Welcome to my reading log. This is where you'll find a list of the books I've read, what I think about them, and my favorite quotations from their pages.
Currently Reading: This Will Be My Undoing: Living at the Intersection of Black, Female, and Feminist in (White) America by Morgan Jerkins
1. Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living (read July 2017)
Since I got the idea for the reading log from an essay in this book, it's only fair to place it first on the list. Manjula Martin edits a beautifully cohesive and thought-provoking anthology about how to engage in literary commerce and survive as a professional writer. The essays range from practical (how to buy a house) to heart-rending (rejection and self-worth) and I adored them all.
"Our commerce with the world is not corollary to our art. It is, rather, a vital component of our art, perhaps our art's reason for being. If we regard writing as an act of empathy that presupposes and celebrates the existence of other people, then its commerce with humanity must represent its consummation. The money is just so that we can eat, or to keep a roof over our heads, or (in the pitiful amounts that are typically involved in an exchange between writer and publisher of literary product) a mildly apologetic acknowledgement of labor. But money isn't the real currency here. The real currency of literary commerce is love." -J. Robert Lennon, "Write to Suffer, Publish to Starve"
2. The Starch Solution: Eat the Foods You Love, Regain Your Health, and Lose the Weight for Good (read July 2017)
I've wanted to read Dr. McDougall's classic The Starch Solution for some time now and finally got around to picking up a copy from my local library. It was a surprisingly fast read, given how much information is packed into the book, but perhaps that's also because a sizeable section of the pages is filled with recipes. On the whole, I really enjoyed the book - it's chock-full of helpful nutritional and scientific information that every vegan should have at the ready when the protein police come for us. That said, there is some discussion of weight loss that could be triggering, and I am always cautious to recommend a book about nutrition since I know how quickly healthy eating can twist into orthorexia. Reading this book and being able to separate helpful nutritional information and weight-loss talk was a huge recovery win for me; I'm working on fueling my body in ways that are both physically and mentally healthy, which means treats are a vital part of my food intake!
"You don't need to eat foods from animals to have enough protein in your diet. Plant proteins alone can provide enough of the essential and non-essential amino acids, as long as sources of dietary protein are varied and caloric intake is high enough to meet energy needs [emphasis added]." -The American Heart Association, updated 2011-2016
3. Wanderlust: A Love Affair with Five Continents by Elisabeth Eaves (read August 2017)
My sister lent me several of her favorite travel memoirs and Wanderlust was one of the first I picked up. The book wasn't particularly insightful, but it does contain a few quiet epiphanies about the nature of love, desire, and the need for exploration. At first, I found the author's many romantic missteps obnoxious, but by the end I found myself empathizing with her and the complications of her own heart.
"Love is only a moment passed through, not somewhere you can go and live. That's why people build these scaffolds I've so disdained. They make homes. families, networks of colleagues and friends. They're infrastructure projects unto themselves, connected to others by rods and beams. They know they can't stay on the crest of a wave. They build their worlds to get through all the rest. Maybe I should do that too."
4. An Untamed State by Roxane Gay (read August 2017)
A ringing endorsement from author Edwidge Danticat on the cover of this book implores the reader to "clear your schedule now!" and it's a good thing I did. I read this novel in two days. An Untamed State is the first fiction work of Gay's that I've read (I'd devoured Bad Feminist and Hunger) and could not have been more impressed. I can't recommend this book highly enough, but be mindful that it contains graphic and extensive descriptions of sexual violence.
"I've always loved running, loved how much it hurts, how good it feels when I stop, how much running makes me feel like I have everything I could ever need in my very own body. I slid out of bed and ran down the stairs and out the front door. I ran down the street in my bare feet in the cold night wearing a tank top and pink flannel pajama pants. The moon was full and high and I ran so fast I worried I might outrun my happiness."
5. Difficult Women by Roxane Gay (read August 2017)
Immediately after finishing An Untamed State, I went and checked out Difficult Women at the library. I don't often read short stories, as I sometimes find them to be vaguely unsatisfying, but Roxane Gay's character development and storytelling are so rich that she creates entire worlds in a matter of three pages. She is quickly becoming my favorite author. As with much of her other work, however, Difficult Women does contain sexual violence, so bear that in mind if you pick it up.
"Your sister and I have a lot in common. I can tell by the curve of her spine - her body knows things. You worry I'm going to get tired of her late night phone calls asking you for a ride from the bar or to lend her money. You worry I'll get fed up with being trapped in the tense scenes when your family gets together but I won't, not ever. When you go out of town, your sister comes over and spends the night with me because she understands the curve of my spine."
6. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi (read September 2017)
I read this book at the urging of my friend Jasmine, who described sobbing on the beach in Croatia as she finished it during her solo vacation last month. When Breath Becomes Air is the account of a dying neurosurgeon, who, after a shattering cancer diagnosis at the impossibly young age of thirty-six, traverses the terrain of mortality in his journey from doctor to patient. He writes about death, and life, beautifully. This book will punch you in the gut, but it is exquisite.
"I was searching for a vocabulary with which to make sense of death, to find a way to begin defining myself and inching forward again. The privilege of direct experience had led me away from literary and academic work, yet now I felt that to understand my own direct experiences, I would have to translate them back into language."
7. Only in Spain by Nellie Bennett (read September 2017)
This is a travel memoir written by a woman who left her native Australia to dance flamenco in Spain, and if I'm being honest, it's on the cheesy side. The way she writes about "gypsies," or Roma people, is also rather problematic and smacks of essentialism. That said, I still enjoyed the descriptions of Spain, and the reminder to feel the fear and do it anyway.
"So I made a decision about fear: I couldn't afford to let it control me or stop me from doing what I wanted to do with my life. I took a deep breath and felt the fear in my body. It was that cold, panicky feeling I knew so well. It flashed images of disaster across the screen of my mind, and I let it, for about ten seconds. Then I said to myself very clearly: Yes, I'm afraid. And that's okay, because I'm going to do it anyway."
8. The Good Girl's Guide to Getting Lost by Rachel Friedman (re-read October 2017)
This travel memoir has long been one of my all-time favorites, and I re-read it for the third or fourth time this autumn. I've always related strongly to the author; like me, she is a recovering perfectionist, a people-pleaser, and a former classical musician (which relates directly to the aforementioned perfectionism). Her journey of finding herself and shedding the weight of others' expectations has always inspired me. I'm working on mustering up the courage to solo travel for the first time, and this book provides all the motivation I need.
"What seems strange is how little going to Ireland was about traveling. Ireland equaled far, far away, not the beginning of some profound journey. In saying that, I realize that a part of me must also have been implanted somewhere along the way with the kind of curiosity inherent in people who ultimately stuff all their worldly possessions in a backpack and disappear for months at a time. What happens when we lose the things that anchor us? What if, instead of grasping at something to hold on to, we pull up our roots and walk away? Instead of trying to find the way back, we walk deeper and deeper into the woods, willing ourselves to get lost. In this place where nothing is recognizable, not the people or the language or the food, we are truly on our own. Eventually, we find ourselves unencumbered by the past or the future. Here is a fleeting glimpse of our truest self, our self in the present moment."
9. Surpassing Certainty by Janet Mock (read October 2017)
Janet Mock's first memoir, Redefining Realness, changed my life, and her second autobiography was no different. In Surpassing Certainty, Mock delves into the rich lessons of her twenties and offers up one gem of insight after another about these formative years. Though Mock has a unique background that informs her life path and her writing - she is mixed, Black, Hawaiian, and trans - the truths she unearths in her writing are universal. As a writer in her mid-twenties, this book was especially inspiring and motivating for me.
"No one knew me as well as those East Village streets back then. They saw me for what I was: young, alone, afraid, anxious, excited, lusty, heartbroken, eager, weary, yearning, seeking. They were my witness, watching me as I set my Trader Joe's bags on the ground to catch my breath, as I wiped my mouth on the back of my hand after sloppily kissing some boy on St. Mark's Place, as I wondered about whether I was good enough, pretty enough, smart enough, as I psyched myself up for a first date, an internship interview, and the first day of school. Perhaps no one would ever know me quite as well."
10. What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami (read November 2017)
A friend of mine who shares my love of memoir recommended this book to me, and I'm so glad she did. As both a runner and a writer, Murakami's memoir/meditation on the two practices and how they connect hit close to home for me. Though his writing style is matter-of-fact, almost casual, the honesty and vulnerability of his reflections renders it poetic. I'm now itching to dive into his novels.
"But those of us hoping to have long careers as professional writers have to develop an autoimmune system of our own that can resist the dangerous (in some cases lethal) toxin that resides within. Do this, and we can more efficiently dispose of even stronger toxins. In other words, we can create even more powerful narratives to deal with these. But you need a great deal of energy to create an immune system and maintain it over a long period. You have to find that energy somewhere, and where else to find it but in our own basic physical being?"
11. Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed (re-read November 2017)
Where do I even start with this book? There's too much to say about it and so I will say very little: it is one of the most important books I have ever read. It helped me make huge life decisions I would otherwise I have been too afraid to make. It is one of the books that made me a writer. It is the one book I would give to everyone in the world. I've read it several times and will read it many more. You should, too.
"I suppose this is what I mean when I say we cannot possibly know what will manifest in our lives. We live and have experiences and leave people we love and get left by them. People we thought would be with us forever aren't and people we didn't know would come into our lives do. Our work here is to keep faith with that, to put it in a box and wait. To trust that some day we will know what it means, so that when the ordinary miraculous is revealed to us we will be there, standing before the baby girl in the pretty dress, grateful for the smallest things."
12. Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man's Fight for Justice by Bill Browder (read December 2017)
My mom gave me this book to read and admittedly I was skeptical at first. Generally I have little interest in wealth management or Russian politics, and both those topics occupy the center of this memoir. Within the first twenty pages, however, I was completely absorbed in the story. This book will captivate even for the most finance-averse readers (like me) and reads more like a crime thriller than a non-fiction book, though all the events of the story are real. I read Red Notice in the aftermath of the California fires, when my family was left without power and had to stay up to monitor the winds all night, and nothing could have made the time pass faster. For that reason, though, I don't have a quote saved from the book.
13. We Are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby (read January 2017)
When I picked up this book, it had been a while since I read something that literally made me laugh out loud, so I was well overdue. And boy, did I ever. I burst out into belly laughs on planes, trains, and boats as I read this during my travels, so I blame Samantha Irby for the many strange looks I've gotten in public transport in multiple different countries. The book is a bit difficult to describe, but basically it's a collection of essays that together function as both memoir and social commentary. I don't know how Irby manages to tackle serious topics like grief, addiction, and mental illness while making me laugh so hard I cry, but she does. I'll definitely be picking up more of her books in the future.
"I am unfamiliar with coffee shop etiquette. Since I let the dude texting across from me hog the outlet, is he morally obligated to make sure no one runs off with my wallet while I'm in the can? If I take my wallet, will he keep an eye on my laptop? And what about my bag?! I am anxious, and I don't trust anyone and would also never want to burden a stranger with my literal shit, but I had to buy a drink to get the Wi-Fi password and didn't want to look like a cheapskate, so I got the big one, and a doughnut, and now I have to pee but I'm not ready to leave and Jesus God what can I do?!"
14. Only in Spain: A Foot-Stomping, Firecracker of a Memoir about Food, Flamenco, and Falling in Love by Nellie Bennett (read February 2017)
I have to admit that I have read this book three times since I started traveling in January. It's one of those books that grows on you the more you read it, and I found immense comfort in reading about trials and tribulations of another young woman who, like me, made the rather wild and maybe irresponsible decision of chucking it all and moving to Spain. The way she talks about gypsies (gitanos) is problematic and borders on fetishization, but other than that I adore this book. Bennett's love of flamenco is maybe partly to blame for my choice to live in Andalucía.
"Yes, I was afraid. On one hand I had the dream of moving to Spain and dancing flamenco, and on the other hand I had the paralyzing and debilitating fear of doing just that. A dream is such a beautiful thing, but when you try to turn it into a reality, it can go horribly wrong. Maybe I should just stick with the dream...
So I made a decision about fear: I couldn't afford to let it control me or stop me from doing what I wanted to do with my life. I took a deep breath and felt the fear in my body. It was that cold, panicky feeling I knew so well. It flashed images of disaster across the screen of my mind, and I let it, for about ten seconds. Then I said to myself very clearly: Yes, I'm afraid. And that's okay, because I'm going to do it anyway."
15. Dancing in the Fountain: How to Enjoy Living Abroad by Karen McCann (read February 2017)
Another book about moving abroad, this one is written from the retiree perspective. Despite the differences in life circumstances between the author and me, I still very much enjoyed this chronicle of her and her husband's transition to life in Sevilla, Spain. Their cultural commentaries both entertain and move me, and inspire me to live life to the fullest while I'm abroad.
'But what do you do all day?' friends from America are always asking.
One of the reasons I love Seville is that nobody who lives here would ever dream of posing such a question. Whether they're working, going to the university, raising kids, on the public dole, or in some less definable situation, the answer most Sevillanos would give is: I just live. But when I try to explain that to my American friends, they find it very unsatisfactory indeed. 'But really,' they persist, 'what do you do? How do you fill your time?'"
16. Not Otherwise Specified by Hannah Moskowitz (read March 2017)
I picked up this book after a friend recommended it to me, and I finished it in under 24 hours. The YA novel tells the story of Etta, a Black bi teenager who is in recovery from an eating disorder. As someone who shares the Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS, now known as OSFED) diagnosis, Etta's story really resonated with me. I still on occasion feel the pain that comes from the idea that, because I didn't meet the diagnostic requirements for anorexia, my eating disorder wasn't as "legitimate" as others' were. It's clear that this author has experienced recovery, because she writes about EDs in such a relatable manner that I felt like I was reading my younger self's inner thoughts.
"We're all here because it's not fun for us anymore, but those are the girls who make you realize that this shit hasn't been fun for a really, really long time. They're shifting, shivering statues, and this is what you wanted to be. At some point there really was a choice. At some point you really did jump off a cliff, and we can sit here and cry about it all we want about how no, we were not expecting what would be at the bottom, and we just wanted to be skinny and we just wanted to disappear and be perfect and be noticed and to be in control and starve and purge out everything that's wrong with us, but at some point we decided we were going to do this and the thing is that you don't disappear (and that's really it, isn't it), you linger around and wilt in the corners of community rec centers."
17. The Year of Less by Cait Flanders
I'm not going to write too much about The Year of Less here because I plan to do a more in-depth review in a blog post, but this is another book that I finished in less than a day. I've been reading Cait's blog www.caitflanders.com (formerly Blonde on a Budget) for years and years now, and it has been truly inspiring to watch her grow and succeed. This book is a must-read for anyone interested in mindfulness, minimalism, conscious consumption, or simple living, or anyone who just knows they need to make a change.