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.

Jerrold Markowitz: Exploring Kindness and Respect

An accessible collection of poems exploring everyday interactions including boss, bully, friends, and parent. It’s nice to read a local author from George Mason University. Markowitz teaches at Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. The poems are easy to read and to be inspired. Here’s his perspective on “Life”:

Life’s not about perfection nor about rejection
it’s about reflection, introspection,
doing the best we can,
respecting whomever we can,
giving personal support, smiling awhile
crying at times, enjoying the gift of life.

Solmaz Sharif: Customs

Sharif’s poems are simple yet beyond my comprehension. I had to read her collection twice to understand some of her works including “Social Skills Training,” “He, Too,” and “Patronage.” I don’t quite understand “Without Which,” in which she uses lots of closing brackets (“]]”). I would love to audit her class if I have the opportunity. Here’s her exchange with an officer in “He, Too”:

Upon my return to the US,
he asks my occupation. Teacher.

What do you teach?
Poetry.

I hate poetry, the officer says,
I only like writing
where you can make an argument.

Anything he asks, I must answer.
This, too, he likes.

I don’t tell him
he will be in a poem
where the argument will be

anti-American.

I place him here, puffy,
pink, ringed in plexi, pleased

with his own wit and spittle.
Saving the argument
I am let in

I am let in until

Julie Otsuka: The Swimmers

Otsuka’s opening paragraph is so damn good, I have to quote in full. She writes about “The Underground Pool”:

The pool is located deep underground, in a large cavernous chamber many feet beneath the streets of our town. Some of us come here because we are injured, and need to heal. We suffer from bad backs, fallen arches, shattered dreams, broken hearts, anxiety, melancholia, anhedonia, the usual above-ground afflictions. Others of us are employed at the college nearby and prefer to take our lunch breaks down below, in the waters, far away from the harsh glares of our colleagues and screens. Some of us come here to escape, if only for an hour, our disappointing marriages on land. Many of us live in the neighborhood and simply love to swim. One of us—Alice, a retired lab technician now in the early stages of dementia—comes here because she always has. And even though she may not remember the combination to her locker or where she put her towel, the moment she slips into the water she knows what to do. Her stroke is long and fluid, her kick is strong, her mind clear. “Up there,” she says, “I’m just another little old lady. But down here, at the pool, I’m myself.”

After the pool shuts down, Otsuka shifts her focus on Alice who suffers from her deteriorating dementia. Even though the change is quite disrupting, the stories comes out poignant and heartbreaking. Otsuka’s writing is just masterful—as you can already tell from her opening paragraph. It’s a slim, sensational read.

Rebecca Foust: Only

Rebecca Foust’s collection in Only is achingly touching, especially when she writes about her children. She shares the birth of her son:

my son was born. The cord was torn
too soon, so they cut off

his head to save his heart. He lived
for a long time.

I am not quite sure what she meant by “so they cut off his head to save his heart.” My other favorite poems in this collection include “Thirteen,” “Self-Improvement,” “Collaborator,” and “Abeyance.”

Elisa Gabbert: Normal Distance

Elisa Gabbert’s Normal Distance is accessible and relatable, especially when writes about suffering, death, and boredom. I am still a novice poetry reader, which means I don’t understand everything I read, but I enjoyed the entire collection, in particular: “About Suffering,” “New Theories on Boredom,” “That to Philosophize Is to Learn to Die,” and “Madness.” Her writing is clear, lyrical, and delightful.

Hồ Anh Thái: Bắt đầu cất lên tiếng cười

Tập tiểu luận của nhà văn Hồ Anh Thái được chia ra làm ba phần: đời sống, điện ảnh, và văn chương. Đọc thì cũng được nhưng hơi bị ngán. Tôi không hẳn không đồng ý với những cái nhìn của ông. Chỉ không thích hợp với cách nhận xét và phê bình của tác giả. Không rõ nguyên nhân ra sao. Nếu nói ông khắc khe cũng không đúng, tự cao cũng không đúng, hoặc khen nội chê ngoại cũng không hẳn. Tóm lại không thích cũng không ghét cách viết của ông và đương nhiên tôi tôn trọng những góc nhìn của ông.

Danielle Badra: Like We Still Speak

Danielle Badra’s first full-length collection is beautifully heartbreaking as she writes candidly about the loss of her sister. “The Short Way,” in particular, brings tears to my eyes as the image reminds me of my own mother’s last day on earth in ICU. I also love the lyrical beauty in “Pianissimo.” Furthermore, Badra received an MFA from George Mason University.