100 Books Reading Challenge

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Started a reading challenge project mid-spring. The goal: read 100 books by summer in a year. I’m inching along, albeit at a slower pace than I’d like. Figured posting the list on my blog would hold me accountable–also, I get to share cool books!

So here’s a list of books I’ve reading; I plan to update every 10 books or so. If you have any book recommendations, I’d love to hear them! 🙂

  1. One! Hundred! Demons!, Lynda Barry
  2. James and the Giant Peach, Roald Dahl
  3. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Sherman Alexie
  4. Here, Richard McGuire
  5. Zombie Survival Guide, Max Brooks
  6. Burned, Ellen Hopkins
  7. Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, Mindy Kaling
  8. Walking Dead 1, Robert Kirkman
  9. Walking Dead 2, Robert Kirkman
  10. I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelous
  11. Milk and Honey, Rupi Kaur
  12. Partner Track, Helen Wan
  13. Girl, Interrupted, Susanna Kaysen
  14. Kafka, R. Crumb
  15. Project Jennifer, Jill Rosenblatt
  16. Dignity, Donna Hicks
  17. Can We Talk About Something More Pleasant, Roz Chast
  18. Ginny Moon, Benjamin Ludwig
  19. Autobiography of Barefoot Gen, Nakazawa Keji
  20. Meow Meow, Jose Fonollosa
  21. Beautiful Darkness, Fabien Vehlmann
  22. Phenomenal Woman, Maya Angelou
  23. The Skin Above My Knees, Marcia Butler
  24. Essential Poems (To Fall in Love With), Daisy Goodwin
  25. Sailing Alone Around the Room, Billy Collins
  26. Future Tense, Paintings by Alex Gross
  27. Why Not Me?, Mindy Kaling
  28. Thirst, Poems by Mary Oliver
  29. Global Street Art, Lee Boffkin
  30. Men Without Women, Haruki Murakami
  31. Vintage Cisneros, Sandra Cisneros 
  32. Have You Seen Marie, Sandra Cisneros
  33. Woman Hollering Creek, Sandra Cisneros
  34. The Quiet Eye: A Way of Looking at Pictures, Sylvia Judson
  35. Blue Nights, Joan Didion 
  36. The House on Mango Street, Sandra Cisneros
  37. This is How You Lose Her, Junot Diaz
  38. The Embassy of Cambodia, Zadie Smith

(Updated Sept 18, 2017)

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The Time Junot Diaz Talked At Me

junot diaz 2.jpgTwo years ago, Pulitzer Prize-winning Junot Diaz stood in front of a packed auditorium and read to us a passage from his book, This is How You Lose Her. It’s the story where Yunior cheats on his girlfriend, Alma, who has a “long tender horse neck” and grew up in Hoboken, “part of the Latino community that got its heart burned out in the eighties”.

Diaz read slowly. Enunciated. And we were captivated.

Except I didn’t know who he was. Someone in the news room just said he was famous. I didn’t put two and two together to realize that this Junot Diaz was the Junot Diaz, author of Drown, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. So the significance of seeing–being read to by–Junot Diaz in the flesh did not occur to me as I pointed my massive camera towards him. Click. He said something to me about him not doing anything particularly cool. So why was I pointing the camera all up in his face? (Hey, I’m just here with the newspaper) Looking back, though, he talked at me. 

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Diaz talked about collective student insecurity. And fragmented activism, and what to do about it. He talked about a whole slew of things that I jotted down in Notes even though I wasn’t even the one writing an article about him.

I googled him later and then it hit me–he’d written the Cheater’s Guide to Love, the one I read in the New Yorker summer of 2013. The first time I read the story I awoke drenched in sweat and read it again and again. Some of the metaphors I repeated over and over, tucked into my mind, then toyed with for years afterwards.

I write this as I finish reading This is How You Lose Her for the sixth (or seventh) time.

Art, Shells and Inner Worlds

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Even though I see drawing and photography as, well, mostly solitary pursuits, ironically they act as ways I can connect with others. Or–if connecting’s too strong a word–at least sparking conversations with strangers. On airplanes, in libraries, in coffeeshops, on piers, etc. Sometimes we’ll talk briefly for two minutes–oh, what’re you drawing? or, I take photographs, too–and other times, for several hours.

For a while I worked on a photography project called the 100 Strangers Project. I’d talk to strangers (something I often do anyways), photograph them, then write about their stories on my blog. I guess it was a way of recording the conversations I’d had with so many different people, people whose paths I’d likely never cross again. These conversations were sprinkled across cities, across the country. Usually we’d bond over something small, or something that we shared in common (or maybe we didn’t). The person was an avid traveler and had visited my home country; they liked video games, too, and recommended one I’d play years later; we shared the same taste in weird TV shows, and their favorite was one that’d soon become my own. And like the quote that “everyone you meet has something to teach you”, I’d always learn something new about the person.

I stopped working on the project a few months ago–I’m notoriously bad at finishing what I start. Writing the descriptions also felt–what’s the word?–contrived, and I felt self-conscious, and so I’d have all these portraits and stories but I’d be too afraid to write them down. I still talk to strangers; I don’t take as many pictures, but I remember the few strangers I wrote about quite vividly. I remember their faces, the spaces where we met, the point in our conversation where you could tell they felt passionately about xyz. And that’s what I’d write about. Some of them emailed me afterwards, or vice versa, to say hi or follow up, to send links or snippets from their book.

A poet whose name I forgot wrote about how, without our inner worlds, we are merely shells. And we all have inner worlds. Sometimes we just get so wrapped up in our own that we forget, or simply don’t engage with, those of others–particularly strangers. We do it all the time. Talking with them and hearing their stories reminds me to peer outside my turtlish shell from time to time.

Indie Throwback Playlist

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The kind you might drunkenly sing at the top of your lungs in the middle of the night post-Comedy house laughs, boozy Oreo milkshakes and whirring pinball games that you win by, oh, thirty million points.

  1. Someday, The Strokes
  2. Take Me Out, Franz Ferdinand
  3. Young Folks, Peter Bjorn and John
  4. Riptide, Vance Joy
  5. Where Did Your Heart Go Missing?, Rooney
  6. Midnight City, M83
  7. Ho Hey, The Lumineers
  8. Tighten Up, The Black Keys
  9. I Wanna Be Yours, Arctic Monkeys
  10.  A-Punk, Vampire Weekend
  11. Oxford Comma, Vampire Weekend
  12. Float On, Modest Mouse
  13. Mardy Bum, Arctic Monkeys
  14. What You Know, Two Door Cinema Club
  15. Stolen Dance, Milky Dance
  16. Are You Gonna Be My Girl, Jet
  17. Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked, Cage The Elephant
  18. No You Girls, Franz Ferdinand
  19. Sweet Disposition, The Temper Trap
  20. Welcome to the Black Parade, My Chemical Romance

(Honestly I’m so happy right now my heart might just explode.)

An Update (Raises Juicebox)

disposable film 35mm photography philadelphia architectureHe-llo, world, WordPress, world of WordPress. I haven’t been on the past week since–as you may or may not know–it’s the first week of school. And so I’ve been getting into the school grind, seeing friends, going to class, wandering around campus. Most things haven’t changed–my best friendship and our musical jams; talking to strangers in coffeeshops; subsisting primarily on food truck food. And yet other things have–I have my own space (insert gentle chorus of angels); there’s a new wave of freshman….and I can’t think of the last difference.

Anyhow. It’s nice being back, albeit a little noisy. I forget how loud the city can be. I’m still getting settled in, but that’s probably not entirely true, since I currently have copious amounts of free-time. Even so, I haven’t been writing or drawing much. The most art I’ve really done is some figure drawing in an old sketchbook. I used that sketchbook most during my second year second semester, probably one of the (literally) sunniest semesters I’ve had here. I’d carry it around, then sketch the people around me: classmates, teachers, strangers, you name it. A girl at the cafe saw my sketchbook two days ago, started talking to me, and then we spoke for two hours.

My best friend is happy. And I, too, am happy. Yesterday I joked about how, after all these years, our moods had finally synced up. When she first met me, I was sad. A year later, she was sad. And now, finally, we are no longer sad, but content and happy, musical like chirping birds. For a few hours I sat at the piano playing songs by ear while she belted them in a crowded lobby. I used to live there, felt self-conscious of how many people were by the piano. But it was different yesterday, because neither she nor I cared about who was there, so it was easier to jam without hesitation.

In retrospect, most life dampeners from the years before were people-related. Antagonized roommates, confused people (?), sad friends, not-particularly-helpful-advice-bellowing acquaintances. That, for a handful of reasons, probably won’t be as much of an issue this year. For whatever reason, the actual school part–where you do homework and take tests–was never quite as stressful as the emotionally-knotted people situations. I can handle a school curriculum. I cannot, however, handle a bunch of mixed emotions and passive aggressive text and noisy people.

But, well, obviously not all people are aggravating. A few days ago I watched The Conjuring with my friend, posed as a freshman to get into a poorly executed dessert reception; got bubble tea and played Connect Four; introduced my past froomie to Chewing Gum; walked past the bridge to get sno-cones; caught up with the best. When I talk about my schedule, the people in my life chuckle about it. After taking, for whatever absurd reason, a 9 AM my first year, I quickly resolved to have a manageable schedule where I can sleep like a panda, eat like a cat, and do well.

I’m excited. Here’s to a good year. -raises juicebox-