It’s easy to underestimate or dismiss the impact of independent bookstores. When I was growing up, the only bookstore in my neighborhood was an enormous Barnes & Noble. It wasn’t until I worked in publishing in New York that I realized the importance of independent bookstores—how they help to shape a sense of community and identity around books, particularly in communities of color.
It’s been a while, and I know what you’re thinking. At least, I know what you’re thinking if you’re also me: You’d better have been doing something fabulous during this unconscionable absence from the blog!
So what was it? Was I scaling mountains in far-flung countries? Was I preparing a new and edgy article that will bring justice to the world?
Flattering! But no. In the past month-ish, I’ve mostly been working on confronting my fear of failure—in less-nice words, I’ve spent the past few weeks applying to various literary projects and getting rejected from them.
If you want to read my previous travel-ish essay, check out my Notes from Lake Tahoe. Unless you already have—in which case, good for you!
On a Sunday with no obligations, my boyfriend and I decided to pick some city at least an hour away and explore. Most travel guides recommended Sebastopol, and almost all of them described it as “artsy.”
For as long as we’ve been dating, Tanner has cringed at that word. “Artsy,” he often says in quotation marks. “What does that even mean?”
When I duck into the bookstore before Celeste Ng’s talk, I feel conspicuously literary. The Wordsmith Bookstore is in San Francisco’s historic and grungy Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. The attendees are mostly University of San Francisco MFA students—vibrant, leaning forward in their seats, just older than me. (Later during Ng’s talk, I notice that the MFA students punctuate her poignant lines with a low “mmh,” as if they were verbally underlining sentences.) On top of it all, I’m wearing a black faux-leather jacket that looks like it reads Allen Ginsberg poetry whenever I’m not inhabiting it.
I’m here because I have just read Ng’s debut novel Everything I Never Told You in a breathless sitting, then found out that she would be giving her talk about and reading from her latest novel, Little Fires Everywhere in San Francisco.
As I found out during the talk, both of Ng’s novels are grounded heavily in where Ng herself came from. Ng grew up in a Chinese American family in Ohio. She describes her suburban hometown as inclusive the point of self-consciousness. On the surface, one saw manicured lawns, cordial neighbors. But behind closed doors, there resided the kind of shame that motivated the desperate desire for perfection, the kind of desire that compelled the residents to keep their trash cans behind their houses, away from the open street, and have garbage collectors surreptitiously pick it up and carry it away.
Everything I Never Told You opens with a sense of perfect suburban calm, violently destabilized: “Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet. 1977, May 3, six thirty in the morning, no one knows anything but this innocuous fact: Lydia is late for breakfast.”
I’m kicking off my pop culture calendar with strong, unapologetically smart women of entertainment, and there’s no better way to do it than with “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” now streaming on Amazon. It’s the latest show from the bard of quick-witted banter, Amy Sherman-Palladino. (Her name is probably emblazoned in your mind from the end of the Gilmore Girls opening song.)
The pilot opens on a wedding reception, in the late 1950s. Miriam Maisel, who goes by Midge, delivers a toast while dressed in her bridal white. She’s self-assured and has a talent for comedy; and as of moments ago, she’s been happily just-married to her college sweetheart.
We jump to four years and two young children later. It’s the late 1950s, and Midge is preparing to host the grandest Yom Kippur breakfast the Upper West Side. She’s as glowy and confident as a newlywed—until the evening of Yom Kippur, when her husband walks out on her.
Did you do National November Writing Month (aka NaNoWriMo) last month? It’s a month-long sprint that challenges writers to produce 50,000 words between November 1st and 30th.
Despite being involved with creative writing for my whole life, I’ve only participated in NaNo for the first time this year. (I know!!) Though I should note: Because Novembers are uncharacteristically busy for me—I prioritize a lot of family celebrations, which entailed traveling for almost half of the month—I set my personal word count far lower than 50,000.
So while I can’t speak to meeting that lofty goal, I learned a lot about myself as a writer, the creative process, and writing at airports.
Happy November, everyone! Just chiming in with this image of a black abyss to say that the blog will be dark while I pursue more writing projects. Specifically, I’m participating in National Novel Writing Month, lovingly known as NaNoWriMo. This means that all of my free time will be devoted to the rigorous pursuit of my creative writing projects outside of this blog.
I’ll try to check in a handful of times this month. Until then, read that novel you’ve always been meaning to read (or write it yourself!). Go to a museum. Hug a puppy. I’ll see you on the other side.
Earlier this month, I took my mom to the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco to see their Filipino American History Month celebrations. (By the way, happy FAHM, fam!) I’m abashed to say that it was the first time that I had ever seen Filipino art on display. On top of that, I was visiting with my mom, which deepened another, far more personal and meaningful dimension to the exhibit.
Happy October! There are so many reasons to celebrate this month: October is Filipino American Heritage Month and LGBT History Month! If you’re reading this in ~real time~, I’m likely with my mom at a Filipino arts exhibit at the Asian American Art Museum. Amidst all of this celebration, I’m so excited to share with you one of my favorite YA books of the past year – definitely something to pick up this special month. Read on for a tale of high school friendship, budding romance, and a spectacular cast of LGBT superhero teens!
I know. I am the last person in the world who hasn’t seen this show. It’s like that I’m in that Twilight Zone episode – you know, the one where the man wakes up in the future, and everyone around him has alien features and is like, You haven’t seen Community?!