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Link Party: 3/27-3/31

Somewhere in the sort-of-not-really desert, California, USA.

March was a marathon month, and I suspect the next 30 days are going to feel like a sprint. I kickstarted April with a day trip in and around the desert: a wildflower walk, a mirrored house art installation and the best milkshakes. April, here I come — no bad days.

Here’s what I’ve read lately:

1. The world of Japanese luxury fruit.

2. A personal essay on envisioning California.

3. Donald Trump’s vision of New York, stuck in the 1980s.

4. A Navajo chef on the complexities of Native American cuisine.

5. Why Joan Didion writes “so much” about clothes.

And a bonus: I am really, really feeling this mood board for summer 2017.

Have a great week.

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Link Party: 2/13-2/17

My at-home deskscape, coming together.

My at-home deskscape, coming together.

Here’s something I want to share that recently came back to me — in an episode of Twin Peaks (side note: I have a soft spot for this show and I hope the revival isn’t garbage), FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper gives the Twin Peaks sheriff, Harry Truman, a solid gold piece of advice. “Harry, I’m going to let you in on a little secret,” he says. “Every day, once a day, give yourself a present. Don’t plan it. Don’t wait for it. Just let it happen. It could be a new shirt at the men’s store, a catnap in your office chair, or two cups of good, hot black coffee.”

That’s the advice I also have for you. I’m not a big fan of the treat yo’self ethos that millennials like to use as an excuse for spending money, but both you and I should enjoy life’s small joys when they come. I hope you feel the same way.

Here’s what I read this week:

1. I already pre-ordered Joan Didion’s South and West weeks ago, and this review makes me excited to get my hands on it.

2. Meet George Howell, the dude behind the third-wave coffee craze and the originator of the Frappuccino.

3. A tale of fighting a Spotify hacker.

4. The next big blue-collar job is coding.

5. The fear of a feminist future. (This essay was written back in October pre-election and makes the assumption Hillary Clinton would be president, which makes this extra oooof.)

And a bonus: I’ve become a Candle Person and this one is my favorite so far.

Enjoy your week.

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What I Read: October & November 2016

To help me stay on track in my 2016 goals, I’m documenting the books I read all year. I liked the three-sentence reviews I wrote for August and September, so I’m going to do that again. Here’s what I read in October and November:

Joan Didion’s Where I Was From.

Every time I read a Joan Didion book, I’m blown away by her genius and skill. In this nonfiction essay collection about California, Didion works through the disconnect between the myths of California’s beginnings and its present-day reality, and how that has affected the perception of California and its people. It’s the perfect example of writing that centers on something extremely personal and contributes to a bigger picture in a measured and articulate way.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is my new favorite author, and I highly recommend her work. Americanah is a beautiful love story, but it’s also about a woman finding her identity and voice — all while painting a rich portrait of Africa you don’t see very often. This novel will make for an incredible movie, if done carefully and right.

Francesca Block’s Weetzie Bat.

This is a delightful young adult novel about a woman living in a Shangri-La version of Los Angeles, and I wish I would have discovered when I was a teenager. It’s whimsical and mystical in that you have to suspend your disbelief on some plot elements, but it’s extremely serious and honest in its themes, especially sexuality. Would recommend to a precocious teenage girl who loves LA.

Elena Ferrante’s The Story of the Lost Child.

The Story of the Lost Child is an incredible end to an incredible series about two women from Naples and how their lives intersect and diverge. Believe all of the hype you’ve ever seen or heard about Elena Ferrante or the Neapolitan Novels. This series is one of my favorites, and I’m so glad I spread the four-book series out over the year — it was much more satisfying that way.

John Steinbeck’s The Harvest Gypsies.

This collection of newspaper articles describing California migrant camp life in the 1930s expanded my tiny bit of knowledge about the Dust Bowl. It adds some dimension to Steinbeck in that you can recognize inspiration for his novels, but it’s not necessary Steinbeck reading. If you really want to read Steinbeck, you’re better off reading or rereading The Grapes of Wrath, East of Eden or Of Mice and Men.

Martha Gellhorn’s Travels with Myself and Another.

Okay, so — I picked up this book because I wanted to learn more about Martha Gellhorn and who she was as a war journalist. But the more I read, the more uncomfortable I was with the racist and classist language she uses to describe the people she meets and the places she goes in Asia, Africa and the Caribbean. I finished the book, but I would not recommend it.

Kevin Starr’s California: A History.

I’m embarking on a California reading project (more on that later), and this was the first history book I picked up — I found it on several must-reads-about-California lists. California provides a really good overview of state’s history from the European exploration efforts to the Schwarzenegger era, but I will say it moves extremely fast. It’s a good starter book, and it’s definitely inspired me to read more about my state’s incredible history and culture.

What have you read lately? Tell me about it in the comments.

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What I Read: June 2016

To help me stay on track in my 2016 goals, I’m documenting the books I read all year. Here’s what I read in June:

David Foster Wallace’s Brief Interviews with Hideous Men.

I bought this 23-story fiction collection at The Last Bookstore approximately 1 million years ago, and finally pulled it out of my bookshelf at the beginning of the month. The only other DFW book I’ve read is Infinite Jest (which I need to reread soon), and I wanted to try some of his other fiction.

I expected Brief Interviews to be really good, but this book’s style and DFW’s command of the English language blew me away. I especially enjoyed reading the story series that the collection derives its name from, where an unnamed author interviews men with seriously warped minds  — but you don’t know what questions are being asked, which makes you reevaluate your expectations of the literature you read. The other short stories I thought were exceptional are “Adult World” and “On His Deathbed, Holding Your Hand, the Acclaimed New Young Off-Broadway Playwright’s Father Begs a Boon.” I know a lot of people either adore or despise DFW, but you can’t deny that his work makes you think. I have yet to find another writer in the same vein of originality. I am also probably the only person in the world that enjoys doing this, but I like having to pause and look up a word that I don’t know. If you’re into experimental fiction or just want an intense brain exercise, this book is for you. 

V.S. Naipaul’s Guerrillas.

I was surfing the Internet one day and stumbled across a Brain Pickings article that detailed Joan Didion’s list of favorite books. I’d already read A Farewell to Arms and loved it, so I was pretty confident in how much I would like her list. I ordered Joseph Conrad’s Victory (more on that book in July) and Guerrillas, since I had read elsewhere (it might have been another one of her interviews but I can’t remember) that Guerrillas drew on Victory.

The story centers on an English woman named Jane, who comes to a Caribbean island to visit her South African boyfriend Peter. Peter works with Jimmy Ahmed, who is the leader of an agricultural commune Peter is sort of but not really helping to establish. The story doesn’t really follow a traditional narrative, but culminates in the island’s violent political upheaval. The ending of this novel is graphic and violent and I’m not going to discuss it here, but if the premise sounded interesting I’d advise against reading Guerrillas if sexual violence triggers you. 

My main takeaway from Guerrillas was that it’s a commentary on the emptiness of liberal values and the lasting effects of colonialism. Jane thinks she is intellectual and understands the island’s political situation clearly, but finds out throughout the course of the novel that she really understands nothing. You can have a lot of well-intentioned ideas about race and politics, but understanding the reality of a grim situation and the social forces at play are a completely different thing. The paradise isn’t real.

This book is also a testament to how important multicultural voices are, and that we can’t rely on the white canon to tell the stories we need to hear.  I would not count this as one of my favorite novels, but it helped to round out a genre I don’t usually read. If you’re looking for other books about postcolonialism, I would also suggest Jamaica Kincaid’s The Autobiography of My Mother.

 

Joan Didion’s Play It As It Lays.

In a complete reversal of my David Foster Wallace experience, I’ve always loved Joan Didion’s essays but never read her fiction. Play It As It Lays is her second novel, and one that she’s brought up in her later nonfiction and interviews.

The novel centers on a young actress named Maria Wyeth, who is recovering from a nervous breakdown in a California psychiatric hospital. With the exception of a few chapters from the perspectives of her friend and ex-husband, Maria recounts what has brought her to the hospital — a toxic marriage, a haunting abortion and an alleged participation in her friend’s suicide. Maria is marooned from a world that was supposed to bring her success and happiness, and instead spends her days driving all across Southern California and up to Las Vegas.

 

I was unsurprised by the book’s premise, because Didion’s work often deals in themes of anxiety, unfulfilled potential and disconnect from reality. For someone who was deep in the Hollywood way of life and made a living from it, she has always been highly critical of what it can do to an outsider. I didn’t read a lot of criticism on Play It As It Lays, but I can imagine that Didion drew from her own experiences and the stories of the people around her. But as always, I am in awe of Didion’s prose and how she can say volumes in just a few words. If you read this and like it, read her nonfiction collections The White Album and Slouching Towards Bethlehem.

 

Elena Ferrante’s Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay.

If you’ve been reading my monthly recaps, you know that I’ve been working through the Neapolitan novel cycle for a few months. The further I progress, the more this series lives up to the hype that initially drew me in. I was thinking about this book the other day, and realized that I probably haven’t committed to a series like this since middle school. That’s how good it is.

Save for a very quick flash-forward to the last time Elena Greco sees Lila Cerullo, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay picks up right where The Story of a New Name left off. This novel mostly focuses on Elena’s marriage and family life, with a few sidebars on Lila’s life after she leaves her husband. While Ferrante has woven several major themes throughout the series, this installation seems to pause on class structure and gender equality. It is so hard for these women to achieve any kind of success and enjoy it, because of the traditional gender roles they’re forced to conform to and the violence and political tension happening around them. Their friendship dramatically suffers because of their fragile personal lives, and in their selfishness Elena and Lila don’t seem to grasp that they’re dealing with some of the same issues. I’m interested to see how it plays out in the final book. 

I predict that in the next few decades, Ferrante’s work will be at the center of incredibly smart academic analysis about literature and gender studies, as well as popular culture. I wish that there were more Ferrantes in the world — or maybe I just haven’t discovered them yet. This series is so good that I haven’t intentionally looked up spoilers, because I want to be surprised at how it ends. If you still haven’t started My Brilliant Friend, get on it.

Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray.

The Picture of Dorian Gray is another book I’ve had kicking around in my bookcase. I bought it in high school before I had access to Amazon, so all of my classic books came from the Barnes and Noble reprinted classics carousel. I’ve tried to read it a few times before, but got distracted by other books every time.

 

In Victorian-era England, Dorian Gray is a wealthy and beautiful young man. He’s also the muse of an artist, who paints Dorian’s portrait. Under the influence of another wealthy guy, Dorian finds himself worried about losing his youth. In a supernatural experience, he trades his soul so that he’ll stay the same but the portrait will age. After a tragic romance, Dorian indulges in every hedonistic vice he can find, including brothels and opium dens. Spoiler alert — in the end, the portrait can’t save him from dying.

I was extremely disappointed with this novel, so much so that I chided past-Zoë for spending $5 of her babysitting money on it. I read Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest in high school and liked it, but didn’t find this novel particularly amusing. Dorian has no redeeming qualities whatsoever, so I didn’t find any room to sympathize with his benders. I knew going into reading The Picture of Dorian Gray that it’s supposed to be a philosophical discussion on the purpose of art, but I didn’t find it riveting.  I found myself flipping through pages wholly uninterested, because I don’t really care what a white British dude — however subversive he was — thinks about art. 

Have you read anything good lately? Tell me about it in the comments.

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Link Party: 5/2-5/6

I love jacaranda trees.

I love jacaranda trees. 

This week was a great week in Internet writing. Here’s what I read:

1. This new Joan Didion piece is just her notes from reporting on the Patty Hearst trial in the 1970s, and it’s still incredible writing. I am in awe.

2. America and Allrecipes.

3. The eternal magic of Beirut.

4. The stories of the first group of people to sign up for Remote Year, a program that promised both work and travel.

5. Jane Jacobs and her contributions to urban planning, in light of her 100th birthday.

And a bonus: Texts from Samuel Coleridge.

Have a wonderful weekend.

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Link Party: 2/8-2/12

What a day, what a life.

What a day, what a life.

Here’s what I read this week:

1. A bikini, a toothbrush and 44 issues of the New Yorker.

2. I will read anything about Joan Didion, especially in connection to Los Angeles.

3. I’ve been meaning to read Aziz Ansari’s “Modern Romance” for awhile, but after reading this excerpt about texting I really want to dive into it.

4. The romance of planning your wedding in one week.

5. This article about a teenager teaching an adult how to use Snapchat is a wild, wild ride.

And a bonus: I have had this video of Gustavo Dudamel conducting Arturo Márquez’s “Danzón No. 2″ on repeat for the past week.

Have a great weekend.

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Culture Connoisseur: The Best Books I Read in 2015

All the books.

All the books.

In 2015, I read a respectable 41 books. While I attribute part of the 41 to being a literature student, I read most of the 41 in the last six months post-graduation. I told myself that I would work on filling in the gaps of my literature education and catching up with recent releases, and my list just keeps growing and growing. It’s the only to-do list I enjoy adding items to. I know you’re probably tired of the December deluge of Best Of lists, but I’m not going to restrict myself to 2015 releases for this list. We should all be reading the older stuff in addition to the new, but time is arbitrary and this is my blog. Here are the best books I read in 2015, complete with specific recommendations for what to read next — some of which I also read this year.

Between The World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates.

This is just required reading for all humans everywhere. Ta-Nehisi Coates talks about his experiences of growing up and being black in the United States, framed as a letter to his adolescent son: “This is your country, this is your world, this is your body, and you must find some way to live within the all of it.” I’ve spent a lot of this year reading and talking about race, and I’ve been making a more conscious effort to read books written by women and people of culture. It was fitting that I closed out the year with this book. Coates writes beautiful prose, and is one of the most insightful authors I’ve read in a long time. This is probably the best book I read all year, and I highly, highly recommend it. If you like it, try If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin.

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay.

I waited almost two months to get this through interlibrary loan from my local library (Current students, take advantage of all of your university library resources) and it was entirely worth it. I love this collection of essays a lot and I think everyone should read them, especially college students who are interested in race, sexuality and culture. There were a lot of people on Goodreads who criticized the hell out of this, but they’re just haters. Roxane Gay is a national treasure and we should protect her at all costs. If you like it, you’ll appreciate Loose Woman by Sandra Cisneros.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.

This summer, I sat down to try and read this novel for the third time. Both times I tried to read it, I only got a few chapters in before getting distracted with something else. I finally did it, and in only two days.  I love the 2007 film version of this novel, but you have to read this to fully appreciate the nuances of the films. Some of the lines in this novel sent me reeling because of their romanticism, but in a good way. In reading P&P, I got a better understanding of this novel as social criticism rather than just a romance novel. If you haven’t read it before and want to, I highly suggest getting a copy that has really good footnotes: I had the Longman Cultural Edition version. And when you’re done, read Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë. (And for the record, I prefer Mr. Darcy over Mr. Rochester any day.)

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff.

This. Novel. Is. Incredible. There are two halves to this book, which at its foundation is about a marriage: the first half is about the husband’s perspective, while the second half is about the wife’s. The two things that I loved about this book the most was that it continually surprised me in the best ways, and that Mathilde Satterwhite became one of my favorite female characters of all time. Barack Obama cosigned the love for this novel, so with my and his recommendation you know you have to read it. Make it #1 on your 2016 reading list. And if you love it, read Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. (Fates and Furies is not particularly a thriller, but if you appreciate Mathilde you’ll appreciate Lisbeth Salander.)

The White Album by Joan Didion.

I’ve always felt a kindred spirit in Joan Didion, so it wasn’t surprising that I loved this collection of essays. She’s one of my main writing inspirations, so I’m slowly reading her work and savoring every word. I would try and pick a favorite essay, but it’s too hard because I loved every one. I intensely admire her writing about California, and find that a lot of what she wrote in the 1960s is still incredibly relevant. When you’re done, start right in on another collection of her essays, Slouching Towards Bethlehem.

Citizen by Claudia Rankine.

Reading this book of poetry was a highlight of my college career. Much like Between The World And Me, this is an intensely emotional book about being black in the U.S., and discusses concepts like language and microaggression, as well as analysis of the prejudice and violence inflicted against black people. If you’re interested in educating yourself about the language we use to talk about race and body politics (as you should be), this is a good introductory book that will give you priceless knowledge. I read this book in two classes I took concurrently, and was lucky enough that she visited Cal Poly Pomona to read some selections and explain her stories. To hear her talk about this was an incredible opportunity that I’m glad I took advantage of. After you’re done, read Zone One by Colson Whitehead.

Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein.

This has to be one of the best memoirs I’ve ever read. Carrie Brownstein talks about her life growing up, starting / being in Sleater-Kinney and trying to find a sense of family and belonging. She doesn’t talk about Portlandia, but this book isn’t really about that. Carrie Brownstein is an incredible writer, and I’ve really enjoyed listening to interviews for this book. If you read this and like it, I suggest Patti Smith’s Just Kids.

Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger.

One night in the springtime, I woke up at about 4 a.m. and couldn’t go back to sleep. I don’t know what possessed me, but I decided to watch the Salinger documentary on Netflix. This brought on a mini-obsession where I read two of his short story collections and some of his New Yorker essays, all of which are world-class examples of how to write. Franny and Zooey is about two members of the Glass family and a discomfort with inauthenticity. People know J.D. Salinger for The Catcher in the Rye more so than his other work, but I think his short stories are much better. After you read this, read his Raise High The Roofbeam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction.

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway.

My dad had a copy of this book for the longest time, and in sixth grade I tried to read it on my own and had absolutely no idea what was going on beyond Europe and bullfights but finished it anyway. Eleven years later, I enjoyed it so much more — a story about a dude just trying to figure his life out. Now I really know why Hemingway was celebrated as the voice of the Lost Generation. And of course, the Gertrude Stein epigraph sold me immediately. If you like it, read A Farewell to Arms — another Hemingway I read in 2015.

Honorable Mentions: Mr. Palomar by Italo Calvino, On Beauty by Zadie Smith, Underworld by Don DeLillo, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson, A Gate At The Stairs by Lorrie Moore and Going After Cacciato by Tim O’Brien.

What did you read this year? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

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