Ross Gay: The Book of Delights

On his forty-second birthday, poet Ross Gay set out to write an essay a day on something in his life that he found delightful. From the beauty of nature to his interaction with the people around him to memories of his love and lost ones, Gay shared his keen observations and thoughtfulness through his concise, lyrical prose. Having read this book, I am inclining to blog more on delightful instead of depressing subjects.

Gào: Hoa Linh Lan

Truyện mở đầu với sự cố sinh non của một cậu bé bị dị tật tinh hoàn. Tôi tưởng rằng “thằng không chim” nói về intersex nên tôi lấy làm hứng thú để đọc vì tôi hy vọng Gào khai thác về đề tài phức tạp này. Nhưng kết quả làm tôi thất vọng vì cốt truyện chỉ dừng lại ở tình cảm tay ba. Câu chuyện ngắn gọn không dở nhưng hơi tiếc nuối vì thiếu đi sự kỳ vọng mà Gào đã đặt ra trong phần đầu của sách.

Gào: Tự sát

Tôi chưa bao giờ nghe cái tên Gào nhưng có người giới thiệu nên đọc thử. Tự sát là một truyện tiểu thuyết ngắn gọn (gồm 138 trang) hợp với giới trẻ hơn cho tôi. Câu chuyện cũng được nhưng quá ngắn nên những nhân vật không đủ thời gian để ngắm vào người đọc. Cách viết của Gào cũng được nhưng vội vã nên không phát triển được những nhân vật của mình. Sau “Tự sát,” Gào thêm vào những bài viết ngắn để tạo cho sách được 200 trang. Cho nên những chuyện ngắn ấy bị thừa đi.

Nguyễn Ngọc Thạch: Một giọt đàn bà

Tôi chưa từng đọc tập truyện ngắn nào viết về đĩ nhiều như Một giọt đàn bà của Nguyễn Ngọc Thạch. Từ kiếp đĩ đến đĩ yêu nghề đến đĩ còn trinh đến đĩ hạnh phúc đến mắt đĩ đến xóm đĩ, tác giả nói lên những khía cạnh khác nhau về việc làm đĩ. Những cảm xúc xót xa, đớn đau, mạnh mẽ, tốt xấu, và xung sướng cho kẻ mua vui đọng lại trên từng câu văn của tác giả. Đàn bà của Thạch thảm thương quá. Đọc cũng hay nhưng không nỡ đọc lại.

Ocean Vương: On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous

Ocean Vương’s devastating debut novel begins with Little Dog (Chó Con, a common nickname in Vietnamese) writing a long letter to his illiterate mother. In concise writing (242 pages of unwasted space) and lyrical language (drawing from his poetic skills), Little Dog recounts the heartbreaking stories of living with his loving-yet-abusing mother and schizophrenic grandmother, reveals the painful incident of being bullied as an immigration kid who spoke no English, and confesses his sexual preference in juicy details. As I was reading, I had marked a dozen of sticky notes in the pages. I would love to quote all of them, but one in particular, in which Little Dog writes about his mother’s past, stood out to me (p31–32):

As a girl, you watched, from a banana grove, your schoolhouse collapse after an American napalm raid. At five, you never stepped into a classroom again. Our mother tongue, then, is no mother at all—but an orphan. Our Vietnamese a time capsule, a mark of where your education ended, ashed. Ma, to speak in our mother tongue is to speak only partially in Vietnamese, but entirely in war.

That night I promised myself I’d never be wordless when you needed me to speak for you. So began my career as our family’s official interpreter. From then on, I would fill in our blanks, our silences, stutters, whenever I could. I code switched. I took off our language and wore my English, like a mask, so that others would see my face, and therefore yours.

It’s a beautiful, painful, and lustful read. Even as a straight man, I find the gay sex scenes to be damn erotic. Now, that is some fucking good writing. My only pet peeve is the mixed use of Vietnamese diacritics. For proper noun, such as Go Cong or My Tho, the author left out diacritical marks. For regular words including phở and bà ngoại, the author included diacritical marks. My suggestion is to add diacritics for all Vietnamese text.

David W. Blight: Frederick Douglass

Just finished reading David Blight’s 764-page biography of Frederick Doughlass. There is so much to unpack about one of American’s towering political figures. Douglass learned to read as a young slave. He used his words to fight to end slavery. His push-and-pull relationship with Abraham Lincoln was intriguing. If you want to learn about one of the greatest orators of American history, this comprehensive biography is for you. It’s long, but your patience will be rewarded.

Rob Dunn: Never Home Alone

An informative, eye-opening exploration of creatures living in our homes and bodies. The good news is that not all of them are bad. While pathogens are harmful, other species are beneficial to us—spiders are my new friends. Dunn explains and emphasizes the important of biodiversity. He encourages us to invite bacteria, fungi, and insects back into our lives instead of getting rid of them. This book has validated my decision for turning down services that wanted to exterminate all the bugs around our house. I am also going to stop using disinfecting wipes, which kill 99.9% of viruses bacteria including the good ones. Although I struggled to finish the book because of my own lack of interest on scientific writing, I am glad I made it through. I have learned a ton about our little friends I didn’t know I had living with us.

Paul Kor: The Hawk and the Dove

Translated by Annette Appel, Kor’s The Hawk and the Dove is a transformation from war to peace. Kor’s paper cutout techniques created simple-yet-striking illustrations to turn a heavy subject matter into a hopeful story. A powerful message for young readers about peace and love.

Deborah Kerbel: Before You Were Born

What a lovely way to welcome a new baby to life. Kerbel’s lyrical prose is visualized with Suzanne Del Rizzo’s textured illustrations created from polymer clay and acrylic paint. A fantastic gift for new parents.

Chris Raschka: Side by Side

I am a bit biased, but this book is one of my personal favorites. Raschka illustrates the bond between fathers and their kids. He shows all the fun and wonderful activities kids and dads do Side by Side. The beautiful artworks are balanced by the bold Aetna typeface. Thanks for the tribute to dads.