Read And Misread In October

Reading often goes hand in hand with misreading. Being an immigrant and reading English as a second language have taught me this fact. At first this made me rather uncomfortable–the sense of uncertainty and self doubt following me like a shadow in a bright sunset, which means the shadow is much bigger and longer than my own figure. However, I’ve since got used to it.

“Modern Love” audible book by Daniel Jones, who’s the editor. It includes more than 40 tales, each around ten to fifteen minutes, by more than 40 authors. It’s easy to misread the title to consider this book as a collection of modern romance stories, which it is not. A more accurate title will be “Love And Unlovable Consequences”. The problem is that love is in a modest amount and consequences are huge. It could be that our industrialized social structure and value system are incongruous with out emotional needs. Is it so that any social structure will be a hindrance to our natural flow of love and emotions and human connections, which prefer a random unstructured existence?

“The Barbarians are Coming” by David Wong Louie. I thought of dropping the book when I had 70 pages left. I trudged through the first 300 pages and was at the end of my meager strength. Somehow I continued, not without a lot of mental flagellation to keep myself going. Now I still have 20 pages to go, but I know I would really enjoy throwing it away. Years ago I read “Jude The Obscure” and was so depressed by the story that I had to give up half way. These two books, about entirely different subjects and with very different writing styles, are similar in its depressing hopeless, almost suicidal, view of life.

“Aimless Love” by Billy Collins. It’s a delight to read his poems and he can always animate an inanimate object and award significance to the insignificant.

“Feminasty” by Erin Gibson. Half way through the book. I wouldn’t call it “nasty” at all. I would say it is asking questions of equality and can be named female in shining armors ready to fight and shout.

“We Wanted to Be Writers” by Eric Olsen. Finished it, but still find my own writing lacking. I feel like a movie director who imagine a lot of interesting scenes, but not able to reproduce them through the camera.

“How to Write Great Blog Posts that Engage Readers” by Scott Steve. Great suggestions, but whenever I try to follow the suggestions, I feel that my hands are tied and my writing just don’t flow as naturally. Why? I don’t know the reason.

Finished With A Sigh

I shouldn’t read this book, “We Wanted to Be Writers: Life, Love, and Literature at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop” by Eric Olsen. I knew I shouldn’t but I still did. A lot of things I did in my life, I only did for conformity and convention and survival, which take up huge amount of time and energy. I’ve always thought that with books I have total freedom and autonomy. I read what I want to read. But now I think of it, I’ve been too optimistic about myself. This is the book that I should not read since it is about those native speakers who want to be writers. For a non-native speaker like me, this book doesn’t apply at all. Still I read it. It’s arranged in a non-conventional way, in which each person comes up to talk about his or her Iowa experience for several minutes. At first I didn’t like this kind of arrangement, but after a while I got used to it and even developed a preference to it in the end. If you ask me what I’ve learned from the book, I will say probably “keeping on with your writing” is the loudest of all the advice. No matter what happens, just keep on writing and chasing your dreams until you succeed or die of trying or find solace in Buddhism.

“Aimless Love: New and Selected Poems” by Billy Collins. I started to read this book about five years ago. During a Christmas shopping trip, the book landed in my bag with a big Barnes & Noble discount tag sticking to the front page. Since then, I read one or two poems here and there, often opening the book to a random page and closing the book five minutes later. Two months ago, I suddenly felt an urge for poetry and started to write bad poems. Even bad poems need inspirations and this book was fished out of the corner of the shelf. “A Word About Transitions” will inspire you to write a whole paragraph for the sake of transition just to avoid the simple word like “moreover”; you are reminded by “Last Meal” of a rude waiter in Central Jersey who you have to endure just for the weekly dim sum. Your Asian mentality tells you it’s not your last meal since there will be the next meal after the last and you will come back to kowtow to this sadistic waiter just for the good food. I like the poet’s range and variety and style. He’s the one I always come back to when I am blocked. And I am very often blocked and my block is worse than the New York City traffic jam.

“The Barbarians are Coming” by David Wong Louie. There are 70 pages to go, but I am at my wits’ end. I can’t endure it any longer. Several years back when I dragged one of my friends to a restaurant to watch an NBA game. He complained every minute of it. The meal was terrible, and the game was even worse. I insisted that we went to cheer for a rising Asian sports star. I wanted to show my ethnic solidarity. My friend despised me for this. He had watched Jordan for years and he hated the fact that he had to cheer for somebody just because he is an Asian. I think I feel the same way about this book just like what my friend felt for that NBA game. The more I read, the more I feel that the author is exercising a form of intellectual flagellation. He writes so well and I admire his writing, but he is using his talent to portray something so depressing. I can understand why Lung, the main character, dislikes his father. Lung has all his first world troubles while his immigrant father, who runs a dry cleaning place, is stuck in his third world mentality. He portrays his father as somebody without style and without taste. And then suddenly he writes pages after pages of his father’s love stories. I can’t imagine anybody would want to read a love story, in which the boy is in such a pitiful condition. I feel bad to be so negative on a book and I’m glad that the author passed away a few years ago–I won’t hurt his feelings with my negative review.

The October Book Plan

For about half a year or so, I wrote book reviews devotedly for books I read, but then I felt that I didn’t really enjoy doing that. I guess the main reason is that it feels like I’m still in school, trying to come up with something to say while worrying that what I am going to say is not going to be considered popular or correct or acceptable.

I like books without meaning just as much as I like books with a meaning, probably even more. This is my opinion: existentialism should be applied to books as much as our own life–existence over essence. Live and let live, exist and let exist. Anything more smells like a secret agenda to bend the world to a certain way. I would be happy with a combination of existentialism and Taoism.

My favorite book review is probably like this, “this book has no meaning but I just like it as it is.” Of course this will be an unacceptable book review. This may sound weird. However it will not be so weird if one considers that things we grow up thinking indisputable can be and will be disputed. For example what will be the future of work ethics when AI and robots become prevalent, and most people lost their jobs and will never be employed? Being an immigrant has prepared me for this kind of thing. Being an immigrant means that what you considered to be an unquestionable existence suddenly becomes very questionable or even nonexistent in another culture.

And now before this dismal robotic dictatorship arrives, let’s enjoy our life–by reading the following books for October. I know I will not finish several of them, hate at least two of them, pretend to like Shakespeare even if I don’t, insert a bad romance book even if I won’t admit that I or anybody else can love a book so vulgar. Well, plans are made so that unplanned events may happen.

  • Finishing “The Barbarians are Coming” by David Wong Louie. He writes so well and I love his writing, but his perpetual praise of French cuisine and his contempt for greasy low dig food, Asian food included here, are depressing to read. I think the problem is that the author doesn’t really understand Asian food. (He passed away at the young age of 63. Otherwise I would not say this for fear of hurting his feelings.) Just because his own parents cook greasily, he thinks all food, represented by his parents’ Asian face, are greasy. Just because the Asian restaurants he visited are greasy, he thinks all Asian food are greasy.
  • Finish “Hog Pilots, Blue Water, Grunts” by Robert D. Kaplan. There are so few good books about Asia that I have to dig into military books to find solace. In military books, Asia and Asians are not treated as sidekicks or decorations. Instead there are solid contents, serious descriptions, attention to historical facts. I like the author’s “Asian’s Cauldron” and want to read more from him. Unfortunately, he’s very much into the details of a ship or a boat or a plane or a deployment setting that I am not interested in.
  • Read “Where The Past Begins” by Amy Tan. I’ve had this book for a while, but I haven’t liked her later books as much as I like “Joy Luck Club”. So I was afraid of getting disappointed. I really enjoy her writing in “Joy Luck Club” even though she portrays Asian cultures as exotic oddities. I often imagine myself writing with her style about Asians as non-exotic normal ordinary people. I scanned through several pages of “Where The Past Begins” and felt that it is much better than “Valley Of Amazement”, a book I really tried to like but couldn’t.
  • Read W. H. Auden’s “Selected Poems”. I don’t think I will finish this book. I started it several years ago, but still it is there, unread and unattended to. I bought it because I encountered his poems “In Memory of W. B. Yeats” and I thought it’s so good. I had to order a book of his. However when it arrived, I flipped through the pages and couldn’t feel a connection with any of the poems. I don’t know why. Probably because I’ve no background information about him, his era, his circumstances, his life style. I don’t know what he’s talking about in his poems and I can’t relate. Also I am too lazy to do some research on him.
  • Read “The Marlowe Papers” by Ros Barber. I’ve never read a novel in verse before and this is my first one. If I like it, I may proceed to other similar verse book, but judging from the first several pages of it, I am not too enthusiastic about the format. I don’t know if Lord Byron’s Don Juan is qualified as a verse novel or a long epic poem or whatever other literary terminology it wears as an outfit. I like it very much. I listened to the audible book, but I’ve always wanted to listen to it while reading the text to enjoy both the beauty of the sound and the pleasure of the reading.
  • Listen to the audible book Vol. 1 of Anton Chekhov’s Complete Stories. This is a free book from audible plus.
  • Listen to the audible book “If I understand you, Would I Have This Look On My Face” by Alan Alda. I bought this book on discount. I just can’t handle my stupid impulse of overbuying whenever there’s a sale. My closet is full of discount clothes that I never even wear twice in my life. Same with books. Bad habit is very hard to get rid of.
  • Continue “Sailing Alone Around The Room” by Billy Collins.
  • Watch “Merchant Of Venice” 1996 (YouTube) and 2004 (amazon) and read the play and watch one lecture (YouTube)
  • Listening to “Modern Love” by Daniel Jones.