books + reading

2017 Book Goals via Maxine Hong Kingston


I was a junior English major at UC Berkeley and my husband, then-boyfriend, was a senior majoring in poli sci. He needed another class to finish out his year and decided to take a seminar led by author Maxine Hong Kingston.  I seethed with envy; I couldn’t take the class because I still had major pre-reqs to fulfill. Did my man even know what books she’d written? Could he understand her aura of literary magic?

It was an amazing class, said my guy.  And no, she didn’t teach it again until after I’d graduated. But you already figured that would happen, right?

So here I am, many years later, and can interact with Ms. Hong Kingston on Facebook. She is a true gem to follow, especially with her post-election commentary.

In a recent NYT article, she was asked to share the books she read over 2016. I was in awe at the sheer number of books she managed to consume. And I decided that for 2017,  I would try to read as many books on her list as possible. One caveat: I would swap out a few in place of those on my own list. Plus, I’d already read a few books she’d listed.

This list was first published in The New York Times, and later published via Maxine Hong Kingston on her Facebook page:

“The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” by Marie Kondo. 

“The Essential Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson,” edited by Brooks Atkinson.

“The Origin of Species,” by Charles Darwin.

“Notes of a Son and Brother,” by Henry James.

“Our Appointment With Life: Sutra on Knowing the Better Way to Live Alone,” by Thich Nhat Hanh.

“The World as I See It,” by Albert Einstein.

“The Vagrants,” by Yiyun Li.

“The Heart of Haiku,” by Jane Hirshfield.

“On the Narrow Road to the Deep North,” by Lesley Downer.

“Encouraging Words: Zen Buddhist Teachings for Western Students,” by Robert Aitken.

“The Little Red Chairs,” by Edna O’Brien. (Didn’t finish. Stopped at torture scene.)

“Charlotte Brontë: A Fiery Heart,” by Claire Harman.

“Our Souls at Night,” by Kent Haruf.

“In the Beauty of the Lilies,” by John Updike.

“Natural Opium,” by Diane Johnson.

“Flyover Lives,” by Diane Johnson.

“Le Mariage,” by Diane Johnson.

“Luck of the Draw,” by William Scott Morrison.

“The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression,” by Andrew Solomon.

“At the Kirks’,” by Mary Gordon.

“I Feel Bad About My Neck,” by Nora Ephron.

“The Woman in White,” by Wilkie Collins.

“If I Can Cook / You Know God Can,” by Ntozake Shange.

“The Sympathizer,” by Viet Thanh Nguyen. (Skipped some torture scenes.)

“Nothing Ever Dies,” by Viet Thanh Nguyen.

“Legacy of a Teapot,” by Barbara Quinn Benom.

“The Buried Giant,” by Kazuo Ishiguro.

“The Best American Short Stories 2013,” edited by Elizabeth Strout.

“My Father’s War,” by Phyllis Meshulam. (Forthcoming.)

“Thirteen Ways of Looking,” by Colum McCann.

“All the Pretty Horses,” by Cormac McCarthy. (Didn’t finish. Couldn’t take the suspense.)

“Finding Beauty in a Broken World,” by Terry Tempest Williams.

“When Women Were Birds,” by Terry Tempest Williams.

“The American Heiress,” by Daisy Goodwin.

“On That Day, Everybody Ate,” by Margaret Trost.

“Back on the Fire,” by Gary Snyder.

“Armor and Ashes,” by Miriam Marx.

“Mainlined,” by Gregory Ross. (Hard-to-find, self-published book.)

“In Whose Eyes,” by Tran Van Thuy and Le Thanh Dung.

“Justin Chin: Selected Works,” edited by Jennifer Joseph.

“Lolas’ House: Survivors of War Time Rape Camps,” by M. Evelina Galang. (Forthcoming. Skipped some torture scenes.)

“Old School,” by Tobias Wolff.

“Excursions in the Real World,” by William Trevor. (I was reading this when I heard that he died.)

“Upstream,” by Mary Oliver.

“Wherever You Go, There You Are,” by Jon Kabat-Zinn.

“One World,” by Gail Newman.

“Well Being,” by Clare Morris. (Hard-to-find, self-published book.)

home design, journalism, stories

Home is where the history is.



We’re at the tail-end of a home renovation project but at the start, I began to research the history of our home. It all led to a few other stories, including a nice spread in the San Francisco Chronicle Sunday magazine. My story focuses on a few self-made home historians in San Francisco’s Bernal Heights neighborhood.

For me, opening the newspaper and seeing my byline and story still gives me the same glee as it did the very first time I was published. Hope that never goes away.

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random riffs

Minor league baseball and saving my kids’ skulls…

It’s common knowledge here at crazedparent that the family likes baseball. While a good major league game tickles my fancy, I’m also a fan of minor league ball. The kind that conjures up thoughts of Kevin Costner and Tim Robbins in Bull Durham, with wacky between-inning contests (“Smash for Cash”), ridiculous mascots (Gigante the washed-out orange-colored monkey) and small-town, old-fashioned fun.

Triple-A ball — players just shy of the getting called up to the show — is intense. You can see rookies before they become big names. And sometimes, when you’re sitting in the first row at field level, a player might shamelessly flirt with you when he should be manning his base. Even when you’re pregnant. With a big belly. And your husband is sitting right next to you. A few months later you might even see that player in the starting lineup of a top-notch major league team and you’ll say, “Hey, isn’ that…” and before you can finish your sentence, you’re husband will answer, “Yep, that’s him.” And you sense a little machismo because his lady was eye candy to a now famous ball player.

I digress.

Triple-A ball in intense. Single-A teams are raw and the players are learning the ropes. They make brutal errors and are naively disrespectful to umpires. And it’s sort of fun to watch the players figure it all out.

I’m particularly fond of Single-A ball because you get a behind-the-scenes view of the game. You see scouts tracking pitchers and signals and calls being made with no obstruction because you’re so close to the field. And sweet jesus, the local color. It’s like walking into the proverbial time warp.

Here’s the thing. When you’re soaking in every drop of detail, you sometimes miss a pop-fly heading over the net behind home plate. And it’s only until you hear your husband yelling, “Heads up! Heads up!” that you realize a baseball is barreling towards you. And the skulls of your two kids seated right beside you. When you quickly look up, you realize that you don’t have time to think.

With that, I threw my hand straight up in line of the falling baseball and as the crowd around me yelled, I could only hear the eery sound of leather pounding the palm of my hand, the drop of the ball on the ground and the people clamoring around us to catch it. Because, you know, who can pass up grabbing a foul ball. Even if it’s only Single-A.

I stretched my arm out and tried to open and close my hand and fingers, scarlet red and aching from the impact of the baseball. An EMT quickly appeared along our row asking me if I needed assistance. I pondered his question for a few seconds since he was wearing gold Elvis sunglasses along with his navy blue jumpsuit. But I resisted. My hand — and perhaps most important, my the skulls of my kids — had escaped serious injury.

The boys had no idea what had just happened. Why? Because they were watching the game.