Mid-month update: July 2018

Halfway through July, the count is 6 books, and a total of 79 books for the year. I think I’m about 2-3 books behind where I should be in 2018, but hopefully I can make it up some time in the next few months.

Notable reads in July so far:

Helen Hoang The Kiss Quotient I’ve heard that this romance about a heroine with autism and a male escort is this year’s The Hating Game (Sally Thorne), which I loved. I read The Kiss Quotient while travelling and expected it to be a little cheesy, a little forced, but it wasn’t. It was a classic romance, although I had some thoughts about how the interracial dynamics were represented. It was a very easy but not a light, read.

Sally Franson A Lady’s Guide to Selling Out I didn’t have a lot of expectations for this beyond being a peppy, Buzzfeedy take on millenial life, love and creativity – it was that, and more. The heroine, Casey Pendergast, is a Literature graduate who now works in PR and marketing and is a genius at social media and image curation – and and at the start of the novel, moving into working with writers. She’s also genuine, idealistic, and very likeable as a character. There are excellent observations on feminism and how misogyny breaks you, a little bit at a time, and on the doublethink and mulitple gazes involved in social media, and the prose is really lovely in parts. The lines that stood out to me were the lines about reading, because they’re familiar but still true, always true: “Because books, the good ones, the ones you hold on to and come back to, they never disappoint. They’re the best kind of escape because, instead of leading you away from yourself, they end up circling you back to yourself, nice and easy, helping you see things not just as they are, but as you are too.

And though you’d think this circling would be the last thing you’d want, seeing as escapism was what you were after in the first place, it ends up being the best part. Because the people who made those books, they put themselves on the line to do so. They spent a long time working; they gave you the best of what lay inside them, though this may have hurt them too. And you can feel that in the good books; you might even call that feeling love. A feeling so much better than distraction, than pleasure, than obliteration, but boy, so much harder to do.”

These lines may not necessarily stand out by themselves, divorced from context, but I liked them, and I really liked this book. I think because I myself do believe in the ability and yearning of literature to stretch the “capacities of the human heart”, and that the best novels are the most generous as well as the most ruthless. “We must help people face who they are without flinching.”

Andrew Sean Greer Less This year’s Pulitzer prize winner – I don’t know that this extended travelogue about a middle-aged white writer going on a trip around the world to avoid his ex-lover’s wedding, as the book puts it, invited my immediate sympathy or empathy. As the novel itself acknowledges, this is a kind of hero it is difficult to sympathize with. But it’s gentle, and tender, and compassionate in its handling and unfolding of love lost, real relationships amidst flamboyance and facetiousness. It didn’t make me want to seek out the author’s other novels, but it gave me a melancholy feeling that lingered, and I was rooting for the hero by the end.

I’m a few chapters in to Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, and Middlesex has been nudging at the corners of my mind, so I’d like to finish those by the end of July.

Til then, happy reading!

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(Belated) June 2018 Round-Up, Book Haul and Mid-Year Expense Report

I didn’t manage to finish any books after the mid-month round-up, so my June count remains at 9 books. What I did manage to finish: two conference papers, a book chapter I’ve been struggling with for 6 months, and a trip to Sydney and New Zealand for the biannual IASPR and my inaugural PopCAANZ conference!

I also did start a whole slew of new books, so hopefully July will be more productive.

In the meantime, my expense report for June:

Amazon UK: GBP44.76 (approx 80.71BND)

Conference books (4 Filipina romance novels): 28AUD (approx 28BND)

for a total of BND108.71 for the month of June! I’m pretty happy with that.

So my mid-year expense report is (BND):

Jan: 227.4

Feb: 236.9

March: 502.92

April: 336.35

May: 202.99

June: 108.71

Total: 1615.27BND

Average per month: 269.2BND

I’m not quite sure yet what to do with this information – at this point, I just want to monitor it and at the end of the year decide if this expenditure is sustainable, irresponsible, or necessary. I do find that although obviously I don’t read all the books I buy at once, I do eventually read them over the years, and I find it helpful for my own reading goals to have a variety of books to hand for whatever mood I’m in. I do fortunately also find that the things I read for enjoyment eventually end up in my work (see: representations of Brunei in non-Bruneian novels, SEA fiction, pop romance), so I think of my book expenditure partially as work-incurred expenses. I have also enjoyed tracking where I’ve bought my books from – so far I’ve bought from 7 different countries this year, which is a fun fact (for meeee). I have unformed but plentiful thoughts about global distribution networks, which I’ll try to articulate at some point.

Anyway, I managed to trawl through a few secondhand and independent bookstores in Auckland, so here’s a picture of some of the books I bought. I also bought a few novels at the Melbourne airport on the last leg home but they aren’t pictured here.

So here we are at the end of the first half of 2018! Onwards, and may the second half be a time of fruitfulness and productivity for all.

In about a week I’ll have a mid-month round-up for July 2018, and I’ve read a couple of interesting ones so far, so that should be fun! (Bodes well for July)

Photo 7-5-18, 9 31 10 AM

This, along with a a few others, was waiting for me when I got back home, yay! I like to forget what I’ve ordered from BookDepo so that when it finally arrives it’s like an unexpected gift from past Kat to present Kat.

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Daily Reads

Sites I read regularly aka The Black Holes I fall into when I’m procrastinating:

Advice Columns

AskAManager : Has helped me through many work situations and generally in my understanding of professionalism and boundaries at work. (Her book recommendations are also spot on)

Dear Prudence: Have read this column for years, before Daniel Mallory Ortberg took it over. I don’t agree with Daniel-as-Prudie’s advice as much as I did the previous columnist, but still worth reading for the truly bananas problems that people have. I miss The Toast! (Have just started subscribing to The Shatner Chatner)

Captain Awkward: More advice! More problems which are evidence of how strange and rich and occasionally awful this human tapestry is.

General Interest

Buzzfeed: To temper the horror that is world news with daily dose of memes

Cup of Jo: Love the motherhood around the world series, beauty uniforms, recipes, and Mari Andrew. Also, the weekly link round-up game is strong with this one

The Billfold: I am kepoh about people’s finances. Used to love Mr Money Mustache as well, but haven’t read it recently. Minimalism and finances were very interconnected for me at one point, so I also loved Becoming Minimalist and Zen Habits, but again, have not read those regularly for a while.

May these serve as comforting, reliable sanctuaries for the procrastinatory out there.

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Mid month round up for June 2018!

9 books by mid-June, planting me squarely in 73 books for the year.

Of note:

Aisha Malik For You, I Do The second halal romance from this Bruneian writer about two doctors in a KL hospital – I found the women in this novel grating – every woman apart from the heroine is portrayed as too skinny, too bitchy, too motherly, too fierce, in order to show how the heroine, a domestic, family oriented goddess despite her brainy doctor brain, is ultimately perfect. The hero is also a bit strange in his fetishization of the heroine’s petiteness and femininity. It all just felt a bit Perempuan Melayu Terakhir. BUT it was very readable and well-crafted and wish-fulfillment-y and on that level enjoyable.

Aammton Alias How I Became a Self-Published Author: The Journey to 51,000 words I’ve read this Bruneian writer’s fiction and thought it needed much much sterner editing to ruthlessly trim and shape what was a somewhat indulgent and bloated narrative. This memoir is much more likeable and the voice is stronger and clearer here. There are moments where Alias writes away from what is most interesting – why he wants to write, what the awakening was, why the urgency and need for speed, and we don’t really know much about him at all, but there is some useful stuff on the mechanics of self-publishing. It’s not a balanced view by any means, but certainly that makes it more enjoyable and authentic. There isn’t much self-reflection in this memoir, or self-interrogation, which means it is less honest, and therefore less compelling than it could be, but its an earnest, eager plea that reaches out and feels genuine.

Sarah Winman Tin Man A woman buys a painting of sunflowers, and opens up horizons and beauty and a glimpse at a world that is so much more for two boys, who become men, who love each other and others and who make of that love a quiet, lovely thing that endures and expresses itself in ways that grow and deepen and broaden. There are brief but lingering moments where the novel shows itself aware of all the ways that love can twist and warp and turn dark and ugly, but then steps quietly away from them anyway.

I also read Susanna Clarke’s The Ladies of Grace Adieu, which is a fun accompaniment to Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, which I loved; Joanne Harris’ Different Class, a dark thriller set in a boys school and which smells of must and dust; Jasmine Guillory’s The Wedding Date which is a fun but unmemorable interracial romcom.

Not much else – I don’t think there have been a ton of good reads lately, but I’m turning to oldies but ostensibly goodies now – Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, Sarah Waters’ Fingersmith and Andrea Levy’s Small Island – which I’m looking forward to.

Newishly I have Nalini Singh’s Ocean Light and Ahmed Saadawi’s Frankenstein in Baghdad on the go.

Eid Mubarak!

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May 2018 Round-Up

Number of books read in May: 14

Amount of money spent on books in May: BND202.99 (Amazon UK, Book Depository, Best Eastern)

Books of note:

Emily Fridlund History of Wolves (Atmospheric, sinister, deeply sad for its depiction of how limited horizons can lead to stunted, empty, longing lives. Key words: Christian Science, cults and parental negligence, northern Minnesota. I agree with this review that the mood is a bit one-note after a while. )

Jodie Archer and Matthew L. Jockers The Bestseller Code (I’ve been reading this for months, a chapter at a time, and finally finished it in May. An empirical study of bestsellers, how gender influences writing, how plot influences readers viscerally, how first sentences draw in the reader. You can read about all these things elsewhere, of course, but this is the first time I’ve read an attempt at a primarily empirical approach to discourse and linguistic analysis of literature. A loooot of numbers to take in, best read a bit at the time rather than all at once.)

Zen Cho Sorcerer to the Crown (British wizards and witches, some Malaysian vampires and magic thrown in, strong flawed female characters and a really good hero)

Elizabeth Busar Pious Fashion: How Muslim Women Dress (this one is a bit more academic – I was co-reading this with a friend, and really enjoyed the experience of discussing it in real time. Case studies of Tehran, Yogyakarta and Istanbul, and some great observations about the process of reading aesthetics, the relationship between aesthetics and piety, and the terminological use of “pious” rather than “modest” fashion. Loved the accompanying photographs, which were often obtained in collaboration with local fashion bloggers, and wished there had been more of them!)

AJ Pearce Dear Mrs. Bird (Heartwarming and gentle British wartime novel – London in the midst of bombing raids, heroine who helps to write an advice column, lovely cast of supporting characters. For fans of A Man Called Ove, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society etc.)

As of the 1st of June 2018 I had read 64 books, so just about on target for the 150 books in 2018 goal. So far in June I’ve read Ruth Ware’s In a Dark Dark Wood (very good thriller) and am almost exactly halfway through Jeffrey Eugenides’ Middlesex, which is very readable but very very very sprawling and long. I’m also a couple of chapters into Frances Hardinge’s Cuckoo Song, which is creepalicious so far, and am supposed to start co-reading Carl Sagan’s Cosmos. All yay!

At the end of June I should have read 75 books to stay on target, which means I need to read 11 books in June.

Ramadan Kareem to all.

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May 2018 mid-month Round-Up

Here we are, almost mid-way through 2018 and two days into Ramadan. One of my favourite things about Ramadan is that the government work day finishes at 2pm – you have SO much extra time in the day to do non-work things, it’s almost like having an extra day. Normally one has to squeeze all one’s leisure activities into those 5 hours between the end of the work day and bedtime – having these extra hours to oneself is literally Bonus Time.

So! 19 days into May and I’ve read 8 books, putting me at 58 for the year. Yesterday in a moment of madness I briefly contemplated trying to finish 30 books in Ramadan, but thankfully my More Reasonable Self awakened and laughed me out of it. I would like to read more this month, however, so am going to try and hit 20 books in Ramadan. In years past I’ve tried to read more Muslim books during this month, but I have a ton of TBRs to get through so I don’t know if I’ll be able to do that this year.

In any case, here are some of the books of note so far in May!

Samira Ahmed Love, Hate & Other Filters This one got a lot of hype on Twitter, but I wasn’t that interested because it seemed a little too similar to Saints and Misfits  – American-Muslim YA fiction, high school drama (I love all of these things) – but I saw it in Best Eastern a couple of weeks ago, so I picked it up. I’m glad I did, because it was a really great read and while there are some overlaps with Saints and Misfits, no more so than with any other American YA fiction. What I liked most about Love, Hate & Other Filters is that the character’s Muslimness felt a lot more familiar and knowable to me than in Saints and Misfits – Maya Aziz is a nominally practicing Muslim who doesn’t cover, but feels guilty about kissing her Muslim suitor, wearing a bathing suit, and is a little bit shocked when she sees Muslims drinking alcohol. She’s an aspiring filmmaker, and the novel itself is just very gentle coming-of-age, with the added conflict coming from Islamophobic hate crimes perpetrated against her family and herself, with the consequence that her doctor parents are worried about letting her go to another state for college. The love interests aren’t binary Bad Suitor, Good Suitor, so that’s fun. I would have loved a novel like this when I was a teenager myself and reading tons of SVH – reading about a Muslim American in that setting, with those romance and growing up tropes would have been lovely – but I think I may have now aged out of that demographic. I look forward to more from this writer.

John Price Notes from the Jungle: Teaching Abroad in an International School I was doing a google sweep of any new stuff on Bruneian lit and came across this – not new, having been published in 2009, but definitely new to me. Written by the former headmaster of JIS, it’s supposed to be an expose of sorts about teaching in international schools. It is neither scandalous nor very interesting – the narrative follows one year of headmastering in JIS, interspersed rather clunkily and awkwardly with excerpts or full reproductions of some articles Price wrote for the Brunei Times while he was their education correspondent (“I get two hundred smackers for each article! Clearly they are desperate for copy.”)

I was skeptical from the start – that title, while meant to be tongue-in-cheek, is the kind of old-fashioned, dismissive, laughing bigotry that so many older expatriates in Brunei who scoff at “political correctness” also dismiss as harmless joking. “Harmless” because it doesn’t harm them, except in the way that poor manners and lack of empathy harms one’s own sensitivity to the rightness and wrongness of things, in the long run. Much of the mild offensiveness in this memoir is in the same vein; well-intentioned but tone deaf – Price cracks jokes about international school teachers, but they at least get names, even if he mentions them in passing – Trevor, Arthur, whatever. Bruneians are “the boys in the market”, “the Chinese doctor”, “Asian students”, nameless, faceless, a blurry backdrop. Price admires Maugham and his depiction of “a strange breed of men and women who left sedate English life for an existence that was altogether more feral”. He also admires JAMES BROOKE “who, despite his swashbuckling colonial attitudes, invites our admiration”. (Reminiscent of this article about the upcoming film, in which Brooke’s entire colonial history is described as “an incredible romantic adventure” about a man who “had a dream of something different, a wilder and more vivid life”. The entire history of Brunei and Malaysia seems to be a vehicle to romanticize Brooke as adventurer.) In the same way, Price uses his “snake stories” in Brunei as cultural capital back home in Britain – the exotic made spectacle over and over and over again. He misspells Dusun, Supasave etc, but I guess these words, like Brunei, are unimportant in and of themselves – they are important only for how he can turn them into an anecdote.

Despite these rage inducing moments, the most offensive thing about the memoir, which, like I said, I think is generally well-intentioned, is that it is stultifyingly boring when he starts in on his thoughts about international schools and how they should be run – none of these thoughts are particularly ground-breaking and they seem to harken back to an older, Eton-informed time.

Curtis Sittenfeld You Think It, I’ll Say It I’ve not read any of Sittenfeld’s work before, although Prep regularly makes it onto my Amazon wish list,  but this collection of short stories definitely makes me want to look at her novels. The first story is written in Hillary Clinton’s voice, about her encounters with the same female journalist over her political career. There’s another piece about a female journalist later on in the collection which is a nice comparison point. It’s a collection about chance meetings that are imbued with the kind of significance that doesn’t shape a life, but reveals character, reveals the person we want to be and the person we really are. How much pettier, and grander, we are, than the narratives we impose on our lives at the end of it all. I really really liked this collection.

Marjane Satrapi Embroideries I read the Persepolis books a long long time ago, and funnily enough I bought them a few months ago meaning to re-read them, when a friend sent me Embroideries, with this article. I liked it although felt a bit confused at one point – I wondered if the copy my friend had lent me was missing a few pages, because the narrative had jumped. But we figured out that that was the narrative style. Women discussing sex, femininity, freedom.

Fun fact: I also read an Iranian romance novel this month! More on that at a later date.

R.L. Stine The Dead Boyfriend and Give me a K-I-L-L Also from Best Eastern, these two were fun fluffy easy reads, no real chills or thrills, but was funny to see how Stine has updated his points of reference for teenage girls. Sephora makes an appearance! Also the same pick -up line appears in both books: “Let me guess your name,” teenage dude flirts. “It’s Tabitha/Cindy/something equally unlikely”. “Yes,” teenage girl flirts back. “How did you know?” And of course that’s not really her name, she’s just playing along.

Yeah, I don’t really know either. Hahaha.

On we march through May! Ramadan Kareem and if anyone can tell me what time Gerai Ramadhan closes after sungkai, I would very much appreciate it. Kuih Malaya dreamz.

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April Round-Up (On track for 2018 goal!)

In April I read 12 books, which is a pretty solid effort! More importantly, that means that at the end of the first third of 2018 I’ve read 50 books. Math tells me that that means I’m on track to hit my 150 book target for the year.

I’ve covered most of the notable reads for the month here, and I only have one more to add to that: Meena Kandasamy’s When I Hit You, a fiction-non-fiction novel about a woman trapped in an abusive marriage. This was a beautiful, distant read, cerebral and ruthless, a woman constantly using her intellect and education to distance herself from the physicality and illogic of what was happening in her marriage. Her ability to view what was happening to her with the perspective of an outsider, through the lens of everything she’d read and knew, was what helped her survive – her insistence on writing the narrative of her life while she was living it, was a fierce, powerful, invincible flame.

I’ve read this sentiment in a handful of other novels – as long as you can still think about how you’re going to tell the story of what is happening to you, you’re still okay. You can still survive whatever is happening. It will not break you, not utterly, not completely. Narrative as salvation, narrative as survival. I believe in this, so much.

I was held at arms length from When I Hit You, forced back but also forced to watch. The addendum at the end, a review telling us who needs to read this book, was so perfectly placed and written it almost felt like part of the book.

Expense Report for April 2018

Amazon UK: 31.8GBP

Kinokuniya Singapore: 262.25

Best Eastern Brunei: 16.8

Total: 337BND

Funnily enough, when I sat down to do this expensing, I thought I hadn’t spent that much on books this month. Perception VS Data. Sigh.

To end April, here are two pictures of my re-organized TBR piles, now down to two from what had hitherto been uncountable lumps of books scattered dustily and spider-attractingly around.

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