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

Sunday Spotlight

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!

Sunday Spotlight: End-of-Summer Reads

Sunday Spotlight

I think I read too many “beach reads” posts, came across “summer reads” lists that it deterred me from creating my own in this blog. I even had a somewhat contentious relationship with the term itself that I wanted to explore but as fall wonderfully sets in, I’ll save that for 2017.

These past few weeks have been slow-moving for me, with my writing and reading pace down to a snail’s speed. Having come back from trip in Puerto Rico and jumping right into community organizing, nourishing the bookworm in me has taken a back seat. (I did take two books with me in PR: Teju Cole’s books of essays Known and Strange Things and Juan Miguel Severo’s book of (love) poems Habang Wala Pa Sila).

As I finish both books, there are a number of books I want to read and finish as fall brings in a new wave of literature. I can almost guarantee that I’ll get every book on this list from Huffington Post, which features new work from Zadie Smith and Rabih Alameddine.

Literary Hub also came out with titles to read this September and although the only author I’m familiar with is Jeff Chang, reading about new books gives me tender-hearted feelings.

So before I get in on fall’s new titles, here are books that I want to read throughout this month:

Esmeralda Santiago’s Conquistadora | This came out of my own travel experience and research of the history of Puerto Rico. After Cole and Severo’s book, this one is next on my list.

Coulson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad | I first heard of this book after seeing Saeed Jones talk about it on Twitter. It went on to become the new Oprah’s Book Club 2016 selection and I can’t wait to immerse myself in this novel.

Joshua Hammer’s The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu | The title of the book alone is enough for a bibliophile’s eyes to widen. We all know that librarians rule.

Fernando Pessoa’s The Book of Disquiet | This one’s a classic — I read about it in Alameddine’s An Unnecessary Woman. The protagonist constantly referred to Pessoa, her favorite writer, and I couldn’t help but be curious about him.

Considering my reading speed as of late, it’ll be quite a challenge to get through this so wish me luck! If you have end-of-summer reads that you’re looking at, do share in the comments below! 

Awe at the undeniable fact that I will forever be the son of a fiercely beautiful woman. Awe at knowing just how exquisitely she prepared me to live and write my way into this world. And yes, her absence hurts, but her presence – and I feel it more and more each day – her presence moves me forward. (Saeed Jones)

 

Every time Mother’s Day comes around, I always think of the poet Saeed Jones. His essay Infinite Ache: My First Mother’s Day Without Her comes to mind right away, after I read it for the first time a few years ago. Maybe it’s the way that Saeed wrote about his mother, or his grief, or the beauty of what she had imparted upon him, or the familiarity of nam-myoho-renge-kyo (the Nichiren Buddhist chant) but her being and his  writing had left an indelible mark in my memory.

In his poem “Mercy” from Prelude to Bruise, he writes:

Her ghost slips into the room wearing nothing but the memory / of a song…

 

I’m also reminded of Ayana Mathis’s book The Twelve Tribes of Hattiea book I read three years ago. After reading the book, I remember taking a nap and waking up thinking of Hattie, finding it impossible not to. The book unfolds with the lives of Hattie’s twelve tribes, or children, as I try to make sense of her hardness and her husband August’s softness. I remember Lafayette, steely and inaccessible, Franklin, whose narrative left me at odds with what I knew as the irrationality of war.

…Hattie wanted to give her babies names that weren’t already chiseled on a headstone in the family plots in Georgia, so she gave them names of promise and of hope, reaching-forward names, not looking-back ones. (Ayana Mathis) 

 

Recently, I read Tracy K. Smith’s memoir Ordinary Light wherein I was introduced to the incredibly intimate and tender relationship of a daughter with her mother. In a previous post about the memoir, I wrote about how Tracy’s writing opened up a new language for me, one I haven’t had the opportunity to create with my own mother.

I was calm and safe beside her, right at home. I didn’t think to call it beauty but beside her, I felt what the presence of beauty makes a person feel. (Tracy K. Smith)

I am grateful to these writers for their strength and their will to write their personal experiences and stories, no matter how harrowing or joyful, about mothers. My own relationship with my mama is a work in progress, a bond that I used to despise for a multitude of reasons when I was younger. As I get older though, I’m able to see her in a different light — who she is as a person, and who she was as a young mother then.

While the work of Saeed, Ayana and Tracy have touched something in me that is equal parts painful and healing, I am aware of my experience only as an immigrant daughter, kind of assimilated and openly queer. I revere Black motherhood, of which I have no direct experience but aware of the mottled heartbreak it comes with, in struggle and in relation to living in the U.S.

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I cannot fully know and I cannot fathom the well of pain felt by the mothers of Oscar Grant, Eric Garner, Alex Nieto, Trayvon Martin, but I can surmise the depth of anger against institutions of state that have violently taken the lives of their sons.

What I do know is that it is the same institutions that have kept mother and child separate, an all too familiar scene at airports in the Philippines. The separation of the family is not an uncommon theme, as mothers leave their children in their home countries to care for children and families in the First World as recounted in this New Yorker article.

I think about struggles of mothers living abroad, the strength needed to withstand a foreign culture and the backbreaking work of minimum wage; the loneliness of an empty apartment after a day’s work buoyed by the promise of coming home one day; the daily misgivings of being undocumented, of being invisible and small in the face of the dollar; of the heartbreaking passage of time, of physical distance, of the increasing emotional distance, of being away.

Still, I see it — the smiles in spite of the callousness, joy in their eyes in spite of grief. I guess there will never be enough words, but always, an infinite ache.

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The featured image in this blog post, as well as the last two images are from Mamasday.org, a project of Forward Together, a multiracial organization for social change. Send a virtual Mama’s Day card using one of their beautiful creations!

Sunday Spotlight: Mama

Sunday Spotlight

Sunday Spotlight: San Francisco’s Big Book Sale 

Sunday Spotlight
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San Francisco Big Book Sale, Festival Pavilion at Fort Mason

It’s that time again for one of my favorite sale events in the Bay — the San Francisco Big Book Sale! This bi-annual event is put together by the Friends of the San Francisco Public Library around Spring time and in the Fall, wherein donated books and media are sold for $1-$3 each.

My first BBS was back in 2011 and I came on the last day of the sale where coincidentally, all books were on (an even bigger) sale for $1 each. I was so overwhelmed with the quantity and accessibility of the sale that I must have bought around 50+ titles. Bibliophile gone wild.

I admit that I haven’t been able to go through all of those books and I’ve also donated most of them. This time however, I planned on being more intentional.

Hello warehouse of my dreams.

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