Things I read, 2018

Review if you are (a) trying to become me or friends with me by sharing similar interests, (b) trying to make sure you do not become me or friends with me by knowing what to avoid, or (c) bored

Table of Contents


Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, Gail Honeyman

I could not have started Eleanor Oliphant at a better (worse?) time: I was feeling particularly inadequate and repeating that terrible question of “am I good enough?” to myself all the time. Reading about Eleanor’s quirks and shortcomings, I found myself in her page after page after page — I was honestly a little disturbed to find how deeply relatable she was. Though at times I diverged from her qualities, for the most part, it was like looking in a mirror. Eleanor is always right, even when she is very, very wrong. She scoffs at the idea that someone could live their life differently than the exact way she lives hers, because anything outside of that is completely barbaric. She is remarkably and repeatedly unkind to a man who clearly cares for her, and falls absurdly in love with one she does not/will never know. She doesn’t allow herself too much joy, because she never feels like she deserves it. Somehow, despite all of that, she is the embodiment of resilience, bravery, and grace, and manages to become beloved. Eleanor Oliphant is goals, and the book literally makes you laugh and cry to prove it.

The Moth Presents All These Wonders: True Stories About Facing the Unknown, Catherine Burns

The Moth, an organization dedicated to storytelling, compiled some of the most remarkable stories to help readers explore beyond their sights and face what may come out of the unknown.

Hasan Minhaj’s story is particularly powerful and hits close to home (both literally and sociologically). He recounts his experience going to prom in Davis (❤ Go Aggies ❤) with a girl in his class, Bethany. As much as we are working to grow out of it, there‘s still an aura of accomplishment in getting the Caucasian “seal of approval” — it can provide confirmation that you’ve been seen, beyond your color, and liked for who you are. It’s a convoluted standard to hold yourself to and rarely said out loud, but there it is. And Hasan was stoked about it too, despite his father warning against it.

Once he gets to Bethany’s house that night, he quickly finds out that while she may not have taken issue with him being her date, her parents and their extended family did. So, in the name of keeping the peace, Bethany’s parents send Hasan home. The story calls out the larger complexity of what it means to be “tolerant” in the United States in a humorous way, but we are finding that, especially under this presidency and in this political climate, even though there are tons of people who practice the bare minimum decency of not holding one’s ethnic/racial/religious background against them, there can still be people behind them who peddle biased decision-making. The result is that even some of the tolerant choose to compromise their morals to maintain the status quo. You’re left wondering what would have happened if Bethany chose courage instead.

Outside of Hasan’s story, you’ll find something in every beautifully written account of perseverance, optimism, bravery, and faith. Highly recommend this one as a Christmas/Kwanzaa/Hanukkah/Winter Solstice/something else I’m probably forgetting present.

Attached: The new science of adult attachment and how it can help you find — and keep — love, Amir Levin and Rachel Heller

In a word, this book is absurd. It is, by all accounts, one of those books no one would ever actually purchase when there is a Buzzfeed quiz that could probably tell you the same thing. Definitely up there with the Love Languages thing (fun fact: mine are words of affirmation and acts of service).

Passed around through a friend group, it landed in my hands and I read through it to find out exactly what I already knew: I am “anxious, avoidant”. I worry about the state of all of my relationships across the board constantly, and I run away from anything even mildly uncomfortable. I guess there were suggestions on how to change that later on in the book but to be honest I put it down knowing it would suggest non-starters for me, like “be vulnerable first” and “cry”.

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, Mark Manson

As a way to counteract the weird road Attached asked me to go down, I picked The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck up and found it much, much more informative. It reinforced some of the principles I already live my life by and introduced new ones to complement them. I picked it up at a good time, too. Someone who mistook our friendship for a relationship lashed out at me, calling me “cold”, “self-absorbed”, and “rude”. Anyone who knows me that, yes, I am all of those things but in like a cute, charming, lovable way. But hearing it said to me with so much angst marked the first time I’d ever doubted my character. This book snapped me out of that by reminding me that while, yes, I am not perfect by any means, I am still proud of the person I’ve grown into and already have a whole host of people who love me for it. thank u, next.

We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy, Ta-Nehisi Coates

I opened this book at a very inopportune moment, and couldn’t bring myself to pick it back up until I was on the other side of the world. I poured all of my attention into it, learning the heavy lessons it aims to teach. Coates is constantly tackling issues most of us are too afraid to speak up about. He has no interest in euphemisms or rose-colored lenses to protect the hearts and minds of white people in America — they should recognize the reality of the oppressive, fear-inducing world built to discourage people of color. It is not a “punishment” for white people to be “subjected” to reading this; it’s an opportunity for them to learn and help change the course.

Poetry collections

I Wrote This For You (pleasefindthis), Ian S. Thomas

As soon as I thought no poetry could resonate with me any longer, I Wrote This For You landed in my lap and it did not disappoint. So unapologetically sad, I flagged every other page, even ones I didn’t relate to. Though it sometimes reads like Taylor Swift’s song ideas book, for the most part it reaches into the darkest parts of sadness and puts words and photos to them in a beautiful way (which sometimes Taylor Swift does too, despite resistance). Sadly, I lost the book on a trip earlier this year. Fingers crossed it found a good home.

The Prophet, Kahlil Gibran

You want a poet who inspires you so much you’d quote them in your Instagram bio? First of all, don’t do that. Second, just pick up The Prophet if you haven’t already (honestly though, I might just be the only Middle Easterner/South Asian who hadn’t read it until this year).

A Lebanese Catholic who ended up in Boston in the early 20th century, Kahlil Gibran was a poet renowned for his particularly impressive ability to foster cohesion between communities. In one of his most popular poems, he writes:

I love you when you bow in your mosque, kneel in your temple, pray in your church. For you and I are sons of one religion, and it is The Spirit.

If you read The Prophet and you’re not even the tiniest bit compelled to be softer, or nicer, or more open-minded, come see me.

Look, Salmaz Shorif

Look is, by far and away, my favorite collection of poems in recent memory. The concept itself is magnificent: and Irani poet surrounded by war and conflict integrates words pulled from the Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms into her poems to communicate just how ingrained militarism is into the perspectives and depictions of her people. She takes the stories of the most vulnerable members of her society and surfaces them to bring life the tragedies of war. I revel at it every time.

milk and honey, Rupi Kaur

I love when South Asians, and especially when South Asian women, succeed. I love when people who look like me, who share some foundational experiences with me, are up there telling their stories. That said, milk and honey was not for me. At all. I think it was meant for more of an emotionally vulnerable audience. It felt fragmented; one of those poetry collections that is actually really basic but because the words are stacked and you’re forced to read it slowly it’s meant to be more meaningful. I love that Rupi Kaur got hers, she earned it. But I am officially exhausted by poetry that is formatted to fit exactly onto one Instagram post.

Articles, stories, and reports

She Was My World, but We Couldn’t Marry, Ari Diaconis

Modern Love, a podcast hosted by the New York Times, tells stories about finding, losing, and managing love (romantic and platonic). It’s the one positively emotional content I’ll indulge in that strays from my otherwise dark persona. This particular piece resonates for a whole host of reasons — the broadest being my fear of losing someone to an illness or injury. The serendipitous partnership of a woman named Dunia (“life” in Arabic) who is so dedicated to staying firmly beside Ari, whose life hangs in the balance due to a neurological disorder, gets me every time.

WFP’s Innovation Accelerator Report, 2017

In an alternate universe, I’m a billionaire philanthropist with a weakness for software engineers I can throw money at to build out their latest idea on how to make the world a better place (but not in like a weird, benevolent dictator/Elon Musk way). None of that is happening for me in this universe so far so until then, the World Food Programme is sponsoring nerds with hearts of gold through their Innovation Accelerator. From hydroponic gardens in Algeria to (my favorite) cash transfers via blockchain in Pakistan and Jordan, the report shows that people really are using the advancements founded in the Valley to serve those who actually need it.

The report is worth the read but if you need the tl;dr it’s here:

You Should Actually Send That Thank You Note You’ve Been Meaning to Write, Heather Murphy

There are (at least) three tell-tale signs that show I love you: (1) I give you a gift carefully wrapped in brown paper and tied up with fancy ribbon (2) I buy you what you need, not what you want, and (3) I write you notes.

I’m going to pull a don*ld tr*mp for the sake of saying this plainly: I love notes. I write the best notes, better than any note you’ve ever seen. You wouldn’t believe it. I single-handedly keep the stationary and greeting card industry alive. My notes are better than whatever fake notes Mueller’s taking over there (what a loser).

We know there is proof that receiving something like a thank you note can actually make people happy, but I selfishly write them because they make me happy. I love the idea that you can revisit the writing over and over and keep the sender in mind any time you want, no effort needed. You can just trace over the writing and hear their voice in the words. And even though I’m exceptionally good at gifting presents, what I write in your card means more.

Everyone is Going Through Something, Kevin Love

Kevin Love is like, very attractive. It’s like, am I watching basketball? Am I watching a Banana Republic campaign ad? Am I just watching Kevin Love run back and forth on this court but also in my heart? Kevin is the reason why, if we’d pushed to a few more Finals games against the Cavs last year I would’ve secretly been fine with that. He’s so talented and attractive one could forget he’s human.

And then he came out with this piece on The Players Tribune, and it hits you that he is, in fact, human. It takes a ton of bravery to admit that you have serious anxiety, never mind being an athlete in a sport popularized by players with unapologetic bravado and bulletproof egos. Kevin Love walks readers through how his mental health has changed (for better and for worse) throughout his life, and how he hopes sharing his story makes a difference. And for the people I know who follow the sport and see it’s players as heroes, it did make a difference.

Why Jihadists Write Poetry, Robyn Creswell and Bernard Haykel

This article has been bookmarked on my browser for 3 years, and it still leaves me floored every time I open it up. It’s a thing that has started some of the most interesting conversations I’ve ever had with people. The story of this piece reminds us that the path to joining an extremist group like ISIS is much more complex than we think, and it adds a very human element to an epidemic we constantly grapple with. A fascinating read if you’re into being monitored super closely by the NSA.

The Erasure of Islam from the Poetry of Rumi, Rozina Ali

The South Asian cultural adoption starter pack comes with a few things (including but not limited to): a yoga mat with “Namaste” written on it, henna tattoos, and The Essential Rumi. People LOVE Rumi. He’s a ~mystic~ who ~wrote about love in a way that was ahead of his time~. Spoiler alert: sorry love, no. Rumi came from a devout Muslim family, and his poetry, while it is magnificent and soaring, is not primarily focused on the fiery love between two people. It’s mostly just about one’s relationship with The Divine. The emotion of Rumi’s poetry was passed through while the content was lost in translation after years of repurposing. I’m not saying you should stop following that Rumi poetry account on Twitter, but I am saying that Rumi is probably saying “this ain’t it” in his grave.

How Corelle plates came to fill immigrants’ kitchen cabinets, Sonia Rao

One time I brought a small set of Heath Ceramics dinnerware — beautifully crafted, minimalistic collections made just around the corner of my old office — to my parents’ house. It just feels like such a luxury when that plate’s in your hands, as if the plate’s saying “Hala, I’m here for you. You’ve entrusted your cookies to good hands. I love you.” When I showed my dad he said “Wow these are nice. How much were they?” and when I told him he was like “You spent so much money on these plates I’m not sure you’ll have enough left to put food on them.” (my dad’s a sav).

I used those plates and that mug every day just to prove their utility, but then I grew tired of treating my dinnerware with more care than I would for probably a child. So I tucked them away for ~special occasions~ and immediately went back to our 20+ year old, mixed and matched Corelle set and I can honestly say it felt like coming home. There’s just something about these sets I couldn’t put my finger on, and then I read Sonia Rao’s piece and thought “yup — that’s it.”

All done!

There are loads more things I read that would paint a much more accurate portrait of me. For example, I promise I do read things that bring joy; they just didn’t make the list because they’re mostly extremely dumb memes and tweets.