Books I Am (Kind of) Reading and Why

Sassy, magisterial.

The Paris Review
Issue 229, Summer 2019

Because my amazing friend Mary Terrier has a story in this summer’s issue, and it is so good. Also, her story appears on the very first page of content. So thrilled for her. Go read it.

Call Me Ishimaru
Karen Tei Yamashita

Image of the cover of the academic journal Leviathan

Leviathan, Volume 18, Number 1, March 2016.

I haven’t finished this essay — only just started. But a few months ago I got this fantastic concept for either a lit course or an essay: link movie monsters (e.g. Godzilla) to literary monsters (e.g. Moby Dick). I love Godzilla. I own the box set of all the original Japanese films, including the full version of Gojira, which was later cut and dubbed for American audiences. The original film is much more complex and nuanced and a much clearer allegory to the crisis of the nuclear age.

Anyway, I decided to do some research on this as I was certain it’d been thoroughly written about. Turns out, not so much. Yamashita’s essay in the journal Leviathan was about all I could find via Loyola’s library. She’s an incredible writer and this essay is challenging to read, in part because of that distraction we all suffer from (and which I attempt to fix by reading Deep Work, noted below). At times while reading I think to myself, “Fuck, that’s MY idea.” Then I get over it because there are no new stories/ideas under the sun, only different ways to discover and articulate them.

The 2019 World Almanac

I’m a nerd. I love these things. Three full-color pages of all the flags of the world? Sweet! Data on the worst storms in history? Also cool. An entry on the 1919 great molasses flood aka The Boston Molassacre which killed 21 people? Omg. Yes.

I could flip through this book all day. Being able to drift through and get lost in information is just plain fun. It also annoys my girlfriend because I will sit next to her while she naps on the sofa and read aloud from it, or read quietly but punctuate the silence every few seconds with “wow!” or “hey, listen to this!”

Kitchen Table Tarot
Melissa Cynova

All my friends are witches.

Also, I bought my first tarot deck in a long time last week. When I was in high school my mother and father gave me a deck called “Tarot of the Cat People” for my birthday. It was a surprising gift from parents who, when I came out as gay in college, wondered aloud of maybe I should talk to a priest. (My mother also expressed concern that, as a homo, I wouldn’t be able to find a job, but that’s a different story. Also my folks turned the corner pretty quickly and have been supportive ever since.)

I like this book. Cynova has a light and airy writing style, and she grants some room to cynics who, while curious, might feel doubtful about tarot.

I own a Rider-Waite deck. Though the illustrations are the original Pamela Smith Coleman designs, the print quality is poor — some cards are fuzzy and too dark. Still, I’ve been having fun with pulling a card for myself at the start of each day and letting it guide my thoughts and my present. In a sense, tarot is a gateway to that “mindfulness” we’re all obsessed with.

For a beginner like me, this is a great tarot book.

Ps: Beware the three of swords. That card is a mindfuck.

Deep Work
Cal Newport

Cover of the book Deep Work by Cal Newport

I feel distracted. All the time. I used to write, read, and do deep dives into all kinds of thoughts, interests, hobbies. I kept a blog! Like, consistently. And wrote about things that I find fascinating, like why we make lists and what Umberto Eco has to say about that (“because we don’t want to die”). I’d like to blame technology for my drift away from focus, and it is true that our tech culture plays a role, but above all I must blame my resistance to creating — and sticking to — a schedule of what Newport calls “deep work.”

I finished this book. It’s good. It’s well researched and well written, and Newport backs up his ideas with precision — after all, he is an academic. Of course, I forgot most of it right after reading it because the smartphone has fried my brain, but Big Picture takeaways are: set aside time for deep dives into your thoughts and ideas, be vigilant about protecting this time, and disconnect yourself from your distracting devices not just once a week, but 90 percent a week. Make that toy we call the internet the thing you do when you have time to play, not the thing you default to just because.

The Wall Street Journal Complete Monday & Investing Guidebook

Why? Simple answer: my dad died, my mother was left with an diminishing income and a investment portfolio that neither of us fully understand. I want to understand it because someday I’ll be in charge of it. We have a financial advisor (Who hasn’t called me back. Thanks, Chris.) and I want to be more literate about investing and finance. Seemed like a good place to start.

All the Wolves: Common Reader, A Room of One’s Own, Death of the Moth, A Writer’s Diary

I went overboard here. I taught “Death of the Moth” last semester and fell in love with Woolf all over again. I decided to do a deep dive of the kind I used to — a return to the glory days of my past reading habits — and absorb EVERYTHING.

I have yet to complete any of these tomes except for A Room of One’s Own which is much more funny, biting, and sassy than I remember. Also still completely relevant. Were Woolf around today, while she’d probably be pleased about the number of women writers on the virtual shelves, she might be disappointed in what the actual writing was about. Hard to say. I recommend we all revisit this book.