I’m Learning How to Not Finish Books

Before now, I was one of those readers who only occasionally dropped books even when it became apparent that they were not giving me enough to justify the time/energy I was pouring into reading them.

Does this have something to do with formal education, where students are pushed into reading books they otherwise would not read because of academic pressure? Perhaps. I think it has more to do with some of my favorite books which I read before the age of 20 being books which I initially dropped, only to return to them later and discover they were awesome. After discovering that some of these books which I had initially dropped were wonderful, I lost trust in myself in figuring out if a book was really good before I read the whole thing. That does not mean I never dropped books before finishing them – I think that is practically impossible even for the most committed of readers. I did, however, charge through a lot of books that failed to engage me, simply because I had already started them and I was not sure that they would not turn around.

Then I realized a huge flaw in this approach: my life is finite. Continue reading

Finding Oral History in Print is Validating

I feel like I owe my ancestors an apology, for having the doubts I once had about the history they passed down to me.

My great-great-grandfather Harry served as a soldier in the U.S. Civil War in the Union Army. He was in his late twenties when the war began. I don’t know when he immigrated to the United States, but I know that he was born in Cologne, which at the time of his birth was part of Prussia (now it’s part of Germany). A generation before him, Cologne had been part of France, and Harry’s mother had French ancestry. The oral history I heard is that he left Cologne/Prussia because he was opposed to the political direction that Prussia was going towards. He immigrated to the United States, which he perceived to be much more democratic. What I heard is that German immigrants were so devoted to the Union cause in the Civil War because, after having their political ambitions frustrated in Europe, they valued American democracy. And to them, plantation owners and the institution of slavery represented what they were trying to get away from in Europe. To hear the way it’s been described in my family, German-Americans were responsible for keeping many areas under Union control which otherwise would have become part of the Confederacy, heck, the Union might not have even won the Civil War without the German-Americans.

I’ve never exactly disbelieved this oral history, but…I’ve also questioned it. I could think of ways this could have been distorted through the generations. None of this was every covered in my American history classes in school. I remember learning a little bit about ‘the old immigration’ (i.e. Irish and German immigrants in the middle of the 19th century) but not how that related to the Civil War. I’ve occasionally encountered references to Irish-Americans in the New York Draft Riots (content warning: anti-black racial violence), but the only reference I can recall finding in print to German-Americans in the Civil War was a brief mention in a Civil War memoir.

That is, until now. Continue reading

Gloomy Sky Over San Francisco

The sky is totally dark and orange

Looking towards the Pacific Ocean…at around 11 AM.

On the morning of September 9, 2020, when I woke up, it was so dark that I thought my clock must be wrong. Did Daylight Savings end and I forgot about it? I wondered. But no. The sky really was that dark. Even as late as NOON, it was so dark that it was a major strain on my eyes to read without artificial light.

It did get brighter in the afternoon (I was able to do some reading without artificial light!) And today, September 10, when I’m writing this post, there is a lot more natural light, though still less than a normally-foggy day.

That’s a street light in the upper-right corner, NOT the sun. Yes, it was so dark that the street lights stayed on all day.

As many of you know, there are a lot of wildfires burning through the Pacific coastal region of North America right now. I’ve read in the news that much of the smoke which darkened the sky of San Francisco on September 9 came from the wildfires blazing through Oregon. (It also occurs to me that this post is going to be published on September 11, which is very infamously associated with lethal fire).

I was out walking from around 10 AM to noon on September 9, which is when I took all of the photos in this post. A lot of other people were snapping photos too.

Amazingly, even with all of this smoke in the air, and the layer of ash covering cars and other objects which were left outside all night, the air quality was ‘moderate’. According to the news, the smoke was really high in the air, whereas the air near the ground (which we breathe) is clean air from the ocean. But the air quality varies a lot in the city due to all of the microclimates. According to the map I checked, the closer to sea-level and the further west, the cleaner the air, the further above sea-level and the further east, the worse the air, with the east sides of the tops of hills having the worst air. Continue reading

Book Review: “The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water” by Zen Cho

After watching this review, I was just curious enough about “The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water” by Zen Cho that I decided to read it myself. So what did *I* think?

What Is This Novella About?

In Malaysia, there is a group of Tang (i.e. Chinese-Malaysian) ‘bandits’ running around, trying to survive as the authoritarian government oppresses Tang people. After they rescue a nun at a coffeeshop from sexual harassment, the nun insists on joining them as they travel to deliver their, um, “black market rice”.

Can you be more helpful in telling me what the Novella is about?

Okay. When I wrote this book review, I used Libbie Hawker’s formula for writing book blurbs (which I think is helpful for writing spoiler-free summaries in book reviews, not just selling books).

That formula (with answers for “The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water” is) :

Who is the main character? Tet Sang

What do they want? To stay alive and to stay with the group of bandits. Except, near the end (as in, within the last 10% of the novella) it turns out that Tet Sang wants something different that came out of the blue for me.

What or who stands in their way? The bandits are wanted men and the Protectorate’s people are hunting them.

What will they do, or what must they do, in order to get what they want? Safely deliver the goods and get paid.

What is at stake if they fail? They get captured or not paid enough money to survive as a group.

That does not sound like such a bad story.

It doesn’t, but I think Libbie Hawker’s formula tends to flatter stories (probably because it’s supposed to sell books). One of the problems is that it’s not actually that hard for the bandits to evade the Protectorate’s people. Even when their plan falls apart, somebody gives them good advice, and all they have to do to get the money they need and avoid capture is to follow the advice.

Is following the advice hard?

No, following the advice is totally doable. Continue reading