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.

TypeTogether: Building Ligatures

A decade and a half ago, Veronika Burian and José Scaglione founded TypeTogether to connect type lovers from all over the world. In their new book, Building Ligatures, the TypeTogether founders and contributors share their knowledge, experience, best practices, and friendships.

The love, respect, and accolades speak volume not only to their creative talent, but also to their kinship in the type community. The key success behind TypeTogether is built on friendship rather than rivalry. Since its founding day, TypeTogether has collaborated with type designers, graphic designers, and language experts worldwide. It is my pleasure to have contributed a small part in Vietnamese diacritics. In my experience working with Veronika and José, I had tremendous respect for the level of care and detail they invested into designing diacritic marks for native readers. (Thanks for including my name on the book jacket.)

In addition to the inspiring behind-the-scenes stories of the foundry, the book included informative how-to essays from “How to Choose the Right Typeface” to “Typographic Matchmaking” to “Web and Digital Typesetting Myths” to “The Path to Brand Design.” It is an essential and enjoyable read for anyone who touches types. I wish TypeTogether tremendous success in 15 and 30 more years to come.

Vũ Văn Song Toàn: Đoản khúc chiều phù dung

“Những lúc hận đàn ông, mẹ hay đánh tôi những trận đòn thừa sống thiếu chết.” Vũ Văn Song Toàn viết trong truyện ngắn “Thôi mùa hoa cải.” Thú thật tôi chỉ nhớ câu đó thôi chứ câu chuyện ra sao tôi chẳng nhớ dù đã đọc qua. Dường như tôi chỉ nhớ cốt truyện trong “Nước mắt của mụ Dạ Dần”. Còn những bài viết khác, nhất là về đời sống trong xã hội, tôi đọc rồi trả hết lại cho tác giả. Có thể tôi thiếu tập trung hoặc những bài văn không đủ ấn tượng với tôi. Chắc sẽ đọc lại trong tương lai.

Jimmy Soni: The Founders

The Founders is engaging and Jimmy Soni is an excellent storyteller. I was also curious about the story of PayPal since I have been using its service forever. Nevertheless, I could only get through half of the book. I am just tired of reading about fucking Elon Musk. This guy is taking up way too much space already.

Ocean Vương: Time is a Mother

Ocean Vương’s poetic intricacy is beyond my comprehension for literary. What the fuck is “black as god’s periods?” Did he mean what I thought he meant? I wish someone could sit down with me and break down his poems line by line. One of his lines reads, “Because everyone knows yellow pain, pressed into American letters, turns to gold.” Yes, everyone knows, but me. I like the analogy though. I do understand a few lines: “Nobody’s free without breaking open.” And these:

I’m on the cliff of myself & these aren’t wings, they’re futures.

For as long as I can remember my body was the mayor’s nightmare.

The second line strikes the political chord. Of course, I knew these lines:

In my language, the one I recall now only by closing my eyes, the word for love is Yêu.

And the word for weakness is Yếu.

I like that Vương incorporates Vietnamese into his poetry. Without diacritics those two lines wouldn’t have worked. He even has a Vietnamese title for his book. He translates Time is a Mother as Thời gian là một người mẹ. If I get a chance to meet him, I wanted to know how he would translate: Time is a motherfucker.

I need to re-read these poems again in order to understand everything he has written; therefore, I bought myself a copy. Gotta support our Vietnamese-American talents.

Deborah Levy: Real Estate

I thought this book would be a short and sweet read, but I struggled through it. I plowed through and understood only thirty percent of it. It’s definitely my own shortcomings as a reader.

I must admit. As I was reading this book, my mind was drifting off elsewhere; therefore, I got lost half way through, but I kept reading because I didn’t want to give up. After finishing it the first time, I didn’t get much out of it. I decided to start over from the beginning and to read slowly.

Deborah Levy’s Real Estate turned out to be lyrical and beautiful and I enjoyed it the second time around. Levy writes about her single life at sixty. She and her husband had divorced and her daughters had moved out of her house. In addition to places she was dreaming of, she was searching for characters, the female characters in particular. I love the following passage about estate and language:

None of this real estate belonged to me, but I felt I belonged to it.

I wrote every day in its long, timbered attic and finally acknowledged I did not have a tranquil relationship with language because I am in love with it. I asked myself, what sort of love? Language is a building site. It is always in the process of being constructed and repaired. It can fall apart and be made again.

I definitely recommend reading it slowly for pleasure. It is indeed short and sweet.

Joan Didion: Let Me Tell You What I Mean

A collection of essays from 1968 to 2000, Joan Didion has written eloquently on various subjects including Nancy Reagan, Ernest Hemingway, and Martha Stewart. My personal favorites are her own reflection on “Telling Stories” and “Why I Write.” She writes:

By which I mean not a “good” writer or a “bad” writer but simply a writer, a person whose most absorbed and passionate hours are spent arranging words on pieces of paper. Had my credentials been in order I would never have become a writer. Had I been blessed with even limited access to my own mind there would have been no reason to write. I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.

A short, sweet, and pleasurable read.