Thursday, April 3, 2014


Monthly Reads: March 2014

Outdated: Why Dating Is Ruining Your Love Life by Samhita Mukhopadhyay
I think this is actually a good book to read even if one doesn't quite identify as a feminist and might be a little uncomfortable with the word. It makes it really approachable and explains that feminism means equality and fairness for us all, not just for women. Instead of issuing blanket statements about what is right or wrong, it questions certain behaviors and practices so that we can be critical of our own actions and really think about why it is we do the things that we do. There was a lot of background and explaining of the systems in place, but I guess I was hoping for more suggestions on um.. how to fix my dating life? Kidding (..half). This book addresses things like chivalry, masculinity, marriage, open relationships, casual sex and hookup culture. There's a lot here and it was helpful to read. A lot of people think that politics aren't personal, but that's not true-- they're SO personal. The way gender dynamics are played out in a relationship is important and it would be great to date someone who understands this.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz
This book was about so much more than one nerdy Dominican kid's life. I was amazed at the in-depth family history that was told, from generation to generation, fukú and all. It tugged at all sorts of heartstrings and was relatable in so many ways! It was funny, nerdy (soo nerdy), and heartbreaking. The characters are developed magnificently. Not just the characters, but the relationships between them. You KNOW how much Oscar's sister loves him, because you feel it from the beginning of the book. On another note, I was inspired by Oscar's dedication to his writing, and the way it carried him through so much. And how brave he was to relentlessly fall in love over and over again! I love the way Diaz casually mixes English, Spanish, and millions of references to nerdy stuff together. I read somewhere that this book took eleven years to write, and I read it in a mere three or four days. It was difficult to put it down and I was always excited to come back to it. It's similar to the feeling I get when the holidays come around-- you spend all day in the kitchen just to spend 20 minutes eating! But it's so, so worth it.

Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri
A collection of eight powerful, albeit sometimes painfully sad, short stories. These  are stories of diaspora-- stories of families and such nuanced dynamics that I have previously only talked about with my closest friends. When I was reading, I felt like I was consuming so much of my own experiences. Something happens when you realize you have a shared experience with someone, or just when you realize that someone else could possibly understand the complexities of your family. It's was like this book was saying "look, you're not alone." Even though the characters are mostly of Bengali descent, I related to a number of their experiences with having immigrant parents. The stories are each so rich and contain a mass of detail. I don't think I can even pick a favorite! I savored every single one. I think I might need to reread this in the not-too-distant future. And I'm definitely going to check out her other books. The cherry on top of this book is that I got is from The Book Thing of Baltimore.


Monday, March 24, 2014

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Library Project: Guest Appearances!

On my recent trip to the East Coast, I was lucky enough to visit some spectacular libraries. It goes without saying that they were all stunning inside and out, but to avoid image overload, I'm just going to post one photo from each. I got to spend some time reading/writing in the first time, and only really walked through the last two.

The George Peabody Library in Baltimore

This was one of the main things I wanted to do when I went to Baltimore. A couple people recommended that I visit, and when I looked it up online, I decided that they were right. As soon as you walk in, there are towering levels of stacks of shelves, warmly illuminated throughout the building, filled with books. There's a great sky light that provides some natural brightness, too. There were only a couple people in there using it as a library. I love that you can have weddings at this library. I've googled and instragrammed as much as one person possibly can on weddings at this library. The jury's still out on the whole marriage thing, but if that ever happens, it will probably happen in a beautiful room full of books. I read in here for a bit, became sleepy, and left.

The Library of Congress- Jefferson

The Library of Congress is the largest library in the United States! It is actually four buildings in total, but we really only had time to look at the Jefferson Building (especially since getting in was essentially like going through airport security). There were basically a million cool things there, but I'll limit myself to talking about three. 

Cool things at the LOC:
  • They had both the Giant Bible of Mainz and the Gutenberg Bible on display. I hadn't realized the significance of these when I heard that they were on display here and thought that I didn't need to see them--I was wrong. The Giant Bible of Mainz basically signifies the end of the handwritten book and the Gutenberg Bible was essentially the first book printed with movable type in the western world.  SO COOL YOU GUYS.
  • Thomas Jefferson's Library. His actual library. Or at least the part of it that made it through the fire that destroyed part of his collection. Some books that didn't make it have been replaced, others they already had in the Library collection, and there are some that they are still looking for. It's beautifully shown in a circular display so that you walk into the exhibit and are surrounded by all his books. The cool thing about his library is that he organized his books by three main categories: Memory, Reason, and Imagination. 
  • The Main Reading Room. I'm pretty sure there are a ton of other reading rooms, but time was limited so we just checked out this one. Normally as a tourist you can only view the main reading room from this glass encased viewing area (think of Grey's Anatomy when they are watching people do surgery), but I found out the day before that you could register as a reader and gain access to the MRR as a researcher. So that's what we did, and now I have a library card to the LOC!

Brooklyn Public Library- Central

I literally only walked through this library, but look at how pretty the outside is! I love it when I walk into a library and there are people actually using it. I like that this library has a giant framed picture of Jay-Z in it (he's from Bed-Stuy). 

New York Public Library- Schwarzman/Main

What an iconic library! I was thrilled to be able to check it out during my two days in New York. I didn't expect to be so awe-struck at how beautiful the painted clouds are on the ceiling when you're sitting right underneath them. I also have only seen this room in pictures and video--not any of the other several levels or rooms of the library. It was really neat that there is a room just for genealogy research (though it looked pretty NY specific). There was also a room just for maps! 

I loved visiting these particular libraries because they physically embody what libraries can be for us: beautiful institutions for research and discovery. They are valued by the community and have been heavily invested in, not just with their contents and the wonderful people that staff them, but even just with the architecture of the buildings alone. They have become integral institutions in these areas and the community uses them. I know that when I talk to people here about libraries, I see confusion glaze over their faces because they think that libraries are obsolete. I don't think we're ready to get rid of libraries, especially because they adapt with users to cultural and technological change.  I could go on and on about this, but folks often don't realize the many services our libraries provide (like help with taxes, adult literacy programs, and free legal information), or the importance of serving as a safe public space for people.  And doesn't that deserve to be protected? I certainly think so. 


Friday, March 14, 2014



I met my pen pal, Chad, this week! 

We have been writing for about a year now, and our letters have been thoughtful and sincere since the beginning. It was an easy decision to make to come visit once I knew that I would be in DC for a work trip, though the planning and execution took longer than it usually might. I ended up staying in Baltimore for four nights. I knew what Chad looked like from some photos, but had no idea what his voice sounded like, how he carried himself, style of dress, or the gait of his walk. So many things that you never realize fill in the crevices of what can help characterize a person you interact with on a daily basis. 

Our letters from the past year, side by side.

Just taking in each other's physical presence was really surreal! But other than that, it was basically meeting one of my best friends for the first time. He took me all around Baltimore--we ate lots of food and I saw Hopkins (all that brick!). Basically every day we went to at least two book stores and/or libraries and spent a couple hours reading and writing. It was amazing to have that sort of companionship, and to be able to enjoy hours of silence just reading or journaling in the same space.

We walked miles and miles and miles. It was such a luxury to be able to say whatever was on my mind, and to ask things and receive such an immediate response (really, anything is faster than waiting for a written response via post). It was also so, so nice to get to know each other's sense of humor in a way that was never conveyed through our letters! The more candid things, the way inflection in voice changes, the laugh.

In this moment, words feel like they are simultaneously everything and nothing. Because for the past year, I have exchanged correspondence with this person and through this process, words were all we had. But I also feel like my words cannot fully explain the depth of what I feel and how wonderful this has been.

I'm struggling to write a more personal update than this on a public forum--I think that sort of thought process and documentation is reserved for my journal and, of course, letters. I'm lucky I had work to launch myself into this week, otherwise I would have been even more sad and less preoccupied at our parting.

“Now begin in the middle, and later learn the beginning; the end will take care of itself. ”
― Dathan Auerbach

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

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Monthly Reads: February 2014

Monthly Reads is looking a bit sparse this month with just one book, but what a book! My goal has been three a month, but I suspect I'll catch up. February felt so short and busy that I'm glad I was even able to read one book.

Kafka on the Shore by Huraki Murakami
Whenever I'm going through a lull in my reading, I can always rely on Murakami to pull me back in. I saw a lot of parallels between this book and Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World-- themes like being reunited with one's shadow and libraries holding memories, and the way that parallel stories were told that eventually collided.

Though I enjoyed the story, as I tend to in these novels, it's the character development that I really enjoyed in this one. Usually I feel like his characters are pretty predictable-- the protagonist takes the form of a seemingly typical male that was minding his own business when something odd happens to him, and thus a Murakami novel ensues. Oshima is the first gender nonconforming character I've come across in his books (who kind of reminded me of Cinnamon from Wind Up Bird Chronicle for some reason, maybe because I imagine both of them to be well-dressed) and I ended up wanting his character to be developed a bit more. Kafka's character is a bit different that the typical protagonist and his age alone shifts this book into a coming of age tale (there's definitely more there than in Catcher in the Rye, blegh). And Nakata! What a wonderful character. Need I say more about a man who can talk to cats? It effectively leaves some questions unanswered, but isn't that the point? I could go on and on about the book, but not without spoiling some of the plot. Just read it! That's always my response to notions of Murakami, anyway.
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