Chronicling My Media Consumption: An Introduction (and Vol. 1)

As anyone who knows me can confirm, I consume a lot of media. I also have a lot of pet projects. Hence, the start of this new series of blog posts, where I collect all the favorite things that I’ve come across in the last month.

Inspiration for this project came from the weekly newsletters that arrive in my email inbox and from just being on the Internet in general. Lately, a lot of link roundups have been popping up on my radar. And they’re currently one of my favorite ways of spending my time. I’ve always been a generalist. It’s why I double majored in very different fields in college and why I’d make a terrible PhD student. It’s also why I love the link roundups I’ve been reading. The articles that I’ve discovered through these pages run the gamut when it comes to subject matter and format. There’s always something that’s relevant to today’s trending subjects. There’s always something that’s completely random as well. Every week, I shake my head in wonder and think, Boy, there is a lot of cool stuff out there.

So why bother adding my own link round up to what already exists? My memory for the things I’ve read/listened to/watched is unfortunately short-lived, unless I tell something about it or write down my thoughts about them. Luckily, this is where the blog posts come in. Thinking about the things I’ve read and why I like (and occasionally dislike) them will help me remember them better. I’ll have better answers when someone asks me what I’m reading/listening to/watching.

Without further ado, here are the favorite things that I’ve come across about in the month of May (and some extra stuff from March and April slipped in there too).

The Internet
“Yet I’ll Speak”: Othello’s Emilia, A Rebuke to Silence (The Toast)
I’m a sucker for thoughtful readings of Shakespeare. I haven’t read Othello since high school, but Moran does an excellent job of explaining why Emilia’s line, written centuries ago, remains so salient in the present-day.

India’s Dying Mother (BBC)
I highly, highly recommend reading this article on your phone. Scrolling through this is a joy. Text, images, and video flow together flawlessly, and it’s a gorgeous piece of storytelling that shows how well different forms of media can be integrated.

Same But Different (The New Yorker)
Siddhartha Mukherjee’s An Emperor of Maladies is one of my favorite nonfiction books, and I was more than a little excited to see excerpts from his forthcoming book in the New Yorker. Since their appearance, Mukherjee has received a lot of flak for dressing up unsound science in beautiful prose, but this article still makes it onto my list because I enjoyed every minute reading it.

“You want a description of hell?” OxyContin’s 12 Hour Problem (LA Times)
Purdue Pharma is despicable. That is all.

How Blac Chyna Beat the Kardashians at Their Own Game (BuzzFeed)
I had so much fun reading this article, and Obell does a fantastic job of teasing out what the drama between Blac Chyna and the Kardashians reveals about race and the construction of celebrity.

Unearthing the Secrets of New York’s Mass Graves (New York Times)
This piece conjures all the morbid thoughts that cross my mind from time to time, especially now that I live in a city where it’s so easy to stay anonymous. It’s also an unsettling reminder of the ways institutions and systems can fail people, even after death.

If You Are What You Eat, America Is All Recipes (Slate)
I’m a card-carrying home cook foodie who’s into obscure vegetables and farmers markets, but I learned how to cook from All Recipes and still sometimes uses sour cream as a substitute for ricotta cheese. I’m glad that someone else was also thinking about the different ends of the food culture spectrum.

How Empowerment Becomes Something for Women to Buy (New York Times Magazine)
My favorite kind of think piece: how something is commodified to its detriment.

How Lifetime Became One of the Best Places in Hollywood (BuzzFeed)
As if I needed more reasons to start watching UnREAL.

The Voyeur’s Motel (The New Yorker)
One of my favorite things about this piece is that it might reveal just as much about the author as it does of Gerald Foos, the voyeur himself. There’s plenty of moral ambiguity to go around.

Continue reading “Chronicling My Media Consumption: An Introduction (and Vol. 1)”

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On Learning Turkish

I’ve never not had class on a Friday, and this was the reason why I was dressed, while my roommate, who enjoyed the luxury of spending the entire day at home, had only recently decided to change out of the sweatpants she had worn all day. We were about to walk to a friend’s apartment where we would find a party, our other roommates, more friends, and maybe one or two strangers. While she blew dry her hair, I waited on a rickety Ikea chair next to the island counter. As usual, I had a book in my hand.

At the time, what I had really wanted to read was a Patricia Highsmith novel. I had been in the mood for a smart thriller, but as luck would have it, Powell’s did not have a copy of Talented Mr. Ripley or Strangers on a Train. I picked up The Black Book instead because the blurb on the back cover promised a detective novel-like plot.

In the dim kitchen light, I tried my best to read carefully. Orhan Pamuk’s prose was dense. It was easy to breeze through the pages and still form the images written on the page, but the book also rewarded you for paying attention. The sentences were woven together with an eye for detail that felt lush. They were also long.

Take, for example, this one:

Although the radio was on from the first thing in the morning till the last thing at night, the thick-coated and not-at-all Turkish-looking china dog curled up on top of it never woke from his peaceful slumber.

The first time I read this sentence, I tripped over its syntax. The second time around, I was only half-paying attention. But then I tried again. A radio, a china dog, a peaceful slumber. I reread it one more time before running to my roommate’s room.

When she saw me at the doorway, she held out a skirt in each hand. “Peach or black?”

I pointed to the black one. “Do you know what’s really cool?” I didn’t wait for her to reply. “You can tell that this book was translated from Turkish! I just read this sentence…”

I tried to explain how the verbs in Turkish were always the last words of a sentence and how it was an agglutinative language. My professor had told our class how Turkish sentences and words could often go on forever, with clause after clause and suffix after suffix piled on top of one another. I described how reading through the short, simplified passages in my textbook was strenuous, even on the best of days, because my English-accustomed brain was not used to sifting through so many words to find the actions that drove a sentence. But that was why the sentence about the radio and the china dog was so astonishing. I had just read a string of words that managed to capture how meaning in Turkish revealed itself in peaks and glimpses, and once you understood, you felt a little silly because the message had been there all along, waiting patiently for you to put the pieces together.

The next morning, I read the translator’s afterward at the back of the book. Maureen Freely talked about devrik cümle, or a sentence “in which words appear in an order different from that ordained by custom and practice, and cascading clauses create a series of expectations that are subverted by the verb at the very end.” Quoting the poet Murat Nemet-Nejat, she described Turkish “as a language that can evoke a thought unfolding.” Thinking of my jumbled explanation from the night before, I admired and envied her eloquence. Continue reading “On Learning Turkish”

How to Read on the Bus

On the bus, my preferred way to sit is sideways. I had gotten the idea one summer afternoon after telling someone that I was never able to read in anything that lurched as much as a four-wheeled vehicle. I could do trains and planes, perhaps a boat too. But in the instant I focused on printed text in anything else,  I began to feel the lingering nausea that is unique to carsickness, the kind that lingers even after I spend minutes staring at a fixed point in the far-flung horizon. The friend, upon hearing this, nodded and agreed, “I could never read on a bus either, but when I have my back against the sides of the bus, I’m usually fine.”

I’m not sure whether it’s the placebo effect or something about the altered perspective of sideways sitting that keeps me feeling grounded. But in either case, it lets me be productive and curbs my people watching, which is no longer discrete in the narrow, air-conditioned, confines of a grumbling Metrobus.

The rules to successful bus ride reading are simple. The sideways seats on busses are often also the ones plastered with handicap signs. To avoid confrontation, you should always move when asked and always take the seats at the end of the rows. The former is mandated by law. The latter keeps the elderly from glaring because they have to dodge the corner of your bag and your outstretched elbow. Both let you read in peace. You will be left to your stories and your essays and your well-wrought prose.

***

“What are you reading?”

The man who asks me this peers over my shoulder. Today, I am reading The Black Book, and I explain that it is a Turkish novel about a man whose wife disappears.

“Oh, it’s a mystery!”

I think about the non-linear narrative and the current passage that I’m reading is actually about movie stars and newspapers in Istanbul. And then there’s the fact that the protagonist begins to impersonate his journalist friend, who also disappears as the same time as his wife. Which makes me think about doubles because two springs ago, I read The White Castle, written by the same author, for a class on magical realism that taught me that doubles are everywhere if you look closely enough.

“Yes, it’s a mystery,” I say. I smile and return to my book.

After a few minutes, I hear, “You must be a student.”

I look up again. “I actually just graduated.” And I explain that I went to the University of Chicago.

“So you’re from Chicago!”

“No, I’m actually from New Jersey.”

He ponders this for a moment. “What are you doing in DC?”

I describe how I’m interning for a small academic press and how I want to go into publishing.

“Go into what?”

“Publishing. Book publishing.”

He nods. I pull the stop cord and wish him a good day. At the National Museum of American History, I sit outside at a park bench to finish the chapter before seeing the Star-Spangled banner and a replica of Julia Child’s kitchen.

***

Once, an old woman carrying a shopping bag from a museum complimented me on the design printed on the front cover of my planner. I had taken it out to glance at the directions I had written inside.

“That’s very pretty.”

“Thank you!”

She tells me that she is now retired and spends her free evenings taking textile classes.

She then proceeds to ask, “Are you from Asia?”

“No. I’m from New Jersey.”

For the rest of the bus ride, she talks about her art classes and asks for my opinion of Japanese landscapes.

***

“What are you reading?”

The man who asks me this question on this particular afternoon also looks like a retiree. He is toothless, wearing a short-sleeved collar shirt, and he smells faintly of old beer.

Today, I’m reading Joan Didion’s “Slouching towards Bethlehem.” When he hears me talking about how Didion wrote about 1960s counterculture, he shakes his head. He mumbles, and although I can’t hear exactly he is saying, there is garbled disapproval about how writers “who were never there” have no right to be talking about the hippies.

“She was there actually. She talked to a bunch of people.” I gesture towards the book that is open in my lap.

He repeats the same thing again.

“Yeah, I guess.” I reply.

Satisfied that he has imparted some wisdom, he lets me read one sentence and then interrupts.

“Are you nineteen?”

I shake my head and correct him.

“Well, you look nineteen! I just had a birthday last week. I’m 78!”

Interested in more biographical details, he asks if I’m from Japan.

“Nope. New Jersey.”

“How about your parents?”

“They’re Chinese.”

“That’s great.” He stares off into space for a moment. I reread the same sentence when I hear, “Now, do you feel connected to Japan at all?”

After hearing my answer, he sighs and smiles sadly. I notice that he still has one tooth left. He mumbles something to the effect of “it’s so nice knowing what your roots are.” And for the next five minutes, he talks about how he is descended from slaves and talks about Civil Rights activists that I do not know about and shares his thoughts on Hilary Clinton. Will she be elected? Probably not.

I nod in what I hope is a sympathetic way. Through the bus window, I see the white dome of the Capitol Building.

***

When I hop on the 32 for the third time in a day, I notice that the bus is almost empty. Instead of sitting on the last sideways seat in the row, I pick a spot in the middle and feel indulgent. I read a few pages before I notice that there is a girl, maybe about three or four, and her father sitting across from me. She wears a beige striped dress and pink polka-dotted raincoat, her hair tied in a topknot, more stylish than I ever was as a preschooler. Her father is dressed in the uniform of a bus driver or some other kind of public transit official. He adjusts the brim of his Yankees cap as he hands an open bag of Mini-Oreos to the girl.

He has spread a paper bus schedule underneath his daughter to catch the stray cookie crumbs, of which there are many. His daughter pouts as he explains to her that her snack is the same as her mother’s. He points to the bus driver, who shouts something to placate her daughter. The girl eats a cookie but remains unconvinced that her Oreos are just as tasty.

I’ve lifted the page, and it hovers in mid-air, waiting to be turned, but I pretend to look out the window and watch the family out of the corner of my eye. I picture the bus driver parking the bus and leaving the door open. With her last trip behind her, she climbs out with her daughter holding her hand, as the man gathers the cookie fragments and crumples them into the crinkled paper map.

“Cross your legs. Like that girl over there.”

I look up and then back down, pretending that I was just taking a break from the printed page.

The man smiles and misinterprets my startled expression. “I’m sorry. I was using you as an example.”

I say it’s no problem and return to my book.

I almost reach the end of the section break when a sudden onslaught of people parade onto the bus. They linger at the fare box, which means that they are tourists, surprised that the buses do not make exact change and unsure of how far they want to go. Uninterested, I keep reading as the sideways seats around me fill with people. As the bus begins moving again, I glance at my new neighbors, and there are five of them, three men and two women. The men wear t-shirts, plaid shorts, and sneakers. The women wear sandals, stylish capri pants, and tunics in muted prints. They carry all the vitality and grace that old age can imbue and none of its back-breaking weariness. They sit close together. They are French. They are confused.

The man in the uniform asks them where they are going, but he speaks too fast for them to understand. He explains to them how they will reach a Metro station that can take them to Alexandria, where they are staying, and he also advises that it will be cheaper to use a Smartrip card and pulls one out of his wallet. The French tourists absorb the directions, but at the sight of the plastic card, they nod in the vacant, cheery way that conveys only a thankful incomprehension.

“Do you like DC? Do you like the museums? The museums?” he asks. These bemused French tourists intrigue him, and they lean in closer when again, they can’t make out his words.

The woman next to me, whose English is better than her friend’s, whispers, “Oui, le musée,” and later, “Le Maison Blanc.”

Her travel companion nods and lists the things he and his friends have seen in a thick accent. In his hand, he holds a travel book with L’États Unis printed in sans-serif font on the spine. The United States was a country so big, how could they fit all there was to see into a book slimmer than the travel guides  I used for France, a country a fraction of the size? I am half-tempted to ask if I could borrow their book to see what it said about DC or Chicago or New York.

The French tourists continue to chatter to themselves, and they peer out of the window when we reach Foggy Bottom. The woman next to me pulls out her travel guide and begins reading its description of the neighborhood. The way she pronounces “Foggy Bottom” emphasizes how dense English can sometimes sound. I listen along with her friends although I do not understand a word. There is a mention of George Washington. Or are they talking about the university? She says “Foggy Bottom” again. Foggy Bottom. The more I listen, the more I begin to understand that it is a ridiculous name.

It is only when they exit the bus, on M Street in Georgetown, that I remember that I am supposed to be reading a book. By the time I reach my own stop, I still have not made it to the section break.

***

One day, a guy wearing square-rimmed glasses and a green t-shirt steps onto the bus with an armful of books and a white tote bag tucked flat under his arm. The bus has just passed the Georgetown Public Library, and the man, still standing, begins to leaf through the cookbook he has just checked out. There is also another cookbook, a McSweeney’s compilation, and a DK Companion to Architecture in the pile that he holds against his chest.

His eyes never leave the page. The bus jostles as it winds up the steep hill on Wisconsin Avenue and jerks to a shuddering stop at each stoplight. When a seat next to him opens, he slides seamlessly into it, head still tilted down and eyes scanning a recipe for some kind of stew or soup.

When the bus reaches his stop, he stands and makes his way towards the front door, the volumes still nestled in the crook of his arm and the cookbook still held open as he steps down the stairs and onto the sidewalk. He looks right and then left at the intersection and crosses the street. Halfway across the crosswalk, he returns to his book. He continues to read, and I watch him until the bus pulls away, and there is nothing else to do but to pull out the battered paperback I picked up from the same library and read and read and read.