What I Read in October 2021

Can you believe we only have two more months left of 2021? I have no clue where September and October went! I have gotten a little bit of reading done recently, and here’s what I read in October:

KINDRED by Octavia Butler – 4.5 stars

TW: racism, rape, violence

I read my first Octavia Butler book!!! I had heard of Kindred and Octavier Butler years ago, but it took me years to get around to read it! Kindred, Butler’s most well-known book, follows Dana, a twenty-six year old Black woman living in 1970s California. She finds herself transported to antebellum Maryland (across time & space) repeatedly to save Rufus, a white son of a plantation owner, whenever he lands himself in a dangerous mess he can’t get out of on his own. They seem to form a friendship upon their first meeting but their relationship gets complex and precarious visit upon visit as Rufus grows into a man resembling his father while Dana’s time stands relatively still.

Kindred grappled my attention from the beginning. It allows you to see the 1800s South through the lens of a modern Black woman and it doe not shy away from portraying the gruesome history—the violence motivated by various white desires, the almost improbable escape to freedom, and the uncomfortable intertwinement between the races. I had been very distracted recently but I read Kindred so fast. I couldn’t put it down and stayed up past my bedtime to finish it in just a couple of days! I can’t wait to read more of Octavia Butler’s writing.

THEN SHE WAS GONE by Lisa Jewell – 4 stars

TW: kidnapping

Thriller is truly what this is! The She in Then She Was Gone is Laurel’s daughter Ellie who disappeared into thin air the summer before she goes off to university. The search to find Ellie over the years is fruitless, and Laurel seems to finally be okay with living her life and falling in love again. Floyd seems almost too good to be true, and it turns out his daughter is a splitting image of Ellie, which raises some questions and concerns for Laurel. While Laurel tries to find some puzzle pieces to put together throughout the book, some chapters are flash back chapters to “what really happened” from the POVs of parties involved. That is sort of a vague description but I didn’t predict how the story unfolds and don’t want to ruin it for anyone! For me, the plot was more complex than at first glance. It is SUCH a fast read and would be a good one to pick up if you’re in a reading slump or you’re finding yourself unfocused.

AMERICAN DIRT by Jeanine Cummins

TW: murder, rape, kidnapping, violence

As an immigrant myself, I often seek out immigrant stories but I’ve never read anything quite like American Dirt. Every immigrant narrative is singular and unique, of course, but what set apart American Dirt for me was the way in which it does not shy away from portraying in detail the journey “up north” and the anxiety, urgency, frustration, terror, and hope it entails. While this is work of fiction, American Dirt speaks for countless immigrants who share a similar experience but whose stories are not often articulated.

I was not aware of the controversy surrounding the book when I read it but I would like to note that Jeanine Cummins is (at least mostly) a white woman.

REST: WHY YOU GET MORE DONE WHEN YOU WORK LESS by Alex Soojung-Kim Park – 4 stars

Since the beginning of the pandemic, there have been more conversations regarding work-life balance than ever before. This book came out back in 2016, and I wish I had read it then before I joined the ~corporate world~ a few years ago. Rest references (a lot of) research that support (intentional and active) rest, which allows us to be our best, both in creativity and productivity. One of the first points Park introduced in Rest is how our brains are actively working and solving problems when we are resting even if we are not conscious. I actually remember learning about this in my college bio classes (maybe neurobiology?)! All of us have been in a situation where we have been stuck on a problem and then the solution presents itself after you have stopped thinking about it for a while.

Some of the best practices Park has gathered from his research are more obvious such as exercising and active resting (vs idleness). Others were more enlightening for me. It turns out many creatives do their beset work in the morning. Starting a day early with a simple, almost muscle-memory routine, allows our brain to do their best work. Walking is an activity many of us to do 1) get out of the house (sometimes going on a walk is the only time I leave the house in a given day) and 2) to be physically away from work and from screens. But did you know that the physical act of walking brings out our brain’s creativity? It doesn’t even have to be outside!

A couple more “out there” practices are our brain only needing (and able to do) 4~5 hours of our best intelligent work and the act of mid-day napping. I am not sure if I will ever incorporate those two as a corporate worker-bee but it was fascinating to read about how a post-lunch nap divides up the way to essentially provide two (4 hour) “working days.” I have never considered myself a napper but I might try to fit in a nap during my lunchtime?

(A couple of pet peeves: Park references research that found association between health and brain matter plasticity; I was a bit annoyed that the researchers used weight loss as a measure of health–it’s fat phobic. A couple of the many brilliant thinkers and creatives Park uses as examples in this book are Watson and Crick but it’s always important to note that it wasn’t their habit of exercise and whatever that allowed them to discover the molecular structure of DNA but Rosalind Franklin’s X-ray diffraction image of the DNA that they stole.)

I read a physical copy as the audiobook was not available via my public library but I think I would have listened to it much faster than I had read it.

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