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almost half a year in books

thought i'd give a mid-year update since i've been reading more this year and most of you seem to be reading more too and it's nice to see what people think about what they're reading

1. The Godfather by Mario Puzo

One of the reasons this book has been on my radar is Logan Browning’s character in Dear White People at some point says it was her/her dad’s favorite book – don’t know why but that line stuck with me and a year after watching the movie in full for the first time (which was a fantastic experience), I finally picked up the book and… it’s one of my favorites now, too. The way the book deals with questions of power, social structure, honor, etc. is SO good, and the story itself is accessible and compelling. I reference it quite often, and would recommend it to anyone.

Somewhat side note – the book was better than the movie, but I can retrospectively say the movie was one of the best adaptations of a book I’ve ever seen (if not the best), and I liked reading the book after having watched the movie, partly because it made it easier to keep track of the characters/subplots.

2. Nudge by Richard H. Thaler

Social science book that’s been really popular in the mainstream. Honestly, I hated it – the authors spend most of the book making a case for libertarian paternalism that reeks of white male ego and privilege; a guy saying that he and people like him know what is best and should be the ones guiding or “nudging” people in “better” directions. There is some interesting info re behavioral trends, etc. The book would've been better if it had been more objectively presented or observational, without the weirdly aggressive and specific promotion of libertarianism.

3. Severance by Ling Ma

I… can’t believe… I read this THIS year. It’s actually SPOOKY because just weeks later, it's totally prophetic. It’s a story about an apocalyptic pandemic and how things unfold in the recognizably/familiarly capitalist world we live in, centering a millennial Asian-American woman. I have more to say about the book, but don’t want to spoil anything, so if you read this and want to talk about it, hmu.

4. On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong

This book BODIED me. The prose is born of poetry and the writing is so honest and raw I sometimes felt it was asking me to be too honest with myself (is there ever such a thing though?). It’ll destroy you and cradle you at the same time, and every line holds a universe of reflection and wonder and brilliance. Despite being short, it’s a lot to read, but I’d recommend it to anyone who’s emotionally ready.

5. Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood

I just couldn’t get into or through this book. It was boring and the writing wasn’t great. I haven’t read The Tempest and I wonder if I would’ve liked it more if I had.

6. The Woman in the Window by AJ Finn

A fun thriller! It’s sufficiently entertaining, especially if you like Gone Girl type stories. Sometimes it just got sad to read through yet another description of the character’s agoraphobic routine, and the ending felt like it sorted twisted back around to being less satisfying than I was hoping it would be. But a good quick, fun, easy read.

7. Protest: The Aesthetics of Resistance by Various Authors

I LOVED this book. It’s a book of essays examining various protests/movements and ends up being a lot of art theory and media theory and some political theory, exploring various forms of protest, examples of them, measures of their success, etc. Very global in context and featuring an array of voices representing an array of backgrounds, which I liked. One of my top reads this year, for sure. Can’t wait to revisit these essays over and over.

8. The Best of Ruskin Bond by Ruskin Bond

Good stories! I don’t know who I would recommend this to – there are certain stories I LOVED, but otherwise agnostic in my opinions. His writing is very contemplative and pastoral and sometimes reading his work is like looking at a painting, so if you like that kind of writing, it’s nice to pick up and read from time to time.

9. Uncanny Valley by Anna Wiener

I liked this book! A lot of her professional experiences were painfully recognizable and relatable, and it was kind of nice to see someone lay everything out in the way she does, simultaneously naked and just veiled enough so as to be a little less specific. Would recommend this to anyone working in or adjacent to tech/media.

10. The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

A great fun and easy thriller, with a twist that’s just twisted enough, and with enough of a good build up that it’s just a tasty read.

11. The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing by Mira Jacob

I honestly liked so many parts of this book, but the book as a whole just didn’t come together in a way that I liked. I usually struggle through the beginning of a book until the point where I’m ready to devour through to the end, but with this book the opposite sort of happened? One thing I loved was how specifically and indescribably resonant her descriptions of meeting with family friends, visiting India, etc. felt – a new and really satisfying/exciting feeling! I wouldn’t dissuade anyone from reading, but not really sure who I’d recommend this to.

12. Man and His Symbols by Carl Jung

OK, so this book is all about dream psychology and interpretation, classification of archetypes as they relate to representative symbols and semiotics, etc. But there was something about where I was emotionally and mentally when I read this book… there are little concepts and ideas and thoughts that Jung uses to illustrate the relationships between the symbols and what they represent, or to preface an analysis, or to segue from one concept to another, etc. and those connective parts of the writing were what stuck with me the most, in a way that felt almost spiritual. I loved this book for those parts. Would recommend to anyone with even just a passing interest in psychology and/or semiotics.

13. A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf

It was around this time in my life that I was really starting to feel that books were coming into my life at just the right time. I certainly felt that way about this book, which I’d tried to read a couple years back and just could not get into. This time, though, I got through it enthusiastically – I think part of my increased interest also came from having watched Orlando a few weeks prior, which was my first exposure to Woolf’s work in even a more general sense, and which I loved (that movie was FANTASTIC and so beautiful and I highly recommend watching it).

I loved this book – it felt familiar and intimate, like talking to a wise friend; as if our thoughts were conversing. She reflects on the roles of women in society and women in writing in a way that is warm and relatable and just makes sense in a way that progressed/gave momentum to my own thoughts and reflections. It’s short and easy to read and I’ve yet to re-read it but I would imagine it’s the kind of work that imparts something unique based on when it’s read and who it’s read by.

14. Temporary by Hilary Leichter

Yet another fantastic book. Short and quirky and fun, and unexpectedly jarring in how emotionally relatable it was. It’s the kind of book that borders reality and feels simultaneously unsettling and incredibly engrossing. Maybe this was because of the cover art, but the vibes felt similar to The Mysterious Benedict Society, but for adults. Highly recommend.

15. We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

If you can imagine the second after being slapped out of nowhere – where your eyes water and you feel viscerally surprised, stung, and stunned all at once; that’s what reading Shirley Jackson feels like. An ominous, beautiful, and engrossing build-up with a slap-in-the-face ending that leaves you to deal with your emotions (you may recognize this feeling from having read The Lottery or having watched Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House, which was based on her book) – that’s Shirley Jackson through and through. Anyway, I loved this book.

16. The Rhythm of Riddles by Saradindu Bandopadhyay

Like short-story versions of the kind of mystery stories we used to read in Tinkle magazines. Love Byomkesh Bakshi, love these little mysteries. A lot of reviews and blurbs cite comparisons to Sherlock Holmes, but I find him a little warmer and kinder, like Poirot. Fun, light, easy read!

17. Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

This book also bodied me. A must-read for everyone. One of the things I love about how it’s structured is the balance the author strikes between illustrating certain cases/stories and drawing attention to the fact that those stories exist behind every statistic, every ‘faceless’ case or instance, that they are what comprise a broken system. I can’t imagine that anyone can read this without gaining at least a little greater capacity for general empathy – empathy that doesn’t necessarily require a direct, personal connection.

18. Against Austerity by Richard Seymour

I really liked this book. An academic, historical and economic analysis of austerity policies and programs and the politics that surround(ed) them. Economic history really does support a lot of progressive social movements, but there’s a gap between the language of those movements and some of the historical precedent and evidence, and books like this one help bridge those gaps in ways that I think are really helpful and clarifying. One of the biggest critiques in this book is of neo-liberal economics, and the often-ignored recent historical success of weakening labour movements/class politics in favor of rhetoric around identity that, while not invalid, provides the political distraction necessary to mire us deeper and deeper in an increasingly arbitrary and harmful financial system. Once you see it, it’s hard to unsee! Again, it’s an academic book, but the author is a great writer and manages to keep things easy to read and relatable.

19. The Baron in the Trees by Italo Calvino

A sweet story about a boy who gets mad at his parents at lunch one day and runs off and climbs a tree and then never leaves the trees again. It’s philosophical, but not obnoxiously so, a meditative yet exciting read that keeps things moving and keeps giving you something else to be delighted with or to think about. It’s known for being about independence, but there’s something to be said for it also being about what it’s like to realize one's most whimsical and creative impulses or ideas.

20. Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes

Would go aggressively back and forth between being utterly engrossed and being utterly unable to keep reading. This is largely because of how tedious the writing can get, but that’s also part of what makes it so good in the context of Cervantes's style and literary strategy (is that a thing? I don't know terms, guys). More than anything, it is funny. Edith Grossman’s translation is so good and so easy to read and get lost in, and Cervantes does the rest. It reminded me a lot of modern buddy-comedies (but like, better), and had a lot of themes that felt hyper-relevant (especially given our current political situation), and it’s just generally really fun to read and to think and talk about.

21. No Exit by Jean-Paul Sartre

I really liked this one. My sister and I read it together, which was fun. Kind of trippy reading it after having seen The Good Place.

22. Quichotte by Salman Rushdie

I didn’t dislike it overall, and am glad to have it read it after having read the original, because it kept me more engaged and more curious as to how things were going to unfold. I’m not a fan of Rushdie’s writing style and felt like a lot of the issues I’ve had with it in the past were amplified here, and most people I know probably wouldn’t be such a fan, though maybe my mom and her cohort would; I feel it’s written more for that audience anyway.

23. Winners Take All by Anand Giridharadas

Essential reading for anyone alive right now! I’ve had this book for over a year and just kept putting off reading it and, even when I finally picked it up, sort of wasn’t expecting much because I follow AG on twitter and read a lot of the articles he writes, etc. – but reading this book was still a new and valuable experience and honestly different than I was expecting it to be! Would especially recommend to any of my Wellesley friends, especially those who are trying to ‘make it big’ with their careers, who work in finance, consulting, or big tech, and/or who want to change the world for the better.

24. The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

This book is so beautiful and tender; about the meaning of family and love and happiness and responsibility and priorities. I got more emotionally engrossed than I ever thought I would and have no regrets about it.

25. Farewell Song by Rabindranath Tagore

This book was… nice. I think I would’ve liked it more if I liked poetry more than I do; it almost feels like an extension of its own poetry, like getting to look into the context and the emotional and situational makings of the poetry.

26. Night Thoughts by Wallace Shawn

Wallace Shawn recently sort of just reappeared in my life in a new way and this book is so nice to read. It’s super short (more of a long-form essay), and feels a little like reading Woolf in that it feels like a friend inviting you to climb into their head and have a think with them. Wallace Shawn is also just such a warm, kind, sweet, wise person, and this book was a great afternoon read.

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