My Reading List | Summer 2016

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Okay, with a leap of faith, I will risk turning into a listicle blogger with this post… but here goes nothing. I really made it a point to read this holiday because I used to be such an avid reader as a child all the way through sekolah menengah but then college and iPhones happened, and before long I realised I just wasn’t reading anymore. I always had a to-read list, and I even read a book or two throughout college (apart from assigned texts!) but I felt like I had lost that mojo, so to speak and I really wanted it back. And if you know me, you’d know that if I really want something I will go get it. So this summer, I did. All in all, I’ve read 9 books so far which isn’t amazing but I’m happy with it (in comparison, I only read 4 last summer*).

Anyway, here are my 9 books in the order I read them:

Originals, by Adam Grant

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Adam Grant is one of the highest rated professors at Penn. I’ve had the privilege of attending his talks before and it’s not hard to see why—he’s very engaging. That trait of his also comes through in his writing, I think, because I found the book quite hard to put down. Much like Malcolm Gladwell, he writes for the lay man so the book was really easy to read through. That’s saying a lot because reading non-fiction can be quite boring for me.

Originals is about creativity and non-conformity. He talks about how being atypical can be an advantage and also how anyone has what it takes to be creative. I really recommend it because it’s a great book which employs psychological findings to make up well-written essays. Plus, I personally felt quite inspired by it because Originals convinced me that creativity is accessible and not exclusive to inherently talented individuals.

Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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This is probably one of my favourite books of all time. Americanah is written so beautifully. Maybe I just don’t read enough, but I’ve never read a story that sounds so much like it’s an elaborate poem until I read this one. I wrote about Americanah just after I read it a couple of months ago, and this was the author’s description of the book which I included in that post:

Americanah is about a young woman, Ifemelu, who leaves Nigeria when she’s a teenager, comes to the U.S., spends 13 years and then goes back to Nigeria. And in those 13 years, many things happen. And it’s also about Obinze, who’s her childhood love, who leaves Nigeria to go to the U.K. and who then returns to Nigeria. So for me, it’s a novel about leaving home as much as it is about going back home, and really about what “home” means, and if you can go back home.” (Source: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie)

If you’ve ever lived away from home or felt like a foreigner, I think there’s so much of this book you can relate to!

Predictably Irrational, by Dan Ariely

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Ok, I’m gonna be totally honest and say this one was a bit of a pain to go through. It was an insightful book, no doubt, but at that point in time, I had just recently read Originals and… well, Dan Ariely’s writing kind of pales in comparison to Adam Grant’s. It took me quite a while to get through this book, but I did it eventually so it wasn’t that bad. And to be even more honest, part of the reason I found it difficult to read could have even been the fact that the font was so small! So I’m just saying, if you want to read a popular psychology book, this might not be where you want to start.

Anyway, Predictably Irrational is interesting because it challenges a lot of the assumptions of rationality commonly hold. For example, I learned that we tend to overreact to things that are free, that sometimes being paid to do something takes the joy out of it and that we arbitrarily overvalue the things we own just because we own them. Ariely uses psychological experiments and findings to demonstrate these propositions and as a psychology major, it was both cool and boring to read about just because they were really interesting findings but I had already been reading a lot about these kinds of things in class. So make of my review what you will.

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#Girlboss, by Sophia Amoruso

This is another book I also have written about a while ago. Sophia Amoruso is a classic rags to riches kind of story and while that’s certainly not representative of everyone’s journey, her can-do spirit is very contagious and I loved that. She espouses the relatively-cliché mantra, which is: experiment, find something you love to do and work very very very hard at it. I’ve heard it so many times before, but I loved it anyway because she talks a lot about how she was a misfit, how she was under-qualified, how she felt like a fraud, but also how she worked her way through that. And she became successful because of the internet and eBay, things we all have access to. It just really made me feel like the digital age has opened up so much more space for people to be successful with so much less.

Some takeaways I remember are: the ability to persist through something you hate at least for a while and to learn something from that is a skill; your possessions are just “emblems” of hard work which transcends the objects themselves; you need both an idea and the ability/willingness to execute it; take care of the littlest things you do and treat them as “promises to your own future” and have unshakeable confidence. K now go get the book.

Bossypants, by Tina Fey

I’m not really a huge fan of Tina Fey (I’ve never watched 30 Rock or Saturday Night Live), but I do love women who have successful creative careers and can write about it well. I’ve read Lena Dunham’s Not That Kind of Girl, Mindy Kaling’s two books and Amy Poehler’s Yes Please and loved them all, so I thought, why not try this one as well. It’s safe to say that I think Bossypants is the funniest one of all the books in this category, by far. Tina Fey had me laughing alone in restaurants and trains and kept me company many mornings on the commutes to work. It’s not as beautifully written as Lena Dunham’s book and it’s not as inspiring as Sophia Amoruso’s, but it is hilarious.

Norwegian Wood, by Haruki Murakami

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About 3 years ago, I read Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami and I’ve been meaning to read another ever since. I finally did this summer when I bought Norwegian Wood. Obviously, I don’t remember much of Kafka on the Shore at this point, but I remember liking that one more. I think Murakami is probably better at the fantastical and mystical. Norwegian Wood was, in contrast to a lot of his other work, more true to real life. Which isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy it, because I did, I just wasn’t in love with it. If anything, I liked how the tone of the book was true to the main character, Toru Watanabe’s, loneliness; it seemed like everything around him was moving so quickly and he wasn’t… he wasn’t really doing anything, and it was like the supporting characters had a lot more agency over him and he was just going through the motions. Or at least that’s how I felt (what do I know?).

Lullabies, by Lang Leav

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In an Instagram post recently, I wrote about how I really wanted to love Lang Leav’s poems. I have seen some of her stuff here and there on Tumblr and etc. so I was really curious, but I was ultimately let down when I realised that her poetry was adorned by this romanticisation of heartbreak and loss. I think that’s a totally valid thing to feel, and I can understand where that comes from but it was hard to read through all of that and feel what she felt. Which could be a good thing for her, because it’s, at least, impressive that how she feels is made so clear through her words.

Yasmin How You Know?, compiled by friends and family of Yasmin Ahmad

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I loved this book. I really did. I’ve been meaning to read it for years now, since my friend Jian Wei recommended it over social media. The book is a compilation of “Yasminisms” as recollected by her friends, family and coworkers. It is made of stories, speeches, quotes, pictures, poems and lots of insight and laughter. She was clearly unique, and yet I related to her quirkiness—like her, with my close friends and family, I also speak in tongues and say weird things. The book reveals how she truly believed her work was just a medium and that all her inspiration came from God. She was humble, giving, bold and just really funny. The book is printed in a “yet to be finished” form. The grey thingy is just a sleeve that encapsulated a very bare book, and I loved that the publishers did it as an homage to her life which ended too soon.

If you’re Malaysian, I strongly recommend this book because it has such a Malaysian spirit and tone to it which I find difficult to put my finger on, but it’s what will keep me returning to this book for a piece of home when I’m away.

Big Magic, by Elizabeth Gilbert

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After seeing this book everywhere in shops and online, I decided to get it last week. Elizabeth Gilbert is the author of the famous Eat, Pray, Love but this time, she’s written more of a “self-help” book.

Big Magic is all about overcoming the fear to work with your inspiration and to live creatively. I think a lot of times people get inspired to do things or create things, but we’re paralysed by worries that it won’t work out as well as we want to or we won’t get recognised/paid for it, etc. Elizabeth Gilbert’s writing in Big Magic is like the friend who sits you down and dismantles each and every one of those fears, one at a time, steadily and gently.

In it, Gilbert talks about how she kept her day job because she never expected her creative work to support her financially because it might “burden” her. She also talked about how creative work is as much about discipline as it is about inspiration because inspiration (which she in this book refers to as a magical entity—hence, the title) favours people who are committed to it. As a person who is considering dabbling into the ~creative life~ so to speak, I found this very encouraging and assuring. The things you want to make don’t have to be earth-shaking and groundbreaking, they don’t need to change people’s lives and they don’t even need to be perfect; you just have to keep doing your best at the things you enjoy making.

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And that marks the end of my list!!! Gosh, that was long, it took me 1.5 hours to write this haha. I hope I did at least a decent job at describing the books. I definitely do them no justice at all. I’m like sat here on my bedroom floor flipping through these books trying to remember what they’re all about because some of these I read almost 3 months ago, lol.

My reading list is still pretty long though! In the next few months (hopefully by the end of the semester, if that’s possible) I want to read The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan, The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg and So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport. All three of these books were recommended to me over and over again so I can’t wait to read them and I’m hoping the semester (which, as of now, is already looking hectic) permits me to.


*Last summer, I read Give and Take by Adam Grant, David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell, Quiet by Susan Cain and 1984 by George Orwell. I wanted to blog about it but I was like “I’m not gonna create a blog just to write about these 4 books” haha.

Oscillating | Summer 2016

I don’t really know what to write about this week, honestly! I’ve been doing the 100 Happy Days challenge, writing about one thing a day, and I feel like it’s now a little more challenging to find things to write about but I guess that makes things a little more interesting.

I’m at the office as I’m writing this because I think I have like a free hour or so… (although chances are, I probably have more than that). I just experienced something insanely odd. Okay, maybe not that odd but it felt really weird still. All of last week, I was working on a slide deck for someone here and I thought it was crap. I would literally hover over my laptop so that no one would see just what crap I was up to. Like, no joke, my back hurts. But today, I went over my work with her and she told me it was “excellent” and that I had “flare” and trusttttt me, I was so confused. I am half expecting her to come back to me changing her mind, and half hoping she doesn’t.

This is such a classic impostor syndrome situation, which I wrote about in length last week… feeling like you’re doing an awful job but you have to conceal it because if anyone finds out, you’ll be outed as a fraud. It’s also annoying, I guess. I really don’t like feeling like I’m not assessing myself accurately and being unsure about whether or not that is true.

But I’m working on it, right. Learning to just take it all in stride. I’m learning that nothing SO BAD can happen to me here at work or in school by doing a “crappy job.” And like all of us, I’m definitely also learning about myself, about playing by my strengths and managing my weaknesses. Yeah, cheesy stuff, I know. Whatever. This might be common knowledge but for example, I’ve learned that I can really only work with people once I’ve established a connection with them on some level… whether it’s by asking them about their weekend, or cracking a joke, I kinda need to feel like they’re my friend before I can really feel comfortable working with them. Some people are easier to get on with than others, but I think, or I want to believe, there’s always a way to like make things work with anyone.

It’s kinda funny to think about how stark the difference in my tone is between this week and the last but I wouldn’t be doing myself justice if I didn’t showcase how my emotional state oscillates all the time. In part, I’m feeling a little bit more on the up side of the curve because I’ve spent a lot of  time on my recent commutes reading #Girlboss, by Sophia Amoruso. It’s been in like all the MPHs I’ve been to this summer. Then, I came across a quote by her on Forbes. I also stumbled upon her podcast because she interviewed Grace Helbig (who I also love and have been a fan of for a few years!). She was everywhere and I felt like the ~universe~ was bugging me to read it, so I bought it despite being severely unamused by the hashtag in the title. Not only has it been a super easy read, it’s a really fun one too. She talks a lot about how she built up NastyGal.com by playing to her strengths and (cue some very Disney background music) believing in herself. It’s trite. Sure, I’ll give you that. But it was still really helpful and more importantly, assuring. And I know it’s a good book when I furiously reach for my journal to scribble down some of my favourite excerpts.

“I often wondered, Was this a choice? Because it sure as hell doesn’t always feel like it. But I did choose it—even if growing a huge business was never my singular goal, every small choice that I made along the way was something that contributed to where I am now. Every time I got up in the morning instead of saying “screw it” and sleeping in, every time I spent a few extra minutes on a product description to make it perfect, I was choosing my fate and sowing the seeds of my future.”

Sophia Amoruso, #Girlboss

And it’s the little (trite) things like this that chips away at my “impostor syndrome.” That is progress, however small. It’s worth mentioning that this progress can always be undone, and so many times it has been. Sometimes I take one step forward and then take three steps back, but sometimes I’d take a couple of steps back and then ten strides ahead. That’s just all part of the process, and remembering that makes the lows not feel so bad and the highs not get to my head.

“Americanah” | Summer 2016

Hi, friends!

I went to Melaka last weekend with my parents and it was pretty fun! We were there for such a short amount of time, just over 24 hours, I think. But visiting Jonker Street is always fun, there’s just so much to see at once. Getting my Pak Putra fix is also always worth the 1.5-hour drive. I literally forgot to take any pictures because I was so preoccupied with taking videos the whole time. But! If you are interested in some ~visuals~ here you go:

I’ve been playing with iMovie a lot, because I just realised how much fun it is. I’ll be going on quite a few more trips before the end of summer actually, so I’m hoping to do one for every trip and see how much better I get 😀

I also did something (trivial) this past week which I felt I absolutely had to write about because it was so quintessentially me; so comical and nostalgic all at once.

So, I was at Petronas to withdraw money, because for some reason the petrol station is the only place I can withdraw money in my neighbourhood. The line was super long, and as I was queueing up, my eyes started lingering around the shop and I saw so many things I wanted. Surely enough, I came out with a bag of butterscotch Gardenia bread, a Crunchie bar, Twisties, Chipster, Honey Stars and SUPER RING!! I was SO happy, you guys. You have no idea. I had not intended to spend >RM20 at the Petronas shop but now you know why the Maybank ATM is there and why there’s only one of them. So that you have you wait in a long line and then come out with 6 things when you intended to buy none. Obviously I’m not very proud of that but like, you should consider that I restrained myself from: a bilis bun, a jagung bun, F&N grape, Crunch ice cream, and a Gardenia breakfast waffle so I THINK I DID JUST FINE.

Nevertheless, my parents and sister saw me walking out of the shop, all mouths agape, half shocked and half amused.

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Nostalgia has this warm fuzzy feeling to it but when seeing food makes you feel nostalgic? It’s so much better. You can literally taste it. Anyway. I told you it was trivial. That was it, that was the story.

Speaking of nostalgia though, this past few days, I finished Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. It really is a wonderful book. It is long, and I’ve managed to get to the 100-page mark several times before, but always ended up having to put readings for classes first. According to Adichie (from this interview), “Americanah is about a young woman, Ifemelu, who leaves Nigeria when she’s a teenager, comes to the U.S., spends 13 years and then goes back to Nigeria. And in those 13 years, many things happen. And it’s also about Obinze, who’s her childhood love, who leaves Nigeria to go to the U.K. and who then returns to Nigeria. So for me, it’s a novel about leaving home as much as it is about going back home, and really about what “home” means, and if you can go back home.”

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I think if you’ve spent a substantial amount of time living abroad, adjusting, especially as a minority, this book will really clutch onto you. Adichie says it’s not totally based on her life because her life was “not as interesting” but the general feeling of it however, is:

“I was in the U.S. for 4 years before I could afford to go back home and even then, just four years later, I had this feeling that Nigeria had left me behind. […] You leave home and then you create home in your mind, and then you go back and it’s not what you built up in your mind and then there’s a sense of loss. Because things happened and you weren’t there.”

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

And the writing, oh my god. Poetic. The words flow so smoothly and describe emotions with so much precision. Also noteworthy is that I found it refreshing to read a novel not centered around… white people. Adichie sporadically throws in Nigerian words/phrases with no translation or glossary and she talks about Lagos and Abuja which would never get airtime on mainstream TV/film, and so you just kind of dive in and learn about it in all its normalcy.. and I feel comforted to know the world is so much more than America and Europe, more than what pop culture sometimes makes out the world to be. So yes, I 10/10 would recommend.

I’ve just moved on to the next book yesterday, which is Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely, and it’s one of those “pop psychology” books. My reading speed has taken a hit because that’s usually what happens when you start a new book and you haven’t gotten into the meaty parts, especially if I’m moving from a fiction to a non-fiction book. My reading list for these few months is pretty long! I am hoping to at least finish 5, and I’m already done with 2 (the other book I read was Originals by Adam Grant, really good as well!) but I start my internship next month so we’ll see how that goes.

EEP. That means the next time I write I’d have already started my first day at work. I can’t wait to know what that’ll be like.  😮