Things I Liked Reading in 2019

a yearly review

Gif by Lobster Studio

Every year, I do an end of year review and one of the questions I answer is “What were the best things I read?” Books are easy enough to track considering I read so few (very proud I did 14 this year!!) but at the end of 2018, I wanted to be more mindful about keeping track of the things I read online, and used the recommendations feature on Pocket as a way to file away things I read that stuck with me, felt important to amplify, that altered some measure of my thoughts and feelings, that delighted me and reminded me of the potential of words. Even with all that, I still had to go back a bit over my Twitter account to see what stuff I shared that I forgot to recommend on Pocket. Anyway, this newsletter is its own library. Reading, it’s great!


  • Emergent Strategy by adrienne maree brown. The first book I read in 2019 and one of the best, as a facilitator and community member interested in learning how to better hold space for difficult, transformative processes

  • amb's sabbatical boundaries blog post was also boundary articulation goals

  • The Queen of Jasmine Country by Sharanya Manivannan. Sumptuous

  • Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood. HILARIOUS and brilliant

  • Speaking of Patricia Lockwood, her review of John Updike's works, Malfunctioning Sex Robot, was just a rollicking good time despite me never having read the author, with one rewarding sentence after the next

  • How to Do Nothing by Jenny Odell. Just encapsulated a very deep undercurrent for me (and that of so many friends) that I know is following me into 2020. 

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In 2019, I thought more deeply about the prison abolition movement, and understanding and practicing transformative justice in our own lives, circles, pods, communities. The first article here really resonated with my own struggles and navigations when it came to my ideas of justice, punishment, mercy, and being in a society with one another.

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If you’re not Southeast Asian like me (I’m sorry for your loss), here’s some cool stuff I think you should read by people from and about this part of the world.

  • Sharon Chin’s poem for her work In The Mouth of a Tiger: Monument to What We Want (Tugu Kita). An English translation by Zedeck Siew, and Sharon’s own translation (as elucidated by Zedeck)

  • My Cousin Ju by Nadia Rasidi. “That afternoon my aunt considered me with something approaching fear, as though she was only then confronting the repercussions of constantly telling me that my body was fucked up and wrong. Not because of what it might do to me — or might have done to me as an 11-, 15-, 22-year-old — but what she thought it had done to her daughter, and by extension, her. She was now the mother of a fat person.” That’s my best friend, go best friend!!

  • What Makes Our Makan by Max Loh. “In a world shaped by globalisation with increasing intensity, our definition of what is and isn’t authentic and how best to preserve it, requires active engagement. Overzealous attempts to preserve heritage without nuance can just as effectively kill them.”

  • Not Gonna Get Us by Amanda Lee Koe. A queer coming of age story set in Southeast Asia???????????? The power that that has, the impact that that has, the implications that that has

  • One Day Out by Ina Bestari. “You are valid. You are seen. You are loved.”

  • A Bug's Life by Deborah Augustin. A great essay on Anida Yoeu Ali's performance at her exhibition The Buddhist Bug: A Creation Mythology that happened in KL in August

  • What We Decide Will Be All That Remains by Charis Loke. A beautiful comic on the yearly haze across Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, and other surrounding countries in SEA

  • My Name Is… by Iskandar Salim. The story of names as told by a Chinese Indonesian

  • More on names! Sans Surname by Khairani Barokka. “Think about all the areas of life in Western countries affected by this patriarchal first name-surname primacy: visas and immigration, property deeds, medical records, death records, other areas of law, schooling, academic citations—every area of public life I can think of. The forms that require “First Name,” “Surname” are not as blatantly patriarchal as the medical forms I refused to sign as an adult woman in a Jakarta clinic, requesting my father’s or husband’s name and contact details—but they are still patriarchal, I argue, in origin, and are certainly colonial vestiges.”

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Not to be all like, here are some READS about ISSUES, but these felt urgent for the issues and themes and big life matters that we are all contending with in this current, immediate time.

  • Environmental education not a substitute for real action by Wong Ee Lyn. “Malaysia has been stuck in the “awareness” and “education” phase for over two decades. As someone who has been active in the environmental movement for that length of time, I regret to report that most governmental environmental education initiatives fall into the category of Arts and Crafts activities such as poster contests, stage plays, recycling competitions, and cute public service announcements that do not constitute actual solutions.”

  • How Can I Say This So We Can Stay in This Car Together? Claudia Rankine on On Being with Krista Tippet. “Can you tell me some ordinary thing that you were doing, and then somebody in your life said or did something to make you realize, in their eyes, you are no one?”

  • The Crisis in Kashmir Has Started a Conversation I Don’t Know How to Have by Scaachi Koul. "There has to be a way to maintain and understand the historical context of your own people’s suffering while also refusing to pass that legacy down to other disenfranchised groups."

  • Do Things Matter? by Sarah Miller. Nope! Helpful to say even if not always true

  • Brendan Fraser’s #MeToo Story Is Why More Male Victims Don’t Speak Out by Miles Klee. "This is how we victim-blame men: not for drinking too much or wearing the wrong clothes or seeking salacious fame, but for not playing along when another guy crosses a line. [To not do so] reinforces the toxic assumption that men are invulnerable to these attacks — that to be a victim is, essentially, to be a woman."

  • Rebecca Solnit: How Change Happens. "I wanted to yell at some of the people I run into, “If you think you’re woke, it’s because someone woke you up, so thank the human alarm clocks.” It’s easy now to assume that one’s perspectives on race, gender, orientation, and the rest are signs of inherent virtue, but a lot of ideas currently in circulation are gifts that arrived recently, through the labors of others."

  • The 2010s Broke Our Sense Of Time by Katherine Miller. "The internet is no longer a place you go. Who we are on the phone and in the walking world have merged. This is why algorithmic time is so disorienting and why it bends your mind. Everything good, bad, and complicated flows through our phones, and for those not living some hippie Walden trip, we operate inside a technological experience that moves forward and back, and pulls you with it."

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How are we / how have we been queering all the different parts of our existence? And how do we need to keep queering it?

  • How Our Generation Is Changing the Definition of 'Femme' by Jenna Wortham. "For DeVeaux — and me — masc and femme coexist as collaborators, not competitors."

  • Jonathan Van Ness’ sponsored coming-out is not activism by Alex Verman. "Visibility is a handy buzzword, and representation is valuable. Yet there is something troubling about the way these transactional relationships between brands and individual LGBTQ2 people are accepted as a form of activism without any accompanying commitment to the causes that directly affect the most vulnerable members of our communities. These include transgender people of colour, sex workers, those living in poverty and those living with HIV."

  • The Problem with Pronoun Practices by Kirby Conrod. "Have you ever had the problem of wanting to get your (students, co-workers, etc) to share pronouns, but didn't want to pressure people to potentially out themselves? I have some ideas on what you can do!"

  • Words for Every Body by Ray Briggs and BR George "But in opposing all uses of gender-neutral language, Broustra and other critics aren’t just demanding that cis women’s needs and experiences be seen as valid; they are demanding that they be seen as universal."

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Along with prison abolition, I am also trying to learn more about the disability justice movement, and to unlearn my own internalised ableism by listening to more stories and experiences from disabled people.

  • Such Perfection by Chloé Cooper Jones. A really sharp read on the concept of beauty and disability, and sometimes the deep cruelty of where they meet

  • Stammer Time by Barry Yeoman. “There’s something interesting about stuttering in a world that moves at increasingly breakneck speed,” says St. Pierre, the Alberta professor. For most of human history, we measured time in lunar cycles, menstrual cycles, agricultural cycles. Today we rely on “clock time,” standardized and designed for industrial production. Clock time values efficiency; it has no patience for silences and repeated syllables. “Stuttering highlights that fact: that clock time runs roughshod over all these other ways of creating time, but that they still persist and are still important,” he says. “Stuttering interrupts this hegemonic order of time.”

  • Access Intimacy, Interdependence and Disability Justice by Mia Mingus.   So much food for thought here. I see so much ingrained ableism in my loved ones coming from a place of fear at the thought of the inconvenience, disruption and violence disability would bring in their lives and the lives of their loved ones. What if that were turned on its head, what if we faced that fear and transformed it? More and more I'm learning that it’s beyond crucial and urgent, and that it is what we all must do

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What does labour and work mean for us now?

  • The Cost of Misusing the Term 'Emotional Labour' by Madeleine Holden. "“There seems an alienation or a disenchantment of acts that normally we associate with the expression of connection, love and commitment, like, ‘Oh, what a burden it is to pick out gifts for the holiday for my children,’” Hochschild says. “I feel a strong need to point out that this isn’t inherently an alienating act, and something’s gone haywire when it is.”

  • what great inconvenience by Anne Helen Petersen. "Think deeply and consistently about how your own actions, and standards, and practices create burnout in others. [..] Just because something’s cheap and efficient doesn’t mean that it should be that way — or that your ability to access it doesn’t have significant human cost."

  • There is No Cure for Burnout by Ella Dawson. "For me, burnout also looked like rage. It looked like a boiling resentment of everything that asked for my energy: my job, my friends, my relationship, even my own body. My constant emotional state was annoyance, and my ability to compartmentalize that annoyance eroded until it seeped into my personality at work. I had no patience for anyone, becoming furious over the smallest slights and misunderstandings. While I’m no doubt being hard on myself, I know that it didn’t make me a perfect leader or manager."

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I loved these two reads for how it allowed me to learn about the specificities of fractured communities, and the efforts they put in to stay connected to their culture.

  • Dial up! by Mia Sato. This was such an interesting story about how the Hmong diaspora stay in dialogue with their native tongue and community, using conference call technology!

  • How to eat well while living under siege by Laila Elhaddad. "Gaza’s cuisine is part of the culinary continuum of the Levant. It has much in common with nearby Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, but it now exists in a gastronomical bubble, cut off from all its neighbours."

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Women talking to each other. Women being friends with other women, making connections. Women talking to each other about art, which is to say, about life.

  • The Visitor by Jessica Francis Kane. I'm only just NOW getting into Jessica's book, Rules for Visiting. When I first shared this my only comment was "A pleasant read about friendships between women" which is embarassingly on-brand

  • Swipe White by Jennifer Chong Schneider. This piece is so layered and intense. As ever, I am drawn to the bits that describe friendship between women and the space those relationships make for women's relationships with men. "My friend Danielle writes me from her new home outside of America, “I’m happy you’re still seeing him, and I hope you’re enjoying yourself. He’s letting you know he will leave you. Are you ok with that?” She softens the blow, even in email, because she really cares for me."

  • Björk Guest-Edit: In Conversation with Maggie Nelson. Always gonna be a sucker for correspondences between women about life and art

  • So Many Secrets by Crystal Stella Becerril, Kaitlyn Chandler, Dana Kopel, Charlie Markbreiter, Haley Mlotek and Art and Labor. A roundtable on cultural organizing in New York City - fascinating conversation

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I menstruate and I am gonna experience menopause one day, and these reads on those two things (to grossly simplify) were great!

  • Data bleeding everywhere: a story of period trackers by Sadaf Khan. This essay covers the way data and surveillance intersects with health, sex, reproduction, and the intimacy of disclosure when it comes to bodies that menstruate, get pregnant, miscarry, have sex (with or without blood involved). 

  • Night on Fire by Darcey Steinke. I am excited to read Darcey's Flash Count Diary and I want a million more things on the experience of menopause. "Though no one wants to say it out loud, menopause is about loss; it’s about departure – each flash reminds me of my corporeality, my mortality. With every flash, my psyche is pushed to grasp what it does not want to let itself know: that it is not immortal. This is terrifying. It’s also a rare opportunity, if faced directly, to come to terms with the limitations of the self."

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Reading about money and what people do with it, how it affects their emotional lives and relationships, how it changes the way they see life, risk, reward, etc - I lap all that up.


I’m publishing my end of year review next week (either here or on my website). Previously, I wrote about voice, silence and violence. “There are some story lands I can never traverse ever again, ever ever ever ever, and that itself is a story mute in my mouth. Grief is so violent, so tender.” If you'd like to subscribe, click here. Feel free to share this newsletter with a friend. And if you like what I write and share and want to support that, here’s my tip jar. Thanks so much for reading 💌