David Baker: Whale Fall

I read all the poems from Baker’s Whale Fall, but I didn’t fully get them. For example, I like the vibe in “Extinction,” but I am not sure what he’s talking about:

When you are gone they will read your footprints,
if they still read, as they might a poem about love—
wandering in circles, here and there obscured,
washed out in places by weather, sudden landslide.
Keep walking, pilgrim. This is your great tale.

I need to keep learning about poetry by reading more poetry.

Nicholas Montemarano: If There Are Any Heavens

I read Nicholas Montemarano’s memoir in one sitting and my eyes were watery. My sister and I went through what Nicholas and Jen had gone through. Our mothers fought fiercely against Covid, but they didn’t make it. I captured my experience through my blog posts while Nicholas captured his through poetic prose—what a heartbreakingly beautiful book.

I cried alone like Montemarano had eloquently expressed:

it was easier to cry alone
and I hoped that no one
would walk past and see me
and I hoped that someone
would walk past and see me
and ask are you ok
I prayed that my mother
would remain peaceful
and free from pain
and would be taken soon
though I didn’t want her to be taken

Maya C. Popa: Wound Is the Origin of Wonder

Maya C. Popa inspired me to read poetry and to started to post my favorite poems on this blog. I just read through her latest collection in Wound Is the Origin of Wonder. I don’t understand everything she has written, but my favorites are: “Dear Life,” “They Are Building a Hospital,” and “Not the Wound, But What the Wound Implies.” I’ll definitely reread this collection a few more times to see if I can figure out the meaning behind her lyrical poems.

Cường Phạm: The Red Boat Fish Sauce Cookbook

The introduction is an intriguing read. Cường Phạm shares his journey in making his pure, premium fish sauce. The recipes look a-okay. The design and the photography are decent. The sans-serif textface is a missed opportunity. It would be fine for listing the ingredients, but serif typeface for reading text would have been much better.

Verlyn Klinkenborg: Several Short Sentences About Writing (Reread)

I first read this book in 2017. I picked up a used copy recently and decided to reread it. Klinkenborg’s prose is so damn good. Here’s his advice on writing:

Learn to write anywhere, at any time, in any conditions,
With anything, starting from nowhere.
All you really need is your head, the one indispensable requirement.

Here’s his advice on editing:

It’s true that the simplest revision is deletion.
But there’s often a fine sentence lurking within a bad sentence,
A better sentence hiding under a good sentence.
Work word by word until you discover it.
Don’t try to fix an existing sentence with minimal effort,
Without reimagining it.
You can almost fix never a sentence—
Or find the better sentence within it—
By using only the words it already contains.
If they were the right words already, the sentence probably wouldn’t need fixing.
And yet writers sit staring at a flawed sentence as if it were a Rubik’s Cube,
Trying to shift the same words round and round until they find the solution.
Take note of this point: it will save you a lot of frustration.
This applies to paragraphs too.
You may not be able to fix the paragraph using only the sentences it already contains.

It’s definitely a book to keep around to improve my writing.

Winnie M Li: Complicit

Li’s writing is clear and comprehensible. The pace is a bit slow though. After reading more than 100 pages, I started to lose interest in a 400-page novel. Maybe my interest isn’t in the sexual misconduct behind the film industry. It might be more suitable for relaxing beach reading. I might pick it up again over the summer.

Bobby Gillespie: Build Your Brand Like You Give a Shit

When it comes to building a brand, Bobby doesn’t beat around the bush. As a brand clarity expert who has been in the business for over two decades helping his clients clarifying their brands, Bobby keeps it fucking real. By focusing on the core message, he taps into the heart and soul of a brand. In his new book, he brings the same authenticity, audacity, and personality onto the page. From success stories to unforeseeable mistakes, Bobby puts everything on the line because his brand is his reputation. His writing is as authoritative as it is informative. If you give a shit about building your brand through leadership and compassion, this book is for you.

47 Books Read in 2022

This year I read 47 books, 2 more than last year. I read way less nonfiction than fiction. Now that I am into novels with imaginative stories, I can’t go back reading facts. I get bored to quickly.

I read Vietnamese books (fiction and nonfiction) way less. The Fairfax Public Libraries acquired less and less each year and the collection was not engaging. I am hoping to pick up more engaging Vietnamese books so I alternate between English and Vietnamese or read them simultaneously. Switching between two languages sounds like fun.

Whether fiction or no fiction, I chose to read more Asian-American authors. I started to read poetry much more this year. Reading poetry to me is like learning a new language. Even though I know most of the words, I cannot understand the entire poem. Reading poetry reminds me of reading English when I first came to America. I just keep reading the words until I can figure out what the heck I am reading. I also created a poetry category to archive all the poems and rap lyrics I came across that I liked.

My goal for 2023 is to keep reading.

Morgan Parker: Other People’s Comfort Keeps Me Up at Night

“Morgan What, Morgan Who?” You can’t knock a poet who plays off Jay-Z. “Boys, Boys, Boys” is another riff on Hov’s classic. Parker’s poems have the cadance, the muse, and the audacity. I enjoyed her debut collection, including the shortest piece, “Young, Sassy, and Black”:

I use these words
to distract you.

Rio Cortez: Golden Ax

In her collection of autobiographical poems, Cortez tells the story of Afrofrontierism. She reflects on her enslaved family and her own experience. The history and the poetry are way over my head, but I enjoyed what I could grasp. “Black Lead in a Nancy Meyers Film,” she writes:

Aging, at all. I want that. And to fall
perhaps most honestly in love
beside the ocean, in a home I’ve paid
for by doing as I like: drinking good
wine, dusting sugar over a croissant, or
the stage play I’m writing myself into.
Aging Black woman in neutral summer
turtleneck. Known. And jogging. Lonesome
enough. Eating homemade lavender
ice cream, the moon blooming
through the kitchen window. The distant
sound of waves. Learning
French as a second language.
Votre pâte merveilleux, I smile back.
And then, just like that! Falling, cautiously,
for my busy, middle-aged lover,
who needs me, but has never truly seen me
until now. Our Black friends, celebrating
with hors d’oeuvres. Our Black children,
growing older.