Certainty is Selfish

On a cerebral level, doubt is uncomfortable, it provokes anxiety. (Listening to the Sam Harris podcast episode “The Biology of Good and Evil.”) That’s why so many people refuse to entertain it. They would rather just believe what they believe, regardless of what effect that belief has on others. I wrote this in 2014: I…

The Portrayal of Emotion in Moulin Rouge

I watched Moulin Rouge the other night for the first time in several years, and I was really struck by the emotion of it. I’ve finally become aware of how much more intensely than other people I seem to feel things, especially compared to what’s usually portrayed in movies. People hold their dying lovers with…

Rethinking Howard Zinn

While reading Ta-Nehisi Coates’s We Were Eight Years in Power a couple years ago, I came across some information that required consideration. In the book Coates addresses some remarks made by Howard Zinn regarding the Civil War, which Coates had written about for The Atlantic. These are Zinn’s comments, made a few months before he…

On Glorifying Simplicity

It seems like there’s always someone making the argument that fewer choices are better, that too many options make people unhappy. Whether they’re talking about arranged marriages, too many TV channels, or the “simplicity” of life before the internet, what it sounds like to me is people wishing for a small life. As someone with…

Educated, by Tara Westover

Five stars, read in April 2019. There was a lot about this that was depressingly familiar to me. I grew up in the same religion as Tara, though her family believed in it much more literally than mine did. Relatedly, her childhood was more violent than mine was; my version of the story is mostly…

Ways of Seeing

The act of creating a story is foreign to me. I’m both awed and baffled by people who can just decide, out of their own brains, that this is what should happen in a story, this is what this character would do. I don’t know how to create a story. What I do know is how to see the story that…

Fictional Items I Wish I Could Have

Renly Baratheon’s crown, just because it is one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. Lucy’s cordial, from The Chronicles of Narnia, because health care is motherfucking expensive. The Pensieve from Dumbledore’s office, because the ability to store my own memories and experience them again would be absolutely priceless. Elven lembas bread. Because…

Moranifesto, by Caitlin Moran

Five stars, read in April 2018. It is possible that, as an American under the age of 40, I have been so deprived of sensible and ethical political discussion that what seems like earth-shattering brilliance to me is just common sense to the rest of you. But as I read this book, Caitlin Moran officially…

Intention

They taught us growing up that the world was intentional, that we used to have some problems as a society but fixed them, that this is all how it’s supposed to be. But that’s the problem, right there — starting from that perspective makes it nearly impossible to notice reality, and how blatantly, obviously unintentional…

Notes of a Crocodile, by Qiu Miaojin

Two stars, read in December 2017 Bewildering, to be honest. Interpersonal relationships are difficult to package in words, especially when nothing much happens, it’s all just conversations and body language and internal struggles. But this seemed deliberately opaque and kept me on the outside, unable to get a connection with any of the characters. Words…

The Remains of the Day, by Kazuo Ishiguro

Four stars, read in October 2017. The Remains of the Day is absolutely masterful. I was constantly impressed by the subtlety, the way the protagonist’s voice is so careful and forthcoming that it didn’t occur to me to question his accuracy, until suddenly the perspective would widen and I’d realize what he’d been leaving out. Mr….

A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman

Two stars. Read in February 2019. I don’t like Ove very much—the character or the book. Rather, I don’t understand the near-universal insistence that this type of character is loveable. Because Ove is definitely a type, and while there’s no such thing as an unloveable person, that is an entirely separate issue from our indefatigable…

Kingdom Animalia

Humans think of ourselves as so different from other animals, but think about the behaviors and traits we consider “cool” in men — they’re all the most animalistic ones. Think about the traits and behaviors that most distinguish us from animals — they are considered specifically uncool, often effeminate. What does that say about us,…

Why “you are loved” is meaningless and almost certainly unhelpful

It’s an abstract solution where a concrete one is needed. It asks the person in need of love, the person in pain from the lack of it, to just use their imagination and be comforted without the one “comforting” them having to invest any actual emotion. “You are loved” is noticeably not the same as…

2018 Reading Survey

Book you were excited about and thought you were going to love, but didn’t: Home, by Nnedi Okorafor Pachinko, by Min Jin Lee The Witch Doesn’t Burn in This One, by Amanda Lovelace Most surprising (in a good way): ME, by Tomoyuki Hoshino Book you recommended to people most: The Long Way to a Small,…

Backpacking through Europe in Books

This summer, I spent my reading time in a part of the world I’ve never explored before. Setting aside the two books I’d been reading at the time, I started in the Netherlands and read through Germany, the Czech Republic, Austria, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Greece, and Turkey. It was a lot of fun, and…

Wrapping Up Summer Reading (Mini Reviews)

The Door, by Magda Szabó Three and a half stars, read in August 2018. The story of a strange, dysfunctional relationship between two strange women who are both uniquely intimate with and completely closed off to each other. I found it difficult at times, how deeply (and pretty frequently) they hurt each other, but the exploration…

The White Castle, by Orhan Pamuk

The White Castle, by Orhan Pamuk Two stars, read in September 2018. I planned on two stars throughout the book and then was tempted to do more based on the last few pages—two and a half stars if not three—but for now, I can’t bring myself to rate it any higher. It’s only 145 pages…

Hyperindividualist Circle Jerk

There’s a worldview that puts only one person, oneself, in the lens. People who think this way are entirely self-centered, as in, they are incapable of seeing themselves in any role but protagonist. The other view is one in which a person sees herself as relative to other people. Those who think this way are…

Nine Rabbits, by Virginia Zaharieva

Four stars, read in August/September 2018. Practically incomprehensible at times, but at others, perfectly describes situations and emotions I’ve never seen articulated elsewhere. My perception of the protagonist kept changing in surprising ways, and I ended up making a lot of unexpected connections with her. I dream that I’m traveling to a seminar in Varna…

A Guided Tour Through the Museum of Communism, by Slavenka Drakulić

Three and a half stars, read in August 2018. Though I don’t know what the author’s intent was for her readers, I wish I’d had more background knowledge of how communism and socialism were implemented throughout Central Europe before reading this book. The format—eight fables, each told by an animal from a different country—makes for…

Beware of Pity, by Stefan Zweig

Three and a half stars, read in July and August 2018. This is one of those books in which perfect strangers sit down to tell each other their—or other people’s—life stories. Like Mr. Lockwood in Wuthering Heights, the narrator we first meet turns out to be nothing more than the impetus for one such story, that…

Mendelssohn is on the Roof, by Jiří Weil

Four and a half stars, read in July 2018. I’m tired of World War II stories, because their popularity in our culture seems saccharine, nationalistic, almost fetishistic—an excuse to pat ourselves on the back and fawn over the “glory days” of the “Greatest Generation”—while generally managing to sideline the sickeningly-relevant lessons we should be learning from…

Accident: A Day’s News, by Christa Wolf

Four stars, read in July 2018. Second stop on my literary backpacking trip through Europe: East Germany in the 1980s, the day after the Chernobyl accident. I’ve been wanting to read Christa Wolf for a while now, more especially Cassandra and Medea, but—once again—my choice was made for me by the limited collection of my local libraries. (For…

The Storm, by Margriet de Moor

Four stars, read in July 2018. I picked up this book for my first stop on the Reader’s Room Backpacking Across Europe Summer Reading Challenge, as I flew into the Amsterdam airport. I don’t tend to read disaster stories, so I probably wouldn’t have chosen this book if Utah public libraries had a better selection…

Harmless Like You, by Rowan Hisayo Buchanan

Four stars, read in May 2018. Good book, well-written, poignant, frustrating, a little heartbreaking, with a pretty satisfying conclusion. Emily Woo Zeller is an excellent narrator, but I didn’t care for P.J. Ochlan, who does irritating pseudo-falsetto for female characters’ voices. (Given that I already didn’t like Jay, the character he was narrating, I think…

Home, by Nnedi Okorafor

Three stars, read in June 2018. Good, but not as compelling as the first book was. I’d been thinking I might not read the third, but it turns out that this trilogy is more like one book split into three; since there was no conclusion here, I may end up finishing after all. Maybe. The world…