2017: Inspirations, Highlights & Reflections

2017 is nearly at an end (!!!) and considering the many highs and lows and all that’s happened this year, I’m taking this opportunity to recap and reflect.

Inspirations

I did a post on my top 5 books of 2016 last year, but this year it’s a bit harder to pinpoint which exact ones are my ‘favourites’. Instead, I’ve chosen three — below, in the order I read them — which really stood out because of how much of an impact they left on me, and included a few quotes that really inspired me. None of these spoil plot points, but if you’d rather not know about important emotional moments, maybe skip  these.

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A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

Quote 1:

You won’t understand what I mean now, but someday you will: the only trick of friendship, I think, is to find people who are better than you are—not smarter, not cooler, but kinder, and more generous, and more forgiving—and then to appreciate them for what they can teach you, and to try to listen to them when they tell you something about yourself, no matter how bad—or good—it might be, and to trust them, which is the hardest thing of all. But the best, as well.

Quote 2:

Things get broken, and sometimes they get repaired, and in most cases, you realize that no matter what gets damaged, life rearranges itself to compensate for your loss, sometimes wonderfully.

Quote 3:

 Friendship, companionship: it so often defied logic, so often eluded the deserving, so often settled itself on the odd, the bad, the peculiar, the damaged.

Quote 4:

And so I try to be kind to everything I see, and in everything I see, I see him

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

Quote 1:

Indeed, this is how 99 percent of people select their jobs: pay, work environment, hours. But that’s the point. Putting lifestyle first is how you find a job — not a calling.

Quote 2:

Even if you are perfect, the world isn’t. The secret is to know that the deck is stacked, that you will lose, that your hands or judgment will slip, and yet still struggle to win for your patients. You can’t ever reach perfection, but you can believe in an asymptote toward which you are ceaselessly striving.

Quote 3:

I was searching for a vocabulary with which to make sense of death, to find a way to begin defining myself and inching forward again. The privilege of direct experience had led me away from literary and academic work, yet now I felt that to understand my own direct experiences, I would have to translate them back into language.

Quote 4:

Moral duty has weight, things that have weight have gravity, and so the duty to bear mortal responsibility pulled me back into the operating room.

Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman

Quote 1:

Because sometimes when the world doesn’t make sense, it just feels better if there’s someone around to make it a little less lonely.

Quote 2:

But as much as I like Jamie, as much as I might even love him, needing him is something else entirely. Needing him is scary.

Because needing him means losing him will hurt so much more.

Quote 3:

Beauty isn’t a single thing. Beauty is dreaming — it’s different for everyone, and there are so many versions of it that you mostly have no control over how you see it.

Quote 4:

I have my whole life ahead of me — there isn’t room in it for anger about things I don’t have the power to change […] and that’s okay — because I will be the person I need. I will be the one I can depend on, the one who has the power to make my life better or worse […]

I accept myself.

Highlights

A few highlights from this year:

  • Visiting Melbourne in January and meeting friends and authors there
  • Seeing extended family in China again (and coincidentally bumping into a uni friend there!); the brief visit to Hong Kong and Singapore after that
  • Making some really close friends within the #DiverseBookBloggers community
  • Co-hosting #AsianLitBingo and #AsianLitChat throughout May, which then turned into Lit CelebrAsian – I’m so inspired by the dedication of our brilliant team for putting so much hard work into this, entirely voluntarily, because of everyone’s passion for uplifting diverse voices
  • Noted Festival, Sydney Writers’ Festival, NYWF and Boundless (oookay I did not realise how many of these events I’d gone to until I wrote that as a list xD)
  • I really engaged more with everything I was learning at university this year – Abnormal Psychology, with its clinical applications and expanding my understanding; genuinely improving my Chinese; understanding criminal justice issues through Civil & Criminal Procedure and Criminal Law; and gaining an understanding of Public International Law.
  • Being part of the editorial team for my university’s social justice journal – again, I learned a lot about editing and different areas of social justice and how it interacts with the law throughout
  • Completing an internship which involved working on my university’s innocence exoneration project, and learning more about the criminal justice system throughout
  • Most importantly, strengthening existing friendships and making many new ones – I’m so grateful for all of you!

Reflections

Some lessons I’ve learned this year (and some that I keep trying to tell myself and need to be reminded of as I face different challenges):

  • It sounds obvious, but experiencing moments that have been more uplifting AND painful than I’d ever imagined possible this year really showed me how unpredictable life is, with all its complexities, joys and difficulties.
  • Many things we experience don’t inherently make sense; it’s the way we personally interpret them that allows us to make meaning out of it. (That’s harder, however, when things are unresolved)
  • In terms of my writing, I think the fact that I haven’t written as much this year, but only worked on pieces that have really meant a lot to me, has had an influence on the fact that my writing goals are now a lot more important to me personally. I no longer worry as much about what other people think of the subject matter I choose to write about. Which is amazing, because I used to be swayed so easily by others’ mindsets.
  • It’s good to experience things outside your comfort zone — but it’s possible that your final take-away will just be reaffirming where you don’t fit in, and learning to better stay true to yourself.
  • I’ve learned to trust my friends more. There’s a long story behind what prompted me to change in this way, and the short version is that I hadn’t even realised until a few months ago that there were parts of me which I instinctively kept private – but it usually wasn’t the right choice, because those were the times when I needed my friends’ support the most. Opening up in certain ways definitely doesn’t come to me easily, but I’ve kept pushing myself, and my friendships (new and old) have grown as a result.

How was your 2017?

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Boundless Festival Recap

On Saturday, I attended Boundless, a festival focused on Indigenous and culturally diverse Australian writers! The lineup of artists was incredible and it was really nice to see friends (including Annie, Glaiza and Wai) again ^_^ My eyes and fingers were slightly dying at the end of the day from live-tweeting for Pencilled In, but it was worth it!

Events I attended:

  • Deadly and Hectic: a conversation between Indigenous Australian and migrant writers from Sweatshop, a Western Sydney literary movement. Some really thoughtful discussion regarding representation. Thread of live-tweets here.
  • Shaping the Horizon: a discussion of diverse new voices and the future of the Australian literary landscape with Benjamin Law, Ellen van Neerven, Michael Mohammed Ahmad, Julie Koh and Peter Polites (!!!). Really enjoyable discussion; I wish I’d caught more of their recommendations! Thread of live-tweets here.
  • All in the Family: discussion of how to write family stories, seeking permission and how to represent them. Loved all of the panellists’ thoughts but as always, Benjamin Law was amazing. Thread of live-tweets here.

 

Overall, it was really refreshing to see so many diverse artists, with thoughtful discussions about representation which I learned a lot from. Definitely hoping that this is just the first of many festivals.

Recent Recs

So the #DivBookRec hashtag led to some really great recommendations being shared around Twitter today!

 

I thought I’d add to this and use it as an opportunity to talk about some diverse books I’ve read recently that I really enjoyed, but haven’t reviewed (yet). The books in this post all happen to be by Asian authors (though note it’s only the first that has Asian rep) and they all happen to have been part of my experience of exploring books outside of YA – I may try different themes for future posts 🙂

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

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Summary: The book involves two parallel storylines: one is the story of 16-year-old Japanese girl Nao, struggling with family issues and bullying, and seeking to write the story of her great-grandmother. The other involves an author, Ruth, who picks up Nao’s notebook after it washed up on her shore and suspects it may be debris from the 2011 tsunami. Along with her, the reader progressively discovers Nao’s story.

Why I recommend it: A Tale for the Time Being really fulfilled my need for more books that go beyond the YA I’ve mostly been reading up until now, but with a coming-of-age element. Nao’s voice was captivating with a strong sense of realism, and there were incredible, meaningful explorations of time, family, sacrifice, the writer-reader relationship and experience, with multiple gut-wrenching moments and an ending that left me thinking after I’d finished. Thanks to Aentee @ Read at Midnight who put this on my radar!

I am a time being. Do you know what a time being is? Well, if you give me a moment, I will tell you. A time being is someone who lives in time, and that means you, and me, and every one of us who is, or was, or ever will be.

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

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Summary: Covering many years, the story starts with four young friends making their way in New York City. One of them, Jude, struggles with his heavy past and the way it haunts him throughout his life and his relationships with others.

Why I recommend it: I was really hesitant to read A Little Life in the beginning – multiple people said things along the lines of ‘it will destroy you’ in terms of being a heavy emotional experience. That’s certainly true and even months later, I feel like I’m still processing everything within it, but it does a disservice to some of the most touching parts of the book – the friendships, the father-son relationship between Harold and Jude, the beautifully empathetic way it explores Jude’s character, the way it made me appreciate so many aspects of life in a new way. Powerful, resonant, and has definitely stayed with me. Thanks to my friends Sean and Wai for recommending it!

You won’t understand what I mean now, but someday you will: the only trick of friendship, I think, is to find people who are better than you are—not smarter, not cooler, but kinder, and more generous, and more forgiving—and then to appreciate them for what they can teach you, and to try to listen to them when they tell you something about yourself, no matter how bad—or good—it might be, and to trust them, which is the hardest thing of all. But the best, as well.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

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Summary: Kathy is a 31-year-old carer, reflecting on her time at Hailsham school in the English countryside and the friendships she had then. Secrets about her and her friends’ fate, and their school, are slowly alluded to and revealed.

Why I recommend it: Kazuo Ishiguro’s writing was powerful in its simplicity, and although the book explores confronting themes (it’s better to go into it not knowing much), it does so in a subtle way that leaves all the larger an impact for it. I liked the blend of literary fiction and social commentary. Also, Kazuo Ishiguro just won the Nobel Prize for Literature, so now’s a great time to pick up one of his books 🙂

It had never occurred to me that our lives, which had been so closely interwoven, could unravel with such speed. If I’d known, maybe I’d have kept tighter hold of them, and not let unseen tides pull us apart.

Have you read any of the books here? What were your thoughts? Do you have any recommendations for someone like me who’s interested in (preferably diverse) books that go beyond the scope of YA but have crossover/coming-of-age themes?

Lit CelebrAsian Launch and Updates

Lit CelebrAsian Launch

Everyone, I have something really exciting to share with you today! Remember in May when I was part of a group of book bloggers hosting #AsianLitChat and #AsianLitBingo? I’m now part of the group of co-hosts for Lit CelebrAsian, a permanent expansion of these two initiatives, along with a book club and many more things to come! Here’s a snippet from our introduction post – check out our website for more details.

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Welcome to Lit CelebrAsian! We are a group of bookworms and diverse book bloggers aiming to uplift Asian voices in literature. Due to the support and appreciation that followed both #AsianLitChat and #AsianLitBingo, we wanted to create a space to share more books and discussion related to literature by Asian authors. And thus, Lit CelebrAsian was born!

We want to highlight Asian voices through features and annual events that are open to all readers. Beyond Asian representation, on social media, we aim to boost the many different marginalized voices, platforms and communities with similar goals towards equality in publishing.

Updates

It’s obviously also been…over two months since I last made a blog post here! I’m sorry for completely abandoning this blog and for half-disappearing from Twitter with no warning – the short answer is that life got in the way, and I’m still unable to get back into a regular blogging schedule at this stage, although I’d like to … eventually!

For now, I’m going to focus on assisting with the Lit CelebrAsian iniatives 🙂 You can find me co-running our Instagram account – we have quite a few things planned that I’m really excited for. Hope to see you there 🙂

July TBR and Writing Plans

Everyone, I’m back! 😀 The past month has just been study, study, study for me – it’s good to be free from it (for now). I’m still pretty tired and recovering, so will be getting back into things slowly, but here are my writing/reading plans for this month.

 

TBR: July

High Priority
  • The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig – I started this in May for #AsianLitBingo and didn’t get through the whole thing, but I was really enjoying the writing and setting (historical Hawaii), so will aim to finish it in the next few days.
  • Ballad for a Mad Girl by Vikki Wakefield, Marsh and Me by Martine Murray, and God Smites and Other Muslim Girl Problems by Ishara Deen – all of these are review books that have been sitting around for way too long!
  • A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara – this is my friend’s favourite book, and after listening to a podcast of Yanagihara’s closing address from SWF 2016 (link), I’d really like to start on this!
Other books I’d like to get to
  • Nora and Kettle by Lauren Nicolle Taylor – ordered this book recently and it sounds incredible (Peter Pan-inspired, linked in with the Japanese-American internment during WW2).
  • The Hate Race by Maxine Beneba Clarke – I’ve kept meaning to read this after borrowing it from Glaiza back in January.

Writing Plans

  • A few commissioned blog posts over the next week
  • Continuing to work on a short story I got partway through earlier this year – historical fiction about the Immigration Restriction Act, family relationships, and identity. Lots of rethinking and reworking ahead, but I’m looking forward to finishing it 🙂
  • Potentially starting another short story that’s surrealist/magical realism and draws on Chinese folklore about the moon
  • Various editing work for uni/other publications

Misc

  • This doesn’t come out where I am until the end of July, but I’m looking forward to finally seeing the film adaptation of A Monster Calls
  • #YAFanFest on July 20th – looking forward to seeing friends and authors there!
Have you read any of the above books before? How was June for you? What are your plans for July?

May Wrap-Up + Hiatus in June

Noted Festival

In Canberra on 6th & 7th May. I hadn’t been to Canberra since my school excursion in Year 10 (aaaages ago) and it was so pretty to experience in autumn. Also, really nice to be able to catch up with friends there again ^_^ Highlights:

  • Seeing Jenevieve Chang’s event, where she talked about her memoir The Good Girl of Chinatown. Her thoughts on the theme of running away throughout the book, the city of Shanghai and her grandmother’s stories were fascinating. Really looking forward to reading the book!
  • Listening to the readings + music at the event Mixtape Memoirs. So hard to describe it, let alone in a way that does it justice, but I was captivated.
  • Delivering a kids’ storytelling workshop – I think I handled it okay! It’s good to be able to have that as part of my experience now.
  • The independent publishing fair – so many zines and other artistic stalls around, and my amazing friends Zhi and Shu-Ling sold REALLY well!

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Sydney Writers’ Festival

I went to three events on the YA day on Saturday, as well as an event on Sunday, and I really loved listening to all the speakers. Sorry about the lack of the photos, I was so tired on both days I didn’t take any!

  • Mariko Tamaki Talks the Talk: in conversation with Mariko Tamaki, not just about dialogue but other aspects of her creativity too. She was a really engaging speaker! See here for a thread of live-tweets by Emily (@UncoverAllure)
  • Defying Expectations: on the stereotypes faced by women writers, and countering them. Absolutely incredible and really thoughtful comments from all the panellists. Thread of live-tweets here.
  • Fresh Voices from Western Sydney – A Showcase of Real Talk: spoken word performances by high school students from Western Sydney. I seriously have no words to describe how incredible it was. As far as I can remember, every single one of the performers addressed something to do with identity and/or social issues (body image, consent, prejudice, class, etc.) – which was so inspiring to see.
  • Borders of Our Writing: discussion of non-English traditions in the artists’ writing. Sad that Maxine Beneba Clarke couldn’t make it, but this definitely made me even more interested in reading Rajith Savanadasa’s Ruins. A few of the audience questions at the end were insensitive, and/or frustrating – but that’s for a longer conversation regarding writers’ festivals and access. Live-tweet thread here.

#AsianLitBingo

It was so good to be able to co-host this initiative to promote Asian books and authors during May! Highlights:

  • Being part of an amazing group of passionate bloggers who pulled the initiative together so beautifully; especially the incredible work by Shenwei (@theshenners), the creator, and Aentee (@readatmidnight), who did the amazing graphics.
  • Seeing so many people pick up books with Asian rep by Asian authors which I usually don’t see enough people talking about
  • Interviewing my all-time favourite author, Stacey Lee, here, and encouraging more people to pick her books up
  • #AsianLitChat with some amazing authors and readers and involving fantastic discussions! I was a bubble of happiness throughout and afterwards. The Storify recaps for the chats (put together by the incredible efforts of Glaiza) can be found here.
  • Last but not least, reading incredible Asian books for the challenge! I only finished two books, unfortunately >.< (The Other Shore and The Emperor’s Riddle, both of which I loved) but it was a lot of fun putting together my TBR for it and being motivated to dive in!

Books read in May

  1. The Other Shore by Hoa Pham, a haunting story about a Vietnamese girl who gains psychic powers and the consequences of this. Filled with political and spiritual intrigue (for #AsianLitBingo – SE Asian MC)
  2. The Emperor’s Riddle by Kat Zhang, about a Chinese-American girl on a holiday in China, and uncovering the mystery of an emperor’s hidden treasure. This was a lot of fun and I loved the setting + characters! (for #AsianLitBingo – Free Space)
  3. Still Life with Tornado by A.S. King is the story of a teen artist, Sarah, going through what she calls an ‘existential crisis’ and uncovering painful family secrets. Powerful and heartbreaking.
  4. Read halfway through The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig – a time-travelling ship goes back to Hawaii, where Nix Song was born, and her father (the captain) seeks to reunite with her mother through any means possible. I’m loving the writing and setting so far! Will finish it after exams.

Blog wrap-up

Hiatus in June

This is to let everyone know that I’m going to have to put both my blog and Twitter on hiatus for the whole of June. I’ve got exams coming up (including one which is worth 80% of my final mark – so. much. fun.), some writing deadlines still to meet, and other life stuff going on.

I dislike having to put things completely on hold (usually I have a lot of posts scheduled and just spread them out slowly if I’m too busy), but I’ve got absolutely no choice this time… Use my contact form if you’d like to message me, otherwise I’ll see you in July!

Art, Family, Heartbreak – Still Life with Tornado by A.S. King

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Goodreads Link

Publisher’s Website

Thank you to Text Publishing for the review copy!

Still Life with Tornado by A.S. King was a heart-breaking and a cleverly written book. I especially appreciated the unflinchingly powerful ways it looked at the pain within a fragile family, and the thematic role of art and originality throughout the book.

The story is primarily told from the point of view of 16-year-old Sarah, who is going through what she refers to as an ‘existential crisis’. She’s suddenly stopped going to school, is unable to create art, feels dazed and not-quite-right – and she’s started encountering past and future (10- and 23-year-old) versions of herself as she wanders aimlessly around the city.

The answers are deep within the darkest truths of her family, regarding the relationship between her parents and her brother, who left them and whom she hasn’t contacted, since something happened when they went on a family vacation to Mexico six years ago. Through Sarah’s present point of view, the story of what happened six years ago, and her mother’s perspective, the lies and pain are heartbreakingly revealed.

Firstly, A.S. King’s writing was really engaging. The narrative was immersive (I finished it really quickly) and so clearly conveying how dazed Sarah was and, later on, the pain she was going through with powerful, haunting writing. The strong writing extended to the use of tension throughout the book. The revelations here, at least to me, weren’t completely surprising twists, but were heavily built up beforehand, and I saw certain things coming. What this did was increase the sense of foreboding, which was really effective considering the serious subject matter, and made the emotional and visceral impact hit harder when the truths about what happened in Sarah’s family and regarding her art came to the surface.

I think about still lifes…that’s what I had. A still life. The more I pay attention, the more I see I was wrong.

The multiple points of view/story threads throughout were also used really well – the past was woven in really well with the revelations in the present. Sarah’s mother’s point of view, which I really appreciated the insight of, was gut-wrenching, empathetic and relevant

There were magical realism elements in the story through Sarah (and later on, others) encountering her past and future selves. It was a clever way to move the story forward, forcing her to reflect and question on who she was and would become, as well as simply being interesting and amusing through the interactions with her past and future selves (e.g. meeting other people and all coming together at once, at one point later in the book).

When you learn the truth late, you doubt everything that ever happened in your whole life because your whole life was a lie.

I loved how the protagonist was an artist, the way the narrative delved into her difficulties associated with this, and the way it was tied it in to the rest of the plot. The themes regarding  originality in the book were unique and often relatable. We rarely, and I would love to see more of, such stories regarding art-specific concepts like originality (the most prominent here), the ups and downs of creation, comparing yourself to others, aspiration, the power of art and its role in our lives.

“You know what art is?” he asks. “Art is the truth.”

Definitely recommended, and be prepared for the heavier themes and emotional impact.

Highlight for content warning (NOTE – potential spoiler) domestic violence/abuse

Have you read Still Life with Tornado, or any of A.S. King’s books? Australians – are you going to any of her upcoming events here? Are there any other books you’ve read where an artist is the protagonist?