What I’m Reading

Man, getting back to fiction reviews isn’t easy. So let’s try a fluffy post to get the writing juices flowing.

I am firmly on the “one book at a time” camp. And yet. There had been four books that I wanted to read next and I truly could not decide which one beckoned most seductively.

One of the defining traits of a perfectionist is a “should, should, should” mentality: I should have done more work today. I should be doing something productive. I should focus my attention to one book only since reading multiple books has never worked in the past.

Well, literary polyamory may have never worked for me in the past, but I am working on my perfectionism. So screw rigidity! Here are the four books that lured me away from book monogamy:

  1. Social Media is Bullshit by B.J. Mendelson

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In my efforts to learn more about marketing, especially social media strategies for modern marketing, I browsed the business shelves of NYC’s The Strand Bookstore. I ended up with two books from that section: The New Rules of Marketing and PR and Social Media is Bullshit.

I was excited to read Social Media is Bullshit, because I read a few pages of it at the Strand and found it gripping – plus, I think a contrarian viewpoint would be a refreshing antidote against the breathless thinking that social media is the answer to all your business ills.

Unfortunately, it’s not a very good book so far. I’m not finished, but I’m more than halfway through and I dislike the author’s dour and overly cynical tone. His analogies don’t always make sense and some of the math is wrong. I do hope those issues were caused by human error rather than an insidious attempt to get readers to agree with his arguments. The book wasn’t well-edited as well, I spotted grammatical mistakes here and there.

  1. Kubah by Ahmad Tohari

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Tohari wrote my very favorite Indonesian novel, the venerable Ronggeng Dukuh Paruk (English translation: The Dancer), and I love his prose in general (see here), so it’s no surprise that I’m enjoying Kubah (roughly translated as Dome) very much. In fact, Kubah gets the second-most reading time after Social Media is Bullshit.

 Like Ronggeng Dukuh Paruk, Kubah’s plot thread is put in motion by the infamous 1965 coup in Indonesia. While I love how Tohari treated the subject in Ronggeng Dukuh Paruk – that is, with sensitivity and complexity, I have my concerns about Kubah. The main thematic of the novel seems to be rediscovering religion and spirituality and I worry whether the denouement of Kubah will be nuanced and satisfying. Fiction that tackles this theme can end on an overly moralistic or simplistic tone. I hope I am proven wrong, though.

  1. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Maybe it’s time to get a new one…

I wanted a comfort read to go along with the shiny new things. I tried to fight the desire, yet whenever I attempted to stop adding Pride and Prejudice on my reading list, my inner Catherine de Bourgh threw a tantrum. In her immortal and hilarious words: “I insist on being satisfied!”

What can I say about Pride and Prejudice? Saying it is one of my favorite novels ever is hardly original. Look at the state of my copy! I once dropped it into a wet bathtub during a reading session.

There really is no point in providing a plot summary. Who doesn’t know the story gist at this point? Suffice to say, every time I pick up Pride and Prejudice again, I just feel so damned happy.

  1. Better than Perfect: 7 Strategies to Crush Your Inner Critic and Create a Life You Love by Dr. Elizabeth Lombardo

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I’ve been talking a lot about perfectionism in my last two posts and this book is a big reason why. I’m only forty pages in and haven’t gotten into the strategies to utilize in daily life, but I’m impressed so far. Better than Perfect is very easy to read while still being insightful. The first segment is more about what makes a perfectionist tick, and reading the first chapters feels like multiple slaps in the face.

Dr. Lombardo includes a Perfectionist Self-Assessment in Better than Perfect. I scored 109 out of 120, which made me cringe. I mean, I obviously knew I was a perfectionist, but 109 out of 120 seems pretty extreme.

I might finish the other three books first before devoting entirely on Better than Perfect. It’s probably a good idea to focus on the self-help tactics with no distractions.

***

And we’re done! I must say, I’m delighted that Kubah and Pride and Prejudice are on my current reads stack. I’m so hopelessly behind on my Classics Club Challenge.

Checklist

I’m a perfectionist. It’s an aspect of my personality that has both rewarded and cursed me. Last week, I had a performance review at work and I was described as someone who “goes above and beyond to deliver the best and most satisfactory results.”

But my perfectionism is also a source of much grief and indecision. It’s crippling, for one thing. It feeds into my depression and anxiety, makes me obsess if I feel I am perceived negatively.

Like this blog post, for instance. I dithered on whether or not it is worth uploading, as it has no valuable insight, so it can be construed as mindless fodder.

This is just a list of all the pending blog posts that I still want to write, even though some of the posts will be reviews of books I have read months ago. With some of the books, I have a contrary opinion compared to the general consensus – and I think I will enjoy the exercise of rationally arguing why I didn’t enjoy these much-lauded books as much as I had expected.

“Checklist” is more for me, so I can keep track of all the posts I still want to write and cross out the uploaded ones while providing links.

Hmm, perhaps “Checklist” itself is a manifestation of my perfectionist spirit? It always gives me much joy to strike through completed tasks.

Without further ado, the list:

  1. Laskar Pelangi (The Rainbow Troops in official English translation) by Andrea Hirata
  2. The Vegetarian by Han Kang
  3. The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham (Review link here)
  4. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott
  5. The Doll by Daphne du Maurier

USA Travel posts:

  1. San Francisco and the South Bay, California
  2. Seattle and Spokane, Washington
  3. New York City Area

Endnote: There are books I have read but will not review. A Pocket Full of Rye by Agatha Christie is a good example. It was an OK novel. Not bad, not great. I have nothing to say about it and I have no strong feelings for it either way. It did serve a good purpose: entertaining me on my twenty-hour flight to California.

And now, to work on actually writing the posts! (Insert muscle emoji here)

Checking In

 

When it became clear that my unannounced hiatus was stretching longer and longer; when my workload was piling up week after week; when – shockingly, it was becoming clear that I was in no mood to read and was whittling days with not a page of a novel being turned, I knew that I wanted to write a “Checking In” post. Partially to just get the writing going, partially to list down the heavy backlog of blog posts that I still wanted to write and were therefore pending.

At first, I wanted to finish my “Checking In” post by mid-August. But I got swept away by work. I would mentally note an arbitrary deadline but work was unrelenting. Finally, I told myself that I should just crank out and upload “Checking In” anytime before September 10, when I would be leaving for my USA vacation.

Well, it’s early October now and I’ve been in Indonesia for more than a week. Whoops.

***

I’m always a flurry of apologies and excuses whenever I start blogging again. While I’m always genuinely sorry for absences and wish I could write more consistently (for myself too, since persistence and writing everyday will make me a better writer), I can’t pretend that blogging takes precedence over my job.

In my case, up until my flight boarding time to San Francisco, I was frantically wrapping up an article in an airport coffee shop. It was worth it, though. I got to spend my vacation work-free. Being an INFJ, sometimes I couldn’t stop myself from helping out my office here and there – until my own supervisor told me to knock it off and just enjoy my damned vacation.

So enjoy my vacation I did.

***

After coming back and unpacking, it became clear that putting the brakes on book buying throughout July and August was the right thing to do. I bought no books in August and got two free hand me downs from my grandfather in July (details here).

Look! Just look at this pile. There are 16 books here. It took me a while to reorder the configuration of my shelves so these new books will fit.

Haul of shame

Bonus: I, uh, stole September’s start and bought the anthology Kumpulan Budak Setan prior to my USA trip  at the local Gramedia. I’ve wanted to read Intan Paramaditha’s feminist/Gothic short stories for a few years now. The book I actually wanted was her short story collection Sihir Perempuan (which I will roughly translate as Women Magic) but I couldn’t find it. On a brighter note, this anthology includes short stories by Eka Kurniawan (who I seriously need to start reading) and Ugoran Prasad (who I have never heard of, but who knows? He might be a new favorite author for all I know).

Kumpulan Budak Setan (roughly translated: Slaves of the Devil)

Another no buy is in order: no new books throughout October and maybe November.

***

A “Checking In” post seems a good place to list down all the blog posts I wanted to write during vacation. Or even all the posts I had hoped to finish pre-vacation but didn’t, and yet I still want to write them anyway.

Here’s a list of pending book reviews:

  1. Laskar Pelangi (The Rainbow Troops in official English translation) by Andrea Hirata
  2. The Vegetarian by Han Kang
  3. The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham
  4. A Pocket Full of Rye (Translated to Indonesian as Misteri Burung Hitam) by Agatha Christie
  5. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott

Additionally, I have plans to write about my USA trip and the book shopping I did. Combining all the material into one post is too much, though. I’ll need to split the post into three, denoting the three major areas I visited.

  1. San Francisco and the South Bay Area in California
  2. Seattle and Spokane in Washington
  3. New York City Area

Each post will be about the books I bought, musings on local bookshops, and some of the photos I took. Since I have accumulated a backlog of food and general travel photos, I can write about that too (Let me know if you’re interested).

Well, look at how this simple “Checking In” post has bloated. Congratulations on making it this far and I hope it won’t be long until my next post.