The Girl With Seven Names by Hyeonseo Lee
Amazing, amazing, amazing book. I can’t say enough good things about it. I picked up this book wanting to learn more about North Korea, and I really wasn’t expecting how extremely well-written it would be. It was honestly hard for me to put this book down, as I kept telling myself, “just one more chapter” one time after another. The author vividly narrates her upbringing, her eventual escape from North Korea, and her odyssey in helping her family do the same, as well as adjusting to the outside world and having to unlearn her deep-seated, institutionalized beliefs about freedom. Her story is a monument to the brighter future that exists for every one of us, if only we dare to have a little hope and see a little further than our present circumstances.
On the Road by Jack Kerouac
Re-reading this after 6 or 7 years, I find myself not liking On the Road, and Kerouac’s writings in general, as much as I used to. I guess it was a phase, much like how I was head over heels in love with heavy metal groups as a teenager. I may still appreciate the music to some extent, but it gets me nowhere as excited as before. In the same way, I still resonate with some of the Zen-like concepts in the book — and I still find the idea of being on the road alluring and therapeutic to some extent — but they’re not everything. Because at the end of the day, life’s problems need solving, rather than running away from them. And I guess Kerouac’s untimely death after a lifetime of tripping balls and heavy drinking is a sobering reminder of that.
Edison by Edmund Morris
One of the stranger biographies I’ve read. The late author, Edmund Morris is known to be rather unconventional in how he approached his biographies. For one thing, he wrote Edison in reverse-chronological order, as we witness his life unfold backwards. And Morris having passed away soon after Edison was written, we may never really know why he wrote it the way he did. It sounds like a cool idea, but when you get down to reading it, there are serious problems with how the narrative flows. Maybe it could have worked better, if Morris had had more time. It still made an interesting enough Hari Raya read though, and I finished it in three days when I was back in my hometown.
How to Paint Without a Brush by Red Hong Yi
Red Hong Yi is one of the most inspiring Malaysian figures of our time. She has built an impressive and moving portfolio of artwork using everyday items, showing us that art can be found in anything, so long as it is effective in telling our story. In this book, she shares about herself and the inspiration and making behind some of her most well-known artwork. I thoroughly enjoyed this one, and this will always be a cherished item on my bookshelf.
The Creative Act by Rick Rubin
Possibly the best new book on creativity that you can get your hands on. Rick Rubin discusses an understanding of creativity that is rarely talked about, in that creativity is spiritual. Creativity is not so much about how brilliant you are, but rather, it’s about how you relate with a force larger than yourself. Apart from the practical contents that he shares, you can see this in how this book was written and designed. Even though he is a world-famous music producer, Rubin talks very little about himself, as well as about his clients, whom he only refers to anonymously. The book’s design is peculiar in this way too — there are no blurbs, no sings of praise for the author, no author’s picture and no bio.
I remembered how the musician John Frusciante described the great Jimi Hendrix, that “the only real picture that we have of him is his music.” I could say the same for Rick Rubin and his work, especially this beautiful book.