May and June 2021 Reads

Remaking a Life: How Women Living with HIV/AIDS Confront Inequality by Celeste Watkins-Hayes

Dr. Watkins-Hayes has been my academic hero for a while and Remaking a Life only cements these sentiments. I’ve wanted to have my own copy of this book ever since it was published a few years ago…the wait was worth it. A connoisseur at marrying storytelling with data, Dr. Watkins-Hayes presents what she terms “stories of transformation” that follow a trajectory of women living with HIV/AIDS first ‘dying from’ the disease, then ‘living with’, and finally ‘thriving despite’. In six chapters, she eloquently explains the forms ‘transformations’ take, depicting structures that support and hinder them and what a ‘successful’ transformation looks like. Dr. Watkins-Hayes underpins these transformative projects in a systemic investigation of what it could mean for communities to heal from the “social and economic disadvantage and psychological trauma” besieging them for generations. One of those books that warrants numerous underlines/highlights and reflections in the margins. Highly recommend.

The Shell Collector by Anthony Doerr

Review that most resonated: “I can think of very few authors who can put together a sentence with such ecstasy, whose words sing with music and such sheer rapture at what they embody.” (The Times)

Another riveting read from a favorite writer. The Shell Collector is a brilliantly written collection of short stories that centers human beings’ relationships with the natural world that “take readers from the African coast to the pine forests of Montana to the damp moors of Lapland, charting a vast physical and emotional landscape.” The Goodreads synopsis captures this best: “Doerr explores the human condition in all its varieties—metamorphosis, grief, fractured relationships, and slowly mending hearts-and conjures nature in both its beautiful abundance and crushing power. Some of his characters contend with tremendous hardship; some discover unique gifts; all are united by their ultimate deference to the mysteries of the universe outside themselves.”

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami

I read this short memoir primarily because I was curious to peek inside the mind and thoughts of one of my favorite writers. Murakami describes similarities between running and writing: both build upon a quiet, inner motivation, actively seeking out solitude, and internal gratification (aiming for your writing/running to meet your own standards, not others). A gentle look into Murakami’s approach to running, writing, and life in general.

The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy

Gifted and shipped to me by my dear friend and adopted family member, Aunt Edie, this graphic novel is a rare treasure that I see myself returning to throughout life. In beautiful graphics, Mackesy outlines all that is important in life and truly living. I read this slower than my usual pace to absorb the simple-yet-profound truths about kindness, love, beauty, friendship, and many others. A bedside book and great gift to all ages. Thank you, Aunt Edie!

The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu

One of my 2021 favorites, Liu produced a pure work of genius with this collection of short stories. He captures the minutest details of everyday life and prompts you to look at ordinary objects in a new, profound light. E.g., one story narrates how souls exist in objects such as ice cubes or a coffee tin or a saltshaker, another story features a fox that embodies the industrial revolution, her body slowly replaced by mechanical parts. How Liu could capture emotion with such tight-yet-lyrical prose is astounding to me…’Good Hunting’ and ‘The Literomancer’ elicited a spectrum of emotion and of course who could forget ‘The Paper Menagerie’—a mélange of childhood, regrets, and the purest mother-son bond wrapped up in 12 pages. Highly, highly recommend this collection.

Epidemiology and the People’s Health: Theory and Context by Nancy Krieger

Epidemiologic theory has rarely been investigated or discussed, which Dr. Krieger strives to change with this classic book, among her other works. While this book is more academic in nature, Dr. Krieger accessibly presents the foundations of epidemiologic theory, its history, and how its development has influenced contemporary global public health. I’d recommend this book to those wanting to learn more about global public health or with an interest in scientific theory.

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

Recommended by a creative writing professor to a workshop class I took in college, this novel has been on my reading list for years and is easily one with some of the most complex characters I’ve ever witnessed. The complexity is perhaps why this small-town murder mystery felt even more real, as Flynn cleverly weaves characters’ raw issues of trauma, grief, and other forms of suffering into the murder investigations. Some parts were quite languid and predictable though overall set the bar quite high for future mysteries/thrillers. The darkness and intensity of this novel intentionally make the reader feel uncomfortable—I suggest reading this in small bits!

Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami

Review that most resonated: “Murakami is brilliant at folding the humdrum alongside the supernatural; finding the magic that’s nested in life’s quotidian details.”

It all begins when an unnamed protagonist discovers a concealed painting when living in the house of a renowned artist in the mountains after separating with his wife. Murakami is an expert at magical realism, and while this novel felt unfocused and lengthy at times, I thoroughly enjoyed it and especially appreciated the nuances Murakami paints on loneliness, love, and art.

Silent Spring by Rachel Carson

Published in 1962 yet relevant as ever, I can feel Carson’s rage as she depicts how page after page, day after day, year after year, another species of bird, insect, or plant is brought to near extinction by pesticides, herbicides, and other manmade toxins. While the use of many of the pesticides and herbicides presented in Silent Spring have been banned in most corners of the globe, the widespread practice of harming our natural habitat is as salient as ever, shifting the equilibrium of nature toward one that benefits humankind short-term and wreaks havoc for all long-term. A classic that meticulously documents pesticides and herbicides’ deleterious environmental effects.

Favorite quote: “Who has decided —who has the right to decide—for the countless legions of people who were not consulted that the supreme value is a world without insects, even though it be also a sterile world ungraced by the curving wing of a bird in flight? The decision is that of the authoritarian temporarily entrusted with power; he has made it during a moment of inattention by millions to whom beauty and the ordered world of nature still have a meaning that is deep and imperative.”

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