an unsent letter

in a burst of metal you burned too soon –
it was only last month that we sat
at the edge of the pond,
dust on our palms and peach juice still sticky
on our lips and fingers.

tiny palaces had lined our street,
and we found solidity in structure:
low sloped ceilings,
stone pillars,
perfect squares and perfect circles,
wooden staircases whose steps
led to safe spaces floating between
the roof’s dark tiles.

as we dreamed of the temple of heaven
lying radiant among the golden clouds,
your face was suffused with dying light.
butterflies followed us incessantly then.
they brushed over our heads
as we flipped through our books.

i was a coward.
afraid of change,
i didn’t want to leave
those bright dusty days,
our pond and our peaches,
our books and our butterflies,
so you volunteered to go instead.

(my biggest regret –
i should have screamed then,
clung to your arm
so that you stayed.
screaming later didn’t bring you back.)

at the train station,
gunfire left you
in flames.

do androids dream of electric sheep? | a book review

“Empathy, he once had decided, must be limited to herbivores or anyhow omnivores who could depart from a meat diet. Because, ultimately, the empathic gift blurred the boundaries between hunter and victim, between the successful and the defeated.”

a few days ago i finished philip k. dick’s do androids dream of electric sheep? and enjoyed it immensely. prior to this book, the only work of PKD’s that i’d read was his essay “how to build a universe that doesn’t fall apart two days later,” which i liked a lot but was more philosophical in nature. i don’t read that much science fiction – i think the last time i loved a sci-fi novel as much as this one was ender’s game, which i read years ago – but i wanted to go more into the genre since a few of my friends are taking a science fiction class at school this year.

and this book was so good. i think part of my enjoyment comes from the timing alone. my schedule last week was chaos, and i needed something that i could dip into and out of easily during any breaks i had between classes, at the bus stop, during lunch, and so on. do androids dream of electric sheep? was a perfect choice. the story’s incredibly action-packed and fast-paced. even though i don’t usually like sci-fi, i couldn’t stop reading; it was like watching a film and i loved it.*

PKD is no salman rushdie or donna tartt, but his writing is super readable and easy to understand. also, while do androids dream of electric sheep? is traditional science fiction, we do get extensive introspection from the main character, rick deckard. that was my favorite part of the story: deckard’s thought processes. the entire narrative takes place in a single day. in the morning deckard’s a bounty hunter – a cop with crude cop’s hands, as his wife iran puts it, whose job is to destroy rogue androids. by the end of the novel he literally becomes the epitome of empathy. he continually questions himself as he takes on his assignment of six nexus-6 androids, the latest model that’s more human-like than ever before.

what is the line between humans and androids? it was empathy, but even that is blurred when deckard meets rachael rosen, who turns out to be an android as well. there’s a terrifying, reality-shattering moment when he goes to an opera house to retire luba luft, an alleged nexus-6. she successfully avoids taking the voight-kampff test (the only reliable empathy test people on earth have to identify androids) and calls the police on deckard after accusing him of perversion. he’s then arrested and taken to a police station that he – a veteran bounty hunter – has never, ever seen before. here i had to pause and wonder if that was the twist – that deckard himself was actually an android with false memories. (he isn’t, but the twist following his arrest is pretty great.)

there were definitely a few issues with this book. the story flies by so quickly that i felt like PKD told us, rather than showed us, his characters. we are told that dave holden was the best bounty hunter in his department before he was shot by the third nexus-6. we are told that iran loves shopping too much to save money for a real animal. we are told that deckard falls in love with rachael rosen in the span of two pages. i found this last part particularly unnecessary; given the foci of the novel on post-war life on earth, the role of media in society, and moral issues concerning humans and androids, the romance between deckard and rachael feels contrived. i could easily see deckard learning to empathize with androids after watching luba luft perform. his change in perspective didn’t have to be because of rachael.

at first i didn’t understand why animals were such a prominent status symbol. couldn’t they use clones instead of electric replicas? then it was revealed that androids only had a life span of about four years since scientists hadn’t figured out cell replication, so the fixation on real animals made a lot more sense. also, how did the empathy box work? setting mercer aside, how were people able to physically share each other’s emotions and sustain wounds from their collective climb? i had to reread the part where deckard fuses with mercer before i understood what was happening. i couldn’t bring myself to believe buster friendly, either, since he could’ve been propagating fake news (haha, get it?) in order to ruin mercer, who was technically his rival.

ultimately, however, the problems i had with do androids dream of electric sheep? didn’t hamper my reading experience. i’m honestly still shocked by how much i loved this book. it’s a short read with crisp language, a fascinating plot, and a surprisingly satisfying ending.

4/5 stars – besides the timing, the title of this book alone boosts my rating by half a star.

have you read this book? what are your thoughts? also, do you have any science fiction recommendations?

 

*i don’t think i’ll ever watch blade runner, though. apparently there’s more emphasis on visuals than on the characters, and the plot of the movie deviates wildly from that of the book.

dream (7)

“Why are we here?” I ask.

Johanna and I sit beneath a large oak tree growing on top of a giant wooden pole. The pole, a papery white birch trunk, measures fifteen feet in diameter and rises seven miles above the ocean. From where we are the waves look grey and flat, as if we could press leaves on them.

“Why wouldn’t you want to be here? This place is awesome.”

Heavy green-gray clouds envelop us, and my stomach churns. “Everything looks wrong,” I reply. “We shouldn’t be able to see the ocean this high up.”

“That doesn’t matter. This is so much better than Oakland, anyway.”

I remember this dream. We’d lounged in the sun on the edge of the pier and watched pedestrians chat in the open-air restaurant or build sandcastles by the beach. The dream had been cheerful, warm, lovely, and sun-drenched – the complete opposite of this dreary isolation.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about. Oakland was beautiful.”

Johanna scoffs. “Really? I couldn’t stand the heat and the sweaty tourists. It was disgusting!”

“Better than now.” I rub my hands together and shudder. “I’m freezing.”

As we speak, the ocean seems to shimmer. One moment water surrounds us, and I’m convinced we could dip our hands into the sea just by reaching over. When I blink, however, the ocean turns into grass. Hills roll into view as raindrops fall softly from the sky.

“I recognize this feeling.”

“What?”

“My classmates and I had to drive downtown to shoot a video project once, and we filmed in front of the capital. There were tons of people so we couldn’t get as close as we wanted, but then it started to rain. We barely noticed it at first, even as the area started to clear out, and suddenly it started pouring. Just before that, the rain was like this. Gentle, almost forgiving.” I frown. “Almost like a mother singing her child to sleep.”

“Weirdo.”

“Says the girl who prefers the middle of nowhere to California.”

“Whatever. But hey, does that mean it’s going to storm soon?”

“Maybe. Nothing else here is familiar, though, not even the hills. I just find the rainfall soothing.”

“You’d think everything in your dream is just a mashup of stuff you experienced while awake.”

“I doubt it. I’ve never seen Oakland in my entire life. Also, I would never imagine talking to my sister on the top of a humongous pole in the middle of the ocean. Why are we here, of all places?”

“Well, I can only remember whatever you remember, so I don’t know why you’re asking me. Besides, it’s probably just a random setting your mind generated. It’ll be perfect if it does storm, anyway. Then the waves will be high enough for us to swim in.”

“How long do you think that’ll take?”

“Maybe a week or a few days, if we’re lucky.”

“Will we dive off together?”

“Obviously. We always do.”

Beneath us, raindrops batter the waves as the ocean starts to roar. I already feel hopeful we’ll swim in the ocean after all, just the two of us, the way we never did when Johanna was alive and I was awake.

~

pair the story with this song.

a/n: i originally wrote this two years ago, but it felt strangely fitting for how i currently feel about our future right now – lost and apprehensive, but also hopeful. remember that you are amazing, that you are loved, and that you have the ability to act and the right to be yourself. i think that, no matter what happens from now on, we will be able to power through these troubling times for the sake of human dignity.

the year of magical thinking | a book review

from my bookstagram

from my bookstagram

last year i made a belated new year’s resolution to talk more about the things i read instead of simply rating them out of five stars. i’ve learned since then that it’s much easier for me to accomplish something if i don’t ~officially~ commit to it first – i know that sounds counter-intuitive, but that’s apparently how productivity works for me. for example, i decided to read 66 books last year on goodreads and failed, whereas this year i lowered the bar to 36 books, and i’ve already finished six even though we’re only halfway through january (!!!). hence, no real ‘2017 new year’s resolutions’ post from me this time.

2017 is the year i want to read more nonfiction – both books and essays – and poetry. i’ve had a surprisingly good time with nonfiction in the past. one book that’s influenced me the most is peter ostwald’s biography of glenn gould, which i read two years ago. last summer i read joan didion’s slouching towards bethlehem, “how to build a universe that doesn’t fall apart two days later” by philip k. dick, and marjane satrapi’s persepolis, which were all amazing reads. i want to continue this trend and learn more about everything – politics and race and food and music and finance and botany and more.

the year of magical thinking was the first book i read this year. i don’t know much about joan didion’s background besides what i’ve learned from STB and this novel, but her writing is as clear and detailed as ever. she guides you through her year of magical thinking after her husband dies, and her language indicates that: allusions to poetry and myths, her unwillingness to donate her husband’s shoes (because then he wouldn’t be able to wear them if he returned), the vortex in her memories that always leads her back to her living husband and healthy child.

didion’s certainly privileged. you can feel it through the places she’s been and the people she knows, but as much as that might disconnect the reader (as it disconnected me, at first), she doesn’t rub it in your face. she’s relating her personal experience with grief, and if her closest friends and clearest memories happen to be celebrities and glitzy cities, she only mentions it as context before focusing on the topic at hand: grief, or mourning, or the warning signs she thinks she should have heeded before december 30, 2003.

when i read TYOMT i was reminded of bluets by maggie nelson. didion does with grief what nelson failed to do with the color blue. while i thought nelson’s writing was lovely, it seemed to lack something – coherence or resolution, i still can’t say. when i finished bluets i felt as though the author hadn’t really written the book, that there was another version of bluets that hadn’t been published yet (but would be, eventually), and this version was just an outline. nelson drops facts about the color blue, litters her segments with allusions and beautifully-styled sentences, but ultimately goes back to a topic (her love life?) that isn’t really about the color at all.

on the other hand, didion picks apart the concepts of grief and mourning and death, and she doesn’t skim over topics the way nelson does. she explains medical terms that doctors tell her about her daughter, quintana. she returns repeatedly to the night john gregory dunne slumps over dinner, a movement so sudden that didion first registers it as a joke. (you sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.) she studies the literature of grief, not just the novels and the poetry and the rituals, but also the medical papers and the psych studies and the etiquette handbooks, how society currently encourages hiding sorrow as something shameful and perceives grief as a form of self-pity.

the documentation in TYOMT is unbelievable. how many notebooks did didion keep? she and dunne seem to have made records of nearly everything – planners, notebooks, marginalia, kitchen books, microsoft word documents, a box with lines three-year-old quintana had said. it frightens me. when will i experience that grief? i can anticipate it, i can imagine it, but how broken will i be when it finally happens to me? have i written enough to leave a record of whoever has left? have i recorded enough of my life, shared with theirs, to somehow resurrect them?

this is a wonderful read, objectively, but it becomes a necessary one when you have experienced devastating loss yourself. simply reading TYOMT made me feel an overwhelming sadness – i tend to empathize, maybe overly so, with whatever i’m reading. however, i think my timing was off with TYOMT. i loved it, but i didn’t need it. i haven’t yet experienced the death of a loved one. this book offers the most to those who are in the process of grieving, offering not closure (“i realize as i write this that i do not want to finish this account,” didion says) but an exploration of an experience the bereaved alone feel.

4.8/5 stars. you should definitely read TYOMT when you get the chance (and listen to this song). if you have read it, what are your thoughts?

 

 

dream (6): last night

you laughed.
i wanted to bottle the sound
to revisit on colder days.

color dripped from your irises
and down your cheeks,
staining my fingers blue.

Reading List: Waiting & Watching the Future

happy thanksgiving to fellow US readers; happy autumn to the world// art by jungho lee

happy thanksgiving to fellow US readers; happy autumn to the world// art by jungho lee 

lately, energy seems to constantly hum under my skin. my fingers can’t stay still, and something whispers go go go! into my ear. i feel like i’ve stayed patient for a lifetime and i’m on the verge of freedom, about to burst into the air and really live. i guess it’s because i’m young and ready to define the vast, unknown future ahead of me. i want to learn new things, meet new people, and explore new cities. here are five books that i think embody this rush of adrenaline and the accompanying promise of limitless possibilities and dreams, this feeling of inevitable change.

WAITING & WATCHING THE FUTURE: A READING LIST

Tell the Wolves I’m Home, Carol Rifka Brunt:

I thought of all the different kinds of love in the world. I could think of ten without even trying. The way parents love their kids, the way you love a puppy or chocolate ice cream or home or your favorite book or your sister. Or your uncle. There’s those kinds of love and then there’s the other kind. The falling kind.

Slouching Towards Bethlehem, Joan Didion:

…quite simply, I was in love with New York. I do not mean “love” in any colloquial way, I mean that I was in love with the city, the way you love the first person who ever touches you and you never love anyone quite that way again. I remember walking across Sixty-second Street one twilight that first spring, or the second spring, they were all alike for a while. I was late to meet someone but I stopped at Lexington Avenue and bought a peach and stood on the corner eating it and knew that I had come out out of the West and reached the mirage.

The Secret History, Donna Tartt:

“What if you’d never seen the sea before? What if the only thing you’d ever seen was a child’s picture – blue crayon, choppy waves? Would you know the real sea if you only knew the picture? Would you be able to recognize the real thing even if you saw it? You don’t know what Dionysus looks like. We’re talking about God here. God is serious business.”

A Little Life, Hanya Yanagihara:

Why wasn’t friendship as good as a relationship? Why wasn’t it even better? It was two people who remained together, day after day, bound not by sex or physical attraction or money or children or property, but only by the shared agreement to keep going, the mutual dedication to a union that could never be codified. Friendship was witnessing another’s slow drip of miseries, and long bouts of boredom, and occasional triumphs. It was feeling honored by the privilege of getting to be present for another person’s most dismal moments, and knowing that you could be dismal around him in return.

Fangirl, Rainbow Rowell:

“How do you not like the Internet? That’s like saying, ‘I don’t like things that are convenient. And easy. I don’t like having access to all of mankind’s recorded discoveries at my fingertips. I don’t like light. And knowledge.’”

Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro:

I half closed my eyes and imagined this was the spot where everything I’d ever lost since my childhood had washed up, and I was now standing here in front of it, and if I waited long enough, a tiny figure would appear on the horizon across the field and gradually get larger until I’d see it was Tommy, and he’d wave, and maybe even call.

The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath:

I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.

happy reading! i hope we all enjoy a few more books before 2016 draws to a close.

oddloop

she opened her mouth to scream.
only flowers came out,
blossoming from her throat

(more…)

how all things glow

at the still point of the turning world,
the first word that you ever spoke was: light.

beast that i am
i set myself on fire

and my dreams also reconstructed themselves –
all bright light and black wings,
the colored liquid turning gradually lighter, more radiant,
(not to eat, of course, but to examine)

and a silent star-filled heaven turned,
metallic, lucid and bold:

blossoms lingered as if you could smell them eventually
around your soft throat

and it seemed that the whole summer dipped,
illimitable in fragrance and in sound.

~

a/n: this is a cento that i wrote for school. i had a lot of fun with this, especially since i got to spend hours reading books of poetry without feeling guilty about it. 🙂  under the cut is a list of the poems/poetry collections whose lines i ended up using.

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paper places | june + july 2016

summer is now in full swing!

this post is just a montage of the bookish places i’ve been to during june and july. book shops, libraries, and other book-filled places have always been my favorite. as jen campbell puts it, “bookshops are time machines, spaceships, story-makers, secret-keepers, dragon-tamers, dream-catchers, fact-finders, & safe places.” and this, for me, applies to libraries too! i hope the photos of these places fill you with the same bookish love that overwhelmed me when i visited in person.

(more…)

bookish thoughts

one of my new year’s resolutions is to express my reactions to the things i’ve read – whether it be through writing reviews on goodreads, verbally recommending books to others, or posting thoughts on this blog – since i’ve never been that great at pinpointing exactly what i liked or disliked about a book. so, two months into 2016, i’m making good on that promise!

last month i read vladimir nabokov’s pnin and loved it. i want to read it again before i give a full review, but in the meantime, i’m going to share my impressions (and show that this blog is still alive and well, haha).

“Pnin slowly walked under the solemn pines. The sky was dying. He did not believe in an autocratic God. He did believe, dimly, in a democracy of ghosts. The souls of the dead, perhaps, formed committees, and these, in continuous session, attended to the destinies of the quick.”

pnin feels more like a string of anecdotes rather than one continuous narrative, and follows a russian academic’s life at an american university. the whimsical diction and lengthy sentences are enchanting, and the story itself is full of ghosts. pnin’s personal history constantly haunts him throughout the novel; he’s followed by hundreds of people who move in and out of a lifetime of moments. the physical structures that exist within pnin are incredibly tangible, too. i watched pnin trying to create his home at waindell college or exploring the pines and felt as though i were the one filling my living space with russian memorabilia and carefully weaving through the ancient, beautiful vestiges within cook’s castle. for me, reading pnin was an immersive (and surprisingly relatable) experience – cruel, hilarious, warm, and nostalgic all at once.

also! here are some books on my ‘to read/finish’ list for march:

the castle, franz kafka – i began reading this last year and have somehow never finished it. i share an on-and-off relationship with this book; i’ve read it in little chunks of narrative since i first started it. k., the protagonist, tries to gain entry into a castle in which mysterious authority figures govern the village below. i want to finish this eventually, but if i remember correctly, k. was still circling hopelessly around the village where i left off last.

fight club, chuck palahniuk – currently reading. it’s been gut-wrenching and atavistic and violent so far, but also brilliantly technical when it comes to minute details. i’m really enjoying it right now, and i hope i can finish this soon!!

the little friend, donna tartt – i’m starting this today! after reading tartt’s the secret history (which i absolutely adored) last summer, i’m super excited to read the little friend, which is set in the american south in the 1970s. right now i’m also reading flannery o’conner’s wise blood for school, so i’m on the lookout for cultural and/or thematic parallels between the two books.

and then there were none, agatha christie – this has been on my ‘want to read’ list for so long, and i was finally able to get a copy of it (along with christie’s the murder of roger ackroyd and the mysterious affair at styles) at a garage sale, of all places! once i finish the little friend and fight club, i’ll probably read this next.

right now school takes up most of my time, and 2016 has been a whirlwind of tests and papers and sleeplessness so far, but i love it all. i’ve already learned and read and written so much in the past two months alone, and there’s still a wealth of knowledge that’s out there for me to absorb as my intellectual self grows. so here’s to a new year of books – of myriads of unread literature – waiting for us all to explore!