Category: rk

2018 in books

Random and unrelated note: I’ve had I Will Follow You Into The Dark stuck in my head for a few days now, so that’s what I’m listening to while composing this post.

One of my favorite internet finds of this year was Maciej Ceglowski’s blog, Idle Words. “brevity is for the weak,” his byline declares.

I wish I had thought of that byline, because beauty (and the devil) are both in the details, aren’t they? I made a note to include more dialogue in future blog posts, but for now you get books.

Two years ago, I looked at the list of books I finished reading and decided to set an intention to read more books by female authors. So in 2017 and 2018, I kept track.

Reading is a form of bravery. It offers new worlds and ways to think about hope. Perhaps it even offers us magic when we need to believe in something beyond, or myth when we question the why. I consider the power of poetry as prayer, or the meditativeness of mantra.

Somewhere in those first few months, I stretched under the skies in a tent in Joshua Tree National Park while clutching Ali Smith’s Autumn, a friend’s body warming my side. Joan Didion casually appeared on the kitchen table in Los Angeles on Valentine’s Day, and I finished Blue Nights. Bookstore hopping in warmer weather led me to Sheila Heti, and I became obsessed with her journey in questioning motherhood. At a Chinese teahouse, C. and I read our Kindles and ate green dumplings, and it was a very good date. By my bedside, Ada Limón (whom I discovered last year) stood guard, the pages creased and L’s boasting ringing in my mind: that he “knew I’d love her because my life is like Sex and the City,” but none of that is really true, because Ada Limón is so much more than Sex and the City. I think he meant “wherein strong woman’s voice writes mostly about what ends up being love” which would be mostly true. I was treated for a health issue for much of the year, so when I’d wake up in the middle of the night coughing I would read a few pages of Rebecca Solnit. I organized my books in my mind and on my shelves because life is chaotic. I let the words light up the caverns and hobbit houses I traveled to. Nothing like paddling around a Norwegian lake while B. marvels at my book, “Wow, that thing is so beat up.” It’s the things we love the most that end up taking the biggest battering.

imagine a Rose in Joshua Tree. the desert teaches me about the battering of wind.

“Can you recommend any funny, happy books?” J. texted me one day in the middle of the year.

I looked over my lists. In disbelief at not finding anything, I pored over them again.

“No. Well, one that I read in 2016, but nothing recently.”

Is sadness more interesting to me than funniness? Apparently, I fill up my quota of sadness in books and therefore not-so-mysteriously find funniness in men very attractive.

What I knew would happen today (because I am, in my ripe third decade, predictable) is that I would flip back to the beginning of the new notebook I started: wondering what I had written on the first page.

Not the marvelous act, but the evident conclusion of being.
Not strangeness, but a leap forward of the same quality.
Accomplishment. The even loyalty. But fresh.
The thing steady and clear. Then the crescendo.
The real form. The culmination. And the exceeding.
Not the surprise. The amazed understanding. The marriage,
Not the month’s rapture. Not the exception. The beauty
That is of many days. Steady and clear.
It is the normal excellence, of long accomplishment.

– excerpted from Jack Gilbert’s poem, The Abnormal Is Not Courage

***

A note for those who follow my reading list on my website: I decided long ago when the face of the internet started changing into what would become “influencer zombieland” that I would not advertise on my personal blog. (My dad was like, “Could you be more diplomatic and say that you liked all of the beef noodle soup restaurants in Houston equally?” No, Dad, I’m trying to tell the unaltered truth when the internet now holds so little of it.) So, for my book list, I changed all the links; they were Amazon links when I posted them originally on my reading list, and Amazon is, well, Amazon. But then they bought Goodreads, so I realize it’s not that much better. Is it a losing battle against Bezos’s empire? Yeah, maybe, but I hoped you’d to be able to find and reference the books in some way.

Another note: There have been people who criticize certain blog entires for being “too long,” and thanks in part to Maciej’s snarky byline, I stare the exhaustingly-brief-and-meaningless-clickbait-y-with-no-personality internet straight in the face and say: read a book, or a longer blog post with personality. Seriously. Brevity is for the weak.

I’m sort of kidding.

Below is my 2018 in the books that I finished, in rough chronological order. The asterisks denote ones I absolutely loved and would highly recommend. I only count poetry books that I read cover to cover, but mostly I read them piecemeal so they always make up a tiny percentage of what I read.

Rose’s 2018 in books

Our tech team at TED started a book club this year, and after noticing that most people would fall into a male-author-only nomination pattern, I suggested that we try to intentionally nominate more female authors. The result was the selection of the final book on my list: a book by a writer (Rivers Solomon) that goes by the pronoun they/them, which I hadn’t accounted for in my tracking over the past three years. I acknowledge that there are so many other ways of counting diversity outside of what I have counted.

For fun, I’ll add my 2017 book stats at the end so that you can see how it compared.

(the numbering/order is more chronological, the asterisks are the ones I loved)

  1. The Four Agreements, Don Miguel Ruiz
  2. The Book of Forgiving, Desmond Tutu
  3. When Things Fall Apart, Pema Chödrön (reread)*
  4. Reconciliation: Healing the Inner Child, Thich Nhat Hanh
  5. On The Shortness Of Life, Seneca
  6. Blue Nights, Joan Didion*
  7. The Blue Zones of Happiness, Dan Buettner
  8. Dusk and Other Stories, James Salter
  9. Commonwealth, Ann Patchett*
  10. Run, Ann Patchett
  11. Selected Crônicas, Clarice Lispector
  12. This Will Be My Undoing, Morgan Jerkins*
  13. Chemistry, Weike Wang*
  14. Sour Heart, Jenny Zhang
  15. Crazy Rich Asians, Kevin Kwan
  16. A Gentleman in Moscow, Amor Towles*
  17. The Fifth Season (Book #1 of Broken Earth), N. K. Jemisin
  18. See What Can be Done, Lorrie Moore
  19. You Are Here, Thich Nhat Hanh*
  20. Autumn, Ali Smith*
  21. Winter, Ali Smith
  22. The Book of Joy, Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu
  23. Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie*
  24. The Faraway Nearby, Rebecca Solnit*
  25. South and West, Joan Didion
  26. Handwriting, Michael Ondaatje
  27. Dept of Speculation, Jenny Offill*
  28. Last Things, Jenny Offill
  29. Do Not Say We Have Nothing, Madeleine Thien (reread)
  30. Player Piano, Kurt Vonnegut
  31. Motherhood, Sheila Heti*
  32. The Book of Essie, Meghan MacLean Weir
  33. The Devil in the White City, Erik Larson
  34. A Gate at the Stairs, Lorrie Moore
  35. Measure What Matters, John Doerr
  36. The Long Goodbye, Meghan O’Rourke
  37. An Unkindness of Ghosts, Rivers Solomon
a balanced book morning

Below are my 2017 “finished book” stats, for comparison. I track my books continuously throughout the years here.

Just for funsies, my 2017 in books for comparison

Happy reading, with love.

Say we never get to see it: bright
future, stuck like a bum star, never
coming close, never dazzling.
Say we never meet her. Never him.
Say we spend our last moments staring
at each other, hands knotted together,
clutching the dog, watching the sky burn.
Say, It doesn’t matter. Say, That would be
enough. Say you’d still want this: us alive,
right here, feeling lucky.

– excerpted from Ada Limón’s poem, The Conditional

harvey

My mother will tell me recipes over the phone like: put the rice in 4 times as much water as normal. Put the yams in. Boil, then simmer for hours. I never know how much, or when, or whether or not to peel the yams. Do you halve them, quarter them, dice them. How many hours do you mean by hours. Do I add salt or what.

Maybe this is why I am constantly searching for a more exact recipe in life. I won’t find it; I already know this. But still I sit erect from moment to moment like a strange animal: wide-eyed, expectant, pawing at the darkness.

I remember growing up in Westbury where the streets flood whenever there is a storm. The water would creep into the mufflers, and our cars would cough and choke and stop. We would crawl out of the windows and wade home through brown, sludgey sidewalk rivers. My grandmother carried me on her shoulders once. We’d feel safe once we arrived in the yellow house, the rain sliding down the bay windows. There would be leaves and branches and dirt sticking to us, but we took for granted that the water would never make it in.

Today I imagine the hurricane rains pouring into the windows of the house I grew up in, the windows of the houses my friends grew up in. What recipe asks for this much water? Did some god receive vague, relative instructions for making something?

My mother is at the house alone, like she has been for most of the past decade since we all left for school. My father, insisting to be at the office like he has for most of the past three decades since I’ve been alive, even as unprecedented tornadoes attempt pirouettes in Texan backyards.

I suppose there isn’t an exact recipe to surviving, much less living. But it’s times like these that it doesn’t matter whether you halve or quarter the yams. Salt or no salt. Friends from all around the world have messaged me, asked about how we are doing. Friends with boats have posted open calls to anyone needing rescue. Friends with dry homes and water supplies and board games have publicly invited opened their doors and hearts to whomever needs shelter.

There is no power, but there are candles. We paw at the darkness, together, finding our way.

a birthday post: If not now, when?

rosejumpingpuddles.GIF

I often forget my age. People still indicate their surprise at it, tell me I look “so young.” Which I don’t mind, I hope they will always say that. The edges of my eyes have deeper creases now, but I am happy that they have been carved by the ridges of joy. I still feel young, I still run into the water and leap across puddles when wearing rain boots. The main thing is that I fight harder to get to a place where fear isn’t so large anymore.

Hope is larger.

****

I love the summer: the never-ending daylight, the it’s-too-hot-not-to-eat-ice-cream weather, everything in the middle of bloom.

This is how I feel about my age now. The middle of bloom, and filled with the sort of hope balanced and made wise by the clumsiness of past seasons. It will be a strange, beautiful decade. I am approaching a time when it’s very possible that the life behind me is as much as the life I have ahead of me. I’m more aware of mortality: my family’s and mine.

I’ve arrived at more crossroads than I care to count. This has been a groundbreaking year filled with change and uncertainty. In some ways, I have never felt more grown-up and ready. In others, I have never felt like such a novice.

I keep a list of ongoing resolutions on the last page of my notebook. I don’t make new ones for my birthday, but the one thing I’ll say for this year is: spend time on love. Say it out loud and more often before the day you won’t have a chance to.

As we get older, the number of trials that love puts us through increases. I stumble a lot in finding patience, and I dwell on the past. Forgiveness is difficult, vulnerability sometimes even more so; yet love asks you for both. The awkwardness and tears and stiff moments during which silence hangs in the air like a brick wall: they will all be worth it. No condition lasts forever: the friction we face, the disease that a loved one may survive or not, the agility of our bodies, the argument we initiate, the exhilaration of novelty, this life, this body, this heart, this youth. What will you hope to be (for your loved ones, for yourself) on the other side of it all? Dear Forgiveness, if not now, when?

In the past, I have often let my fear get in the way of love. Not sure who wrote it, but this note captures it well.

“Very often the things we fear most are not only bearable, but transformative.

We will all, many times over, have to reconcile the life we planned with the life we’ve got. And usually the life we’ve got is better.”

My life at 32 is so different from what I planned it to be, but I would not exchange it. I’m taking the leap, I’m all in.

***

Rose Kuo super Mario