Summer Reading Challenge: Why I Read

Why I read, what I’ve read before, and what I’m (hopefully) reading this year.

Why I Read 📚 📖

I have always been an avid reader. I could read for hours and hours if undisturbed, peaking somewhere between 8–10 hours of continuous reading (literally all day). Reading is one of my favorite methods for achieving a significant breadth of knowledge. It is not necessarily the best way to learn for all subjects (e.g. dance) and I have never really treated reading as primarily instructional; however, I still feel like reading has always been useful to me, intellectually and emotionally.

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Intellectually, I use reading to stay abreast of other fields, and have some minimal exposure to them. Fields blend, the nature of work becomes ever more interdisciplinary, and I find myself using books and articles to keep myself updated. You can also think of it sort of like cross-training for your brain — even if it’s passive consumption of knowledge rather than active problem solving, it comes at no cost to everything else in my head, really, and just requires a little time-management.

Emotionally, I find that reading is one of the best forms of self-care. In my childhood, fantasy novels were always a welcome escape from hard times. I picked some funny books for my list this summer, to acheive a similar effect while I process graduating and heal from the rigor of MIT. When I’m really reading, I’m away from social media, and typically seated in a comfortable, quiet place. In this way, it can be meditative. I engage with primarily myself, and I take the time to reflect on well-phrased sentences or poignant thoughts. Books can be soothing, a salve for an anxious mind, or they can be challenging, motivating, and intentionally difficult. I choose whatever I need in the moment.

You might think of nonfiction as “intellectual” and fiction as “emotional” — not so. Written fiction has a unique and important ability to put us in someone else’s head, one that I still think movies or images can’t do nearly as well. With America (and the world) feeling more divided than ever, books can provide a starting point for understanding other cultures and nations, and this is a partly intellectual pursuit (such as, getting a better sense of history). At the same time, some of the most emotional books I have ever read were nonfiction, like The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, which covers the history and modern use of HeLa cells, and The Gene which similarly covers genetics (though I’m not done with this one yet). Science, economics, business — whatever the subject of a nonfiction book that I’ve read, the author often shows how their work relates to everyday life, and how much empathy can matter in even the most sterile labs and isolated research positions.

In high school and college, I found that the number of books I read each year decreased dramatically as my time became more full of work or events, and I realized I’d have to be more intentional about my reading. So, every summer since starting college, I’ve challenged myself to read at least 10 new books, books I haven’t read before. I’ve never actually made it to 10 new books, though sometimes if you count “re-reads” I’ve read more than 10. But it was fine, because whatever was leftover just rolled over to next year’s list. Here’s a list of everything I’ve ever read (well, in college) and my reading list for this summer, too.

☀️ Summer 2015

(nf = nonfiction)

New Reads:

  1. The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddartha Mukherjee (nf)
  2. This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz
  3. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
  4. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonothan Safran Foer
  5. The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Re-Reads:

6–12. The Harry Potter Series (yes, the whole thing) by J.K. Rowling
13. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

☀️ Summer 2016

New Reads:

  1. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (nf)
  2. White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi
  3. The Icarus Girl by Helen Oyeyemi
  4. What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi
  5. Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  6. China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan

Re-Reads:

7. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

☀️ Summer 2017

(ok yeah, this was a pretty bad summer as far as reading went…but I really enjoyed Fresh off the Boat. It did for the Asian experience what reading Malcom X did for the black experience (for me, at least))

New Reads:

  1. Fresh off the Boat by Eddie Huang (nf)
  2. A People’s History of Chicago by Kevin Coval (Poetry)
  3. We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (nf)

During School ❄️ 🍂 💐

  1. The Autobiography of Malcolm X as told by Alex Haley (nf) (Spring ’15) (everyone should read this book!!! Everyone!!!)
  2. The Vegetarian by Han Kang (Winter ‘16)
  3. Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan (Spring ’16 for 21G.190)
  4. The Paper Menagerie by Ken Liu (Spring Break ’17)
  5. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Fall ‘17)

Infinite Jest, Spring ‘18

This gets its whole own header because this book was SO DIFFICULT that I couldn’t even read it by myself and I had to read it with a whole book club at MIT. It was really helpful to have a schedule for reading it, and we had weekly meetings to process everything together. I’m sure I would have gotten much less out of it on my own, and definitely would not have finished given that we read it during the school year!

☀️Summer 2018

I’m quite determined to get through my goal of at least 10 books this year…because summer never ends!! I graduated and I started work in July, so I will probably just try to read 10 books and see how long it takes me. In bold are the books I intend to read, but given that I prefer renting from the library (sustainability! civic participation! minimalism!) some of the popular books tend to be constantly checked out. I have listed back-ups just in case. Not totally sure which of these I will read to (try to) make 10, but I think they’ll all be good. Hopefully it won’t start snowing before I finish, then maybe I can still reasonably call it “summer” 😅

Nonfiction:

  1. The Gene by Siddartha Mukherjee — will finally finish this, I previously completed half of it in Summer 2017. I debated whether or not I should start from the beginning, and I think I will, though I may skim through parts I recognize and am familiar with.
  2. Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari [Complete] I actually just finished this one over the weekend. It was fantastic!
  3. Born a Crime by Trevor Noah — THE 👏ONLY 👏 MIXED 👏 CELEBRITY 👏WHO 👏 EVER 👏TALKS ABOUT IT (Trevor will always have a special place in my heart for this reason ❤)
  4. The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
  5. Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
  6. A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn

Fiction:

  1. Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie — Getting ever closer to my goal of reading all of her work!
  2. Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga — filched this recommendation from some MIT Africans that contributed to my “Understanding Africa” syllabus.
  3. Rich People Problems by Kevin Kwan — so above you’ll see that I read Crazy Rich Asians for a class, and I decided to read the next book in the series, China Rich Girlfriend, which is lowkey a satire about real-life Jack Ma, the summer after. I actually enjoyed China Rich Girlfriend more because the real-life connection was most apparent (and probably because I know China a lot better than Singapore) so I’m looking forward to seeing what this third installment will bring.
  4. Human Acts by Han Kang — I read, and really enjoyed, The Vegetarian after picking it up at Tattered Cover in Denver. I wanted to read more of Han Kang’s work so I put a hold on this one at the Boston Public Library.

Backups/things I want to read in the future:

  1. The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat by Oliver Sacks — I keep trying to read this and never pick it up…we’ll see…
  2. Dead Aid by Dambisa Moyo
  3. Consider the Lobster by David Foster Wallace
  4. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
  5. A Dictionary of Maqiao by Han Shaogong — the structure of this book seems really cool and mainly I haven’t decided if I’m going to try to read the original, Chinese version or the English translation. It is literally about language and a story told in the format of a dictionary, so I feel like a lot will be lost in translation…if I end up reading the Chinese version, I’m going to count it as two books lol.
  6. Paradise by Toni Morrison

Lastly, if you’d like to follow along, I always live-blog my reading progress (as well as the rest of my life) on my tumblr blog. I may post some longer or more significant reflections here, but you can go there for updates and real-time reactions, if you desire.

Written by

MIT grad, robotics engineer, mixed. A place I write.

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