2016 in Books

Last year was one of the first years I managed to keep my meager reading resolution! I had to face the hard truth and be realistic with my goal of one book per month, which was very achievable given that I either didn’t read at all in a month or would go on a streak and read many books.

One of the biggest challenges was dedicated reading time. As I mentioned in my 2016 resolutions post, dedicated reading time is key to achieving a certain quantity of books read. For most of my post-grade school life, my dedicated reading time has been on my commute. This meant a lot of reading during my painful 2-hours-each-way days, but not as much reading at my significantly more comfortable 20-minutes-door-to-door job. I also have been reading less on my morning commute, specifically, since we got an Express hawker at my metro stop, which means I will opt to read that morning’s paper instead of my book in the morning. Before committing to reading, I would read the paper in the morning and do the crossword and/or Sudoku puzzles in the afternoon. Now, I try to just read as much as I can in the morning, and then recycle the paper as soon as I get off the train. (I miss my puzzles, though.)

As listed in my 2017 resolutions post, here are some contributing factors for how I was able to achieve my modest reading goal this year:

  1. The Blogging for Books program gave me fresh reading material and motivation to complete books so I could review them.
  2. I invested in an eReader, after years of hardcore resisting, because it really is very convenient to be able to carry so many books so easily.
  3. There was extensive work on the metro that led to some severe delays during my commute, so I tried to make lemonade from that lemon and would read during these hour-long delays. Ah, it was almost like the olden days of my commute, except instead of traveling several miles, I was just sitting underground waiting for 5 trains to pass. Good reading was done, and it kept me calm.

I reviewed the books I received through Blogging for Books here, but I wanted to just give a shoutout to my favorite reads of the year and put together a little cover-collage like I do with my annual movie round-up.

The Tsar of Love and Techno is, by far, one of my favorite fiction novels. I’ve been recommending it left and right for Anthony Marra’s devastatingly gorgeous prose and insights into Russia through the ages. I don’t often reread books, but I get the feeling I’ll be revisiting it soon. Even though I finished the book a year ago, now, I still remember lines and characters and storylines really vividly. It’s a book that will stick with me for a long time.

The Street of Eternal Happiness was a better read than I was expecting. Written by an outsider journalist, this book and its narrative style taught me a lot more about China and its different generations of people than I think I would have learned organically. If you enjoyed Beyond the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo, another book written with several non-fiction narratives that paint a telling portrait of a city and a country (Mumbai, India vs. Shanghai, China), you’ll like this one. I would recommend both of these books to anyone interested in people, anthropology, history, and how narratives emerge from the three.

The Martian had a lot of hype to live up to, since I watched the stellar movie before reading Andy Weir’s original book, but it exceeded the hype. It was so smartly-written, so well-researched, and didn’t fall victim to the little things that Hollywood did to the story to try to, well, Hollywood it. (Looking at the erasure of Asian characters and that absurd Iron Man scene at the end…) I laughed out loud, I anxiously sat at the edge of my seat, I found myself so disappointed when the book came to an end. All the hype about Weir’s intense research for the science of the book couldn’t prepare me for how real it all felt. So worthy of a film adaptation that helped me visualize things that were harder to conceptualize in the novel (like where things on Mars were respective of each other) but both media are both consuming for this story.

Weapons of Math Destruction first came across my radar when author Cathy O’Neil came to DC for a reading and signing. I didn’t go and I regret it now, because she really nailed how shifting to a data-driven world without considering the consequences of doing so sloppily is hurting those who are already disadvantaged. Read this if you care about data, how it’s used, and how it can affect you, but also because the style of writing is simple, straight-forward, informative without being dry, and keeps you wanting more.

Crazy Rich Asians popped up on my radar when it was published by Kevin Kwan over a year ago, and I absolutely devoured it – start to finish – during my train ride from Beijing to Changde. First of all, it’s going to make you want to go to Singapore ASAP to eat. Second of all, it provides a look at the people who are part of the statistic of Singapore being home to the most millionaires in the world. The Western world doesn’t really hear much about the rich Asians that are quietly buying up companies and running the world, but even more interesting than this look at the upper echelons of life was the characters. They are full of depth, their Asian-ness is both a big part of their identities and not a defining characteristic. What would I give to be in the film adaptation of this movie, which I hear will be casting Chinese and Asian actors.

Those are my stand-outs from this year. Some notes I have for books I haven’t reviewed on this blog:

  • As much as I like the KonMari method and the idea of it, I am such a sentimental hoarder that it causes me a lot of pain to think about throwing away my stuff when all my junk does, in fact, “spark joy”. I may have to reevaluate how much joy and if it’s worth it, but I hated how she suggested just throwing out bags of stuff.  There has to be a better way.
  • Aziz Ansari is underrated for how astute his observations about modern romance are. The characters he portrays on TV and on stage seem very silly, but he seems like a very observant, empathetic guy who really understands people’s motivations and thoughts.
  • The Book Thief  was so hyped up for me and I was on the waitlist for it so many times but I just didn’t feel it. (I did cry when one of the characters died, though.)
  • I really love the Game of Thrones books, they are much better than I was expecting them to be. I haven’t read fiction at this epic level in a long while, and boy, is it a treat. The books are so long but I am enjoying them a lot.
  • Unfortunately, I really didn’t like Between the World and Me. Something about Ta-Nehisis Coates’s writing style just isn’t my cup of tea, as I felt similarly reading his write-up in The Atlantic about President Obama.
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Are we friends on Goodreads yet?

What books would you recommend I read in 2017? There are a lot of classics I’m thinking about reading, including books everyone read in high school but my class, apparently. (Sorry Harper Lee fans.) I don’t even know how to find new books now. I get really scared when I start a new fiction since one of my biggest busts this year was a work of fiction by an author I am unfamiliar with. It’s been so long that I just read and read and read, and I feel like now I feel the stakes are higher since my reading time is more precious.

Right now, I finally have my hands on Jhumpa Lahiri’s In Other Words so I’ll be starting the year with that, if I like it enough to finish it!

… and I believe that should be the last of my 2016 recaps! I am back from China and will be putting up some recaps and thoughts from that trip shortly.

2016 in Film

As you may know, I love movies. I used to dream of achieving stardom in Hollywood (it’s not too late, you say?) and I started truly enjoying watching movies as art as well as for entertainment when I was in middle school. Here are the new releases I saw in 2016, in the order that I watched them (* denotes an early viewing):

  1. Deadpool
  2. Knight of Cups*
  3. Zootopia
  4. I Saw the Light*
  5. Mother’s Day*
  6. Keanu*
  7. Captain America: Civil War*
  8. Me Before You*
  9. The Lobster
  10. Nerve*
  11. Star Trek Beyond*
  12. Jason Bourne
  13. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
  14. Rogue One

2016 in film.jpg

Not a lot, this year… You can see how strong I was going with the early screenings and then it just kind of… fizzled away as I started feeling the toll of all those movie screenings. But on the plus side, I managed to write reviews for nearly every new release I saw this year! (Except for Jason Bourne. Sorry, Matt Damon.)

This list is subject to change as I am putting it together before I leave for China, where I am unable to update this blog. However, in the past, I have had a lot of last-minute additions to the list due to my flight to China carrying new titles!

I know I missed a lot of movies this year that I’ve been meaning to see.

What are the movies I definitely need to find and watch? I still want to see Moana and I have heard so many great things about La La Land.

Past new release round-ups: 2015 | 2014 | 2013

Looking Back on 2016

2016 was a good year for me, a year for replenishment. With my new job in my new career, I was able to afford – mentally and financially – many opportunities this year that I wasn’t able to in previous years. I strengthened friendships that mean a lot to to me and worked hard to let go of the ones that needed to mean less. Taking cues from the successes of past years, I made sure to take action on goals I wanted to see through.

I said yes more and no less. While I’m still finding a good balance and learning what I’m really saying yes and no to, my life is fuller as a result.

Buckle up, because here’s my annual recap of things I did, 2016 edition:

  • Completed my web development course
    • Spoke at our graduation
  • Saw my brother off on his semester abroad in Milan (!!!)
  • Sipped my way through the DC Whiskey Walk
  • Got my first interviews and job in software development
  • Learned to drive manual/stick shift (sorta)
  • Saw Tom Hiddleston and Marc Abraham at the DC screening of I Saw the Light
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  • Partied in Las Vegas as an adult without my family for the first time
  • Visited Los Angeles for the first time for Don and Megan’s wedding
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    • Stayed in an AirBnB for the first time
    • Went to Disneyland for the first time
    • Met the wonderful Briana and Adam in person (congrats again!)
    • Met some Xanga friends for the first and second time
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    • Sang karaoke in Koreatown
    • Ate In-n-Out and Roscoe’s and many other LA foods
    • Saw my friend Ran after something like 15 years?
  • Watched Game of Thrones as it aired (versus binge-watching on HBO Go over the summer)
  • Photographed a hot air balloon festival
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  • Saw Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band perform
    Gary-Sinise-selfie
  • Had my first boutique bra fitting experience
    • And finally got bras that fit my not-so-average body
  • Tried heated yoga (I think it was a few degrees cooler than official “hot” yoga)
  • Thwarted identity theft
  • Wound up with a scary-looking but mild case of subconjunctival hemmorhage (aka a burst blood vessel on my eye – I would not recommend looking it up, it’s scary to see blood on anyone’s eye)
  • Attended an IGDC Instameet and made some new Instagram friends
  • Got my very own mentee in the DC tech community
  • Saw my old summer camp friend Yufeng get married in Roanoke
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  • Visited my brother during his NYC internship
  • Saw Ingrid Michaelson live – for free
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  • Attended the 1st DC Capital Solstice black-tie gala
    • Met Guy Lambert, from WPGC 95.5
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  • Moved my family out of the house we’ve called home for almost exactly 10 years
  • Attended ICEBERGS at the National Building Museum to Save Jack!
  • Got stuck in an elevator for the first time
  • Took action to stop teeth from destroying themselves while I sleep
  • Watched The Phantom of the Opera at the Kennedy Center
  • Restarted ballet classes
  • Jumped for joy at my first trampoline park visit
    battling
  • Went to a Washington Nationals game with my company (it’s a popular company outing, as evidenced even by my startup last year)
  • Kayaked for the first time and had a blast
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  • Visited Christine in San Francisco (my first trip back since 2003!)
  • Saw Kurios by Cirque du Soleil
  • Colored my hair to celebrate autumn
  • Saw Trevor Noah perform live at the Kennedy Center
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  • Visited the Maryland Renaissance Festival for the first time
    rennfest-tankard
  • Became a Friend of the National Zoo (FONZ), happy to support organizations I love
  • Pulled off my second Hogwarts Spirit Week with a coworker
    hogwarts-spirit-week-2016
  • Went to the Kennedy Center by myself for the first time
  • Attended Night of the Living Zoo as a newly minted FONZ
    • Wearing the Sailor Mars costume costume
      sailor-mars
  • Rode the metro and showed up to work in an Espeon onesie on Halloween
    espeon
  • Celebrated my 5 year anniversary with Ben early with a trip to the Shenandoah Valley
  • Visited Cincinatti for the first time
    • For RubyConf, my first tech conference!
    • Which I attended as a RubyConf Scholar
    • Gave a lightning talk in front of hundreds of people and the author of the Ruby programming language
    • Walked across a bridge at sunrise from Ohio to Kentucky
    • Went off on a solo photo walk to explore downtown Cincy
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  • Celebrated Thanksgiving with Ben for the first time since we started dating
    • Brought my brother along to Ben’s parents’ house where his family friends were all very excited to meet me
  • Shopped on Black Friday for gifts to bring to China from 1AM to 4:30AM and then from 7AM to noon. And then more shopping in the afternoon.
  • Got my first salon manicure
  • Attended the Obamas’ last National Tree Lighting
    • Where I got to see performers like Kelly Clarkson and Chance the Rapper live
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  • Found out that my long-standing belly problems can be attributed to something very treatable!
    • Note: Go see your doctor about little things that may be interfering with your quality of life. It may not seem serious now, but if I left my condition unchecked, it could have made me prone to ulcers and gastrointestinal cancer, so I’m glad I am being treated now.
  • Threw a star-themed birthday party that somehow came together to look wonderful
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  • Attended my company’s winter event and had a great time with my coworkers
  • Got a flat tire and was reminded that knowing how to change a tire is pretty useless when you don’t have the right tools to do it!
    • Note: You should probably learn to change a tire. And make sure you car has the right tools to do it. Go out this weekend and change your car’s tire to practice. And check your tire pressure while you’re out there.
  • Attended my first holiday party for Ben’s company
  • Saw Laura Osnes and Santino Fontana perform holiday hits at the Kennedy Center
  • Ran a 60-person white elephant exchange
  • Danced the morning away at a 7AM dance party to ring in 25
  • Saw the Northern Lights! (from a plane)
  • Went to celebrate Christmas and New Year’s in China with my family for the first time (my second winter China trip)

This has been a very big year for me. Having a great new job has been a big part of it, as it has allowed me to be able to afford to say yes to many opportunities. (Literally. Having a job that pays me a fair salary for the area is huge. Having that job be a great work environment is even better.)

I indulged my vanity a lot this year, but I think it has a little bit to do with me recognizing that I’m becoming the person I want to be, inside and out. I am taking better care of myself and I am acknowledging that self-care is, in fact, doing good for me! (But I am going to try to keep the vanity in check, because one of my biggest personality trait fears is being too vain.)

2016 was kind of a dumpster fire of a year for the world, but reflecting on my personal achievements and milestones and experiences, it was a good year.

I hope that 2017 will be good as well, and that I can channel some of that goodness and put it back out into the world, which needs it more than I do right now.

Happy 2017! What are some of your highlights from last year?
Are there things you’re already looking forward to this upcoming year?

Look Back/Look Forward (February 2016)

Hello folks! Trying very hard to get back on schedule with blogging so here’s a quick little recap of February as far as what I’ve been up to and what I’m looking forward to doing over this last week!

Feruary 2016

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