Favorite books of 2019

I was very pleased with my pace of reading in the first half of 2019, averaging 3 books a month! Then in the second half, after my son was born, I read exactly 0, haha. Oh well.

Out of 18 books, not a single one was a dud. I think because, with my time being so constrained, I’ve had to get more savvy — or maybe more ruthless — in my reading choices. Regardless, these were my favorites:

ALL YOU CAN EVER KNOW was a deftly written personal examination of race, adoption, and motherhood. Completely my jam. I plan to do a “Reading Reflections” post on it later this year.

THE LAST BEST STORY was also completely my jam, but in a different way. A teen rom-com featuring two high school newspaper nerds, with witty dialogue and great character depth.

SO YOU WANT TO TALK ABOUT RACE is a dense but straightforward guide for people who want to do better. I appreciated how practical it was, and I felt like I could immediately make use of things that I learned from it.

And finally, OTHER WORDS FOR HOME is the third published novel by my dear friend Jasmine Warga, and I truly think she has leveled up once again. Told in verse, this book is the story of a young girl forced to leave her home in Syria and make a new one here in America. Full of insight and emotion, humor and heart.

As for 2020, I’m off to a slow start, but I know that as my son gets older and eventually joins his sister at daycare/school, I’ll get my reading time back.

Click here for previous years’ favorites.


My husband’s love of reading continues to flourish, and I take great pleasure in having helped to foster that. It’s so fun to talk about books and authors with him now — and about the thoughts they inspire, and the way various stories intersect with our lives.

These were his favorite reads of 2019:

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2020

Hi.

I’m still here.

Well, not here here.

There is no time for here. No time or space for much of anything besides the kids, really.

But I’m finally getting some decent sleep again, so that’s nice.


Yesterday marked the beginning of a new year. Sometimes I feel that the way we measure and move through time is a meaningless construct — and yet, there’s something to it, isn’t there? Something to the idea of a fresh start. Something to the collective energy of so many people reflecting, reaffirming, rerouting.

In recent years, I’ve often skipped resolutions, but for 2020, I did jot down a few small — but potentially very impactful — goals:

  • Write words with wings
  • Read fiction 10 minutes every day
  • Go to bed around 11:30 pm every day
  • Don’t look at the phone when I’m spending time with people (especially my kids)
  • Blog more consistently again

Yes, in the last half of 2019, there wasn’t time for here. But it’s a new year. I’m back, because I want to be. Because this space means something to me — does something for me — even if “blogs are dead” and “readership is down” and I’m more or less just talking into a void. That’s OK. It’s my void. I like it. I’ll fill it.

(Bonus points if my using the word “void” made you think of The Good Place.)

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And then there were two

This little dude arrived last week, more or less on time, which felt quite late to this summer-hating mama.

We’re all doing well — better than I expected, to be honest — as we navigate through and to our new normal.

These first couple months are my least favorite phase of motherhood. My body aches in too many places; I’m not getting enough rest; the feeding and the burping and the diaper-changing and the helping-to-sleep are endless, thankless jobs.

But.

But there is this baby, so sweet and small. His softness. His vulnerability. His tongue fluttering as he searches for milk. His eyes blinking as he learns to see the world. His fingers curling around mine out of instinct, and maybe even trust. The rise and fall of his chest. His funny little mewls.

Sometimes the tiniest things have the mightiest force. Sometimes the hardest things are the most worthwhile.

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We are not okay

Wow. On Saturday night, I went to bed to one mass shooting, and on Sunday morning, I woke up to another. We can now mark the time between these tragedies — these atrocities — not in days but in hours. Is this what America’s greatness looks like?

I don’t want anyone to have to be “hashtag strong.” I want everyone to be able to be as weak and vulnerable as my children, and still be safe from gun violence.

This country has a problem. Many, many problems. They are fixable, but not if we keep pretending they don’t exist. Not if we keep shifting the blame, and offering lip service instead of making actual change.

We are losing our lives to hate, cowardice, and political bullshit.

It has to end.

Call your reps. Tell them how you feel. Tell them what you want. Tell them to do their f-cking jobs and represent us, protect us, serve us.

I called my reps this weekend — in tears — and I’ll call again. I won’t stop calling, and donating, and speaking out.

There’s a lot to be done. Let’s do it.

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Always catching up, always falling behind

Travel, pregnancy, holidays. Lately I feel like life is a never-ending series of obstacles — mostly good ones, but still — that are keeping me from catching my breath. Every day my to-do list grows… then shrinks… then grows even more. How? Help!


Well, one thing I can cross off today is sharing my thoughts on the shows, productions, and movies I’ve enjoyed over the past few months.

(Yes, months. Have I mentioned how behind I am?)

Based on an award-winning play, Kim’s Convenience is a sitcom about a Korean-Canadian family and their store. It’s not funny in a laugh-out-loud way, but I appreciate the quieter humor — and heart — inherent in the cultural observations and conflicts between the characters.

And unlike Fresh Off the Boat — which unfortunately I think has lost a lot of steam over the years — this show seems content to be what it is, rather than eroding into the more typical Westernized formula for comedies.

I’ll be honest, my default attitude toward any remake is wariness. Because are we really updating and improving upon the original, or just trying to bring it back for a cash grab?

In the case of She-Ra — a beloved classic cartoon from my childhood — I think they’ve done a really nice job reimagining the story and themes for a contemporary audience. Even the art style has been modernized in an elegant and inclusive way. Season 1 was a lot of fun, and I especially loved the complicated dynamic between She-Ra and Catra.

In a nutshell: Hamilton lives up to the hype.

I was afraid it wouldn’t, because I don’t adore the music in Moana the way everyone else seems to, so I thought perhaps Lin-Manuel Miranda might be overrated, at least for me. But no. He’s brilliant. Hamilton is phenomenal. Within a minute of the show starting, I turned to my husband and said, “I love this already.” And that feeling only grew as the story continued to play out on the stage before me.

Race. Revolution. Passion. Family. Tragedy. The music. The lyrics. The performances. The choreography. It’s all so wonderful, so epic.

The Edge of Seventeen was a solid coming-of-age story, told with a good balance of humor, cynicism, and hope. Hailee Steinfeld and Woody Harrelson are the stars, and with reason — but over the course of the movie, I was surprised to find myself just as compelled, if not more, by the performances of Blake Jenner and Haley Lu Richardson, as the brother and best friend, respectively. They each brought a lot of subtle power to these side characters, elevating the roles, and thus the story.

I first watched Miss Saigon roughly 20 years ago, and I think a lot of it went over my head at that time. Now, as a relatively “woke” adult, I found myself disturbed, even angered, by the story. By the way that a show ostensibly featuring Vietnamese characters completely lacked any semblance of real Vietnamese perspective. By the way that America and Americans were portrayed as golden ideals, in spite of their many misdeeds. By the lack of dimension or interiority to any of the Asian characters, who were pretty much all “bad.” (Whores, pimps, vengeful soldiers, impoverished fools, etc.)

I recognize that not everyone will have the same reaction, but truthfully, as a person of Asian descent, I did feel harmed in a way, and that has given me a lot to think about, as I consider other works (of fiction, film, etc.) that negatively impact some people, even while I enjoy them.

Instead of rewatching To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before for the fourth time, I decided to try a different rom-com starring Noah Centineo, and he didn’t let me down. He’s just as charming in The Perfect Date, but not at all the same as his TATBILB character. The tone of this movie was more like Easy A — less candy and sunshine, more sour cherries and neon lights. Which is neither good nor bad, just an observation.

I knew nothing about the show Dear Evan Hansen before watching it, but wow, did it pack a punch. It’s funny and heartbreaking, and so intense that, at least in our traveling tour, the actor playing the main role does not perform twice in one day. (Which mainly comes into play on weekends, when they have both matinees and evening runs.)

I thoroughly enjoyed the music, and I felt the show had a lot of valuable things to say about growing up, and parenting, in our image-obsessed, anxiety-ridden world.

15 years old at this point, Chasing Liberty features Mandy Moore and Matthew Goode — two people for which I have an inexplicable fondness — as the First Daughter of the USA, and a secret Secret Service agent who is tasked to protect her while she galavants around Europe. So of course I loved it, as unlikely and cheesy as it was.

In the literary world, Someone Great would probably fall under the “New Adult” label, which for various reasons, never really took off. The story is mostly about life in your 20s, which for many people involves epic heartbreak, evolving friendships, and casual sex and drug use. (Weed and ecstasy, in this case.) There were plenty of things I liked about it — especially the soundtrack, and Lakeith Stanfield — but I don’t think the whole was greater than the sum of its parts.

Always Be My Maybe was another one that I wanted to love more than I did. I laughed out loud plenty of times — because Ali Wong and Randall Park are great at writing and delivering one-liners — and I really appreciated the natural way that Asian-American culture was featured in the film. (Food. San Francisco. Complex parent/child relationships.) But overall there was a sort of raw, choppiness to it that didn’t quite work for me.

And while I applaud that he was game for it, Keanu’s role in this film was utterly ridiculous.

The highlight for me was Michelle Buteau, who played the best friend, and stole pretty much every scene she was in.

Quiet but competent, The Spectacular Now was probably the least exciting of everything I’ve seen lately. Everything about it just felt… kind of obvious, and unoriginal. It’s the story of a young man’s emotional pain, and the way he deflects it from himself by inflicting it on others. He’s supposed to be charming, but I wasn’t charmed. At least not by the protagonist. Shailene Woodley was as watchable as ever, and Brie Larson surprised me with her turn as the popular girl. (Not the kind of role I’m used to seeing her in. She brought some depth to it, though.)

Cleverly written — and actually kind of subversive while maintaining the key beats of a rom-com — Set It Up definitely exceeded my expectations. Zoey Deutch is completely adorable and endearing, and the chemistry between her and Glen Powell was strong. On the one hand, there wasn’t much new here; on the other hand, things don’t have to be new to be good.


Sometimes I think TV, movies, etc., aren’t that important. Why bother talking about them?

But they’re stories. I live for stories. I learn from stories.

And I think stories have the power to change and connect us.

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