01 Apr 2017

spring reading list

spring reading list

I haven’t been to this space in a while because for the past year or so I’ve lived much of my private life offline. There’s something strange that happens when people read your words for years and feel like they know you (in an edited way because they come to know you by what you share) but they don’t. Not really. They know a version of you. I struggled with that tension quite a bit. Combined with trying to sustain a consistent stream of work (freelancing is hard and I’m drowning in graduate loan debt), and thinking about my second book while I completed my third–I noticed that coming here I had little to offer. Simply put, I didn’t have it in me.

Today I woke early and decided what I did want to share–what I’ve been reading! Reading has been a tremendous stress reliever and I’ve been reading one, sometimes two, books a week. And no, they’re not the same ten books you see on every spring reading list because I often discover authors or books far past their launch buzz. I’m also frustrated that the same ten books give massive hype while the rest fall to the wayside. Perhaps I’m…biased. I’ll leave it at that.

On to the books!

Dear Friend, from My Life I write to You in Your Life by Yiyun Li: Someone recently asked me to describe Yiyun Li’s work and I said, she’s the Chinese Jhumpa Lahiri. I realize saying that is reductive and gives off the wrong impression, so I immediately explained that like Lahiri, Li feels caught between two languages and cultures. Lahiri spent years learning Italian, a language that liberated her or at least shifted her away from the Bengali/English tension. Yiyun Li made a conscious decision to abandon Chinese and not have her books translated into Chinese, but the pull of homeland is a constant and is at the core of her essay collection.

It’s strange to call this book a memoir because while the events are true (Li battled suicide depression and was hospitalized twice), there exists a semi-permeable wall between reader and author because Li doesn’t seek catharsis in the usual tell-all style, rather, she tries to make sense of it rationally and intellectually through conversations with dead authors who’ve shared her illness. This is the story of her literary life and how she uses it to cope with the constant pull to darkness. Is writing not my way of rehearsing death? Li writes. There are so many reasons I loved this book, mainly because it was a realistic portrayal of someone suffering from depression every day. The neat 3-arc narrative that presents a life where the illness or pain or grief is finite is so antithetical for how people with mental illness survive their day. For Li, it’s a continuum, an ongoing understanding, and conversation.

If you suffer from depression or just love literature, you will LOVE this book.

An Arrangement of Skin by Anna Journey: What starts as a recollection of a near suicide attempt to navigating the world of art, love, infidelity, and the many skins (or masks) we wear, An Arrangement of Skin deconstructs those masks in an effort to get puncture through oneself. From her mother’s macabre bedtime stories and a friendship with a tattoo artist who believes what you write on the body is an expression of that self to her fascination with taxidermy, Journey manages to usurp traditional images centering on dismemberment and metamorphosis. She makes the grotesque beautiful, and I’ve really encountered an essay collection that felt…new. This was a swift read and well worth your time. I’m baffled that it hasn’t been covered widely.

Outline by Rachel Cusk: To be honest, I hadn’t heard of Rachel Cusk until I read this recent profile. I’m drawn to complex women who may not necessarily be sympathetic or, more importantly, don’t want your sympathy. (Brief parenthetical: This Jill Abramson interview is spot-on and reinforces that women leaders are often judged by how “nice” they are.) Apparently, you either really love Cusk auto-fiction style or you think she’s the most selfish person on earth. I’m in the former camp and I purchased all of her books. Outline is a life told through conversation. We follow a novelist (and I dare say cipher), Faye, who’s teaching a creative class one summer in an oppressively hot Athens. The ten conversations she has with people she meets along the way (her seatmate on her flight to Athens–a man who’s lived much of his life in regret, a one-hit wonder novelist, an insecure nuevo-famous author who uses her celebrity as a means to mask her emptiness). Through each of these stories and the novelist’s interpretation and retelling of them, we know more a woman trying to find her identity through the filling out of an outline. The conversations she has gives her shape and depth.

The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez: Sure, this was published ages ago, but it’s new to me and damn near broke my heart. Reading this book now felt fortuitous as it invites you to be empathetic to the immigrant experience. I’m not going to start with all the fear and hate-mongering after Agent Orange was elected, but we are ALL immigrants–unless we’re Native American. But I digress. Henriquez’s remarkable debut, told from varying points of view, outlines the immigrant perspective in a small Delaware town. From cultural adjustment to learning English idioms and feeling homesick for the familiar, you have a sense of what people give up to come to the United States. What spins the plot into motion is a well-off Mexican family that moves to the states after their daughter, Maribel, sustained brain injury as a result of a slip and fall accident. Soon after they move, Maribel (who’s an outsider) connects with a local boy, Toro, who sees in her a kindred spirit. Their Romeo/Juliet-type love unravels all of the characters to devastating effect. I loved this book so much, not only because of the exceptional writing but because you see how “Americans” treat people of color who were born here and people who come from abroad. If you pick up any of the books from my list, I suggest you start with this one.

Liar by Rob Roberge: Okay, I promise this will be the last book about mental illness, but this is a GOOD ONE. After a lifetime of heavy drug abuse/alcohol abuse and frequent concussions, Roberge learns that he’s developed a progressive memory-eroding disease. The notion that he’ll one day start to lose memories, stories–the core of who he is–devastates him, and he makes a point of using writing as a means of documentation of a life but also a catharsis for the inevitable end. Selfishly, I also love books that are not told in a linear fashion (so you have to work harder and be committed to the narrative–must everything be handed to you? I often think), and I think the structure evokes the feeling of disassociation, abject terror, and the need to commit everything to paper. I read this after Cat Marnell’s addiction memoir and it was refreshing to read a book about an addict told from the vantage point of perspective and age.

Compartment 6 by Rosa Liksom: It’s possible that a book can be relentlessly dark and laugh-out-loud funny. An unnamed Finnish woman leaves Moscow for Mongolia by train after having suffered heartbreak. However, there exists little time for grief when Vadim Nikolayevich Ivanov is your compartment mate. A former soldier, Vadim is rude, vulgar, violent (he attempts to force himself on the woman several times and only stops when she beats him with her boot), drunk, and the woman’s unlikely companion. There is no startling plot revelation, but the journey, what’s revealed about the Soviet Union in a specific point of time, and how one copes with loss, is the real draw.

Also recommended: Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Refugees–I’m half-way through the collection and it is stellar.

2 Comments

  1. Anna wrote:

    Based on your suggestion, I read The Book of Unknown Americans this week. I didn’t want it to end, but I wanted to know the end. What a beautiful, heart-breaking book. Thank you.

    Posted on 4.7.17 · Reply to comment
  2. admin wrote:

    Happy to help, Anna! 🙂

    Posted on 5.29.18 · Reply to comment

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  • My freelance career is nearing its best-by date. This realization didn’t come from some climactic third act. Instead, it was an acknowledgment of a simple truth: everything expires. The shiny and new loses its sheen and pallor. What once made you bolt out of bed becomes the thing you run from screaming. You tally the things you keep losing, which loom large and incalculable. You’re bombarded by seemingly motivational Instagram quotes that tell you to keep working, keep hustling, keep pushing through it. What the platitudes neglect to add is that some battles should be abandoned. Sometimes it’s okay not to play your hand and to walk away from the table. There is a difference, albeit subtle, between what’s hard and what’s Sisyphean.
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Yes, I want to go back to full-time. Yes, I have no idea how I’ll pay rent this week but I’m surprisingly calm because there are some things out of my control.
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I do have a whole slate of morning interviews for a role back east later in the week so I’m pumped about that. Check out my new medium post (link in bio).
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Image: cosmaa / Getty Images
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  • I’m honestly crying tears of gratitude. I should tell you that I’m not a cryer. Unless it’s those Sarah McLachlan animal shelter commercials and then I’m a puddle. But I’m getting really excited about how this @medium series is coming together. I’ll probably top 50K words including the downloadable resources. And I’m even more humbled that my friend @lorissas (we’ve known one another since 2002 and we’ve worked together since my book publishing days) created these gorgeous custom graphics. I really want my collection branded in the blues and to reflect my vibe as much as possible. I’m spending my own $ to license photography and illustrations.
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All because I’m really fucking tired of faux marketers who don’t know of what they teach. Or they teach what has worked for them, their blog or IG, which doesn’t necessarily translate to big brands. Then you have scammers who make it hard for the legit marketers who have to go through hoops because companies have gotten burned by incompetence.
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I also want to make use of my educational privilege. I went to an excellent private college and Ivy League graduate school. I had the privilege of working for brilliant marketers, from whom I learned everything I know. And I want to share that as much as possible. For free. This is my goal in 2019–create and share tons of pedagogical content. For free.
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I’m so excited!!!!! Shout out to @omgstephlol for believing in my vision and putting up with my craziness.
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#fuckfauxmarketers #makinguseofmyprivilege, #brandstrategy #marketing #marketingtips #strategy #thehustle #freelance
  • THIS WEEK. Well, let’s see... I wrote a total of 32K words, accepted an offer to be one of a few operating owners of a funded content start-up (no $ now but I think this will blow up), I had another interview with an agency in Philly and we talked money, balance, neuroscience and I like their vibe. I’m not moving cross country just yet so let’s all take a pause. I finished a good book, started another. Got my mammogram results back—no cancer! I got angry with my health insurance company like the rest of America. Part of me hopes I can get a full-time job so I can enjoy a consistent paycheck for a hot second. Celebrated a month off the sauce (let’s not get telenovela about this). I cleaned my house and burst into tears talking to my bankruptcy attorney because apparently no one cares that you’ve been making on-time payments for over a year and you’re going through a rough patch. It stormed and I loved it and prayed for more rain. It’s sunny now. I have a first line for a new chapter but I can’t write because all I’m thinking about is work and how I’ll make rent. But here it is: “Love in their home had become its own form of violence.”
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I met up with @bhatmon who always makes me smile and if I move back east she’ll be the one true thing I’ll miss. I listened to podcasts, read science articles, and wished that I could get a neuroscience degree but a kind reader pointed me in the direction of MIT’s free classes so I’m jazzed. I emailed a rescue service and filled out an adoption application but no one ever wrote my back so that made me sad.
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I have no idea how I’ll at for anything but I can’t freak out over that which I can’t control and like that. And love is kind of violent if you really get to thinking about it.
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I’m annoyed that I’ve lived get for over three years and I haven’t seen nearly enough. And on it goes.
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#weekendvibes #weeklyrecap #realtalk #instayum #thehustle #amwriting but am I?
  • Love can sometimes create its own form of emotional violence.
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I used to rummage through photos as a means of being cruel to myself. You used to be thin! You used to be slightly fashionable! You used to be disciplined! And as the edges softened, as your wont to do as you get older and let a lot of the hardness within you go, it occurred to me that the things I used to want and love were violent. I was ruthless to my body to get it to a certain shape instead of eating to sustain myself and moving to feel. I went at everything so hard! Then I worked all hours of the day and night until it made me literally sick. My hardness, my love and desire to look and be a certain way, was hurting me.
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Now. I’ve softened in all senses of the word. I’m calmer. I have a different (and healthier) view of my body and what it means to be beautiful, and I have strong boundaries that guard against the people with whom I work and the projects I’ve taken on. I’ve fired abusive clients. I make clear when and how I work. And I put me first. I have a lot of writing to do to make $ to pay rent this month but I rested yesterday because I need it. I didn’t realize how tiring writing could be when you’re doing it for 10-12 hours a day. Sometimes you need rest.
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Now, I look for pictures like this when I’m happy. When I’m laughing as feeling joyful and hopeful. Because I’m trying to be kinder to myself.
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#tuesdaymotivation #bekind #beingboss #boss #thehustle #amwriting
  • Writing exhausts you. So much so that, come evening, all you can do is stare blankly at a television screen. You can’t read because you can’t bear to see another word.
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I’ve been on a heater, writing for 10-12 hours for the past two days. I wake at four and start working at 4:30. It’s my best time. I’ve finished 3 of my 9 medium pieces and believe me when I say that teaching something, especially solely in written form, is a lot harder than I anticipated. But it’s work that gives me pride. Plus it’s a little money that goes towards paying my bills.
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Tomorrow is a call for a freelance strategy gig with a philly healthcare agency, more work, and possibly a delivery of fried chicken. Here’s hoping.
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#thehustle #amwriting #f52grams #clementinedaily #beingboss #thefreelancelife #freelancewriter #faceplant
  • #tbt of me sweating my ass off in S. Africa, wrinkles et all.
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In the midst of me having a two-day long rage blackout over my garbage $600/month healthcare that won’t even cover my MRI, I learned two exciting pieces of news.
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The medium series is a GO, you guys! I’m shaking with excitement because faux-marketer scam artists and their wack courses are a pandemic. They don’t have experience in what they’re selling. They haven’t achieved for others what they’re selling beyond their own channels. And they don’t actually understand what they’re selling. I can’t tell you how many lead magnets and PDFs I’ve downloaded and webinars I barely lived through where people didn’t even understand the basic principles of brand platform development. They got the terminology wrong. They got the process wrong. Data was non-existent. I was APPALLED at the AUDACITY of these dumb chumps. So I decided to create a FREE mini course that takes you through the full brand platform process. I’m publishing one overview (9K words), and 8 follow ups that flesh out the overview. You’ll get information in layman’s terms, complete with exercises and real-world examples. I’ll also be sharing a link when all of this is up where you can view all articles FOR FREE, bypassing the paywall. I’ll keep you posted on my progress. I didn’t realize how hard this would be, creating lessons that were instructive and easy to understand. I’m setting aside time to finish this while I do client work that pays the bills. I am happy medium is paying me, which is pretty awesome.
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This is the first in a series.
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The OTHER news is that I was offered operating ownership (not equity) in a content start-up that I truly believe will blow up like nitro, to quote Biggie. I love the company. I’d be working with hella smart people and my work would be advising on the brand, marketing and editorial. The offer took me by surprise and I was humbled and honored. While there’s no $ up front, the ownership really piques my interest. I can’t give any more details than that, but this is pretty cool.
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Now I will lie down. .
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#selfie #bignews #bignewscomingsoon #amwriting
  • Get ready for the magic, people. I’ll be back to sharing food posts in 2019!!! I just came back from an awesome party and I’m inspired and filled with so much energy.
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I’m planning a monster tutorial series (with graphics) on marketing strategy, brand development, and audience segmentation and I’m publishing this FREE on @medium. Don’t buy courses from scam artists who’ve never worked on real brands. I’ve got 20 years and I know what I’m talking about. I’m also considering in-person trainings at the corporate or individual level (not free). I don’t want to do courses as I teach best in front of people.
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I’m going to finish this book. I’m going to try to leave my house and network a little more with people I dig. And I’m trying to get to the East coast before March to see my peeps.
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And I’m going to fight for financial stability and be kind to myself!!
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Let’s do this!!! Tell me what you’re doing. And hey, if it’s surviving know that is an achievement in and of itself.
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#bigenergy #bigmagic #tuesdaymotivation #newyear #instayum #cannoli #bigplans #realshit #letsdothis
  • Instead I wrote SIXTY pieces, of which I’m so proud. I wrote over 200K words, which is like 3 books considering my last novel clicked in at 70K words. I feel good having written my way through some of my most darkest moments. Haven’t read my stuff? That’s sad for you, my friend. Resolve that by hitting the link in my profile. Also, big love to @omgstephlol. .
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#amwriting #weekendvibes #authorsofinstagram #medium #icantgoonillgoon #beckettquoteibviously

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