#GetLit: James on James, Comey, Patterson

Unless you’ve been living under a rock these past few weeks, you’ll know that Trumpacolypse has been on full blast — with accusations and testimonies and threats dominating the daily news cycle.

One thing that’s caught my eye has been the firing of the former FBI director James Comey. The story is juicier than any other celeb scoop out there, more than anything that TMZ or Perez Hilton can dream up.

Disclaimer: If you’re a Trump supporter, stop and read no further. 

As if we don’t have enough reasons to despise Trump even more, he fired Comey in perhaps one of the most embarrassing ways possible. The former FBI director found out in the middle of a briefing in Los Angeles, on national television. There’s something really unwieldy about Trump and the way he conducts his presidency, far from the cool and composed style of his predecessor. After the smoke cleared, all what was left was an upset Congress wanting to hear from Comey himself.

It’s no wonder then that the Internet went wild and called Comey’s prepared testimony for Congress a spy novel:

“A few moments later, the President said, ‘I need loyalty, I expect loyalty.’ I didn’t move, speak, or change my facial expression in any way during the awkward silence that followed. We simply looked at each other in silence. The conversation then moved on, but he returned to the subject near the end of our dinner.”

See for yourself and read Comey’s full testimony here.

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A bright light within the government: Tracy K. Smith was just named as the new Poet Laureate by the Library of Congress! We love some Smith over here at the blog, and the book review for Ordinary Light (Amazon | Indiebound) was one of the first few posts.

Photo by Rachel Eliza Griffiths

Tracy K. Smith’s Ordinary Light is nothing short of tender, with its vivid details on moments that could easily be buried in one’s memories. I think I tend to gravitate towards similar themes: books on poetry, literature, love, relationships, self. Smith’s was no different, except it opened up a foreign world wherein she had (and I didn’t) a language — all of it beautiful, majestic, painful — for her relationship with her mother.

— An excerpt from my book review of Tracy K. Smith’s Ordinary Light

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Currently swooning / ecstatic over Kinfolk Magazine’s current issue on relationships, in addition to June’s reading list. Reading Kinfolk has taught me a lot about pacing, about discipline — it comes out quarterly so I’ve learned how to only read a few pages here and there to last me the whole three months. It’s that serious. 

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Coming up on Libromance: a list of queer reads just in time for Pride month, Rosario Castellano’s book and more literary goodness.


Teach Me How to Hygge, with Meik Wiking

It all started with a trip to the annex of Green Apple Books in San Francisco. The bookstore in the Inner Richmond district of the city has become a haven for me, and I’ve gone for the past 11 years. But it was about three years ago when I picked up a copy of Kinfolk, a lifestyle magazine based in Copenhagen, Denmark.

As soon as I picked up the magazine and started reading it, I felt an overwhelming sense of calm. I remember driving home to North Oakland and settling in a brown, wicker papasan with a cup of tea, eager to dive into the magazine. I would savor every page, each photo and story, because reading it had a calming effect on me.

Since then, I’ve owned every issue. There are also a bunch of issues strategically placed in my room, so that I’m always reminded of that feeling. It wasn’t until lately that I realized what it was that made me so enamored with Kinfolk, so drawn to its mere presence — the Danish concept of hygge.

More hygge, less hassle. (Source)

Hygge (pronounced as hoo-gah) is a Danish word which has no direct translation, but it roughly means “cozy” and it pertains to a kind of lifestyle that the Danes have adapted, and has influenced the way they view or arrange their homes, their offices, down to creating the kind of atmosphere that is hyggeligt (as in, hygge-ful); to a feeling of being at home within ourselves and in the society, a moment to let their guards down. It also comes from the Norwegian word meaning “well-being.”

About a month ago, I came across Meik Wiking’s The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living (Amazon | Indiebound) and decided to get into it. But instead of the good ol’ way of holding a physical copy, I got an audio book through Audible. Within the two days that I listened to the book, I learned about the hygge lifestyle: its origins, how to hygge at home, in the office and outdoors, what makes for a hyggeligt time and how my obsession with Kinfolk, candles and books finally make sense.

What freedom is to America, hygge is to Danes.

Continue reading “Teach Me How to Hygge, with Meik Wiking”

November Reads: Karan Mahajan, Paul Beatty, Rabih Alameddine, Tomas Tranströmer & More

New month, new reads.

My book list is looking good and I’m giddy with excitement. For the next few weeks, I’ll be plowing through a few titles, hurling myself in various worlds and literary texts and I cannot wait. So much so that I had to put Fernando Pessoa’s book The Book of Disquiet down because a third into Soares’s observations of downtown Lisbon, I realized reading it was meant for another time.

I started Karan Mahajan’s The Association of Small Bombs and I can see why the book was shortlisted for the 2016 National Book Award for fiction (ceremony & awarding is on November 16!). Along with Mahajan’s book, I’m ecstatic about the following books I’ve chosen to immerse myself in this month.

Paul Beatty’s The Sellout recently snagged the Man Booker Prize for fiction making him the first American to win in the category. Here’s an interview with Beatty from the Guernica on the book that “follows a black narrator who reinstates segregation on public transit, becomes the proud owner of a slave, and verbally thunderclaps Justice Clarence Thomas.”

Rabih Alameddine’s The Angel of History: A Novel is also on the list, and I started following him after reading and writing about his previous book An Unnecessary Woman. I got a chance to see him in person at a reading in San Francisco, where he talked about the necessity of remembering, of how easy it is to forget. His newest book “follows Yemeni-born poet Jacob as he revisits the events of his life, from his maternal upbringing in an Egyptian whorehouse to his adolescence under the aegis of his wealthy father and his life as a gay Arab man in San Francisco at the height of AIDS.”

After reading the first compilation of her journals and notebooks in Reborn, I knew I had to get As Consciousness is Harnessed to Flesh by Susan Sontag who is easily becoming a favorite. I was moved by her writing on love and queerness and by the critical ways she sought to understand the world — I couldn’t help but ask for more.

The next few titles are ones that I’ll be reading sporadically, in no particular order as I would the previous ones. Tomas Tranströmer’s Selected Poems, Alain de Botton’s Art as Therapy and the latest issue of Kinfolk magazine on Home are all supplements to this month as shorter days and longer nights abound.

What’s on your list this month? Do share in the comments below!

Emodiversity: #AllTheFeels

Have you ever woken up in the morning dreading the day, already ill-tempered? There’s a Greek word for that.

Or have you ever felt reluctant of accepting help from someone because it might be bothersome to them? There’s also a term for that in Thailand.

The words we use to articulate feelings or a mix of emotions vary across languages, nuanced by culture and at times, are untranslatable. In spite of its global dominance,  English can at times be inadequate.

My first language is Kapampangan, an ethnodialect of a province (Pampanga) in the Philippines, the second is Tagalog (or Filipino). I spoke Kapampangan at home and Tagalog in school where I first learned how to speak English. Years of education in English combined with the prominence of Western literature and media sharpened my tongue and soon, I was writing in English better than the two dialects I grew up with.

My thoughts are always in Kapampangan and Tagalog though, to this day.

Snippets of Tagalog are everywhere around me — at the hospital I work at where half of the workforce is Filipino, at the newly opened Seafood City in South San Francisco, at Serramonte Mall where you could see families and groups of retirees, on BART, in the streets as Filipino nannies push strollers of blonde babies.


While I revel in literature mostly written in American English, there are some words in Tagalog that are literally without translation. Words like kilig, the feeling you get when you’re extremely happy/nervous/excited butterflies-in-your-stomach type of emotion but still, not quite, used in romantic situations.


And then there’s also tampo, a state of being lightly crossed by another, and that to be out of it or over it requires some kinds of amends. Maybe a movie, some flowers, or a heartfelt apology. It lies somewhere in between anger and indifference.

Being able to convey emotions accurately is a big deal, so you can imagine me fumbling at attempts of describing how much kilig I was feeling when I met my partner, or after an episode of the Filipino series OTWOL.  

Turns out, emodiversity, or having a variety and abundance of emotions and being able to name them can improve our overall mental and emotional well-being. In a report published by the Journal of Experimental Psychology Emodiversity and the Emotional Ecosystem, Jordi Quiodbach and Jane Gruber did two cross-sectional studies across more than 37,000 respondents.

Experiencing many different specific emotional states (e.g. anger, shame and sadness) may have more adaptive value than experiencing fewer and/or more global states (e.g. feeling bad), as these specific emotions provide richer information about which behavior in one’s repertoire is more suited for dealing with a given affective situation.

Learning about emodiversity calls for a Japanese word, which denotes an imagined space you take for yourself to arrange mental (or physical) clutter.


I first heard about yoyuu when I read about it an issue of Kinfolk magazine, and I am reminded of its meaning and use when I was going through Quoidbach’s report.

…reporting a wide variety of emotions might also be a sign of a self-aware and authentic life; such emotional self-awareness and authenticity have been repeatedly linked to health and well-being.

In addition to untranslatable Tagalog words and words like yoyuu, I’ve come across several non-English words that express an array of emotions uncommon in American culture.


The word connotes a “feeling of longing, melancholy or  nostalgia that is characteristic of the Brazilian temperament.” Portuguese writer Manuel de Melo calls it “a pleasure you suffer, an ailment you enjoy.”


I came across a word that purportedly sums up the Swedish psyche: lagomTranslated to “just the right amount” or “in moderation,” a piece from Slate.com notes that it could be misunderstood as indifference. The Swedes appreciate equality and modesty above all things, whether they’re referring to personalities or the way they brew their coffee.

At Jörgen’s, instead of filling the emptiness, we wait patiently until everyone has their coffee before easing back into conversation. And even when we break the silence, there is a profoundly understated tone to our interactions. The guests at Jörgen’s studio are remarkably accomplished musicians who play in high-profile Swedish orchestras, but no one talks about that until asked. No one talks over someone else. Everyone speaks three or four languages fluently but dismisses their skill. Dressed in worn out jeans, single-color shirts or blouses and sock-clad feet, they could not look more ordinary. (Slate.com)


The word dor is a little similar to saudade, characterized by a “visceral, bittersweet yearning central to the shared Romanian cultural identity.” Rooted in the emotions felt by Romanian shepherds away from home for a few months, it “recalls the memory of cherished experiences and gives emotional significance to life.”


This Arabic slang is usually heard in conversations in Syria, Lebanon and Palestine which refers to a romantic sentiment between lovers — of wanting to die first before they do, because you wouldn’t know how to deal with their death if they were to pass first.

With a profound need to reveal emotions we can’t always define, we can be assured of the richness of language that transcends English. While far from being definitive, Quiodbach’s report on emodiversity helps us understand the necessity of describing our emotions — whether in public or intimately with just ourselves. This practice develops our emotional and mental acuity, enabling us to be better partners, friends and leaders.

It helps to know that acknowledging our emotions (whether it’s anger, shame or sadness) can actually help us become better people.