Pete Buttigieg: Shortest Way Home

Buttigieg’s life exemplifies the America’s middle-class family. He grew up Christian, went to Harvard, served in the military, and became a politician to make a change for our country. He ran for offices in his hometown South Bend and became the mayor. Buttigieg is a good writer, but the pace is a bit slow. The memoir covers both his political career as well as his personal romance. The story of how he met Chasten is sweet and charming. If Buttigieg becomes president in 2020, he will be great for America. I trust his character and decency over the puppet occupying the White House right now.

Jenny Odell: How to Do Nothing

I struggled to pay attention to a book about resisting attention. Odell packs too much information into 200 pages. Her writing is also dense. It could be that I have been distracted in the last couple of days while reading it. I started to read then put it aside for another book. After picking it up again, I kind of lost the momentum. I still haven’t figured out how to do nothing after reading it.

Ronan Farrow: Catch and Kill

Farrow started digging into Harvey Weinstein’s predatory behavior for NBC, but the network’s top executives put a stop to his work. Instead of giving in, Farrow took his investigative report to The New Yorker and the rest is history. His new book provides all the roadblocks (from Black Cube to AMI) he had to plow through to bring the story to the public. In addition to Weinstein, Farrow reveals disturbing details of Matt Lauer’s sexual assaulting women in the workplace. The book has many fascinating revelations, but my personal favorite is about David Remnick and The New Yorker. I have tremendous respect for Remnick as well as the publication. Although this book is over 400 pages, it is a breezy read. I highly recommend it.

Rakim: Sweat the Technique

Part biographical, part instructional, Rakim’s book tells the story of how a young boy from Wyandanch got his start in hip-hop and shares the lyrical techniques that earned him the name the God MC. As expected from a lyricist, Rakim’s prose is poetic and eloquent. His music-writing process is intriguing. I have tremendous respect for Rakim to stay true to himself and his music. An engaging and inspiring read.

Nguyễn Xuân Khánh: Chuyện ngõ nghèo

Chăn lợn là một nghệ thuật. Bọn chúng không chỉ ăn no rồi ụt ịt cả ngày mà còn tranh đấu nhau mãnh liệt. Qua những chi tiết nuôi dưỡng lợn và những lời trò chuyện với bọn chúng, nhà văn Nguyễn Xuân Khánh dùng chất lợn để miêu tả những ô nhiễm của bản chất loài người. Những hư cấu đi quá xa với sức tưởng tượng của tôi. Tuy truyện khá thú vị nhưng tôi vẫn thích đọc sách phi hư cấu hơn.

Jody Kantor & Megan Twohey: She Said

Kantor and Twohey provide readers blow-by-blow behind the scenes of their investigative report into Harvey Weinstein’s sexual assaults. Their stories of talking to the sources as well as fending off the Weinstein army of lawyers and spies are fascinating. The book also covers Christine Blasey Ford’s account against Bret Kavanaugh. I have tremendous respect for both of these New York Times’ journalists. An engaging and enraging read, which caused me to stay up and get up early in the morning in the past three days to plow through.

Cal Newport: Digital Minimalism

Calport’s Digital Minimalism is a practical, approachable guide to unplug from the digital world and getting back to the real world. He lays out a plan for a thirty-day digital detox including uninstalling apps off your phone (especially social media apps), limiting access your phone (even when taking a walk), and learning new skills with your hands (setting goals for fixing your house). Whether I can apply his philosophy of technology use into my own life remains to be seen, but he has inspired and motivated me to make some changes to my digital life. I uninstalled Facebook app off my phone and temporarily deactivated my account. I unfollowed a handful of people on Twitter and logged off. I didn’t have Twitter app installed on my phone. My next goal is to limit my use of my phone. I am also intrigued with the concept of financial independence, but I am not sure if I can incorporate it into my life at this time. If you are thinking of minimizing your digital life, this book is worth reading.

Joe Moran: First You Write a Sentence

Less of a style guide and more of a love letter, Moran’s book explores the craft of composing sentence by sentence. “A good trick, when drafting a piece, is to press enter after every sentence, as if you were writing a poem and each full stop marked a line break.” He advises, “This renders the varied (or unvaried) lengths of your sentences instantly visible.” Through his thoughtful observation of Frank Sinatra’s singing and Bill Evans’s playing, Moran illustrates how rhythm, cadence, phrasing, and flow bring your sentences to life. He offers helpful tips such as using plain words, setting type that makes your writing visible to yourself, and keeping a sentence succinct even a long one. I dig his beautiful, poetic prose even though his florid style gets tedious at times. This book is enjoyable. I’ll definitely read it again at a slower pace to fully absorb his advice.

Here are a few notable passages:

On death (p.112):

[T]he death of a sentence is as natural as the end of life. Every sentence must die so the next one can begin. A full stop should offer a good death: natural, painless, clarifying, renewing.

On caring (p.117):

With a full stop, a sentence becomes self-supporting. It can go out into the world without the author leaning over the reader to clarify its meaning—without a reader, even, except a conjectural one. Writing a sentence well involves caring, taking pains for the benefit of others. But it is a special kind of caring: not the empathetic concern we have for people we love, but care for the anonymous humanity that may, at some future point, encounter the evidence of our presence in the world. This kid of care does not seek thanks or feedback, but offers itself up for all to enjoy, or ignore, as they wish.

On Sinatra (p.135-136)

A phraseologist like Sinatra overlays the meter with something like confiding in speech. He is all about the lyrics—you can hear him enunciate every syllable—and it feels as if he is saying as well as singing them to you, stretching out and twisting the pitch of words as we do in speech. Sinatra sings in sentences.

On flow (p.175):

Beauty may look after herself, but flow in writing does not. Flow should feel natural but almost never is. It arrives only after the way has been carefully cleared and paved. Flowing sentences are forward-facing, drawing what they need from the previous sentence and then setting up the next one.

On cadence (p.182):

Writing gets much of its rhythm from its full stops—or, more precisely, its cadences. Cadence is is used generally to mean the rising and falling rhythm of writing. But it has a more precise meaning. A cadence is what comes in writing, speech or music at the end of each phrase. In music, a phrase is the smallest unit able to make sense of its own. And it ends at this point of half repose, a cadence, where it feels as if the music has, just for a moment, arrived somewhere, usually back at the piece’s tonal center. In speech, a cadence is the fall in pitch at a natural stopping point, the end of a phrase. The voice drops on the last three syllables: a descending tritone. The American poet Amy Lowell called the cadence a “rhythmic curve … corresponding roughly to the necessity of breathing.”

Nguyễn Ngọc Thạch: Lòng dạ đàn bà

Quyển tiểu thuyết bi thảm, hồi hộp, và rùng rợn được dàn dựng khéo léo của tác giả Nguyễn Ngọc Thạch. Thường thì câu chuyện được kể qua một nhân vật chính nhưng những nhân vật trong truyện của Thạch đều được kể riêng. Người đọc sẽ thấy được những khía cạnh khác nhau. Cùng sống chung trong một căn nhà bề ngoài thì rất giàu sang nhưng tình người bên trong thì rất tệ hại. Cách viết của Thạch đơn giản và ngắn gọn nhưng đặc sắc. Thạch cho đọc giả nếm được mùi ác độc của đàn bà: “Con ong độc nhất ở đuôi, đàn bà độc nhất ở nơi tấm lòng.” Sao khi đọc mấy quyển sách tiếng Anh liên tiếp, tôi khao khát được đọc tiếng Việt. Tuy đọc sách này như uống ly nước độc nhưng thật đã khát.

Pamela Paul & Maria Russo: How to Raise a Reader

Pamela Paul and Maria Russo, editors of The New York Times Book Review, have put together a pleasurable, approachable guide to nurture kids into the life of reading. The authors’ goals are to show reading at home is for pure joy and not burden. The kids are free to read whatever they want, not what expected of them. I find the concept of family library simple, effortless, and yet effective. We just need to have books anywhere around the house within their reach—including in the bathrooms. I appreciate the authors’ relaxed, unpressured ways to instill reading into the kids’ life. In addition, the book is filled with recommendations for different ages. If you want to raise a reader, pick up this book.