movement broke out after the killing of Trayvon Martin and acquittal of George Zimmerman. The first protest I ever went to was a Black Lives Matter protest in Roxbury, MA in 2013. I don’t remember exactly what compelled me to go to that, but I remember thinking it felt wrong to sit in my dorm doing problem sets when humans were out there fighting for a right to not fear being killed on a daily basis. Looking back on my childhood, a lot of my early role models were black—Michael Jordan, Ray Allen, Alicia Keys, Will Smith, LeBron James. I don’t remember when I became conscious of race, but I realized very early in adulthood that I wasn’t conscious enough of it at all. I’ve spent a significant amount of time trying to educate myself on race issues beyond the perfunctory knowledge gained in high school history classes. James Baldwin, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Hanif Abdurraqib, Teju Cole, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Michael Twitty, Jesmyn Ward, Maya Angelou, Trevor Noah, and Michelle Obama have provided so much meaningful context, and Patrisse Khan-Cullor’s memoir adds another strong voice into the mix. This is a heartbreaking account of how a lifetime of suffering and pain led to the birth of a movement, and I highly recommend it.
Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly by Anthony Bourdain
As someone who claims to love food, I’m embarrassed to say that I was sadly unfamiliar with Anthony Bourdain prior to this book. To be fair, my interest has always been more on the health and policy side, but it is difficult to imagine someone who loves food more than Bourdain does. His openness to the world is inspiring. Rest in peace.
Us Against You by Fredrik Backman
This is the sequel to Beartown, which I wrote about in the post below. This one is a beautiful book in its own right. I recommend both of these books to anyone who has a desire to read. I’m still in awe of how Backman was able to fit so much of the world into a little town.
On Tyranny by Timothy Snyder and Call Them By Their True Names by Rebecca Solnit
The official description of this book is: “A historian of fascism offers a guide for surviving and resisting America’s turn towards authoritarianism.” It is succinct, but I found it a fitting accompaniment to Rebecca Solnit’s Call Them by Their True Names. Both books made me think critically about complacency and hopelessness. Solnit often talks about the beauty of the unknown—that the future is not inherently doomed nor will problems fix themselves. Hope for the future involves taking actions to make the future better. Hope is not complacency. Timothy Snyder writes in a similar vein. We must understand our past to make better decisions about the future.
All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung
This is a memoir by a Korean-American adoptee who reconnects with her birth family. She learns of the circumstances and secrets that led up to her biological parents putting her up for adoption. Her writing is honest. I don’t really know how else to describe it. It is thoroughly genuine. I really appreciated this book. My first friend in my life was an adoptee, and adoption was perhaps the first “social issue” (I put quotes because issue doesn’t seem like the right word) that I was ever aware of. Many of the questions she struggles with surrounding abandonment and “what if’s” are the same ones that I watched my friend battle growing up, and for that, it hit close to home.
Hold Still by Sally Mann
I honestly thought I would like this one more than I did. Photography and memoirs are two of my favorite things, but this one just didn’t quite capture my attention. I think the first few chapters are worth reading. Her reflections on the art of photography are insightful, but she couldn’t get me to care about her family history and her perspective on backlash to her work.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
A tenderly heartbreaking story that thrives in simplicity and authenticity. It is an incredibly slow book, but the characters are amongst the most realistic of any fiction book I’ve ever read. I wish I read this earlier in my life. I think it would have resonated more in my late teens, but I’m glad I read it anyway.
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Americanah is beautifully written, and I’m consistently blown away by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s ability to hit on emotional notes through the inclusion of the most subtle details. I noticed that in her short story collection, The Thing Around You Neck, and Americanah is no different. Through her characters’ journeys through Nigeria, England, and the United States, Adichie gives broad perspective on important race questions. The main character, Ifemelu, has a blog on her observations of racial issues in America. These blog posts are funny and incisive, and were some of my favorite passages throughout the book. My only complaint is that the ending felt too neat, and some plot lines veered into the slightly unrealistic. Still, a lovely and important novel worth reading.
I also wanted to write about some of my favorite podcasts. I alternate often between reading books and listening to podcasts, and often the books that I choose stem from topics I’ve heard about in some of these podcasts.
On Being with Krista Tippett
It’s hard to describe what that podcast is “about” without saying it’s about life itself. One of my friends calls it food for the soul. I aspire to be as thoughtful and insightful of an interviewer as Krista Tippett is in these discussions with prominent scientists, artists, religious leaders, writers, etc. The podcast goes back years and years and each conversation brings such beautiful insight into living. Many of the books I decide to read are referenced in these conversations. I loved the recent episode with Teju Cole, the one with Anand Giridharadas, and an older episode with Robin Wall Kimmerer.
An amazing combination of entertaining and educational. Alie Ward is hilarious and surprisingly, so are many of her guests. They talk about a specific -ology each week, and I’ve literally never come across a boring episode. Fun way to learn about niche science topics. The “Etymology” episode was great, as was the episode on “Food Anthropology”.
The first podcast I ever got addicted to! This podcast is about “design” in the broadest sense of the word. I would describe them more as origin stories to very specific and seemingly mundane things. I started listening to this podcast in 2014 and it completely changed the way I view my surroundings. I remember loving the episode about the butterfly ballot from the 2000 presidential elections. 99PI made me a lot more curious and conscientious, and I still try to remain as up-to-date as possible on new episodes. More recently, I enjoyed the episode on Chinatowns and the mini-series, “Articles of Interest”.
I basically started listening to this podcast when I had the urge to re-read the Harry Potter series. Mike Schubert is a 26 year-old reading the series for the first time, and his commentary and analysis is hilarious. He brings in hardcore Harry Potter fans to discuss each chapter with him. This is my favorite thing to listen to when my brain is burnt out from trying to learn and I want to be entertained/feel nostalgic.
Relatively new podcast from NPR. It basically retraces specific events through history. There was a recent one on the opioid epidemic in America which was really interesting, as was the one about planned obsolescence. Well-researched and well-produced.
This one is pretty niche but it discusses FOOD so I automatically love it. I’ve also emailed them before to ask for book recommendations and they actually responded to my 389719384719 word email so I’m grateful. Don’t know if most people would be interested in this, but if you want to learn more about specific food histories, it’s all here.
The China History Podcast
Just started this one, but enjoying it so far. Some are multi-episode series discussing a particular era of Chinese history, while others are standalone episodes. I’m looking forward to learning more about the history of tea.
I’ve become more conscious in the last few weeks of the balance between learning and building more concrete skills. I am happy with how much I have been reading, but want to be mindful of the ratio between creation and consumption. I am toying with the idea of picking sewing back up to design and make some backpacks, which has been a goal of mine for many years now, but we’ll see. As always, time is the constraint. Maybe getting more sleep should be more of a priority. For now, I have started playing piano, guitar, and pipa again.
While looking for old sheet music, I found this ancient piano recital video of me and a piano buddy playing Liu Yang River. Enjoy 15 year-old me being enthusiastic about Chinese music (and also sorry for the obnoxious sounds at the end, my teacher liked kazoos I guess??).
What is something you are looking forward to in the next few months?