Hendrik Weber: Italic—What Gives Typography Its Emphasis

A brief book exams the role of cursive in typography, provides the history of the cursive style, and explores the construction of the cursive form. The book includes lots of historical examples as well as visual illustrations of italicized letterforms. The English edition is translated by Dan Reynolds. The writing is a bit dense, but it is an informing, intriguing read for type lovers.

Jami Attenberg: I Came All This Way to Meet You

Jami Attenberg writes, “To fuck was divine, but to write was eternal.” In her breathtaking memoir, Attenberg shares her remarkable journey to be a writer. Even though her first few books didn’t do so well, she didn’t give up. She reflects:

Now, nearly twenty years later, I fully understand what the words do for me: when I write, it’s a place I can go to feel safe. It has always worked that way for me, ever since I was a child. The safety of a sentence. The sensation when I push and play with the words is the most pure I will ever feel. The calm space of my mind. I curl up in it. I love when sentences nudge up against each other, when I notice a word out of order and then put it in its correct spot. I can nearly hear a click when I slot it into place. I love making a sentence more powerful, more dramatic or moving or sad. Or when I make a sentence quiet enough that I can almost hear the sound of my own breath. More than anything, I love when a sentence makes me laugh. The words light up for me on the page, showing me what to do, where they want to go. They have always been my best friends in the world. All I need is for a few of them to show up. To soothe me.

In addition to writing, Attenberg reveals personal and intimate details of her life. I appreciate her honesty on friendships, relationships, and self-consciousness. I have to quote the following section in full to remind myself that no one is perfect:

I thought I would be happy by now. I am, for periods of time. I don’t know why I think I deserve to be happy. I’ve done so many things wrong in my life. I’ve lied to protect myself, or for my own benefit. I’ve been mean, said mean things, hurt people’s feelings, and felt justified doing it if I felt they hurt me first. I’ve been selfish, emotionally, physically. I’ve taken what I’ve wanted without asking for it. I’ve been grabby. I’ve taken the last bite. I’ve committed crimes, minor ones, and I suppose it depends on how you feel about the laws of the society anyway, but nonetheless I’ve done these things, knowingly. Stolen things, broken things, vandalized. Consumed illicit substances on both a regular and irregular basis circa 1990 to 2004, and also sometimes still during Carnival season. I’ve cried to get out of a situation. I’ve been grouchy. I’ve yelled at people, lost my temper. I’ve been unfair. I’ve had bad days and taken it out on people, strangers, and loved ones alike. One is no worse than the other. No one deserves any one else’s bad day. I’ve judged people silently and out loud. I’ve taken things in bad faith. I’ve been jealous. I’ve blamed a lot of it on drugs and alcohol, but that’s not an excuse. I have to own up to my faults.

Why do I deserve anything good at all? Is this a question I should even be asking? Why do I deserve happiness? I don’t—not more than anyone else, anyway.

But still, I want it.

I’m a better person now. I’ve grown up, I’ve wizened, I’ve matured. It is time for me to behave well. I still have to live with my guilt for the rest of my life, but the rest of my life is a long time, and I can use what’s left wisely. It is important to me to be of service to my community as best I can.

This doesn’t mean I am perfect now. I will never be perfect. This doesn’t mean I won’t still get things wrong. I have acquired too many scars to be fully healed. I have broken so many bad habits but not all of them. Even the experience of writing a book is just making one mistake after another until you’re not anymore. Every day we sit down to work we swim in a sea of our own fuck-ups. On the shore is one good sentence.

But it does mean I am trying, that I have to try every single day. I am obligated by my beliefs and the lessons I have learned to wake up and consistently try to be a good person. Even if it is not inherent within me, it doesn’t matter. I can still try. And there is no guarantee of happiness to come from this. I don’t have any control over that. I only have control of what kind of person I can be in this world.

I admire this memoir. It’s an invigorating read.

Anna Quindlen: Write for Your Life

Whether keeping a journal or writing handwritten letters, Novelist and Journalist Anna Quindlen makes the case why you should Write for Your Life. From Anne Frank to the Freedom Writers, Quindlen demonstrates the importance of everyday writing. She argues, “When you write, you connect with yourself, past, present, and future.”

I have been writing on this blog on a daily basis for almost two decades. It is not easy sharing your deepest thoughts and feelings to the world. I often questioned myself if this is the place for me to write, then this sentence she writes hit me, “Writing is undoubtedly interaction with another human being, even if that human being is only yourself.” I have been writing to myself all these years.

If you want to get some inspiration to write, read this short, page-turning guide.

Nguyễn Nhật Ánh: Ngồi khóc trên cây

Với cuộc sống luôn vội vã của hiện tại lúc nào cũng gắn liền với điện thoại thông minh, được cầm một quyển sách trên tay là điều rất thú vị. Đọc truyện Ngồi khóc trên cây của nhà văn Nguyễn Nhật Ánh như được sống chậm lại với thiên nhiên. Ông đưa chúng ta đến một thiên đường bình yên và thơ mộng chỉ có hoa cỏ và các con vật hiền hoà. Cách viết của ông nhẹ nhàng và hồn nhiên cho ta chứng kiến được tình cảm giữa loài người, động vật, và cỏ cây cũng có “thứ ngôn ngữ đi trực tiếp từ trái tim đến trái tim”. Tuy cốt truyện nằm trong vòng dự đoán của người đọc vì không có gì ngạc nhiên cả nhưng tác giả đã cho đọc giả những giây phút được thoát khỏi một đời sống đầy phiền muộn.

Lệ Thu Huyền: Mùa nhớ đi qua, người xa tay với

Lâu lắm mới đọc một quyển tiểu thuyết tình cảm lôi cuốn. Thường thì tôi sợ đọc truyện tình cảm ướt át và dây dưa lắm nhưng cách tác giả Lệ Thu Huyền dẫn những câu chuyện ngắn gọn nên đọc không bị nhàm chán. Tôi chỉ góp một ý kiến nho nhỏ là cô dùng từ “sex friends” nghe hơi bị thô. Tôi nghĩ “friends with benefits” (bạn có lợi) nghe hay hơn. Tôi không tóm tắc nội dung ở đây. Ai thích đọc những câu chuyện tình cảm nhẹ nhàng nhưng sâu lắng hãy đọc quyển này nhé.

Linda Lê: Thư chết

Hiếm khi tôi đọc sách ngoại dịch sang tiếng Việt. Nhất là sách Anh ngữ vì tôi muốn đọc bản chính hơn bản dịch. Lúc đầu tôi tưởng Linda Lê viết bằng tiếng Anh vì tôi hoàn toàn không biết về tác giả. Khi mở mấy trang đầu mới biết truyện Thư chết dịch từ nguyên bản tiếng Pháp tựa đề Lettre Morte. Thấy quyển sách mỏng nên đọc thử. Hơn nữa tôi cũng đâu đọc được tiếng Pháp.

Thư chết, được dịch bởi Bùi Thu Thủy, là một bài thơ dài (206 trang) viết cho người yêu. Trong thư cô kể về người cha đã mất, người cậu bị điên, và người yêu cũ độc tài. Lá thư đọc có xíu rùng rợn nhưng thú vị. Không biết bài gốc tiếng Pháp ra sau nhưng Bùi Thu Thủy dịch rất dễ hiểu. Linda Lê viết rất tối tăm nhưng tôi lại rất thích. Tôi sẽ tìm đọc những tác phẩm khác của cô.

Linh Lê: Đào

Truyện tiểu thuyết được kể qua hai nhân vật nữ: một nhà báo và một kỹ nữ. Qua 38 chương ngắn gọn, tác giả Linh Lê khéo léo kết hợp hai câu chuyện thành một. Tác phẩm của cô như được đem một khía cạnh tối đen của xã hội ra ngoài ánh sáng. Kết thúc sẽ lặng đọng lại trong lòng người đọc sau khi quyển sách được khép lại.

David Sedaris: Happy-Go-Lucky

I discovered David Sedaris about 20 years ago when I worked at Vassar College. He came to campus to read his essays. I didn’t understand why he was such a big deal; therefore, I picked up his books whenever I could. Even when I was reading his books on paper, I could only get a few jokes here and there. I didn’t get the full picture.

Now reading his latest book, Happy-Go-Lucky, I have a better grasp of his writing. The stories sound familiar. I then realized that I had read some of them in The New Yorker. His essays are filled with personal stories. He writes, “And there’s no point in me doing anything if I can’t write about it.” From his father to his siblings to his partners, he puts everything and everyone on the page. Even when someone is rude to him, he can write about it instead of confronting the person.

As a blogger myself, I appreciate seeing him putting himself out there and committing everything to paper even when he uses the bathroom or has sex. With humor, humility, and honesty, this collection of personal essays is a riveting read.

Jessamine Chan: The School for Good Mothers

Just a few years ago, I only read none-fiction books because I wanted to learn the truth and not made-up stories. When I started to read Jessamine Chan’s The School for Good Mothers, I find the the opening scene absurd and over the top. The book begins with Frida, a single Asian-American mother, who left her baby daughter alone at home for two hours. One of her neighbors reported the incident to Child Protective Services. Frida lost custody of her daughter and was sent to school for one year to learn to be a good mother. Yet as overdramatic as it sounds, Chan takes readers into a terrifying dystopian society for mothers. Chan’s storytelling is chillingly moving and her writing captures the art of fiction. I highly recommend it.

Jennifer Haigh: Mercy Street

Jennifer Haigh’s novel aims to provide different perspectives on abortion; therefore, the book includes many characters. I could not keep all the stories straight. Claudia is the only character that I could follow. Haigh’s writing is excellent though. I love her take on white trash:

She can still remember the first time she heard the term white trash. She was nine or ten years old, watching a stand-up comic on television, and she understood immediately that he was talking about people like her. Her family drank cola with dinner, store brand. They ate off paper plates as if each meal were a picnic. This was not a whimsical habit, but a practical one: her mother sometimes couldn’t pay the water bill, and for a few weeks each year, there’d be nothing to wash dishes in. The per plates came in cheap hundred-packs and were so flimsy they used two or three at a time, and as a result they produced vast amounts of garbage. Behind the trailer, under a carport of corrugated plastic, their trash barrels overflowed with it. In summer the smell was overpowering: soggy paper plates and food scraps rotting in the can. As a family they were both an environmental catastrophe and a sanitary one, as poor people often are.

When Claudia heard the words white trash, that is what she thought.

I wish the storytelling was simpler and straightforward.