The Post-Graduate Reading List

Many of my friends who have just graduated college are getting back into free reading. A few even joined book clubs. As a consequence, I’ve been asked by a lot of people for book recommendations. This makes me feel like a fraud – I actually don’t read as many books as my friends think I do. I’m much more an essay/short story/Aeon/New York Times person. Out of the recommendation list below, there’s only two full length novels – the rest are collections of short stories or a novella. I blame my impatience and/or inability to sift through long-winded allegory for meaning.

Anyway, the following are my favorite books that I’ve read after college graduation, listed in the order in which I read them.

Books and Novels

1. The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, by Milan Kundera

Honestly, The Unbearable Lightness of Being was much better. But to uphold the integrity of this post graduate reading list, I had to leave that Kundera novel off and replace it with this one instead. This book is a classic Kundera – set in communist-era Prague, with a bunch of cheating husbands and wives and spies scattered around. For those new to Kundera, he writes like a philosopher whose primary concern is to explain a concept. His focus is not in realistic character development or tantalizing plots. He’s perfect for those who dabble in existential crisis.

Buzzwords – orgy, horoscope, ostriches

2. Kitchen, by Banana Yoshimoto

This is a very simple story about a girl and a boy and a mom persevering through life despite hardships. However, the context in which I read this book gave it incredible meaning to my life. I borrowed it from Angela to read during the five-hour ordeal that is college Commencement, and then I finished it on the plane to Beijing just two days later.  It’s one of those stories that soak up and illuminate the environment in which you read it. I bet if I reread it in less terrifying, less daunting circumstances, I would experience a different interpretation and mood.

Buzzwords – pineapple, katsudon, taxis

3. On Beauty, by Zadie Smith

Zadie Smith is non-stop wit and satire in this novel. At its heart, this is a story about family relationships, but a mixed “modern” family with transatlantic roots, from England to New England. It does a wonderful job of depicting the diversity of experiences within black communities.  I especially recommend it to my college friends because it paints such a vivid picture of the pretentiousness and hypocrisy in elite higher education. Certain one-liners had me snickering out loud.

Buzzwords – slam poetry, aesthetics, Haiti

4. Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures, by Vincent Lambloodletting-and-miraculous-cures

I recommend this collection for those who want more Asian characters in fiction but don’t want the entire plot to center around the struggles of being Asian and born in a non-Asian country. (God I wish this book took place in America so then I could have written Asian-American instead of writing that convoluted sentence, but it’s important to acknowledge the difference between the Asian-Canadian and Asian-American experience).

Buzzwords – premeds, purple birds, Canada

5. Graduates in Wonderland, by Jessica Pan and Rachel Kapelke-DaleGraduates_FINAL-cover

Coming clean here: I am still reading this. But I knew from page one that I had found the voice(s) of my generation. In this non-fiction memoir, two best friends keep in touch through detailed, charming emails about their new post-grad lives in Beijing, New York, Paris, and more. Of course, terrible dates and awful jobs are analyzed in detail. Quite a few of my friends have scattered across the world in search of adventure and work, and I know we all get pangs of loneliness from all the unfamiliar. Reading this is like reading emails from your best friend and being home again.

Buzzwords – Beijing bikini, beard brother, grad school


I know, I know. Given that it’s been over four months since graduation, my book list is rather paltry. But since I’ve been abroad for that entire time, getting my hands on a physical copy of a good English-language book (I refuse to join the Kindle revolution) has proven difficult. The selection has been limited to discarded books from faculty and hostels. I made up for it by reading a lot of online short stories and essays sourced from my friends (many thanks to @thenarrowroad). I would just load them on my laptop for times when I had no wifi, which was way too often. Sometimes, I read an idea that actually changes my life. This happens more with short stories and essays than it does for full-length novels.  I think it’s because essays are more direct and to-the-point.  In times of distress, certain lines from an essay would pop into my head and I would repeat it like a mantra to calm down.  I love essays – they can save you. The best part about essays is that they can be easily shared with people for free over the internet.

The following pieces all introduced a new perspective to my life – my routines, purpose, relationships, etc.  Or I just found them to be fantastic writing that made me really feel something. I hope they do for you as well.

Short Stories



And of course I’ve been a total basic bitch and reading quotes off of tumblr. But whatever. Words are words. Here’s the most recent:

“Sometimes we must undergo hardships, breakups, and narcissistic wounds, which shatter the flattering image that we had of ourselves, in order to discover two truths: that we are not who we thought we were; and that the loss of a cherished pleasure is not necessarily the loss of true happiness and well-being.” – Jean-Yves Leloup

Finally,  great books and stories spark unforgettable conversations with friends and loved ones in real life. So please let me know if you have read anything amazing recently. I would love to expand my reading list. Or if you also read any of the stuff listed above, in which case I want to pick your brain for your reaction and thoughts.




The Beginning of the Reflections

The Beginning of the Reflections

If you told me at the beginning of September that I would eventually write over 3,000 words on this one Degas oil pastel portrait, I would have said “Pffft.” And then proceeded to tell a corny joke like, “I have no MONET to buy the DEGAS to make the VAN GOGH.”

Term paper submitted. Two and a half hour essay exam conquered. A semester of discovering new worlds in a piece of cloth with some splattered-on colors experienced. I’d say it was a pretty good intro to art history class, wouldn’t you?

Franglish Blunders: Learning French in France

My host mother has an excellent selection of jams out for breakfast every morning.

You can buy this brand of French jam at Jewel!

Cherry, fig, orange, strawberry – all the good stuff. Just a table spoon of any one of them takes my daily carton of plain yogurt from delicious to fantastical wonderland. One particularly creamy yogurt mixed with a particularly fresh plop of fig preserves caused me to exclaim to my host mother: “Mmm j’adore le preservatif avec le yaourt naturel!”

The actual word for preserves or jam in French is la confiture. I, on the other hand, told her I adore condoms in my yogurt.

After we all had a good laugh, I convinced myself that WHATEVER, French people will find my confusions charming and my accent cute so SCREW THIS. That’s probably the most important change in mindset one needs to have if one wants to be fluent in another language; getting comfortable with sounding like an absolute goof. So I killed that stereotype in my head about French people being super fancy and uppity pretty quickly after that. And it proved to be true. They really appreciate it when foreigners try to learn their language because god knows the French are mad proud of the French language. (See Academie francaise). But even so, not every single word out of a French person’s mouth is a profoundly eloquent word. Just like in American English, there’s a lot of “ums” (ehhh) and “you knows” (d’accord) and “really” (vraiment) and “oh my gods” (oh la la), etc. Je is pronounced like a sliver (zhhh) and il/elle becomes a hiss (eeee).

Being thrust into another country, into an unfamiliar language initially feels a lot like how I imagine being illiterate feels. My first week, people were abuzz around me, all this information was being exchanged, and I just got none of it. Streams of ideas, stories, sentiments, instructions attacked me from all angles and my inability to understand their rapid-fire French was a waterproof sealant over my mind. But I was surprised how much I was able comprehend a foreign language after a substantial period of full immersion. Poor French used to be the language of the world (where do you think the term lingua franca comes from), but as an American, native English-speaker, I found that so many students and people want to learn or improve their English. Finding French people to strike up a conversation with wasn’t hard and probably had the most positive impact on my French speaking abilities and my study abroad experience in general. Meeting these wonderful friends and teachers motivated me to improve my pronunciation and broaden my vocabulary so that I could understand them more and form a closer bond.  A much more effective motivation than just getting an A on a French test and then pressing flush as soon as I turn it in. 

We are the presents under the tree. Friends are presents. Sharing an experience is the ultimate present.

I’m going to try to improve upon my current level of French when I get back to the States. At the very least, it will serve as a constant memory of the comical-mortifying yet dream time I had in France. Wish me luck 🙂

The Ancient Book Market in Aix

Every first Sunday of the month, book merchants congregate by the l’hotel de ville square and sell their magnificent wares. Be still my romantic, nerdy heart. Overpriced? Maybe not for these irreplaceable tidbits of history. Out of my pathetic student budget? Definitely (I’m measuring everything I buy against how many baguettes its worth). Most of these books are ball-parking 30 baguettes.


Normally the flower market’s here. Actually… I’ve seen a lot of different markets pop up at hotel de ville. Aix is a giant marketplace.


Of course, perfect roomie is also the perfect book fair companion.


Can you believe that someone let me hold something that someone else held in 1797??


Mopeds and a lot of history. Basically Aix in a sentence.

French Translations

So I found this book of poems (looks self published) by this guy who studied economics at L’Univerisitie d’Aix-Marseille (I creeped on linkdin). I also noticed that I haven’t been speaking French in full sentences. So I decided to read/translate this book (ANKH, la lumiere ou la folie) as an exercise in improving my French. I ain’t dealing with these French keyboards and alphabets with their funky letters and accents. So you’re only getting my broken English translation. Sorry I’m not sorry.


Life is this, that is: not much.

But this is, yes, good despite it all.

I want to stop the time, and that, only that, I breathe and I know the gift of God. But when the time flows, my heart bleeds with him.

Things pass and go very quickly, one does not really see them, one is occupied by predicting and trying to change the future. We forget to live presently.
The days pass and go very quickly, today serves to prepare for what is to be tomorrow in lieu of to ponder yesterday. We have forgotten to live.

It is only when tomorrow is uncertain that one savors the present instant. In that case, suddenly, the light of time is lost. We are blind and we do not want to see any more than the present instant, we want to outline the least piece of life to guard back the taste until the next day.

Life is made of little well beings that one neglects in pursuit of having even more. But pleasure resides in the one that is unique: in having several, to him, it subtracts its worth.

To become an adult, it is realizing the daydreams of the child.
(This is my definition in any case…)

– Olivier PANZA