Reading recap: 2016

About this time last year I posted a reading recap of all the books I’d read since beginning my gap year. This time around I’ll do all the non-school books I read in 2016. Who knows, maybe it’ll become a tradition?

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman — All I remember about this book is rat people and London. And I think there was a pub and an umbrella in the beginning. And a ratty girl. I enjoyed it at the time, but it hasn’t stuck with me.

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut — Again, I don’t remember much. I should probably do this every few months rather than once a year. Anyway, I do remember actually being a little disappointed with this one. I think I was so blown away by Vonnegut’s short stories that I set my expectations too high. It was good, but not jaw-droppingly, mind-bogglingly amazing, as I had hoped. Maybe if I’d read it before the short stories I’d feel differently.

Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel — Beautifully written, dreamlike is how I remember it. Read it early on last year.

The First Bad Man by Miranda July — LOVED THIS BOOK. So twisted. Sort of like Lolita but not as bad, I guess. Definitely read if you want a crazy ride.

A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson — One of two nonfiction books I read for pleasure this year. Fascinating and beautifully laid out. Hoping to read more Bryson and more nonfiction in general. Gotta learn about the real world sometimes.

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey — I think I read this in two days or something crazy like that. Not really sure why. It was a pretty story and nicely written. Not remarkable, but good.

Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell — I LOVE Karen Russell. I still think about Swamplandia! a lot, especially on my recent trip to Florida’s Everglades. I was first introduced to Russell by a short story from this collection, and though the rest of the stories are amazing, that first one remains my favorite. It’s called “Reeling fir the Empire.”

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides — Gorgeous book. Lovely. Wonderful story, wonderfully written. Entertaining and meaningful.

My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk — A man working in my local bookstore recommended this to me; he’d met the author a few years prior. It was one of those odd reads that I didn’t like as I was reading but enjoyed pondering afterwards.

Never Can Say Goodbye by Sari Botton — The other nonfiction I read, a book of essays about New York. I love New York, and I love things people write about New York, so I loved this book. Hopefully one day I’ll write an essay about New York that will be in a book of essays about New York. Did I mention I love New York?

Geek Love by Katherine Dunn — Twisted like Miranda July, but in a more grotesque way, I think. Grotesque is certainly the word for this novel, but I loved it nonetheless. Greatly poetic. I guess I’m a fan of the twisted.

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke — The longest book I read this year. I’ll admit it was a struggle to finish. I read it over the summer. It was fun, but not amazing.

Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut — Sorry Kurt, I honestly have no memory of reading this. But it’s on my Goodreads page, so I guess I did…

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon — My first Chabon experience and I loved it. Hope to read more soon.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood — A whirlwind read I started and finished over Thanksgiving break instead of writing some essays. Worth it, though.

The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells — I’ve always loved H.G. Wells, but this novel didn’t quite live up to the expectations set by The Time Machine. I think it was because the main character was just so unlikable. He was a terrible guy, and I didn’t really care what happened to him because he brought it all on himself.

The Corpse Exhibition and Other Stories of Iraq by Hassan Blassim — Violent and sad. “The first major literary work about the Iraq War from an Iraqi perspective.” Beautifully written, in a style that reminds me of my favorite Gabriel Garcia Marquez, mixing magic with reality.

Kindred by Octavia E. Butler — A science fiction work dealing with ante-bellum slavery. Read this for a science fiction book club, finished it on the last day of the year. I enjoyed the plot, but I think it was a little surface-level. I think the story could have gone a lot deeper and explored more of the narrator’s truly unusual and unfortunate situation. I’m very critical of science fiction because I think it has a lot of potential that is only rarely reached (examples of sci-fi that reaches its potential: H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, Ken Liu’s “The Paper Menagerie”). I’ll be curious to hear other opinions on this one.

I’m currently reading a few books: another Murakami (Norwegian Wood), Calvino’s Cosmicomics (a good bedtime read, completely surreal), Rutherfurd’s mammoth New York. Reading goals for 2017: try some David Foster Wallace, read more nonfiction, more female authors, and more international authors.


New Year’s Resolution

Remember over the summer when I said that I’d post more non-travel writing? Well, that never happened. I had to quit my creative writing class because I was too tired after work. I also didn’t like the professor or the way the class was conducted.

But I’m hoping to remedy this. I plan to minor in Creative Writing, and I’ve applied to a month-long fiction intensive this summer (in Paris, no less!). So hopefully that works out.

I’ve also made it my New Year’s resolution to write every day. Normally I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions—why does one have to wait until January 1st to try to improve their life? But I figure now is as good a time as any to hold myself to this promise. It shouldn’t be too hard; just one sentence (or more) a day of non-school-related writing. I think it will help keep me grounded and push me to produce more. And I’m hoping that by publishing this resolution on the internet I can convince myself to take it seriously.

So that’s that. Happy New Year’s!

Christmas in Florida

It’s been four months since I last posted on here, which is the longest stretch of silence my avid readers (i.e. mom) have had to endure since I got this blog going back in the beginning of 2015. And for that, I apologize. I’ve been busy at college, you’ll be glad to know, and haven’t had the chance to take proper pictures of NYC. Working on that.

But for now, I’ve got some pictures of south Florida. We started out in the Everglades, and today we made our way out to Key West, which is a really fascinating place (and the most southern in the US! Ninety miles from Cuba!).

Lots of adventuring has happened and I don’t have the energy to elaborate at the moment. So the photos will have to do.

New Mexico, Days 2 & 3

We spent our second day (technically our first full day due to the travel complications) in Santa Fe exploring the town and market, wandering into the cathedral during Sunday Mass, admiring the lavender, spotting a sneaky dragon, and, once the rain came, getting pampered at the spa. My favorite part was the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum: not too overwhelming, full of beautiful art, and informative. A must if you ever find yourself in Santa Fe. And don’t skip the gift shop—they’ve got wonderful prints for reasonable prices.

On our final full day we thought we’d drive to Taos and do some hiking. It took about an hour and a half to get to the town, which was, frankly, underwhelming. Lots of art galleries, but not much else. We started on a trail about 10 miles down the road, but it was flat and the features didn’t change, so it got pretty boring and we turned around after 20 minutes. We drove up to the ski valley, which was quite beautiful, but by that time it was raining, so we headed back to town. We also drove out to the Pueblo, but neither of us was inclined to brave the rain and mud to explore it.

Thus ended my quick trip to New Mexico. I think I would have enjoyed it more if a) I had been in full health, b) we hadn’t had to stay overnight in Denver, and c) it had been earlier in the summer (though that wouldn’t have been possible because I was working). I’ve been preoccupied with NYC for weeks now, and in comparison Santa Fe and Taos seemed claustrophobic and dusty. Someday I think I’d like to go back, though, and give the region my full attention.

I’m home and packing for college now (FOUR MORE DAYS), saying goodbye to friends and trying to mentally prepare for classes and exams and homework and textbooks and (the horror!) scientific calculators.

Santa Fe, Day 1

My departure for New York looms just one week away, and instead of frantically packing, I find myself in Santa Fe. It was quite a trip to get here, filled with tight connections, cancelled flights, three-hour lines, and useless amenities bags (seriously, who needs shoe polish??). But my dad and I made it, if only a day late!

I’ve been under the weather lately, and the hectic traveling didn’t help, so I spent a good portion of yesterday napping in bed. I did take a wander through the annual Indian Market (and purchase some rad 3D-painted earrings), but that’s about it. Santa Fe is a small city, with a square central Plaza and low terra cotta-colored buildings. In the shade it’s nice and cool, but the sun is vicious at this higher altitude. The southwest vibe is strong here: everyone is so friendly, and they’re all wearing cowboy boots and hats, long flowy skirts, big embellished belts, fringed sandals, suede… Like Santa Fe is frozen in time. A folksy band played at our restaurant last night, and couples with their cowboy hats still on got up to dance. A night-time shower washed the desert dust away from this green oasis. I’d like to come back in winter to see the snow.

As I said, I leave for NYU in seven days. I am BEYOND excited. It’s been over two years since I first visited, and went googly-eyed at the presentation they give to all prospective students, and grinned stupidly as we were rushed through downtown NYC by a harried student on the campus tour. Two years! So much has happened! But I’m just as in love with the idea of NYU as ever. I’m only hoping that I love the reality of it, too.

Small-town 4th of July

Nowadays it seems I’ve reverted back to my high school tendencies—only blogging when I have a million other things I should be doing but don’t want to. Today, for example, I should be: finishing up a story that was due last Monday, writing a revision and self-critique of another story, critiquing someone else’s chapters, putting together my final poetry project, going to the grocery store, doing my homework and summer reading for NYU… I could go on but shall not for fear of overwhelming myself.

Working full time and going to night class is exhausting and fulfilling, and I’m glad I decided to do both, but it doesn’t leave me much time for anything else. July 4th was almost two weeks ago, and I’ve been so busy I haven’t had the chance to post pictures. So here they are, better late than never. I spent the holiday weekend (including my one day off the entire summer) with my mom in Half Moon Bay, CA.

A blog about travel and writing?

I realize that right now, my blog might be a little misleading. It’s been more than a year since I’ve posted any of my own non-travel writing. Please don’t fret—I have been writing. I wrote one respectable short-short story in Peru, and I have another in the works. But this blog is about to seriously switch gears because… I’m grounded in the Bay Area on account of my job and frankly way too exhausted on the weekends to go anywhere fun. But also! I’m taking a creative writing class at the community college near my house, so I’ll have a lot of content to post. Hopefully it isn’t too bad; I was pretty intimidated in class today by my peers’ writing, but I’m going to try and learn as much as I can from them. In order to kick off this transition, I’ll include the first poem I wrote for class, a cinquian:

Singing Sighs

Sighs sing

Dragging with them

Dreams of pungent peaches

Stones underfoot and skies above

Sweet breath


Gap year: looking back

It’s been a little over two months since I returned from Peru. In some respects it feels like my whole gap year never happened; as I transition into summer, my life is beginning to resemble this time last year, with the college fervor (of which I can now rightfully partake), the relief of being done (with the trials of my gap year, rather than the trials of high school), the joys shared with friends, and the promise of sunny months spread ahead. And, of course, the melancholy goodbye waiting for me at the end of August.

It will be different, of course. I won’t be traveling very far, but I have a car and a job and a class I’m looking forward to taking. I will be preparing to venture off, but to New York rather than Canada and Peru. I will be with my high school friends, but we will have lived apart for a year; they will have memories they cannot share with me, just as I will with them.

Though I still struggle to think of my last weeks in Peru and the vulnerability and loneliness I experienced, I admit that I miss the country and my time there. I miss the quiet afternoons at Emilime’s whitewashed offices, the strolls I would take through olive trees on weekends, the sunset views from Larcomar. I also miss Canada—the endless roads and sharp mountains, and especially the excitement of those first few weeks alone. Though it is all tinged with the subtle sadness of separation, I remember much of it fondly. I saw many things and, more importantly, I met many people; I grew into myself and I believe I will always carry a certain pride of what I tangibly and intangibly accomplished this year.

Unfortunately, I’m having technical difficulties with my external hard-drive, which means I don’t currently have access to my photos from Canada. I wanted to do a compilation of favorite photos from my entire gap year, but that can’t happen until I figure this thing out. Hopefully I’ll be able to; if not, I’ll have lost all of my photos from at least the last five years (except the ones on my current camera). So today I’ll just include my favorites from Peru, and pray that the rest will be coming soon. They’re not in chronological order because I don’t remember them that way. Also I thought it might be more visually enticing…

Portland, Day 4

This is a little late because as soon as I got home, I hit the ground running. This included registering for a creative writing class I’m taking this summer, sorting out a few things for my fall classes at NYU, and working some extra hours at my part-time job. Portland was my last out-of-state trip until I fly to the east coast for school. June 1 marks the beginning of my full-time job as a camp counselor, and June 13 is my first class (it’s a night class). It’s sort of crazy to think that this is the first summer that I can remember (baby ones don’t count) staying put. My mom and I are kicking off with a barbecue tomorrow, and then I’m hunkering down to enjoy the California sunshine with my friends, who are almost all back from college.

Anyway—for our last day in Portland we decided to trek (it was uphill and took about 45 minutes) to the International Rose Test Garden, which was, as expected, breathtaking. Then we trekked back (thankfully downhill) to the Pearl district and finally got some of those famous Voodoo Doughnuts. If you’re wondering, I had a magnificent oreo one. What better way to end a trip than with sugary fried goodness?

Portland, Day 3

At 5,200 acres, Forest Park is the country’s largest urban park. We took a streetcar to Macleay Park (part of Forest Park) and hiked up to Pittock mansion. This one was definitely a work-out on the way up, but the estate and the views at the top were definitely worth it. You can see all of downtown Portland, and the grounds are gorgeous. Bonus: it didn’t rain on us!

Shoutout to Lillian in China for steering us towards Forest Park.

We may or may not have returned to Powell’s City of Books… I may or may not have purchased another three books (bringing the total to six new ones)…