How to be a Voracious Reader

I am always on a relentless pursuit to find ways to squeeze more reading into my day. Too many books and not enough time is one of my life’s biggest struggles. I prefer long reading sessions, but those are difficult to find time for, especially during the work week. Below are the ways I find time to read every day.

Bathroom Reading

The bathroom is my favorite place to read. I find that bathrooms consistently have excellent overhead light for reading. Bathrooms also offer quiet time alone where you can get some serious reading done. At least until your pushy pug forces her way through the door and stuffs a soggy toy into your lap. To make the reading experience even more immersive you can find a playlist for reading on Spotify. There are many and you can even find one that matches the genre of your book. Most times I find myself reading on the toilet long after my bowel movement is complete.

Reading Rewards Between Chores

This method may only be effective for the true book lovers, but I enjoy using reading as an incentive to get chores/tasks done. Some days there’s no motivation to meal prep, do laundry, take out the trash, clip my toenails etc. So, I turn my to do list into a game. I reward myself by reading 10 pages or a chapter after completing an item on my to do list. I consider this a healthy form of procrastination.

Cardio Reading

Recently, I tried combining reading with one of my other favorite hobbies, fitness. Normally when doing cardio, I stream a TV show on my phone. I’ve tried audiobooks in the past but found that my mind wanders without having printed words to focus on. I find myself constantly rewinding to hear back portions of audiobooks I missed, while I was daydreaming of buffalo wings. Since I’ve been doing more cardio recently, I’ve been determined to get some reading done at the same time. Luckily, I do low impact cardio. I either use an elliptical or walk on a treadmill set at an incline. If you’re a jogger I’d imagine focusing on printed words as you bounce up and down can be challenging. Hopefully in that case audiobooks work for you. I choose one book as my cardio book, and I only read that book when doing cardio. If I pick a book that I’m excited to read, there’s extra motivation to get to the gym each morning. While I prefer physical books over electronic, it’s been great to get some use out of my neglected Kindle. Whether you use audiobooks or eBooks the Libby app is an excellent resource for downloading free books, many libraries are connected to Libby.

Reading to Start and End the Day

I try to begin and end every day with some reading, even if it’s only 5-10 pages. When I’m not starting my day with cardio at the gym (where I’m likely reading anyway) I enjoy reading a few pages while sipping my morning coffee. My bed routine, which always leads to a great night’s sleep is putting my phone on do not disturb and reading. How many pages I read depends on how tired I am and how exciting the story is.

What are my Comfort Story Recommendations?

A few weeks ago, I was disturbed and enraged when the Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade. Normally I can tune out the news when needed, but that day was a struggle. I had an overwhelming sense of heartbreak for the people of childbearing potential who have lost a basic human right because they no longer have access to important healthcare. I was also afraid of what other rights we may see taken away next. It is insane that my husband and I had a conversation about what would happen if same-sex marriages were no longer nationally recognized. While we luckily live in Connecticut where same sex marriages will likely always remain in place, would my husband’s permanent residency still be valid if our marriage was no longer federally recognized? Alas, these are dark times here in the US. I needed some time to escape and relax with comforting books and tv shows. I want to share a list of content that has helped distract me from the current shitshow in the states.

One of my reading resolutions for 2022 was to read more feel-good books. Below is a list of wholesome content that I enjoy. Two of the items are not books, but book adaptations so I think it counts! It’s interesting that in my late teens and early 20’s I gravitated towards darker books and tv shows. But in my late 20’s I’ve grown appreciation for feel good stories. In these dark times we no longer need to turn to fiction for horror. Reading offers a refuge when things become overwhelming. I’m not suggesting we all ignore our problems and read 3 books a day (though I wish I could), but there’s value in taking a break to immerse ourselves in comforting stories.

Camp by L.C. Rosen – Camp takes place at a queer summer camp for teens. Randell, a musical theater enthusiast, remakes himself for the upcoming summer. He creates a new identity “Del”. Del is a buff, straight acting jock, who has no interest in musicals. Randell / Del has made this transformation to catch the attention of Hudson his crush, who is only into “masc” guys. While the moral of the novel was obvious from the start, I was surprised at how invested I became in Randell and Hudson’s romance. This is an excellent YA book that exposes the problems of toxic masculinity in the gay community.

Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston – I’ve already recommended this book a few times on the blog, but once more can’t hurt! This is an excellent enemies-to-lovers romance between Alex, the son of the president of the United States, and Henry, the Prince of England. The characters have excellent banter that ratchets up the sexual tension. I cannot wait for the release of the movie adaptation!

The Wayfarers Series by Becky Chambers – I’ve only read the first two books in The Wayfarers Series. This is feel-good science fiction with a diverse and super loveable cast of characters. Chambers’ feature beings of different species working together while celebrating their cultural differences. Each book focuses on a different group of characters, but all within the same universe.

Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson – Mistborn is the first novel in a fantasy trilogy. I wouldn’t call this story feel-good; it takes place in a dark, violent world where likeable characters die. But this is certainly an excellent escapist read. Sanderson’s worldbuilding makes this an immersive story, without being overly complicated like other fantasy novels. I loved the magic system and many of the characters. I think a fair comparison is Brandon Sanderson’s writing is the fantasy book version of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Heartstopper on Netflix (adapted from Alice Oseman’s books) – My husband and I binged Heartstopper in one weekend and loved it so much. This series is superior to all the other queer teen tv shows I’ve seen (especially Love Victor, ugh). The story follows the romance between Charlie an out gay teen and Nick, a rugby player coming to terms with his bisexuality. Unlike many other shows the show makes it clear that the problems Nick and Charlie face stem from society’s failure to accept queer people, not from being queer. I cannot recommend this show enough!

Hunter x Hunter (adapted from Yoshihiro Togashi’s manga) – This year I’ve had the pleasure of discovering the wonders of anime. Currently I am making my way through Hunter x Hunter. This anime follows Gon and his young friends, who are hunters, licensed professionals who seek fantastical items, on a series of whimsical adventures. While Hunter x Hunter has some dark themes, Gon’s overwhelmingly optimistic spirit and innocence make this count as wholesome content. Gon and Killua’s friendship is everything and Hisoka is an excellent villain. I’ve only watched through the Greed Island arc so please no spoilers!

What are my 2022 Reading Goals?

As an engineer I love my data and graphs. I look forward to reviewing my reading statistics at the end of the year (thank you Storygraph!) Looking at my reading habits is a great opportunity to create reading goals for the coming year. I like to avoid setting goals focused on the total amount of books I read, because for me that creates stress. Reading is supposed to be fun!

Goal 1: Read More Sustainably
My records show that 59% of the books I read in 2021 I purchased brand new (yikes!)

For the sake of my wallet and being more environmentally friendly I am challenging myself to limit my reading of newly purchased, physical books to 20% of my 2022 reading. I think this can be easily done. Between used bookstores, my local library, e-books and all the unread books already on my shelves there are plenty of alternatives. And the 20% leaves opportunities to buy new releases from favorite authors that I want in my permanent collection.

Goal 2: Embrace DNFing
DNF stands for “did not finish”. When I consume media, I am a completionist. Every book or tv show I start I stick with until the end, for better or worse. I want to break this habit. There are too many books and not enough time to read them. If I’m not feeling a book, I’d like to get in the habit of setting it aside for something I’d enjoy more.

Goal 3: More Nonfiction
This goal is very straightforward. This year only 8% of the books I read were non-fiction.

I love memoirs, true crime, and science related books. Especially now that I’m no longer in school I want to learn more about topics that interest me. My goal is for 15% of the books I read in 2022 to be nonfiction.

Goal 4: Branch Out to Book Twitter
Now that I’ve gotten into the routine of posting on this blog and my bookstagram I’d like to branch out to try to engage with more readers. I’ve heard a lot of great things about book twitter, I plan on creating an account and giving it a try in 2022.

Goal 5: Read More Feel-Good Books and Welcome the Warm and Fuzzies
Someone recently asked me for feel-good book recommendations. I went to my list of recently read books and saw nothing but trauma, death and violence. Then I reviewed my reading mood chart from Storygraph and saw that “hopeful” was my least read mood. Red, White & Royal Blue was the sole book I read from this category. This book was also one of my favorite books of the year.

While I will always embrace traumatic books filled with murder and violence, I will aim to read more feel-good books next year.

What were the best books I read in 2021?

2021 was a wild year.  Pandemic life became normal, I got married and now have a puppy!  Somehow through all the chaos I was able to read plenty of books.  Now I’ll attempt to decide which five books were my favorite reads of the year (spoiler: all were published before 2021).

Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir:  This is the second book in the Locked Tomb Series, which features necromancers in space.  Harrow the Ninth is a challenging read, but it’s a fun challenge! The shifting narratives and writing styles were disorienting, which made solving the mysteries extremely rewarding.  Muir has smartly crafted this novel and the characters and magic are so much fun!  I am eagerly awaiting the next book in the Locked Tomb Series and will most likely treat myself to a reread of the first two before its release.

The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw:  This excellent collection of 9 short stories has great writing and authentic characters.  The stories feature black women trying to fulfill desires and passions that are at odds with their Christian beliefs and standards.  There are many delicious descriptions of food in this collection as well.  Peach Cobbler is the best short story I read this year!

Check out my full review here!

Know My Name by Chanel Miller:  Easily the most important book on this list.  If there was a book that was required reading for all adult humans, I would choose this.  Chanel’s memoir detailing her sexual assault and its aftermath is heartbreaking.  Chanel’s excellent writing tells the traumatic story beautifully.

Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuistion:  Is this why straight people love romantic comedies?  This was my biggest reading surprise of the year.  Less than halfway through the book I was fully invested.  My husband had to endure me rambling on about Alex and Henry’s dramatic romance and how amazing the book was.

Check out my full review here!

The Troop by Nick Cutter:  The Troop is possibly my favorite horror book.  If your stomach is strong enough to handle the disgusting carnage contained in The Troop’s pages, then this is a must-read.  The story combines Boy Scouts and body horror; two things that are near and dear to my heart.

Check out my full review here!

Which Stephen King Book Pairs with Which Wing Sauce?

Happy Halloween!  To celebrate this fantastically spooky holiday I wanted to pair books written by my favorite author with flavors of my favorite food.  Stephen King and chicken wings both hold a dear place in my heart.  I had fun deciding which King novel best complemented different flavors of wing sauces.

Barbeque wings complement a story with a slow burn and a lot of heart.  King’s foray into historical fiction, 11/22/63, immediately came to mind.  Like any good barbeque this story takes time to develop, it cooks low and slow.  Thankfully the slow place results in juicy, saucy characters that readers become invested in.

Ghost pepper wings bring the pain and the fury.  Carrie’s telekinetic powers unleashed upon her cruel classmates, after humiliating her at prom, is a satisfying blaze.  Following years of bullying and abuse from a batshit crazy, religiously obsessed mom, Carrie has a lot of anger and rage to unleash.  The way Carrie destroys the school’s auditorium reminds me of the destruction waged upon my digestive track after eating super spicy wings.

Buffalo wings, the classic wing flavor, and my personal favorite.  The aroma of buffalo sauce is intoxicating and brings an instant smile to my face.  I had to pair these magical snacks with a classic Stephen King novel.  I think Salam’s Lot is the perfect choice.  The book features many of the classic King-isms:  set in a small New England town, told from multiple perspectives, a scary supernatural element, and well written kid characters.

Soy-Garlic:  Soy sauce and garlic are like chocolate and peanut butter.  Two distinct flavors that mesh perfectly together to form an ultimate, cohesive flavor.  The genre mashing in King’s Dark Tower series is a western with horror and fantasy elements. The series is a beautifully cohesive tale with a satisfying conclusion (at least for me).  The Dark Tower also ties together the King universe by including characters, locations, and references to his other novels.  Just like soy-garlic flavored wings the Dark Tower is a fantastic blend of flavors.

PB&J flavored wings are probably one of the weirder wing flavors I’ve tried.  Surprisingly the sauce paired well with the chicken.  I would pair PB&J wings with one of King’s weirder books that somehow still works for me (probably an unpopular opinion).  The Tommyknockers, a strange novel featuring aliens, is a bit off the wall, but I enjoy its weirdness.

Lemon Pepper a non-conventional flavor choice when ordering wings.  An unconventional King book that I love is The Long Walk.  Fans of Netflix’s Squid Game will enjoy this book.  Straying away from his supernatural wheelhouse, King tells a dystopian story where teens competing for a prize by walking on a road for as long as they can.  If they fall behind or stop, they are killed.  Only one can win.

Sweet chili wings deliver sweetness with a spicy bite.  Pet Sematary perfectly compliments sweet chili wings.  Pet Sematary is known for being one of King’s most terrifying novels because of its brutal twist, matching the spicy bite of the chili.  The sweetness comes from the heart of the story, which is focused on love, family, and parenthood.

Honey Mustard is such a crowd-pleasing sauce, so I started to think which Stephen King novel would appeal to the widest range of readers.  And I came up with JoylandJoyland is not too scary to turn away readers who dislike horror.  Also, the book is a manageable length, unlike some of King’s doorstopper epics (which I love).  I think this book has an interesting mystery with well-developed characters that would appeal to people who usually dislike King’s books, while still appeasing the Constant Readers.  

Garlic Parm:  Unfortunately, in my early 20s I became cursed with lactose intolerance.  I wanted to choose a King book that is as full of shit as my toilet after I ingest cheese.  Thus, I’m pairing garlic parm wings with the lackluster Cell.  I don’t recall many plot details from Cell, but I do remember not enjoying it.  The novel is not on par with King’s usual work.  While cell phones causing a zombie apocalypse is an interesting premise, the book has no memorable characters and a dull ending.

Smoked – Smoke is similar to steam, which is a key element in King’s excellent follow up to The Shining.  In Doctor Sleep Rose and the Knot’s steam hungry followers are fantastic villains.  Smoking meat well results in yummy smoky flavor infused down to the bone.  Just like how Danny is deeply smoked in the trauma of his childhood.

What am I Hoping to See in the new Dune Film?

We’re less than a week away!  I can’t wait to slip on my stillsuit and ride a sandworm to the theater to watch the new Dune film, directed by Denis Villeneuve.  There are a few things I’m hoping to see next Saturday when I settle in my seat to enjoy the movie.  The film is telling half of the novel of Dune.  If we are fortunate to get a sequel, they will adapt the remainder of the novel.  While I can guess where the movies will split the story, some of my thoughts and suggestions might end up being more relevant for the sequel.

Rewrite the character of Baron Harkonnen:  As I discussed in my review for my reread of Dune, the biggest blemish on Herbert’s classic novel is that the main antagonist, the Baron Harkonnen, is a shockingly harmful gay stereotype.  The Baron is a gay pedophile.  He spends many scenes in the book lusting and salivating over young, shirtless boys.  David Lynch’s Dune adaptation featured the novel’s homophobia.  I Villeneuve’s version adds more dimensions or layers to the Baron’s character.  There is no problem with a gay villain, but the pedophilia needs to go!  Even better, give the Baron more of a backstory. Maybe he was wronged by the Altreides family in the past, which would provide motivation for his deep hatred of them.  They can go in many new directions with his character without largely impacting the story’s plot or themes.

Give Lady Jessica the Spotlight:  I stan Lady Jessica.  There are few mother figures in science fiction and fantasy that are as powerful and kick as much ass as Lady Jessica.  She makes a lot of power moves in the novel and is a part of many dramatic scenes.  Additionally, her struggle with being Duke Leto’s partner, but known as his concubine, not his wife is compelling.  She has competing allegiances to the Altreides family and the Bene Gesserit, which is also fun to see play out.  Watching the David Lynch film, I was not blown away by how Lady Jessica was portrayed.  I hope she is given all the screentime she deserves in this new film.  Fingers crossed Rebecca Ferguson pulls it off.

Properly Convey the Internal Thoughts / Mental Struggles:  I think one of the things that makes Dune unique is most of the action and intense moments take place internally, in the minds of the characters.  There are many physical fights and battles in Dune, but the internal struggles hold more importance.  I hope the film makers find a way to properly convey the mental scenes from the novel.  I’m sure it is tempting to focus primarily on the physical battles because films are a visual medium.  But I think a successful adaptation of Dune needs to highlight the important internal events.  Two of these key moments include the ingestion of the Water of Life and Paul’s ability to see across time and space.

And the trailer has already confirmed this was a success, but please make the sandworms look awesome!  What are you hoping to see in the new Dune film?

What is it Like Having Stephen King as a Father?

Imagine being raised by the master of horror.  Joe Hill, an excellent horror writer in his own right, is the son of the great Stephen King.  Many of Joe Hill’s stories focus on father-son relationships.  I want to analyze a few of these relationships to speculate what Stephen King was like as a father.  Please note, this is all for entertainment.  I have never met Stephen King or Joe Hill (fingers crossed I would be so fortunate in the future).  Spoilers to follow.

In Joe Hill’s short story collection, 20th Century Ghosts the story Better than Home features a young boy who struggles with what seems like OCD.  Many people, including family members, have trouble understanding and being patient with the boy.  However, the father is beautifully supportive in caring for his son.  The father is a baseball coach.  As any serious Stephen King fan knows, King is an avid baseball fan.  He has even written a nonfiction book Faithful, detailing the historic 2004 season when the Boston Red Sox won the world series, and a novella Blockade Billy, which also focuses on baseball.  Clearly the father in Better than Home is inspired by Stephen King.  While staying at a hotel before a Chicago White Sox game, the AC in the room makes the boy anxious and prevents him from sleeping.  “My father pops open the jar of cotton balls and crams one into each ear.  I giggle at the sight of him—the sight of him standing there with a loose fluff of cotton hanging out of his big sunburned ears”, narrates the boy (p. 122).  The father’s humorous actions help the boy relax and he successfully has a restful night of sleep.  The father knows his son well enough to help him cope with his anxieties.  At the end of the story, while attending a baseball practice together, they play the “Secret Things Game” together.  The game is essentially a scavenger hunt around the baseball park.  “This is a good game,” the boy says.  “I bet we could play at home…How come we never do that?  How come we never play the game where we look for secret things at home?”  “Because it’s just better here,” his father says (p. 132).  From this story I infer that Joe Hill and Stephen King were really close during Joe’s childhood.  Their shared passion for baseball strengthened their bond.  In his childhood Joe Hill felt seen and understood by his father.  However, once Joe Hill reaches adolescence his relationship with his dad becomes strained.  This teenage angst is at the heart of Hill’s excellent comic Locke and Key.

In Locke and Key Tyler Locke and his father, Rendell have a strained relationship.  His father is highly involved in Tyler’s life because he is a guidance counselor at the high school.  One day they get into an argument that is familiar to many teenagers and their parents.  Tyler pleads: “Christ, Dad, will you lay off my ass for once?”  His dad replies: “Nope.  Not my job…Where do you think you’re going?  I’m not done…”.  “I am.  I’ve had enough”, retorts Tyler (p. 88).  At first, I thought this conflict was inspired by typical teenage angst.  But maybe instead this stems from resentment, originating in the Kings’ past.  It is no secret that Stephen King abused drugs, including cocaine, alcohol, too many cigarettes, and Valium, to name a few.  King believed the substances were essential for his writing.  He has since achieved sobriety and continues to write amazing novels, without the aid of drugs.  For a stretch of time Stephen selfishly chose to abuse these substances, which may have interfered with his parenting ability.  I believe this is the source of the angst Joe used as inspiration for Tyler’s character.  In Locke and Key Joe Hill explores what happens when this angst is unleased, resulting in tragic consequences.  Tyler has a conversation with Sam Lesser, another student outside of his dad’s office.  Tyler is frustrated after just having a disagreement with his father.  Sam who also is upset at his father, who is horribly abusive, says he wants to kill his Dad.  Tyler, complaining about his dad, says “he’s an overbearing asshole and I can never just make a mistake.  Every fuck-up is a damn…moral lesson…Well, you ever decide to kill your Dad, do me a favor and kill mine while you’re at it (p. 97).  Tyler is just speaking dramatically in the moment.  He has no idea that Sam will complete his request.  After murdering his dad, Sam travels to the Locke home and murders Randell Locke.  The murder not only leaves the Locke family fatherless, but also traumatized.  The three Locke children proceed to have a wild adventure involving magical keys with different powers.  After surviving the final epic, supernatural battle, Tyler is able to speak with his dad’s spirit through the power of the keys.  His father apologizes, saying “I hurt you sometimes Tyler.  I said cruel things.  Was too hard…because I was scared, you’d be like me.  But you aren’t anything like me.  You’re so much better.  You’re the kind of man I always wanted to be.  I guess my life wasn’t a complete waste of time.  Whatever damage I did—all those lives I wrecked because of my selfishness—my cowardice (p. 188).  These words are exactly what Tyler needs to hear from his dad and they reconcile their relationship.  But what does this say about Joe Hill and Stephen King?  Joe and Stephen possibly had a conversation, like Tyler and Randell’s, where Stephen apologized for the damage he caused during his days of substance abuse.  Or maybe these are the words Joe still wishes to hear from his father.  Part of Randell’s apology to Tyler includes the phrase: “You’re so much better than me”.  Does Joe Hill aspire to surpass his dad in being the king of contemporary horror?  His short story Abraham’s Boys suggests that he does.

I believe the story Abraham’s Boys represents Joe Hill’s ambitions to top his father in the world of horror.  The story is about two brothers living with their father, Abraham Van Helsing (yes, from Dracula), who has a mysterious past.  Their father warns them to not go out past dark and hides secrets in his office, which is off limits to the boys.  The older brother reflects that “saying his father was superstitious was an understatement of grotesquely funny proportions” (p. 92).  Immediately I recognized some parallels between these characters and the Kings.  Joe has a younger brother named Owen, and Stephen, an expert creator of spooky stories, must hold some superstitions.  The boys explore their father’s office while he is away and they their father’s secret profession.  Abraham is a vampire hunter.  I believe monster hunting and horror writing are arguably similar professions.  Many monsters are fought and defeated in the pages of Stephen King’s novels.  Instead of Stephen’s office being filled with stakes and crucifixes like Abraham’s it is filled with his horrifying drafts.  Towards the end of the story, Abraham decides to train his boys in the art of vampire killing.  Abraham orders Joe and Owen to stake and decapitate a vampire.  Young Owen is frightened and unable to complete the slaying.  Joe does not believe that vampires are real and thinks the “vampire” in the basement is just a human corpse.  Protecting his brother Joe murders his father in a twist ending.  “He put the tip of the stake where his father showed him and struck the hilt with the mallet.  It turned out it was true what the old man had told him in the basement.  There was wailing and profanity and a frantic struggle to get away, but it was over soon enough” (p.  111).  There are a few ways to interpret this ending.  My preferred explanation is Joe is writing about how he intends to best his father and become the superior writer i.e., the better vampire slayer.  I believe Joe is well on his way in achieving this goal.  In my opinion he is the better horror writer today.  His stories are more innovative, and he maintains a higher level of quality across his novels.  (However, Stephen King will always have a special place on my shelf.  He is the first writer of adult fiction I was exposed to.  I devoured his books in high school.)

I believe all fiction stems from truth.  Joe Hill often focuses on father-son relationships in his writing because his relationship with his dad holds great significance. There is added complexity in their relationship because they share the same profession.   Perhaps my use of Joe Hill’s stories to interpret the dynamics of the King family veers too far into speculative fiction.  What do you think?

Does Reading Books by Authors from Marginalized Communities make me an Activist?

Recently, I listened to Ocean Vuong’s discussion with Sam Fragoso on the Talk Easy podcast for a third time (because it was so good).  Ocean Vuong is a Vietnamese American, queer poet and novelist that grew up in Hartford, CT.  He is the author of the fantastic novel On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, which has the best writing I’ve encountered this year. Because we grew up in the same metropolitan area and because of his immense talents, I’ve become an Ocean Vuong stan.  Ocean Vuong’s speech is as thoughtful and poetic as his writing, making the podcast worth multiple listens.  One particular portion of the podcast has stuck with me and impacted how I read.  In the podcast, Vuong discusses his frustration that many readers, mainly white, pick up novels related to social justice topics with the primary goal of developing empathy or understanding.  He believes that empathy should not be the sole objective when one interacts with any form of art.

In the podcast Sam Fragoso brings up the senseless shootings that took place at Asian salons in the Atlanta area on March 16th.  Vuong has a personal connection to this tragedy because his mom once worked at a nail salon.  Sadly, she sadly passed away from cancer in 2019.  In On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, Vuong beautifully describes the harsh wear the work had on his mom’s hands:

“Because I am your son, what I know of work I know equally of loss.  And what I know of both I know of your hands.  Their once supple contours I’ve never felt, the palms already callused and blistered long before I was born, then ruined further from three decades in factories and nail salons.  Your hands are hideous—and I hate everything that made them that way.  I hate how they are the wreck and reckoning of a dream” (Vuong 79)

Because of his literary success, Vuong received many requests for his thoughts on the shootings from the media.  He explains, “All of a sudden my books were on these lists, you know my name was referenced in all these places and there were all these reading lists to…empathize with Asian-American life.  So, it is a horrific feeling I think to suddenly be relevant because six Asian American women are murdered.  I don’t wish that feeling on any artist.”  I often read books that are written by authors who are part of marginalized groups featured in the news.   I never considered how authors must feel horribly when their book sales are increasing because of tragic events within their communities.  While a portion of those readers are people of color seeking resilience in a time of stress, there are a lot of white readers, like myself, also picking up copies.  Vuong is not optimistic about the intentions of the white audience that reads these books.

Some white readers that consume books related to racial justice topics aim to develop empathy for a marginalized community.  Vuong presents an important question.  “What does it mean to need a book to empathize?  What is the role of empathy? Because in literature it’s often an unquestioned utopic destination…often of white readers only”.    Vuong continues to expose the flaws in this behavior.  He says, “when I see this sort of recruitment of engaging in cultural relics (novels) in order to value life, I get very pessimistic all of a sudden.  Why can’t these lives be inherently valuable without any knowledge, without any books or film”?  Vuong states the obvious, we as humans should have the ability to hold empathy for others, without the aid of a book, or any form of media.  It is not an author’s responsibility or a book’s purpose to make a marginalized group’s cause worth caring about.  I believe some white readers feel that reading these books is a form of activism.  Upon completing it they feel like they’ve checked off a box that makes them anti-racist and then feel better about themselves.  However, I think there is value in white readers continuing (or starting) to pick up these novels.  But the intention, or motivation, behind the reading must be reframed. 

Activism begins after reading the book.  We need to make sure we’re entering these books with the intention to learn and understand, so that we can take that knowledge into action.  Here are some possible anti-racist actions we can take with insight gained from these novels:

  • Using new understanding to engage in informed conversations with family, peers and especially those with problematic thinking
  • Supporting businesses owned by the community you just read about
  • Contact politicians to demand necessary actions are taken to create anti-racist policy
  • Make informed decisions to support anti-racist candidates on election day
  • Donate money to organizations that are aiding the marginalized group you read about

Link to the podcast: