Bookforum: Marlon James

This morning.

There are many ways to enrich yourself. You could go hiking, swimming, reading, fishing, skateboarding, whip up a nice sandwich, volunteering, cleaning, teaching, or anything.

It’s not what you do. It’s why and how you do it and staying true to your intentions. A cyclist cycling to recover from a broken heart and a cyclist cycling for health reasons is two different ways of the ‘what’. Why are you cycling for? How are you cycling, are you all geared up with safety equipments? That’s the difference.

It’s better than spending one full hour mindlessly swiping through websites that does nothing good other than make you hate your own life more by envying others.

Do something.

Mine’s reading, spending money on books, and spending time organizing my book club.

Reading + Snacking: Small Fry

What’s better than coffee?

Taiwanese Boba – Pearl Milk Tea (with a brown sugar twist). It’s ridiculous how people (people are people and I am people) associate it with a “younger crowd”. I’m 37 this year and I drink it like I’m 17. Screw people!

A brilliant afternoon with my Kindle and one of my minions (not pictured).

Currently (still) reading: Small Fry by LBJ.

Going In Circles

How many of us read not just as a means to be a better person*, but as a means to disappear into the book, completely, wishing never to come back, because the only thing that’s waiting for us if we ‘go back’, is nothing but despair, darkness, and endless misery?

“So what do you do to cope?” My cousin asked me today. “I read,” I said.

Reading works for me, and I honestly dread the day I lose my sight, because that will be the end of me. If money can buy me peace, I’d build a soundproof room to read. If money can buy me time, I’d use the time to read. If money can buy me things? I’d buy books. If money can make me things? I’d build a beautiful reading nook. If money can buy me legacies? I’d buy books and build libraries.

Most days, I am highly aware that I am indeed going in circles, facing the same toxicity, day in, day out. Although, it is much worse of an awakening to know that I am not alone in this circle. Once upon a time, I had a demanding job career, and I hardly got sick, maybe once a year, at most. Overtime didn’t mean sh*t. I soldiered on with a crazy-work-but-not much-life balance that made me, strangely, physically stronger.

Now that I no longer have that balance, I have found something else to replace it. Reading is great, mentally, but it is not the same as having a purpose or being rewarded – work, meetings, plannings, projects, business travels, salary, mentoring, etc.

I battle with the idea of going to the gym, going for a swim, or read. First world problems, they call it. I even find myself asking, stupidly, “Should I be exercising or reading to make this body stronger?”

What, do I even need to answer that question?

Once upon a life ago, I had the office and work responsibilities to turn to, amidst the deadly toxicity I have to endure. Now, all I do is read. I read, and read, and read. Wishing things would just go away, or better, have an ending. However, life toxicity doesn’t end until it ends, like the breath of life leaving a human body. Life isn’t a book, until it becomes a book. When it becomes a book, you’d have dissipated by then, completely, into earth, into air.

There are times when I question myself upon finishing a book – Did I read it thoroughly, when all those toxicity were exploding in between the pages? Did I miss anything crucial while toxic fumes were engulfing my lungs? Or, “F*ck, I sure hope I could concentrate on finishing this book tonight while I battle the toxic fumes and tend my intoxicated wounds!” – Stuff like that.

Currently, I’m physically sick – flu, cough, sore throat, headaches. I try to use books to heal from within, hoping it could literally help my body recover. After all, it wasn’t just a virus that made these possible. Really, it’s not, and it’s morbidly terrifying.

But is that even possible, using books to heal a broken body?

“I’ve been doing it for a couple years, though.”

No, honey, it is not possible. You know it’s not working, it did not work, and it will never work. That’s the verdict.

I don’t go never did well with New Year Resolutions, but it doesn’t hurt to say it anyway – Come next year, I am still going to stick to reading, to better myself, and to use it as a first-aid for the on-going mental battleground I’m going to have to endure; but with a new addition – Head to the f*cking gym or pool at least once a week.

Because my mind alone can’t work my soul anymore. My body has to work it too.

*reading teaches not just knowledge, but the ability to formulate and practice compassion through understanding the lives of others.

The “T” Word

T is for Traveling

Traveling. I We went traveling. We chose a neighboring state, which was an hour and a half away.

Back to books – my favorite thing!

Sadness, at Kota Kinabalu International Airport

I don’t know how old our “new” airport is, probably somewhere between 15 to 20 years. What I do remember, is that sometime in 2010, this bookstore sold banned books, particularly books about the Communist Party of China (CPC), in Chinese and English.

The books, I recall, were neatly arranged according to leaders rulers from different eras, e.g. Mao Tse-tung, Deng Xiaoping, … Xi Jinping. They were displayed at a prime spot – at the center, facing the walkway; like expensive, limited edition chocolates. Most of the banned books were about the decadence and excess of the CPC, but the ones that tend to get the most pick-ups were exposés of obscene, often offshore – wealth, and immediate family members (nepotism, illegitimate children, etc.). It felt somewhat scandalous, because I had by then lived in Beijing for a decade, so I know what’s it like to stumble upon forbidden knowledge. The icing? We had, and still do, have a lot of tourists flying in directly from Mainland China.

But as the years went by, 2011, 2013… I noticed an uneasy shift. I still saw some banned books around town, but the product placement and topics seemed to have faded and toned down, respectively. 

It wasn’t until 2016 when I flew back and it finally hit me that those banned books had simply vanished. It was disheartening and disgusting. This is how I imagined it:

Someone, likely a foreigner (you can easily guess which nationality), complained to someone important; and someone else, likely Malaysian, likely high up, somehow buckled his knees and kowtowed to the communists someone important’s boss.

T is for Threats

You know, it’s really not that hard for them to force us to remove twist our arms and politely ask us to cease all sales and remove unsold copies from our shelves, likely countrywide. All they have to do is use the magic “T” word – Threats. Cancel direct flights to our tiny city? Impose draconian rules for inbound and outbound travels between two countries? You go figure.

So I took the above photo not because I happen to blog about books. I took this photo because it is sad that yet another brick and mortar has lost its soul. Bookstores should be airport fixtures, but I guess in today’s age, airports are better-off inviting (or begging) Apple to set-up shop at airports, no? That way, they can charge higher rent, and make more money off Generation Gadget.

Enough of the above. Maybe you are now inspired to read The Party: The Secret World of China’s Communist Rulers by Richard McGregor? Ha-ha. go ahead. Read about it here. It’s still on my tbr. Just don’t forget to write me some afterthoughts once you’re done.

Moving on.

Here’s my backpack and my Paperwhite. My backpack is too big for my tiny asian frame (5’2), but this is what happens when you buy things online. 

In case you’re wondering, No, I do not have a purple belt in BJJ. I bought a brown one for my sensei, Han, as a farewell and good luck charm (that’ll he’ll be promoted to brown soon) before I left Beijing in the spring of 2016. He was purple with 4 stripes. This keychain is not a good luck charm for myself. It is just a reminder that my first BJJ sensei was a purple belt. That’s all.

Traveling with kids is fun, but the best part is always when they fall asleep after a day’s sightseeing etc. which was obviously planned and executed with precision to wear them out so that they can learn about new cultures and stuff. I decided to take a photo during a moment of bliss – no chores before bedtime, just reading, and wake up to, again, no chores. 

Ooh-la-la! Book nerds, this is bliss. Pretending to be eating healthy, while reading something when the room is dead quiet, no dogs barking outside, no electronic gates closing and opening (my neighbors they all lead such exciting lifestyles, sometimes I really wish I had the energy to go out with friends at night), and the best of it all – no chores. Just me, my Kindle, an apple and I.


T is for Turbulence

Reading when flying?

The answer, will always be NO. It is a terrible idea. Always, a bad, idea. Here’s why:

  1. Dryness
    • The cabin is dry. Glasses or contact lenses, the best thing you should be doing to your eyes while 30,000 feet above ground level, is to close them. Both. Tight. 
  2. “T” for Turbulence
    • I don’t know how lucky you are with flights, but the more I attempt to read, the more the plane pilot aeronautics decide to mess with me. Also, please read the following bullet point…
    • It is not advisable to read in a moving vehicle, specifically cars, as it wears your eyes out because it needs to constantly adjust itself so that it could identify the line of words in sight (you’re concentrating on). With cars, they swerve, bump and grind… very bad for your eyes. Period.
    • Of course, you can read perfectly fine in a bullet train, or on a huge ship that’s sailing on calm waters.
    • But try reading on a yacht and tell me how it goes, will ya?
  3. Sitting position. How far and long can you go if you don’t live the high life?
  4. Poor traveler behind you with long legs who can’t help but bump into your seat whenever they need to stretch a little. 
  5. Travelers who need to pee and get in and out. I mean, can you blame them? You’re likely one of them. 
  6. Attempts to ignore points 1 to 5 will only result in you reading the same paragraph over and over and over for 11 f*cking minutes until you give up and just stick to 1.

I guess that is all. I managed to read 30% of In Extremis this trip, a pretty decent feat I must say!

Happy holidays and safe travels to all. May you finish your current book before you buy a new one!

Read: The 57 Bus

*Spoiler Alert*

I was 60% through when I realized that this book wasn’t so much about racism but questionable hate. In fact, it wasn’t even about hate, not a fair bit. It was about a stupid 16yo kid. All 16yo kids are stupid, right? Did you have stupid thoughts as a teen, as a 16yo? If you had, this book is for you. So, yes, this book is one half of a kid who did a very stupid thing. And like many of us, he had real dumb friends.

The introduction of the book seemed misleading to had misled me, as I thought it was a book about injustice – something along the lines of George Zimmerman vs. Trayvon Martin. Like (this book, not in reference to Trayvon), a black kid did something stupid at the wrong place, wrong time, wrong everything. And the crime? He did it to a white kid. I thought it was about that. 

The introduction to the book said it all. Should I type it all out?

Sasha, a white teen, lived in the middle-class foothills and attended a small private school. Richard, a black teen, lived in the crime-plagued flatlands and attended a large public one.

(excerpt from the book’s foreword)

Let me rewrite that for you, author of the book:

Sasha, who identifies as agender, lived in the middle-class foothills and attended a small private school. Richard, like every other idiotic typical 16yo, lived in the crime-plagued flatlands and attended a large public one.

Or this, 

Sasha, who identifies as agender, attended a different school from Richard, who comes across as yet another rowdy smartass. Both of them [sic] live in the same town.

So back to my post…

If you’ve read this – Do you think this would have been written into a book if Richard was white? Or written-off the face of history because he wasn’t black anyway?

Better, leave out their backgrounds because this whole story has nothing to do with middle or lower class. A white or brown or yellow kid can be easily egged on by other kids. The kid doesn’t have to be introduced this early as a kid who comes from “da hood”:

If you haven’t read this book – I am sorry. I believe I’ve ruined it for you. But all the more reason to pick it up and read for yourself, amirite?

If a white kid had done this to Sasha, case closed. “It was just a stupid prank,” – some’d say. Here’s how it’d go: White boy sent to juvie, two years or less on good behavior, end of story. Sasha moves on to MIT and no book deal necessary. This wasn’t anywhere close to Gwen Araujo. The prosecutor would argue (on behalf of the white Richard) that it was a stupid prank. There’s some hate but the white Richard wasn’t thinking clearly. And add, “This isn’t anywhere close to the Gwen Araujo case. This kid has a future. Let’s help him.”

But Richard wasn’t white. The court believed that he had to be tried as an adult. The book did not explicitly maneuver to that sensitive topic (e.g. it’s a black on white hate crime). But I bet you if you Googled it, there are accounts of that. 

Moving on –

I’ve heard about Restorative Justice but this was the first book that took me deeper into it. Context, origin. One star for that.

But… This book should’ve just remained as a news article. I didn’t get much out of this book, unlike The Meaning of Matthew, which left me lost in thoughts. It still does now. The perpetrators weren’t even black and still, it nailed it

This book, on Sasha’s part, while a decent one on barely scratched the surface of gender identity, namely agender and genderqueer (and tiny bits of LGBTQIA in general), didn’t delve any further other than Sasha was agender, had compassionate parents, had friends who didn’t identify as cisgender. Last but not least, “Black or white, the law is the law, juvie or not, let’s try him as an adult,” period.

As for Richard’s part, the “black teen”? Richard is paying for his crime by sitting in a juvie hall for five years for a stupid, dimwitted crime, and there’s no way around that – he has to serve his time. After all, he freakin’ set another human being’s skirt on fire because that human being wasn’t “dressed normally”. My own quote unquote.

The highlight of the book? Those two letters written by Richard which was finally read by Sasha and their family after, what, 14 months? That is what should be turned into a book. The inner bullshit of the “justice system”. 

This book wasn’t about Richard being black, or Sasha being white. It wasn’t about hate, nor discrimination.

It was about stupidity and ignorance at its purest forms, like coca plants before the drugmakers harvest them, churning them into cocaine.

I wouldn’t recommend this book to anyone. Just stick to Google and find the article by New York Times (here you go, and you’re welcome), and you’re good to move on to other LGBTQIA reads. 

p.s. After starring the book (Amazon. Not on Goodreads yet), I scrambled to see if there were others who’d done the same. I mean, this book did get a lot of five stars. So yeah I stumbled upon another reader who thought the article idea would’ve been better. Thanks. One’s better than nothing.

Break: What Do You Got?

Reading gives us someplace to go when we have to stay where we are.

Mason Cooley

This is rather subtle, but still it speaks to many of us.

When I saw this post in a reading group I belong to, I’d instantly hit share. I mean, what’s your Facebook for, really? To share, right? So I needed to share that. This. Reading is good. It’s quiet. It’s peaceful. It’s rewarding, mentally, spiritually. Though never quite physically.

I love to travel. I love moving around. I don’t like being stuck in one place over a long period of time which I can never quite explain how long, to be exact. I don’t get tired of things easily. I just want to be exposed to other things other than what I’ve already been exposed to. Either that, or I needed something more from the same thing I was exposed to, as it doesn’t always have to be something different.

I like going around solo, because I don’t like waiting around for things or people to happen. I find most thrills through observing, then making my move. By move, I mean talk. Chat. Communicate. Ask, and listen. Not speak.

But when you have to stay where you are, whether you’re bound to commitments or basic human responsibilities, what escape do you got? What excuses do you got, to make a quick escape?

To live freely, to be appreciated, to be respected, to be understood?

What do you got?

Books. Stories. You got books, you got stories. All to yourself.

(add music to that, and whatever antidepressants you’re on).

If your body can’t do the job for you, your mind can.

And don’t you ever, fucking forget that.

Reading For Different Reasons

It’s like tennis, you know, people play for different reasons. I just finished Netflix Elite Season 1. In one of the final few episodes, Ander’s dad handled his son’s coming out perfectly well, but with a twist – he wants his son to continue playing tennis and use his sexuality to win over sponsors and hopefully become the first gay man to win a world tennis championship.

So why do you read?

Some people read to challenge themselves, like, fuck, I’m pushing forty and haven’t read 20 books my whole fucking life. Maybe it’s time to start reading some shit.

Some people read to pass a test. Grade. You get the picture. They force it upon themselves just so that they could move on within a failed system.

Some people read because they want to gain popularity. Look! I’ve read this year’s top 100 fantasy novels. Hey, I pre-ordered Stephen King’s latest book, man. Can’t wait, man. I’m gonna be the first to finish it and post the first review on Goodreads, man.


Some people read because they are bored. BORED. This, I admire. Because, when I’m bored, the last thing I can ever do, is read and concentrate on what I’m reading. Good for you.

Then there are those who read because “It’s my hobby, I love to read!” That’s one of the weirdest bull-hobby I ever wrote when I, along with others, were forced to write our hobbies down during random class assignments and even during Sunday School. But okay then. So, I don’t have a hobby, unless you call solo backpacking a hobby, then sure, I have one. Otherwise, reading is not or shouldn’t be called hobby. Despite the existence of this blog.

What about those who read because they just need to step into another world other than the one they are forced to living in? Or perhaps that’s the only thing they are allowed to do, or could do, especially in times of despair?

What about those who read because they genuinely want to enrich themselves with wisdom they have no access to in real life?

What about those who read because they don’t think they deserve to be living the life they were born with?

What about those who read because they just want to disappear into oblivion on purpose?

Whatever your reasons are, you read because you are able to, and you should know that there are many people who want to read but do not have the means to. From forbidden to visual impairment, may you appreciate your access to reading no matter where you are, and who you are.