2017 Book List

  1. The Sell-Out – probably the best book I will read in 2017 and it’s only March.  This book was hilarious and so poetic; I was laughing so hard reading it on my commute to work.  It also hit on some serious themes masked in its satire, which I really didn’t catch when I read it.  Like it was top of mind, but I wouldn’t make the connections until I went online and dug a bit further into what I was reading.  I would highly recommend it.  I think it has a powerful message about racism in America, how racism isn’t dead, how we don’t live in a post-racial society and will never do that if we dismiss race relations as a characteristic that has plagued American politics, history, geography, the development of cities, and identity.
  2. The Boy is Back – I think I’ve outgrown Meg Cabot at this point. I absolutely loved All-American Girl as a child, and still occasionally think about certain parts of the book nowadays.  But this book… I think I’m drawn to books like Dedication… this book wasn’t dedication. I found the love quite contrived; it could have been better if Cabot had described their young love more, made you understand why she loved him before. Because… 10 years and you’re still in love with your high school sweetheart? A bit of a stretch.  But I wonder if I’m drawn to this type of story because I’ve always wanted it to happen to me… like this feeling of redemption, of loss and separation that finally merges again through a chance encounter, and turns everything upside down.  I suppose I liked the ending in that I didn’t expect the reveal of who was the culprit behind the parents’ financial demise.
  3. We Could be Beautiful – I’m also drawn to Upper East Side books, although I really should stop frankly, only because the underlying message in all of them is that life is fancy but it isn’t that fun.  There is always this lingering loneliness that the protagonist has.  In this case, I think I learned more about how people can come into big fortunes… like $80,000 monthly deposits from someone’s will?  This is old money at its best.  I actually read the ending before I finished the book because I hate mysteries and want the conclusion, so I had a different perspective of the book as I read it.  I think there were certainly hints of William’s shadiness throughout and just how much he lied through his teeth. It made me wonder if I could discern people like this… basically a sociopath… if I encountered one.  I think I have good intuition especially when it comes to dangerous or uncomfortable situations.  And then I kept wondering if I was a high-functioning sociopath but it didn’t fully make sense, because I do occasionally have empathy and can express/feel anger quite acutely. Didn’t understand why they had to give him the money in the end just so he would “leave them alone”. Like she couldn’t call of the wedding and she could give him the baby? It was useless at that point.
  4. I’ll Give You the Sun – I really liked this. It made me cry. It made me think about young love, it made me think about we grow up and change, and how good people make bad decisions. I loved Noah’s imagination and the vivid colours he could see… his imagination was at times like mine, and I appreciated that.  I loved how a boy can make you rethink everything about yourself, make you overanalyze, make you fall in love… and I needed to hear that.  That when this had happened to me, I wasn’t the only one.  And I loved Jude. And Brian. And their Dad. And their Mom. It made me appreciate my family more. It made me realize that people change, that life is unfair, and it’s okay.  And you can’t hold it all in your palm… it will spill over like sand… but it happens. And it’s okay. It’s okay. I promise.
  5. Never Sometimes Always – Another Alsaid Adi book… I always like the idea of the book, and then when I actually read it, I realize why I dislike his books, which is exactly how I would describe his chronic case of manic pixie dream girl fixation.  Two girls fight over Dave, the oblivious boy-next-door type, and all he ever describes the girls are how untouchable and dreamy they are even though they’re imperfect.  The idea of the story… that two friends do everything that they’d forbidden themselves to do all of high school is so promising, but the execution is so gross that I cringe thinking back to it.  Some girl forgives Dave because he hooked up with another girl in front of her, and then when that girl realizes that Dave doesn’t truly love her, she says “he’s yours” and they’re both okay with it.  In what fucking world.
  6. The Conspiracy of Us – just give me the twist already!!  It’s promising but the way that the characters fall in love so quickly is not believable. I like the premise of this story.  Will continue to borrow this from the library.
  7. American War – About a black-Latina girl named Sarat whose status as a social outcast makes her susceptible for radical doctrine, and fuels her struggle to discern good from evil and absolute truth. She considers herself to be great through people who manipulate her along the way, and sees herself as the sole powerful saviour in the second American Civil War. I liked it… I liked that all the characters had depth and that you really sympathised with the complexity of family love, sacrifice, pride, hope, and hopelessness.
  8. The Unexpected Everything – About a girl with a single dad who is a well-known politician in DC, whose campaign is rocked by scandal and subsequently walks dogs for a summer job because she has an internship rescinded.  I ended up speed reading the end of it, because it was getting pretty boring. Wish they had discussed people’s outfits more, because I always find that to be a source of inspiration.  Interesting premise… a bit juvenile, but i like the overarching message that life doesn’t need to be planned out, and if you do that, you might miss out on the unexpected. Also I think the theme that things are always changing is good.  That change is hard, but you have to learn to embrace it.  But you can’t just move on too soon, that it takes time to adjust.
  9. The Way She Wears It (Dallas Shaw) – Apart from the thought that “does every white fashion illustrator write books or something?!”, I really liked this. I want to experiment with more colour, prints, and textures in my wardrobe. I want to start wearing more accessories like jewellery.
  10. The God of Small Things – So beautifully written and the most vivid imagery, like how dampness climbs into someone’s pants and makes a home.  Just so beautiful… and what a beautiful story. I like the way it’s told, and I was thinking of the symbolism, like the river and act of swimming across and against the current, and how this represents societal and cultural norms, which are corrected once Velutha dies and their family is split apart), and how Chacko’s broken planes are never the fault of the maker.  And I learned so much about Indian storytelling, myths, politics..
  11. Hotels of North America – I had to put this book down so many times, because I found it so intense and poignant, or more so due to the discomfort of reading about frustrations and thoughts that I’ve had myself… Even though this book chronicles the unraveling of an investment banker turned trader turned motivational speaker as he goes through a mid-life crisis and carefully reveals the undoings and yearnings of his life through hotel reviews, I found so many commonalities with my own trials and tribulations.  The book is about falling from grace, and how slow, painful, uneventful, yet so tiring this is, and how we lead lives that we find mundane and how we would want so much more, but we make compromises for other people, we desperately try to save our relationships.  How lonely we are sometimes.  How we are full of regrets that don’t dawn on you until it’s too late.  And it made me want to travel, made me want to stay in some dilapidated inn or hotel (not a motel, thank you), and bask in the hardships, in the cruel realities of American life, in forcing me to stare at myself in the mirror and wonder who I have become, where I am going, and what being in transit, staying at a hotel, means to me.  I think this book was more profound than what I could glean from it as a first pass.  It is so beautifully written and I am so glad I found this book.
  12. Always and Forever, Lara Jean – Lara Jean doesn’t get into UVA, her first choice school, and she is also having relationship problems with her boyfriend Peter.  I started to hate Lara Jean by the middle of the book because she is such a goody two-shoes and she’s not always right, but I guess that makes her human. She decides to head to UNC Chapel Hill in the end.  I liked the idea that not all advice is good advice; that maybe for other people, leaving for college with a boyfriend is a good thing, but for others, they could be the exception.
  13. Between the World and Me – I thought this was okay, but I think that my friend’s telling me that she stopped reading this because she found Ta-Nehisi Coates problematic did certainly colored my reading of this.  But I think it should still be read, regardless of how you feel about him, because people could (and do) change and I think as long as you have that lens on where you are cognizant of certain short-sightedness, then you can be an effective critic of this book.  The book is constructed as a letter to his young son, and recounts Coates’s life, his education, the people who have influenced him, and the murder of a friend/acquaintance that had propelled into his work in racial politics, police brutality, and identity.  You know, I think reading this book and then hearing about the KKK rally was great timing, because even though I don’t support the KKK in any way, I think they should have been allowed to protest in Charlottesville.
  14. Map of Fates (A Conspiracy of Us novel) – quick novel to read, and I like that it isn’t too easy of a read when it comes to vocabulary. I find Maggie Hall the author to be quite an intriguing person because she had done business school and then became a writer, and I really like the idea of switching careers, that nothing is stable, that everything can be in flux if you really want to toss it to the wind.  I think love triangles are overdone, so I wasn’t a big fan of Avery suddenly liking Stellan.  And it’s interesting to see where the book goes now that they know that their blood union releases a virus into the world.  And will also be cool to uncover the secret identity of Avery’s mom, who is actually part of the Circle.
  15. The Curated Closet – I skimmed this because the text was so boring. I liked skimming this because it helped me affirm that I am happy with the way I buy clothes though I should be more cognisant about buying things on sale.  And that I don’t want to do a capsule wardrobe because my wardrobe is not built like that haha.
  16. The Evening Road – I really liked this book! I found it on the Financial Time Summer Books recommendations, and this was just fantastic.  There was great writing (not as great as Hotels of North America) and the character development is exquisite.  I read this review of this book that pointed out that Laird employs a clever literary device to make the reader feel complicit with Ottie Lee, and I thought it was so brilliantly done.  You start to admire Ottie Lee because she is strong and assertive against the three alpha males that join her in their trek to the Marvel lynching, and so complex where you know she has so many regrets and how complicated her marriage is (that she married the boy that her rival liked just to spite her, and she genuinely loves him, but they have fallen out of love, and you wondder if Ottie ever truly loved him even if she sees them as a team in how they make ends meet), how people are not perfect and we shouldn’t give them a free pass when they do something terrible even if we think we love them (like Leander, like Bud, like Pops).  And the book doesn’t talk much about the actual lynching, and I think that is such a good stylistic device.  That the book is more about the life, revelations, and chaos that happens all around the town through these women’s stories.  And isn’t Calla Destry like Ottie Lee in so many ways?  She too is strong, won’t take any shit from the boys, and is seeking her own version of redemption.
  17. The Fall Guy – Really good suspense, but idk there was something about this book that i did not like but i can’t seem to put my finger on it. Premise is that this guy named Matthew is struggling financially, so his cousin Charlie who is a wealthy banker offers to host him for the summer. Matthew is in love with his wife Chloe although he’d never act on it, but he soon realizes that Chloe is having an affair and goes out of his way to confirm his suspicions.  In the end, he ends up killing the guy in a freak accident. I guess I didn’t really like the character of Chloe, and although the writing is decent, it moved so slow at certain parts.  And there were some parts that didn’t feel believable.
  18. And We’re Off – First of all, written by someone who recently graduated from college (what?!).  I didn’t really like it, but it certainly lives up to the hype that it’s a story as if the Gilmore Girls embark on a European adventure.  It was a fun book and I totally sympathized with the main character and just how ridiculous her mom was being following her around Europe, making her see the things that her mom wanted to see, and how she felt rather incompetent at her art camp.  I didn’t really like the story, because I didn’t like the main character and couldn’t relate to her… it was YA after all.
  19. The Hate U Give – absolutely stunning for a YA novel.  The characters had so much depth (the most depth of any YA novel I’ve read and I read a lot of those), and her voice was so raw and very realistic. You understand why she is outraged, and you realize how complex and loving her neighborhood is even though so many outsiders will dismiss it as “the projects” or the “ghetto” but this really shows you that it’s the people not the infrastructure that make a place a home.  And I think it’s so good for kids to read this book and understand what to do when someone dismisses racism, when someone expects you to take an insult as a joke, who has no respect for you.  Because friends aren’t forever and some people aren’t worth the effort staying friends with.
  20. The Ends of the World – Maggie Hall – part of the Conspiracy of Us trilogy. It was okay, I think Stellan’s character was burgeoning but then stopped short so that was disappointing. It’s interesting because I thought the author made their love believable as possible (barring the fact that she’s a 17 year old teenager who has met a guy for about a month).  I liked the plot and the twists, but wish there had been more hints about double agents etc because I think it made some of the twists seem very unbelievable. I think I liked how a girl saves the world, just like in The Passage. And I like how the love triangle is very brief and thing settle down because otherwise it would have been even more formulaic than it already was.
  21. Reservoir 13 – Beautiful, so serene, not the fastest read, but maybe I needed it.  I didn’t need it in a desperate, gasping-for-air way that some other books have rendered me, but I needed this.  This is a story about grief even if it is supposed to be about a girl who goes missing.  This is a story about how life moves, how things go in a circle, how they repeat, how they break off, how we fall apart, how we move on, how tragedy chips away at us when we arrogantly think that it hasn’t split us in two.  It’s a story of endings that don’t tie up, it’s a story of musings as endings.  It’s a story about how time flies by, how we cope, how we live, and how we die.
  22. Once and For All – Sarah Dessen – I liked this one better than Saint Anything. I think this book reminded me somewhat of The Truth About Forever, but the voice was refreshing enough that I enjoyed it.  I imagined Ambrose like Ansel Elgort, all sway and easy charm, which I could see could grate your nerves just a little bit. I liked how the book seemed to capture the voice of Generation Z so well, and I think I really liked Ambrose as a character. I think I see a lot of myself in Louna where she thinks that love comes once and that’s the only chance you get, that she’d rather be safe than sorry, that she would rather settle than take a dive where the stakes are high, that she has spent so much of her life consumed in grief and loss and feels that she needs to tip toe in order to truly move on.
  23. The Spider Network – Eye-opening, riveting, and so entertaining! What an awesome read! It breaks down the Libor scandal and focuses on the supposed ringmaster, Tom Hayes.  I respect how the book questioned Tom Hayes’ sentence, and poses the question of whether you as a reader think he should have been guilty.  It was a great read on how corruption and self-interest are endemic in finance, how small the world of finance really is, and how injustice is rampant and even prevails when a supposed mastermind banker goes to jail for 14 years.
  24. The Golden Passport – Great book, honestly.  I didn’t finish it though, but I did skim through all of it to read about its infamous graduates, its current President, the issues of sexism, the case for and against the case-learning method, and how the school refused to help the book’s author. The injustices that HBS has committed and just how corrupt and hypocritical the institution is left me exasperated and unwilling to finish the book.  I just… I have a lot going on in my life and the last thing I wanted to learn more about was this shitty school that lives in its own picturesque globe and expects everyone else to ogle it.
  25. The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot – I read The Waste Land because there had been a brilliant piece in The Atlantic about poems from another UK writer, and it referenced this book so I had to see it for myself. There is something so serene in the poetry, and it reminds me of my own (although obviously mine is not as refined) on themes of love, loss, the boy that got away, the calm greyness of urban life.  It makes brilliant allusions to mythology, and I love the game of exploring the analysis of poems, especially symbolism, so it made it quite delectable. There’s also something carefree and restrained about some parts of the poem, and I just loved it.  Short read too.  Like a spicy hard candy you pop into your mouth and the flavour keeps seeping through with time.
  26. The Dirty Book Club – Lisi Harrison’s first book in six years or something after The Clique, which is arguably my favorite teen series ever! This is the story of a New York workaholic and rising magazine star named MJ as she decides to move with her boyfriend to Pearl Beach, California after her long-awaited promotion is shared with a colleague that she deems unworthy.  I think it’s loosely based on Lisi’s on move from New York to Los Angeles.  Following the swift death of her neighbor, MJ becomes a recipient of a secret invitation to the Dirty Book Club, which was founded about 35 years ago by four women including her neighbor Gloria, and slowly befriends the other three women in the club who have quiet struggles, secrets, and yearnings.  Great book, the ending made me cry when MJ read the last letter. Female friendships are the bomb, and that’s the moral of the book.
  27. New American Best Friend – I forgot that I had purchased this poetry book earlier this year. It’s so beautiful, it’s perfect for a twenty-something like me. There are poems about love, friendships, growing up, becoming a woman.  I had to get it after I saw Olivia Gatwood’s performance of Alternate Universe in which I am Unfazed by the Men who do not Love Me was published on Button Poetry’s channel.
  28. 4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster – So… can I claim this book was an epic? I was extremely ambitious when reading this book. I read about 10 pages in three weeks, put the book on pause for a few months, and then finished the other 850 in another three weeks.  The book chronicles four alternate lives of the same boy, Archibald (Archie) Ferguson, which explores how different events affect the protagonist throughout his life.  Beautiful, devastating, hard to swallow at times because it makes you confront your own mortality, it makes you question how you should live your life… what if it ends tomorrow?  Where does ambition fit into loss, in acknowledging that you never know when it will end?  What parts of you are consistent, unflappable, the true parts of you? And which parts are actually malleable… where if you were to live in some other story, they are values and beliefs that you would have let slide? Basically, nature vs nurture.  What life are you giving up through the decisions that you’ve made? Perhaps I should make peace with the past faster than I’ve been doing, because it could all end at any point?   The book, above all, made me want to travel and it made me want to write and read more.  It confronted the artist in me to urge that the time is now to pursue creative endeavours, but I did find all the characters’ easy accomplishments of getting into top schools and getting their big breaks unrealistic and kind of disheartening.  Maybe the author did it on purpose but I don’t think it was… that he showed how privileged these kids are to get everything they set their minds to, because so so so many people do not get that advantage.  This book was super long and there is so much I want to say… I think I saw myself in so many characters and events, in feeling compelled to do what is right but not sure what extent is enough and feeling the guilt of making that decision, especially in the case of the riots and protests at Columbia.  I’m sure Auster, who started composing this book almost ten years ago, didn’t anticipate the events of Ferguson, Missouri and the 2016 election when he started writing.  As someone who knows limited (but passable) American history, I found myself comparing these events a lot… like Ferguson was my Newark Riots from fifty years ago.  And as the saying goes, history repeats itself, but I didn’t know how acute it was.  Overall, the book was so beautifully, beautifully written. I learned new words like obstreperous, and I fell in love with the prose, how the sentences are so long, so complex, yet tie together beautifully. Even Archie Ferguson’s short stories made me wonder why I don’t come up with more creative plots for my short stories.  The ending didn’t fully make sense when it came to why the book ended with Rockfeller – I know that this name and a kerfuffle is what transpires Archie’s granddad’s last name, but beyond that, I didn’t know why the author chose those last two sentences (about Rockfeller’s repeated failed ambitions to become President and his wife’s name being Happy) as the ending.  The book also inspired me to read a lot more, like Crime and Punishment, because Archie in some stories gets an intensive writing curriculum on classics and books from various authors. Oh, and the book made me want to travel to France for like a month on the cheap and just practise my French, and read! So now I’ve been thinking about doing a conversation course at Alliance Francaise or some other similar program.  I didn’t like the character of Amy Schneidermann because I found it very difficult to become infatuated with her the way Archie falls in love with her in every iteration of his story.  Perhaps the character is based on Auster’s real wife, but either way, I found her too aggressive and didn’t seem to love anyone back with sufficient force; perhaps she reminds me of something in my real life that I don’t really like… that could be it!  Overall, amazing, but I still liked Hotels of North America and The Sell-Out more than this lengthy novel.  But like I said, absolutely brilliant, absolutely devastating… I want to write lik him, I want to be inspired just like him, so I am confident that this book has changed my life and will continue to help me chart my course going forward.
  29. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng  – I wasn’t sure if I would like this book for perhaps petty reasons: Celeste is a Harvard grad, and I always find that there is this haughty sort of air from anyone who graduates from an Ivy League school, which seeps into their writing ever so subtly, and was ready to dislike it from the start.  The story centres around what seems to be a perfect family in an idyllically planned community, who decide to rent their rental house to an artist and her daughter.  When the news story breaks about a single mother coming back to reclaim her abandoned Chinese baby, as an affluent barren couple try to adopt her, the story drives these two families apart and brings out the worst in Elena Richardson, a mediocre community news reporter who has been blessed with the gifts of wealthy parents and an inheritance.  I read one review that said that Celeste uses our sense of place as a central theme, and I can definitely see it…. in how people choose and justify sides in this story, in Elena’s white saviour complex which borders on satirical, in how the act of keeping things safe and planning everything merely cages us in and blocks us from choosing another ending to your story, in how outsiders like Mr. Yang never ever belong in a place that was never built for them, and their only marginal sense of belonging comes from the acceptance and approval of those in power. In ways the book reminded me of Hotels of North America, because Mia and Pearl travel everywhere and therefore don’t belong anywhere, they are constantly on their way forward, in whatever way that means, and it’s almost like Mia is trying to find closure or salvation through those travels.  Does Mia move for artistic inspiration, to evade the Ryans, to run from herself and simultaneously find herself?  I think this question lingers in the book, and I’d like to say that it’s a little bit of everything.  Hotels makes the case that grief and longing are transient -that they are states that we move into and ultimately try to move from- and I think despite Mia’s self-assurance, she too is looking for some type of closure in dropping out of art school and fleeing New York and especially her parents. It was nice that I read this right after 4321, because the book has flashbacks that coincide with the time period from 4321 and now I understood the mechanics of the draft lottery and the pivotal political events that had taken place.  I also liked the trial and hearing the McCulloghs discuss what it means to give Mirabelle an Asian upbringing, because these arguments are so characteristic of small-minded white people.  Overall, I loved the theme of motherhood and questioning if motherhood is biological or about love: Bebe fights for her daughter not only because she is biologically her mother but also because she stands to improve how she has loved her daughter, and how Elena is Izzy’s mother biologically but her tough love has driven her daughter away.  And maybe it’s better that Izzy becomes estranged because her mother has kept her from blooming: there is a love that is lost.  And I liked Lexie’s character development; I thought it was done very well to make it believable that she has a change of heart about the trial and also about what love looks like, because it sure as hell doesn’t look like Elena’s. I think people reading this book also see the struggles of poverty, of how so many people lead lives similar to Bebe’s in falling behind rent and not having enough money to raise a child, and realize that social services and having a safety net is something to which all people should be entitled, not just mediocre news reporters who had the luxury of wealthy parents to provide that.
  30. The Canterbury Tales – No book was harder to finish than this one, due to the way it was written (it was written in the 1400s), and some parts that seemed to drag on forever.  I liked that the themes were quite controversial at the time… I finally get the Chantecler references better, and I really liked the first tale, but the book didn’t give me a satisfactory ending that I was hoping.  Also, I don’t really understand why it’s a classic except for maybe some of the universal statements about love, death, life, and humanity.



That’s the problem with history, we like to think it’s a book—that we can turn the page and move the fuck on. But history isn’t the paper it’s printed on. It’s memory, and memory is time, emotions, and song. History is the things that stay with you.

Paul Beatty, The Sellout

I have wanted to write this post forever but I didn’t know how to write it. Didn’t know what words were worth saying, didn’t know if I’m important enough to say them. I think about you a lot. Less than before, but still a lot.  I think about myself a lot, more than before as the unknown urgency grows sharper and my body grows more stressed, tightened in anticipation for some ride or fall from six feet above all the way down to six feet under. Who knows? You know, you never know.

I’ll break that shit down for you. You see, the sheep/calf/whatever animal it was represents black people: its castration leads to docility. We can do it in so many ways: it can be a violent affirmation of power, or you might not even notice the eugenics seeping because you’re distracted or it’s such a long, repeating process that you become desensitised to it.   And the pungent pollution that comes over the city seemingly disappears as the city becomes more segregated, because the smell is the denial of race politics and the truth that race is an uncomfortable topic to talk about.  That’s why Bonbon’s tree doesn’t smell; he is the only one willing to deal with the issue head-on.  He is the only one who isn’t headstrong enough to believe that we live in a post-racial society, flanked by the idea that black people’s future is in their own hands and that they can do whatever they want if they would just get their heads out of their asses. The quiet disappearance of Dickens is an ode to the idea that race relations are done, that we can act as “one people”, that we are “all of the human race”.

I see you all the time in some ways. Walk past a white man and think he’s you standing tall. Walk past a school and think of sitting across from you with glass Erlenmeyer flasks.  Think of the conversations that happened months ago, through keyboards and whispers.  Think of where I was at and where I am now.  It’s funny how you can stand in the same place without once moving but somehow you’ve outgrown your own footprint.

I am lonely.  I feel alone. I feel stuck even though there has been every lure, carrot on stick style, teasing me with the thought of escaping.  The signs were all there: it was drawn with yellow highlighter on a sheet with numbered weeks, it was delivered with the analogy of a dog, it smacks me left right and center as I bask in envy of everyone’s example of up and forward as I sit here, dormant.  I never wanted to escape you even when I knew I had to.  I guess I liked the game, I liked living in the moment even if it were an enclosed looping slide that only goes downhill from here.  I liked you.  I hated myself. Like I said before, with you I was sure. And with myself, I was a wild card that more often than not lost the whole damn hand.