books I can't stop thinking about
redemption arcs, devastating realities, & brighter futures
Hello! It’s been an eventful few months since I’ve revisited this newsletter. In that time I camped in the Sierra Nevadas, got my wisdom teeth out, spent some time in Southern California deserts, watched a rocket ascend into space, and generally contemplated what my last few months living in San Francisco (for a while) will look like. (More parentheses: Yes, I’m moving early next year, and I’m very excited!)
In this edition of seastarya: books I read this year that I can’t stop thinking about, the thing that made me start writing again, & an announcement
The books I can’t stop thinking about:
All This Could Be Different by Sarah Thankam Mathews
A book about community care, healing trauma, and carving out safe places in broken worlds, written with stunning prose start to end. I feel like the narrator was both incredibly relatable and reliably problematic, and that as a result, we as readers were able to witness the beginnings of healthy growth and reflect on how those trajectories of change may be unfolding in our own lives. This was a really good book.
Kaikeyi by Vaishnavi Patel
A retelling of the Ramayana from the perspective of Kaikeyi, the person who ultimately kicked off the series of events that led to a net positive outcome for the lands. This story was ultimately meant to bring justice to an often-villified character (another popular example of a similar villain-redeeming premise: the movie Maleficent). Very complicated feelings from me about this book; the first half imagining Kaikeyi’s upbringing was incredible, filled with thoughtful critiques of patriarchy permeating ancient traditions, but the second half fell short in the very same area. I feel like instead of bringing nuance to all players in the story, it suffered the trap of trying to bring redemption by instead turning the “typically hero” characters into immensely awful beings … which left me frustrated and underwhelmed when I finished the book. I did really like the writing style, though, and read this in just a couple days for that reason.
Pet by Akwaeke Emezi
A story about a painting come to life, and about what to do when no one — even the most trusted people — wants to admit to horrific happenings unfolding right in front of them. It was haunting and thoughtfully crafted, and it both questions how we can ever truly rid society of monsters and offers ways we may be able to keep moving forward. I read this in one afternoon (and not just because it’s a fairly short book with beautiful writing).
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
I finally got around to reading Ishiguro, and I will definitely be reading more after this. The story was relatively short, but it was a slow-burn. I’ve seen reviews saying that the actual plot of the story felt more like a sub-plot and therefore made the book worse, but I actually thought the subversive nods to an inevitable fate in which the main characters live life not equipped to fight that fate in any meaningful way made the book stronger. This was not a hopeful book, and while I definitely think we can always use more hopeful stories, the questions raised in this novel feel like ones necessary to envision a truly brighter future. P.S. I really liked this essay about Never Let Me Go.
The video essay that got me to start writing again:
I’ve been working on the same novel for about a year now—characters have shifted, plot points have been completely overhauled, and 25k+ words were written, archived, rewritten, and rewritten again before I finally settled into the arc that I’m now translating into story format. The push to get me to that last step, though, was a video about themes and through-lines in Studio Ghibli films. I clicked into it on a whim but ended up watching all 1.5+ hours at full attention. Here it is:
And just to document some insights from the video that shifted how I’m approaching my own writing …
The importance of painting a truer picture of nature as both terrible and beautiful; it’s stunning and has intrinsic value beyond what it can provide in the form of material resources to humans, and it also will fight back when it’s not taken care of
The beauty and fear of leaving quiet spaces in stories for reflection; media so often focuses most on the action-packed that there are less often moments encouraging stillness
The purpose of art as a way to combat pessimism; we live in a world where problems often seem compounding, never-ending, and inextricable from one another (therefore becoming unsolvable), but art is one of many tools to highlight the wonders in everyday life and interactions that are so incredibly worth sharing with and protecting for one another
You know of tree frogs. Pond frogs. Poison dart frogs. The little frogs that hop around the nearly dried streams in your most proximal forest. Frogs of every texture. Rain frogs, mossy frogs, glass frogs. You know of Frog and Toad.
October is rapidly incoming and THUS: We (I) will be celebrating ✨frogtober✨ with this newsletter, aka you’ll receive a silly little piece of frog-adjacent content in your inbox every Friday through the month of October. We’ll traverse the intellectual-to-cozy axis that is frogs, from appreciating standout frog media to admiring general frog-in-nature existence. And don’t fear — other amphibians will be included in this celebration, too.
Anyways, I like frogs and I hope you do/will too.
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