5 Good Books I Read in 2015

So, I read 19 books this year, instead of 25 like I planned to in my 2015 Reading Challenge. I know, I know, I’m such a slob and the featured image is over-dramatic. Ugh. I knew from the start that I’m not going to make it. I should’ve not set it 25 at the first place. But then again, I never thought that I actually can make it to 19. It’s more than last year or any year in my life! So, I guess, hooray?

Anyway, to sum up my not-so-great reading year, and to make up for my shortcoming, here’s a list of five good books I read throughout 2015 (in no particular order).

 

1. A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit

a-field-guide

A Field Guide to Getting Lost was published in 2005 and it took a decade for the book to reach me. It found its way to me through Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings. I told my girlfriend that I really wanted the book and being an awesome girlfriend that she is, she took that as a hint and she gave me the book on my 25th birthday! Not a single day spent when I’m not grateful of that.

To be honest, I don’t know where to start to explain the magic that the book has cast on me, not to mention how life-changing it is. The day I finished reading it for the first time, I read it again that very day. And the day I finished the book for the second time, I felt indescribably sad because I wanted to read it all over again for the third time but I knew I had to move on.

Simply put, A Field Guide to Getting Lost offered me the most singular reading experience I’ve ever had. It’s thought-provoking and profoundly moving. The subject of getting lost, of being lost, of letting go, of facing the unknown with bravery, of stepping out of one’s comfort zone isn’t new, but Ms. Solnit put a set of glasses on me that made me see the subjects she discussed in her compelling, beautifully-written essays with new eye-opening perspective.

It’s easy to get lost yourself in the book, to get immersed in the story of captivity, of beautiful person, of friends, of relationship, of adulthood and childhood, of maps, of Nature, of blues, of metamorphosis, of distance, of desire, of Albert Hitchcock’s Vertigo, of so far and so on.

A Field Guide to Getting Lost gave me a new meaning about falling in love with a book, so much that it’s literally always in my bag, with me anywhere I go. It’s the book that puts me to sleep on many sleepless nights, not because it’s boring but rather comforting, like being in a cradle of your mother’s arms. No, seriously, this book is like a bible to me, the one that I will always turn to again and again.

Favorite quote:

To lose yourself: a voluptuous surrender, lost in your arms, lost to the world, utterly immersed in what is present so that its surrounding fade away. In Benjamin’s terms, to be lost is to be fully present, and to be fully present is to be capable of being in uncertainty and mystery. And one does not get lost but loses oneself, with the implication that it is conscious choice, a chosen surrender, a psychic state achievable through geography.

2. Wonder by R. J. Palacio

wonder

I think it is necessary for grownups to get into children’s books sometimes because they are full of wisdom and some of them tell it in a straight-forward, non-patronizing way. And if you were to ask me what’s my favorite children’s book, then Wonder would be it.

Wonder is a story about a 11-year-old boy named August “Auggie” Pullman. Auggie always feels that he’s nothing but an ordinary boy. However, his unfortunate physical condition makes him anything but. Auggie’s adventure begins when his parents send him to a public school for the first time in his life.

In the book, Auggie becomes the center character around which other stories revolve. Yes, other characters, like Auggie’s sister Pia and Auggie’s friend Jack, also get to tell their own stories including how they see Auggie. And this is where the book stands out.

R. J Palacio is capable to write each narrative thread with distinctive voice, even style. I like how Palacio gives the reader access to the story of many different characters and thus gives the readers the understanding as to why this particular character did what they did. This also allows the readers to gain more impression about Auggie.

Wrapped in a heart-warming story, all characters (except Julian and his mom, that bitch) conspire to form one important message that the book tries to pass on to readers:

Kinder than is necessary. Because it’s not enough to be kind. One should be kinder than needed.

3. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

the-little-prince

And if you were to ask me what’s my second favorite children’s book, it’s The Little Prince, though I wouldn’t so much call it children’s book. It’s a children’s book written for grownups and it will surely give grownups like you and me an epic proverbial slap across our faces.

The Little Prince forces you to remember what it’s like being a child and reminds you that grownups and being one generally suck: how they prefer “golf, politics and neckties” to “jungles or stars,” and how “they’re no longer interested in anything but numbers.”

I’m not free from blame though. I’m one of the grownups described in the book. It’s true because I feel disappointed in myself for not having completed my reading goal. I’m disappointed because I could only read 19 books out of 25. See, that’s how awful grownups can be: they focus so much on numbers instead on things that matter.

But getting old and growing up are some of the things in life that are inevitable, as what happened to the narrator and the rest of us. But we must not forget how wonderful it is being a child and that the things that matter are seldom visible.

Favorite quote:

It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.

 

4. Love and Mr. Lewisham by H. G. Wells

love-mr-lewisham

The last time I read a classic (Emma), I almost died of excruciating boredom. Then, I decided that text from days of yore was simply not my cup of tea.  That’s why it came quite a surprise to me that I actually enjoyed reading Love and Mr. Lewisham.

Now, the book is not actually from Jane Austen era but it is a tough read (it’s published in 1899, for the sake of god) and it took a while for me to finish. But I can say that it’s really worth it!

I’ve never read romance so realistic as this, despite its historical and cultural background. By romance, I don’t mean touchy-feely, hearts-and-flower shit like Nicholas Spark novels. The kind of romance portrayed in Love and Mr Lewisham is the one that destroys and ruins you, one that contradicts your principles, one that is tragic, one that doesn’t have happy ending, one that is full of struggle. Because, as someone in Medium put it, “when life enters the picture — bills and payments and jobs and stress and divided attentions — that’s when love starts to feel less like a romance and more like a battle.”  Well, Wells understands this very well. He also touches the subjects of human nature, politics, and spiritualism.

Favorite quote:

What is man? Lust and greed tempered by fear and irrational vanity.

 

5. The Hours by Michael Cunningham

the-hours

Everyone has at least that one book whose story resonates the most with them, that they can easily relate to. This kind of book is usually the one that reminds them that they are not actually alone. The Hours does that to me.

The Hours is not an easy read. I had to read the book five times before I penned this. Too much $10 words I had to consistently look up to dictionaries, moving back and forth between Merriam-Webster and Google Translate. But it’s worth it, I’m telling you.

I watched the movie version first before reading the book (Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, and Nicole Kidman deliver stunning performances). Unlike the movie, the novel gives me immense access to the inner lives of the three women; what and how they feel in given moments. You have no idea what happened inside someone’s head in a seemingly ordinary day of their lives.

It’s amazing to know that you share that indescribable inner turbulence you feel everyday with somebody else. This somebody else is fictional, I know, but someone who wrote this story (in this case, Cunningham) is real. He knows that this kind of feeling exists and he successfully transcribed it for others who might feel the same way.

Favorite quote:

Think how wonderful it might be to no longer matter. Think how wonderful it might be to no longer worry, or struggle, or fail. What if that moment at dinner—that equipoise, that small perfection—were enough? What if you decided to want no more?

Bonus: 14,000 things to be happy about by Barbara Ann Kipfer

happy-book

I didn’t actually finish the book. I’m still reading it though, skipping through and opening random pages. I guess the book is never meant to be read linearly at the first place and that is, to me, its charm. The joy is in the moment you bump into some particular things and you just happily smile because you’re in an agreement.

No plot, no characters, no setting, not even structure. Just a very long list of little things (some of them pretty big) that make life worth living.
It’s true that some things can only be acquired by financial wealth, but most of the things that can bring you joy are actually free. That’s the message the book’s trying to deliver.

14,000 things to be happy about is indeed one of the things to be happy about. Also thank you, Yana and Maul, for getting me this wonderful book. I’ve added our friendship to my personal list of things to be happy about.


To wrap this listicle up, I wish you a happy new year! Have a good one people!

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5 Takeaways from Self-Reliance

When there’s nothing physical books lying around, I started to find freebies online. Yes, I’m that cheap and I try not to be a purist who only sticks to “real” books, although I prefer tangible books any other day.

So I settled for this free PDF of Self-Reliance by the great Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Truth be told, it was not an easy read. There are a bunch of fancy vocabularies and structures, but likewise there’s also a lot of good stuffs in there. It’s like a bible to the non-conformist in you.

Here’s my takeaways, I hope it’s of help.

1. On what it means to be authentic, doing things for oneself, not for others’ validation (and how hard it is):

“My life is for itself and not for a spectacle […] What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think. […] It is the harder, because you will always find those who think they know what is your duty better than you know it. It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.”

2. On how conforming to society “standard” that one finds irrelevant will diminish one’s own character:

“The objection to conforming to usages that have become dead to you is, that it scatters your force. It loses your time and blurs the impression of your character.”

3. On how one should be like Nature, existing for what one is:

“Man is timid and apologetic; he is no longer upright; he dares not say “I think,” “I am,” but quotes some saint or sage. He is ashamed before the blade of grass or the blowing rose. These roses under my window make no reference to former roses or to better ones; they are for what they are; they exist with God today. There is no time to them. There is simply the rose; it is perfect in every moment of its existence. Before a leaf-bud has burst, its whole life acts; in the full-blown flower there is no more; in the leafless root there is no less. Its nature is satisfied, and it satisfies nature, in all moments alike. But man postpones or remembers; he does not live in the present, but with reverted eye laments the past, or, heedless of the riches that surround him, stands on tiptoe to foresee the future. He cannot be happy and strong until he too lives with nature in the present, above time.”

4. On keeping true to yourself and others and how it’s necessary to let go of people who are “not in the same truth” with you:

“I must be myself. I cannot break myself any longer for you, or you. If you can love me for what I am, we shall be the happier. If you cannot, I will still seek to deserve that you should. I will not hide my tastes or aversions. I will so trust that what is deep is holy, that I will do strongly before the sun and moon whatever inly rejoices me, and the heart appoints. If you are noble, I will love you; if you are not, I will not hurt you and myself by hypocritical attentions. If you are true, but not in the same truth with me, cleave to your companions; I will seek my own. I do this not selfishly, but humbly and truly. […] You will soon love what is dictated by your nature as well as mine, and, if we follow the truth, it will bring us out safe at last. But so you may give these friends pain. Yes, but I cannot sell my liberty and my power, to save their sensibility.”

5. On how traveling is not the means to cure sadness and how anxiety will follow you even to the most beautiful places (similar to this article in The Philosophers’ Mail and Pico Iyer’s TED talk)

“Travelling is a fool’s paradise. Our first journeys discover to us the indifference of places. At home I dream that at Naples, at Rome, I can be intoxicated with beauty, and lose my sadness. I pack my trunk, embrace my friends, embark on the sea, and at last wake up in Naples, and there beside me is the stern fact, the sad self, unrelenting, identical, that I fled from. I seek the Vatican, and the palaces. I affect to be intoxicated with sights and suggestions, but I am not intoxicated. My giant goes with me wherever I go.”

One-liner bonus:

emerson-trust-thyself

The Noblest Distraction

I am a heavily anxious, if not mildly depressed, person. This is my reality. At the risk of sounding too self-deprecating, from time to time I feel like I’m swimming in a sea of anxiety. In the verge of drowning, I frantically try to catch my breath. The harder I try, the deeper I sink to the dark bottomless pit of negative thoughts.

That’s why I took meditation at the first place. Little did I know that anxiety is one of inbuilt components that makes me. So I try to accept the fact that I just simply have to live with it.

Most of the time, it stays in the background, but I’m still surprised when it pops out to the fore and it’s particularly worse during premenstrual.

Ugh, I know right? Woman.

When life gets rough like that, instead of facing it head-on some people turn to distract themselves; they watch TV, go on a shopping spree, update their Facebook status, drink, yada yada yada–I mean literally anything to keep their thoughts and reality at arm’s length.

Like everybody else, I too turn to distractions. At the risk of sounding too self-righteous, I think the best distraction of all is reading. It’s not only the best, it’s the noblest.

I know, I know, I talk a huge deal about reading but seriously what else I do besides slaving away at my tedious job? I rarely go out with friends or engage in social activities (I’m a proud introvert, yo), and I basically despise social media because it’s mostly made up of lies. TV? Seriously? I’d rather chop both of my hands off and eat my own detached limbs than have to watch shitty Indonesian television shows. Even the thought of it nauseates me.

So yeah, I find refuge in books. I seek comfort in literature. It’s not to say that I don’t scroll Twitter feed when I’m upset, or play Angry Birds when I’m bored. It’s just that doing these things for hours I feel a sense of life trickling away, wasted. It sometimes worsens me. But time spent on reading is always time well spent.

And on the upside, reading, especially fictions, allows me to forget that I’m anxious, at least for a while. It gently pushes the monster back to its cave in the back of my mind.

In contrast, looking at social media when I’m in my lowest only leaves me more miserable. I see people leading better lives, having successful career, doing high-status things. It makes me hate my life.

But literature, man! It presents you adventure with all the greatest characters enduring odds, venturing out into the unknown, slaying dragons and falling in love. It tells you stories about many worlds unfamiliar to you, about cultures different from yours, about those you can wholly relate to, those that convince you you’re not alone (like The Hours). Most importantly, it keeps you company, even at the loneliest hour. It never leaves you and it never fails you.

tracy-letts-quote

So there I said it, the real reason why I read (not that anyone cares or anything). In the end, it’s not about indulging in the vanity of trying to be smarter or more cultured and sophisticated. It’s more about staying sane, the act of surviving.

In short…


Image courtesy of Year 13 Media Production, Pari Dukovic via NYMag (modified), and Netflix via Mute The Silence

Questions

I love my books. Not that I ever wrote one, mind you. I love books I own. I love to see them neatly arranged on the shelf; to see them slowly growing into a collection, resembling a personal library that is essential for my ego boost.

I also hoard books, meaning that I don’t want to lose them (except the bad ones). That is why every time someone asks me if they can borrow one of my books I always feel slightly worried that they might not return it.

Once, my co-worker said that he wanted to borrow a book I was reading (Ian McEwan’s Enduring Love–great book!). I told him I would lend him the book after I finished it. I never do because as far as I can see he didn’t read the book he bought several days before. It’s still there untouched, gathering dust on his desk. That’s cruel and I don’t want the same thing happen to my book. Even if he would read it, I believe he wont return it. Luckily, he seemed to forget that he wanted to borrow my book. Later, my other co-worker told me that he lent his book to this person and never got it back. My judgement was right. Oh, and poor him.

The thing is, I’m a nice person. I would never say no when someone asks me if I can lend them my books. I would always say “Of course!” with a huge smile on my face. But I wish I could always ask these questions to anyone who wants to borrow my precious collection.

questions

How to read, read, read more books, Boloho!

When I blog-hopped the other day, I stumbled upon an interesting one and found this cleverly put lines:

Only the illiterate men and pigs that do not read books.

Ain’t that the truth?

It reminds me of the time when I was in college. I got this lecturer (whom I suspect a highly decorated Grammar Nazi) who insisted that her students must read days before attending her class. Then again, most of other lecturers do too, given our major was English Literature (but still, we were like most Indonesian back then, so anti-reading, so read-o-phobia). But this particular lecturer, she was the one who were the most vocal about it. She became famous (notorious?) for her jargon:

Baca, baca, Boloho!

Hence the title.

Yeah I know I’ve been talking too much about reading, and stuff, but guess what? Like it or not, here comes one more! (I don’t know who I’m talking to but I notice there’s a little traffic to my website so hello dear reader.)

Previously, I discussed about idea index as one of methods to read better. Now, I’m going to share my personal tips for getting more reading done. And before you go on, I think I need you to know that it’s a note-to-self kind of post, the “you” here actually addresses me myself, really. So, if you find me sounding a bit harsh or snobbish, please don’t take offense. I still want you to like me.

So, to read more books, you should:

1. Know what hooks you

Although there’s basically no bad books, not all the things that have been written on pages and published will catch your interest and life is, quite sadly, too short to read all the books in the world, especially the ones you’re not interested in.

Try to remember the last time you actually enjoyed reading a book. What kind book is it? Romance? Business? Drama? Thriller? Young adult or children book? Philosophy? Design? Comic book? Self-help?

When you know what kind of book that hooks you, you’re going to start from that. Go to a bookstore and browse the books under the category you think interesting. And when you think you find the one, buy it and start reading it that very day.

2. Make time

How do you have time to have a shower or play Angry Birds or update your Facebook status or watch porn? The answer is simple: you make time for it. And when you can make time for all of those things, you can for reading.

Don’t ever believe it when people say the reason that they don’t read is that they don’t have time. That’s utter bullshit.

If you think about it, there are always pockets of time you can use to read: during your commute to work, during your lunch break, when you’re taking a poop, during the moment before bedtime, etc., etc.

You see, one of the real reason why people don’t try to make time for reading is that they find it unimportant. Because when you consider something important, you’ll make time for it. Even Facebook CEO makes time for it. So why don’t you, you peasant?

And please, don’t you ever try to pull that “but I’m busy” crap.

3. Bring at least a book with you anywhere, anytime

You should not trust yourself enough, leaving home without at least a book in your bag or purse. You never know when you will stumble upon a pocket of time during your day. And when you do find it, read, read, read, Boloho!

4. Throw your smartphone away into the crater of an active volcano*

Or just stay away from it while you’re reading your book. Despite its immense benefits, smartphone can also be the ultimate source of distraction. Based on my experience, it rarely goes along with books.

For your reading habit, start learning how to ignore smartphone. Not completely, though. For starter, try cutting off the internet connection or putting your smartphone in the airplane mode. It’ll help.

Get this”Read a book instead” wallpaper from Austin Kleon for free.

And since you always bring a book with you, choose reading instead of checking your smartphone (unless there’s an Instagram likes, of course, geez).

*It’s just an expression but don’t you want to try for the hell of it?

5. Don’t listen to what they (or the voice in your head) say

Now that you make time for reading and you always bring books with you and you choose to read instead of checking your smartphone, people will think that you’re a dork, a geek, a nerd, or worse, a socially awkward person (but you’re safe when you got the face as perfect as Benedict Cumberbatch’s). Those are also the stuffs the voice in your head usually say to you (no, not about having a perfect face, no).

Well, don’t listen to them. Below is one of the seven lessons Maria Popova learned in seven years of reading, writing and running her Brain Pickings.

Maya Angelou famously said, ‘When people tell you who they are, believe them’. But even more importantly, when people try to tell you who you are, don’t believe them.

Listen to her instead, because she’s famous and she quotes Maya Angelou FTW. And remember, people who like to read are, in a way, cooler than they who don’t (although sometimes not necessarily better). Stick to that belief.

6. Use Goodreads as a reading log

As you go, you might want to keep record of your reading activity: what you read, when you started reading it and finishing it, and what is your opinion about it, etc., etc.

For this purpose, try Goodreads. It’s a social network dedicated for readers. You’ll find reviews, new releases, updates from the authors, forums, and more. Whenever you start reading books, put them on the currently-reading shelf. This will encourage you to finish the books and start new ones. It’s always exhilarating when you hit that “I’m finished” button.

You can also set a goal as to how many books you plan to read this year. It surely should motivate you.

reading-challengeSo that’s my tips. Please share yours, please.

***

Further/more interesting reading:

How to read more — a lot more by Ryan Holiday.

How to read more by Austin Kleon.

Boloho is Sundanese for dumbass.

2015 Resolution: Read Better with An Idea Index

It’s a sin to read absentmindedly. And heaven knows I’m a professional sinner when it comes to reading because I often find myself thinking about other things when I need my mind to picture what the newly-introduced character of the book looks like.

That’s why I support Slow Reading movement (learn more here and here) and found my own Slow Reading Club which is currently in a hiatus because I have a reason that I don’t want you to know. But I’ll let you know when it kickstarts again. I promise you (or not).

Anyhow, besides reading slowly, one of the ways to get more out of the books you read and keep your reading session from the danger of absentmindedness is to create an idea index, a method of note-taking probably initiated by the awesome BrainPickings’s Maria Popova.

Let me pull a little Chuck Palahniuk: I know this because Cal Newport (whose blog I follow) knows this, and he knows this because Tim Ferriss knows this (apparently, Tim had the chance to interview Maria and published the podcast on his blog). So yeah, I’m just paraphrasing/quoting here.

For laypeople like you and me, note-taking is usually done by highlighting or underlining passages with pencils or hightlighter pens. Some do bookmarking by bending the edge of a page (this applies only to physical books, of course). Some use sticky notes.

Highlight
You’re doing it wrong, Charlie!

Although nothing’s intrinsically wrong with these strategies, sometimes they are just messy and somewhat ineffective. When we try to get back one particular book to find particular quotes, we have to, in Cal’s words, “skim through all the marked pages.” You see, that’s kind of annoying sometimes.

The idea behind idea index is to resolve this problem and I’m gonna let Cal explains how the method works (I know he wouldn’t mind).

Around thirty-one minutes into the interview, Popova explains how she takes notes on books:

  1. As she reads, she creates an index at the front of the book that lists its most interesting ideas.
  2. Every time she encounters a passage relevant to one of these ideas she adds the page to the relevant line in the index. If it’s a new idea, she creates a new line for it.
  3. As she reads more, the index grows.

Here’s what’s great about this idea index method: When you pick up a book read long ago, you can quickly recall what it has to offer by glancing at the index. Then, if you want to grab some quotes about one of these ideas, the index tells you exactly where to look (no more reading every annotation!).

(Now is the time for you to cheer “Great tip!”)

Since Maria Popova is no layperson (reading 15 books per week and writing 3 long articles per day? INSANE!), her technique is worth a try.

My personal goal this year is to read at least 25 books. But my real goal is not only to read more, but also better. I’m going to do it by reading slowly (real, physical books mostly), minimizing external distraction, and taking more notes using this idea index method.

So, what’s your strategy to read better?