I’m a quarter of the way through my 2018 book challenge! This year’s goal was 40, and three months in, I have read 13 books.
The past couple months have been full of scary and exciting changes. In February, I quit my full-time advertising job. I worked at an amazing company for two years and enjoyed my time there, but now I’m looking for an opportunity that’s a better fit for me long term. As poet Francois Rabelais put it, I “go to seek a Great Perhaps.” As a modern teenager would put it, YOLO.
As such, I didn’t finish any books in February. But I have read 9 since leaving, some of which have already become my favorites. I’ve gotten so book-crazy that I’ve taken to borrowing e-books from my previous beau, the Orange Country Library System, in order to circumvent the 5-hold maximum that the Chicago Public Library has so violently imposed on me.
In this interlude between jobs, I’ve also taken the time to rededicate myself to writing and literature for my own enjoyment. I’ve gotten the chance to attend readings from authors like André Aciman, Elif Batuman, Martin Amis, and Hanif Abdurraqib, and I have a lot more readings, book launches, and open mics I plan on going to in the next couple months.
Anyway, onto the reviews!
The Financial Diet: A Total Beginner’s Guide to Getting Good with Money by Chelsea Fagan and Lauren Ver Hage
I’ve been following The Financial Diet since it was a personal Tumblr blog from Chelsea Fagan, a writer that I’d been following for years. TFD was my introduction to personal finance, and I can honestly say that it has demystified money for me. It got me used to the concepts of budgeting, paying myself first, living below my means, saving for a rainy day, cooking instead of buying takeout or prepared foods.
As I mentioned above, I quit my job without a backup and now I’m living off my savings until I find a career that’s more meaningful to me. I never would’ve been able to take that risk, to bet on myself, without the lessons I learned from this site.
As for the book, I think it’s a great primer for people who are new to personal finance concepts. In addition to learning about budgets, investing, mortgages, etc., you’ll also find guides on how to talk to your friends about money and what ingredients you can use to jump-start your kitchen. It’s witty, honest, and offers a refreshing outlook on money and living a balanced life.
Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House by Michael Wolff
I am a dirty, coastal-elite, fake-news, snowflake, feminazi, safe-space-loving Democrat. No one was more seduced by the promise of a tell-all book about the Trump administration than I was. I’m a serial library user but I bought this one the day it came out.
I came into this book knowing most of the major players, as I follow politics pretty closely. But even so, I was surprised at the disarray that the White House seemed to be in. Competing power centers, constant leaking, nonexistent structure, all serviced by a total lack of coherent ideology. According to the author, no one from the Trump campaign believed that they would win until they did, so I guess that’s what you get.
I will say that you should take this book with a grain of salt. The author’s accounts and portrayal of the main players have mostly have lined up with what reputable outlets have been saying for the past two years. But there’s a lot of surprising stories and quotations in here that are completely unsourced. Ivanka said X to her father behind closed doors, but according to who? Steve Bannon? It’s important to keep in mind that everyone interviewed for this book has an agenda, and while 99% of it rings true to what I’ve read about the administration, it’s hard to know from Michael Wolff’s journalism style what is fact and what is just pure sniping between political foes.
The Year of Less by Cait Flanders
I’ve been following Cait Flanders’ blog for years, so I was excited to pick this one up. Here, Cait writes about how she got out of consumer debt, embarked on a year-long shopping ban, and embraced minimalism and mindfulness. I will warn you that this is more of a memoir than the self-help guide that the title suggests. If you’re looking for concrete advice, I recommend reading her blog instead of this book. She goes into detail about her struggles with shopping, food, and alcohol in this book, which may not be valuable to you if you’re just seeking budgeting advice.
We Are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby
Probably the funniest and most authentic memoir I’ve ever read. Samantha Irby is incredibly versatile, whether it’s submitting an honest application to the Bachelorette in one essay and writing about her experience spreading her deceased father’s ashes in the next. This book is pretty much perfect, in my opinion.
I read this on my friend Cat’s recommendation, and man, if you are a person who has any friends at all, you should read this. There’s a lot of value to be mined from this book, particularly the author’s three pillars of friendship framework. You could argue that the concepts in this book are no-brainers, and you know, yes, I knew on an intellectual level that being vulnerable is important in building a relationship. But sometimes you need that affirmation.
A few quotes:
- “Relationship work is a form of exercise that we do to keep healthy.”
- “I will take responsibility for bringing my best self to this relationship.”
- “Positivity must outweigh negativity in a relationship 5:1.”
- “It’s a sign of maturity to schedule time with people without needing to know if the relationship will grow or not. It’s the practice of nonattachment, trusting that we will be blessed anytime we have the privilege of sitting with humanity.”
So Much I Want to Tell You: Letters to My Little Sister by Anna Akana
I’m a big fan of Anna Akana’s YouTube videos, but I didn’t expect this book to get so real. This memoir covers how she coped with her sister’s suicide, abusive relationships, binge eating, professional mistakes, and struggles with Internet fame. However, it’s not all negative—she goes into detail about how she got started with comedy/YouTube and offers advice on how to pursue your own creative projects, which I found inspiring since I’ve started writing more seriously.
I haven’t read any other memoirs from YouTubers, but I highly doubt that they go as deep as this one did.
Long Story Short: The Only Storytelling Guide You’ll Ever Need by Margot Leitman
I picked this up on a whim while at the Amazon bookstore on Southport. I can’t go to a bookstore anymore without walking out $40 poorer. Maybe I like shiny new objects. Maybe it’s the deep deprivation I feel when waiting for the Chicago Public Library to just fulfill my damn holds already.
At any rate, this book was full of advice and prompts for telling great stories. It was a nice catalyst for me in the times that I felt uninspired, silently screaming to the void, “What do I even write about?!” This book is geared more toward the layman than the aspiring comedian, so if you work in a field that concerns storytelling or just want to be a better conversationalist, I highly recommend picking this one up.
What a stunning novel. I read it in a single sitting. It’s from the perspective of an unnamed narrator, a Chinese-American grad student who studies chemistry and has come to a crossroads in life. Woven into the narrative are anecdotes from her Chinese upbringing and commentary on the scientific phenomena that parallels her life as she leaves everything behind. I typically don’t like stories that keep the reader at such a distance, but I thought this experimental, minimalist style worked.
The Idiot by Elif Batuman
For the first couple weeks upon finishing this book, I believed that it would actually ruin me for other books.
In The Idiot, Selin is a Harvard freshman and a Turkish immigrant who begins an email correspondence with a classmate, one that will eventually take her to the Hungarian countryside to find herself. This is a book about discovery, first love, and figuring out where you fit in life.
I recognize that some stretches of The Idiot were tedious. It’s a slow burn of a book that is sometimes painstaking in recounting Selin’s everyday life in academia and in Hungary. But so much of it was beautiful and witty and absurd that it doesn’t really matter to me. I think this book came to me at the right point in my life. It’s now one of my favorites.
The author visited Northwestern a couple months ago, and hearing her speak was so inspiring. Have you ever met someone and just been in awe of how…worldly they are? It’s knowledge, it’s thoughtfulness, it’s experience. But it’s also mysterious, a quality that defies explanation. Whatever it may be, she’s great and you should read her book.
Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer
This book had some good ideas and an interesting premise, but the storytelling itself was so abstract that I couldn’t make sense of what was going on or what anything looked like. I rushed to finish this book before I watched the movie. The movie ended up being a lot more exciting in my opinion, though I do think that the main character’s ethos (and what made her interesting) was lost in translation.
Call Me By Your Name by André Aciman
I read this book after I watched the movie and attended the author’s reading. While there was a disparity in my opinion of Annihilation (book vs. movie), I didn’t feel that way with Call Me By Your Name. The book and movie portray the same story in drastically different ways, but it feels more harmonious than anything.
The book is intensely interior, filled with descriptions of the scenery and the main character’s longing. The movie, however, is quiet and atmospheric; you come to understand the characters’ love for each other more by what they don’t say than by what they do say. This article goes into more detail about this conscious decision on the part of the filmmakers.
I found that the book did drag, especially since I already knew what would happen. In fact, when Elio was describing his love for Oliver at the very beginning of the story, I wondered where the novel could even go; it felt like the first 30 pages had already covered the entire plot from the movie. But the author’s prose is so beautiful and intoxicating that I almost feel like the plot didn’t matter, that the journey—and not the destination—was the point.
Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan
I really wanted to love this book, but I only sort of liked it. Crazy Rich Asians is about an Asian American woman who travels to Singapore to meet her boyfriend’s family for the first time. But what her boyfriend neglects to mention is his family’s extreme wealth—the mansions, the private planes, the endless media coverage.
This was a fun story and a departure from what I usually read. The details of this lifestyle—the fashion, the travels, the homes—are really where the book shines. But in the end, I couldn’t get over the awful dialogue and the undeveloped main characters. I waited the entire book for Rachel and Nick to develop distinctive personality traits. It never happened.
I don’t plan on finishing out the series, but I have high hopes for the movie. This story is probably better shown than told anyway.
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
Easily one of the best books I’ve read this year. This is a captivating story about suburban life, with insights on motherhood, art, identity, and race. I read most of it in one sitting, staying up until 2:30 am because I had to know how it ended.
One of the plots centers around an adopted Chinese baby and the custody battle that ensues between the birth mother and the adoptive parents. When I read this on the book jacket, I thought I would know immediately which side I fell on, since I was an adopted Chinese baby myself. But I found myself as conflicted as the townspeople in the story.
I loved how complex the characters were, how they felt like fully imagined human beings. Even more impressive is how the author was able to look upon each of them with sympathy and generosity. That takes a lot of skill, and I can’t wait to read Celeste Ng’s other book.
I have a pretty hefty list of books I would still like to read this year. I want to keep exploring recent literary fiction while also filling in some huge gaps. Like, how can I say I like books when I haven’t even read Jane Austen or Vladimir Nabokov? You have my permission to shame me in the comments.
- Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance by Barack Obama
- Startup by Doree Shafrir
- They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us by Hanif Abdurraqib
- Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
- Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
- South and West: From a Notebook by Joan Didion
- The Middlesteins by Jami Attenberg
- Difficult Women by Roxane Gay
- White Noise by Don Delillo
- Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown
- Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality by Donald Miller
- The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
- Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez
Lastly, feel free to add me on Goodreads! Send me recommendations through whatever medium you prefer! I love hearing about the books you’re reading.