There is an undeniable allure in reducing weight loss to just a simple arithmetic equation. Consume fewer calories than you burn. Reduce all the food you eat to a single number that’s either printed on its nutrition label or the first number that pops up on Google. And like all oversimplified methods to achieve difficult goals, it works until it doesn’t. Counting calories turns eating into a chore with each bit of food being weighed against the need to sate one’s hunger later in the day.
But there is something to be said about keeping track of the literature we consume. We will forget most moments in our lives, and most of what we read. Perhaps by noting them down and engaging with them more mindfully, we will forget less.
This is a pushback of sorts against Goodreads’ Reading Challenge, and the speed reading and self-styled gurus who read one book per day. They only focus on the speed of reading and, by extension, the quantity of books read. I find that narrow-minded and frankly, ridiculous.
Anyway, I’ve gone on long enough trying to justify the title of this. I didn’t even have to do that. As X told me, “It’s sexy and you know it.”
I’m simply listing down brief thoughts on the things I’ve read, watched, and listened to over a short, unspecified period of time, as and when the whim hits me. So here are the things I’ve consumed since Christmas last year.
The Catcher In The Rye (J.D. Salinger)
Outside of my office, there is a shelf filled with books that people no longer want. Most of them are, naturally, rather bad. There are dime novels, golf manuals, pickup artist guides and so on. Then, there’s the occasional book worth taking, like The Catcher In The Rye.
I’ve long been curious about the book, since it’s famous for being the most censored book in the US from the 1960s to early 1980s.
Putting aside the craft of maintaining the distinctive voice of Holden Caulfield, the protagonist and narrator, this pessimistic staying-of-age story left me with the at once desperate and at once whimsical image of stopping people from falling off a metaphorical cliff camouflaged by a pastoral golden brown field of rye.
“I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff—I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I’d do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all.”
The City Of Belgium (Brecht Evens)
There is a restlessness that comes with the visual overstimulation in The City Of Belgium. It’s so bright, so loud, so lonely too. I don’t want to live in this city of Belgium.
Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me (Mariko Tamaki)
How did this win the Harvey, Ignatz and Eisner? Perhaps my expectations were too high because of the accolades this book got. Still, I do often find stories playing off of teenage experiences hard to relate to, though that has more to do with my own teenage life than anything.
Papaya Salad (Elisa Macellari)
This didn’t leave much of an impression, but I thought one of the characters looked like X when X was a child, and I found that rather cute.
Strixhaven: A Curriculum Of Chaos
Tabletop RPG (TTRPG) sourcebooks are a slog to read through, honestly. TTRPGs are meant to be played, but to be played someone must read all these rules and lore. Also, I don’t plan to run Dungeons & Dragons, so I totally skimmed through this.
Lousy Love Poems (Clara Chow)
As a reader, it is easy to start expecting each book to strive for varying forms of greatness. Lousy Love Poems is average and aware of it, but that’s the point. It’s not supposed to be a magnum opus. The poems mark Chow’s limited bilingual proficiency at the time of writing, like a candid photograph taken in a mundane moment that could evoke a deeper emotion sometime in the future.
I tell myself that it’s okay to be mediocre, so embrace it.
宝岛一村 (赖声川) The Village (Stan Lai)
A bit of text on the cover describes this play as “不说就会随即消失的故事” (a story that would’ve vanished if left untold). This is essentially a biography of a 眷村 (military dependents’ village) in Taiwan, charting the way a village forms and dies, though it never fully vanishes.
This was my first time reading Stan Lai, and his work accentuates the differences between a stage play and a film. A story feels alive and has the immediacy of being real only when story and audience are present within the same space. And even then, the story doesn’t always spring to life. With 宝岛一村, given its historical closeness and preciousness, if it were trapped within a screen, it’d become more distant, the way travesties in documentaries feel distant. Although I only read it, it’s clear that this is a play that’s much, much more powerful live.
X wholeheartedly agrees, having watched it before.
如梦之梦 (赖声川) A Dream Like A Dream (Stan Lai)
This is yet another Stan Lai play, and it’s an eight-hour epic. It makes use of physical space in a way that only a play can, with a 360-degree staging that has the story play out around the audience. It reads like a dream within a dream within a dream, like life.
The copy I read was borrowed from the library, and there’s a handwritten note slotted somewhere between the pages.
I wonder what prompted someone to write a note like this. The desire to connect without having to actually commit to doing so? Wanting to leave a part of oneself behind but not willing to have it be forgotten?
These are magazines made by two teachers with a passion for film, with each issue tackling a theme – food, mind, sex and so on.
These magazines show readers that there are numerous interesting ways to talk about film, both in depth and in breadth, each one a fresh perspective. While we tend to think of a passion for film and art as a passion for making or consuming the medium, perhaps passion for talking about art is also a worthwhile pursuit.
Tangram, Volume 2
I love Tangram. This biannual magazine is an ode to the arts, the “useless”, the “inefficient”, the “pointless”. Because there’s always a point to the arts, and a use for it, even if it’s not always obvious.
“Wonder is getting more and more distant from our culture. We’re used to having wonder for one second and then being given some reveal, whether it’s a meme or a one-minute video. Wonder is becoming bite-sized. While we have a lot of opportunities for wonder, as adults these moments usually turn into frustration or confusion, because we’re trained in our minds. We’re not trained to engender wonder, we’re trained to use these moments to get somewhere else.”
Reformation Of The Deadbeat Noble
As far as fantasy webnovels go, this is a rather wholesome and positive one. Still, it probably won’t take long for this to blend into the mental mush of all the webnovels and webtoons that I’ve read.
Garbology (Aesop Rock & Blockhead)
“My new fall coat got strange powers
When I’m with it I know I am not the same without it
I like to zip it all the way up ’til I’m only eyes
I wear it when I’m dipping in and out the flow of time
Every dollar you bury under a tree
All the art that inform how you speak
Little black books stacked to the beams
It all falls into the sea
Shoebox full of photos from the scene
All the nothing you been stuffing up your sleeve
More stuff than you possibly need
It all falls into the sea”
幸存者的负罪感 (王以太 & AIR)
回忆 的碎片 弯不下腰才能捡
NFTs are a hot topic lately, and yes, most of the art associated with NFTs is ugly. It always irks me when a nascent technology is used primarily as a financial instrument geared towards profiteering.
A bit of Magic: The Gathering history and story behind a game mechanic.
A bit of gaming culture.
An interesting perspective on how the relationship between photography and architecture changed over the years. The idea of ‘Instagrammability’ is also one that has infected many things in life, and its influence is felt most strongly by people like me, a millennial who don’t have any photogenic inclinations.
I believe that just because one is talented at something doesn’t mean one will make a living out of it. However, I’d like to believe that it is still possible, regardless of the type and nature of the talent.
There is magic in someone who can explain things clearly and succinctly.
These stealth camping videos are really addictive for some reason. Maybe it’s this cosy loneliness that comes with the idea of sleeping in a car while on an endless road trip to nowhere.
The video cites that one-third of our lives will be given to our full time jobs. I don’t want to spend such a large chunk of my life on things that won’t fulfill me. 90,000 hours. That’s a sobering number.
“Waste is precisely what dissolves the distinction between nature and culture. Today, when the very weather is warped by the climate crisis, and plankton thousands of metres deep have intestinal tracts full of microplastics, the idea of a nature that is pristine or untouched is delusional. Nature and waste have fused at both planetary and microbiological scales. Similarly, waste is not merely a byproduct of culture: it is culture. We have produced a culture of waste. To focus our gaze on waste is not an act of morbid negativity; it is an act of cultural realism. If waste is the mesh that entangles nature and culture, it’s necessarily the defining material of our time. We live in the Waste Age.”
“Our books are not so much braided as cartographic—oceanographic, drawing diverse bodies of water together, overflowing distinct embodied experiences and places into one another. From accumulation of close observations, eventually, there comes abundance, and the possibility of some kind of hope.”
From Now on I’m Taking All of My Storytelling Lessons From This Wild Epic About Love, Loyalty, and Necromancy (TOR)
My thesis supervisor shared this with me. Webnovels are insanely popular now. I’d like to write one with X one day.
“Is it perfect? Not even close. Is it problematic? Certainly. Is it full of troubled people doing terrible things? Full to the brim. Are all of the characters and their relationships wildly dysfunctional? Damn right. Does it feel like parts of its 1500 or so pages were written in a giddy fever dream? Sure does. Does the censorship of queer, supernatural, and so-called “immoral” content in Chinese media force the adaptations into some head-scratchingly bizarre choices? Absolutely. Do fans have raging internet battles over those changes and various degrees of character villainy and the proper translations of sex scenes? All the time, my friends. All the time.
Does any of that matter? Not in the slightest.”
Real Life is one of my favourite discoveries from last year. The articles are always insightful and well written. I’d like to be published in it this year.
“The communication networks and self-documenting technology we live with today makes a discontinuous life seem implausible. It seems to take more effort to lose touch with people than to remain in nebulous contact with them, thanks to the myriad ways that various social media platforms keep people woven together more or less loosely. Stand by Me focuses on an incident, but that unit of experience makes less sense in a context where events seem to be continually unfolding, and documentation and interpretation is always occurring, always in the middle of things.
Nostalgia doesn’t have to wait for grownup disillusionment to set in; it can be instantaneous, if not from the kind of ubiquitous speed that Virilio described, then through the alienation imposed by seeing what you just posted or what someone else just said about it. Nostalgia for nostalgia is at the same time nostalgia for the ability to feel time passing without having to register some feeling about it at every moment.”
Sometimes there are things that we are plain unable to enjoy. Even if we can admire those things from a technical or artistic perspective, we can’t like them. For me, that’s the writings of Eileen Chang and Chekhov. There’s no shame in that.
In compiling this list, I realised that there’s no way to include everything I’ve read and watched. We have grown so used to having entertainment of any sort bombarding us during every waking minute that absorbing content, be it passively or actively, has become a default mode.
X mentioned how counting literary calories is similar to what James Clear advocates in Atomic Habits. The book recommends gaining awareness about how time is spent in one’s day to help build habits. Here, it is about becoming aware of all the media we consume, though to what end, I’m not entirely sure myself.
Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve watched videos on chess analysis, scambaiting, speedrunning, economics, the best ad for a shaver I’ve ever seen, and a lot of strange videos about strange people on the internet. I’ve watched Chef (2014) and And Then There Were None (1945). I’ve read about gaming trends, trashy webtoons, and news about half naked men hired as a gimmick by a restaurant only to have the police called on them because they were mistaken for exhibitionists.
Most of these things, even the ones I’ve listed, I’m sure I will forget about in weeks. Perhaps this is me desperately wanting the time I spent on consuming all these to mean more. Perhaps some of these will germinate into bigger ideas that stay with me. I’ve long known that I have no choice over what will take root in my mind, like how I can’t pick the burdocks that cling to the hems of my pants, but they become a part of me anyway.