the books of february 2019

KAREN TEI YAMASHITA 《LETTERS TO MEMORY》
a sacred documentation of a family pulled through the wreckage of living, this book is not so much a biography as it is an epistolary exploration of philosophy, negotiation, interrogation. each page is cherished with the sense of having loved and being grateful for offered the chance to do so. in a literary generation populated with immigrant legacies (no complaints here), I am reassured that there remains innumerable paths to interlock with the stories that are inherited, yet still startling at every turn. though this book is officially a reckoning with the internment of japanese-americans during WWII, it discards the imprints of theme or genre in a starry attempt to understand the resonances of legacy. there is no end to knowing oneself or how one came to be. though it is the future that reaches on, we must not discount the past and its infinity, expanding alternately and constantly, with no end in sight.

ZADIE SMITH 《N-W》
to write a city as zadie smith does would be to walk its streets and see yourself in multiples. at different ages, angles, on different corners, with different friends, wearing whatever clothes you had at that time, listening to whatever music was playing that year. it would be to capture the fragrance upon the page, the light at various times of day, the measures of fruit trees outgrowing. the most riveting passages in N-W could take place nowhere else. london in its mesmerizing chaos escapes the paper in sound and vision and touch. we witness the growing-up and growing-into of women, the intersections of where-when-how you were born being wrapped around the bodies of the young and never letting go. it is the truth that only fiction achieves; a truth of others, and yourself among them.

JAMES BALDWIN 《IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK》
once within a james baldwin book i find it impossible to break with its captivity. a master of both internal and external dialogue and a immaculate composer of pace, the way baldwin conjures character is unrivalled and absolutely thrilling, and here, especially heartbreaking. love— this love— the love of this work— love that aspires to be otherworldly and fails— is vivid to the point that even in only language it is granted everlasting life. there is not a single page where the characters are not startlingly present, no sentence uttered that does not grant a truth from the self. a human thing. here the idea of love is taken and made a human thing.

LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI 《THESE ARE MY RIVERS》
ferlinghetti’s poems remind me of a time when american poetry revelled at its own existence. when people wrote lines on paper napkins unironically, when smoking inside was still a thing that everyone did, when books were kept inside jacket pockets and pulled out when you wanted to show your friend something beautiful you read earlier in the day. there is joy, unabashed, in these lines of dancing and california sunshine and exclamation, joy even of impossible situations, joy even in endurances of pain, joy at the ability to write something down on paper, and to call it a poem.

CLAUDIA RANKINE 《CITIZEN》
political poetry looks like this. here the power of language is harnessed in a way it so rarely is: fully.

XINRAN 《MESSAGE FROM AN UNKNOWN CHINESE MOTHER》
xinran is a writer that has been formative in my continued inquiries into the lives of chinese women— it is tempting to compare her to svetlana alexievich in her awe-inspiring quest to bring the humanity of a hidden country into light. though I find translations of her work to be lacking, the starkness of her message refutes any affectations and damages committed in the process of shedding its original language; these stories are unflinching, the incidences transcribed at once terrifying and devastating. china has a long history of ruining her daughters, and this heritage of trauma has left horrific scars on the country and the women within. though verging on the melodramatic, the stories xinran bring to us are ones seldom told and barely even admitted to oneself. to be a chinese woman today is to survive a terrorizing campaign of shame and bloodshed and ruination; our lives are records of strength, evidences of survival.

shelly shan

hi, my name is shelly. I do a thing where I make words into unnecessarily emotional composites. I don't know why I'm allowed on the internet, but I like it here.