It’s been only more than a month and now I am posting another Non Fiction Round Up entry: isn’t that crazy? From reluctantly reading non fiction, to having them be part of my regular bookish diet. It still really surprises me to no end.
For this “episode” I’m gonna be sharing an unlikely mix of books – which just goes to show, I guess, how eclectic my taste in books has been lately. There’s no theme to this, really – other than the fact that I read them consecutively. This was a lukewarm group on average. Most of them I liked, but there is one clear standout, and it is something that I’m really glad I came across.
Here are the additional 5 non fiction books I’ve read so far:
- DEAR GIRLS: Intimate Tales, Untold Secrets, & Advice for Living Your Best Life by Ali Wong – 3☕
- CRYNG IN H MART by Michelle Zauner – 4☕
- HOW TO TALK TO ANYONE AT WORK: 72 Little Tricks for Big Success Communicating on the Job by Leil Lowndes – 4☕
- THE BODY KEPS THE SCORE: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk – 5☕
- BREATH: The New Science of a Lost Art by James Nestor – 3.5☕
DEAR GIRLS: Intimate Tales, Untold Secrets, & Advice for Living Your Best Life by Ali Wong – 3☕
Ali injects her unique brand of comedy to her book, Dear Girls, which is meant to be part autobiography and part self-help, fashioned into letters to her daughter to teach them how to navigate life: as an Asian American and as a woman. I listened to this in audiobook and it was just like listening to one of Ali’s stand-up. Though generally written in a comedic and satiric style, I especially love the parts where she seriously reflects on the poignant moments of her life: her relationship with her dad, working while being pregnant and being a mom, being a woman in an industry dominated by men, and generally the challenges of being an Asian American in this industry as well. I was particularly in awe of how Ali was fully supported by her husband in doing her work which really goes to show that women thrive and trudge better in life if given a solid support system to enable them. This wasn’t as memorable as some of the books that I’ve read but it’s been an absolutely entertaining read, nonetheless.
CRYNG IN H MART by Michelle Zauner – 4☕
“Ever since my mom died, I cry in H Mart.” So Michelle Zauner’s (a.k.a indie rock band Japanese Breakfast) deeply affecting memoir, 𝐂𝐫𝐲𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐢𝐧 𝐇 𝐌𝐚𝐫𝐭, starts off. This book followed Michelle in the days leading to the death of her mother and the aftermath. Grief is a unique experience to each individual and Michelle tried to process hers by writing and performing, all the while trying to hold on to that intrinsic piece of herself that felt taken away when her mom died.
It’s always hard to rate books like this but, in terms of writing, there were a lot of some pretty special moments in here. It’s about identity, processing grief, trying to know someone more deeply after they passed, and preserving that enduring connection brought about by culture, food, and shared experiences.
It was interesting how the difference in communicating feelings was highlighted in a cultural sense. Asian parents are, most of the time, may seem unfeeling and cold towards their children. They communicate through food and companionship, rather than just straight-up talking. And for a child, split between this and a culture of openness, I could understand how this could become confusing and a source of bitterness. This, along with the unnecessary high expectations to succeed in just about anything, is a running theme I recognize in memoirs written by Asian-Americans that I’ve read. I do think the PoV is very Korean-American so if you fit this identity, you might go into this and find solace and comfort because of how familiar this would be.
I loved how she viewed H Mart as a place where people “search for a piece of home or a piece of yourself” – and it can be so true for those living outside of their home countries. In any case, I’m sure that whichever identity you fall into, there’s something to be taken away from this book.
Content Warnings: death, grief, cancer
HOW TO TALK TO ANYONE AT WORK: 72 Little Tricks for Big Success Communicating on the Job by Leil Lowndes – 4☕
It’s been a while since I’ve read this kind of non fiction book because I’ve been reading a lot of memoirs lately – so I’m glad I finally found a good one to start over. I loved how Leil provided detailed and tried-and-tested techniques in navigating the modern workplace in How to Talk to Anyone at Work. Although of course, the tips here apply to the standard office setup pre-pandemic, there are still so many things to be taken from here that you could apply to your life to improve leadership, team communication, and just general behavioral know-hows that could really help a professional be more comfortable in their own skin at corporate settings. Obviously, I read this kind of book to feed my socially challenged and anxious self because these things don’t come normally to me and I love that this book acknowledges that these things are not organic to all people. It made me feel less alone. (Kudos also to how enthusiastic the narrator was in this audiobook!) This was super insightful and I’m glad I read this. This can be a bedside-table kind of book along with How to Win Friends and Influence People.
THE BODY KEPS THE SCORE: Brain, Mind, and Body int he Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk – 5☕
Working with trauma is as much about remembering how we survived as it is about what is broken.
The Body Keeps the Score is probably one of the most, if not THE most important book I’ve ever read about trauma and PTSD. I believe it is one of those books, along with Matthew Walker’s Why We Sleep, that people should read at least once in their lives. In this book, van der Kolk explored the different and (most times) surprising effects that trauma has on people – especially those that suffered it at a very young age.
This was really eye-opening in a way that it exhibited a lot of (surprising) ways that traumatic stress can manifest and affect our lives. An event can affect different persons in different ways. Perhaps one of the most interesting things that haven’t left my mind since I read it was how traumatized people have shown more susceptibility to auto-immune diseases. “Post-traumatic reactions started off as efforts to save your life” – a traumatized person’s body is put into constant fight/flight mode that it reacts even at the slightest triggers, “prone to mount defense even when none is needed, even when it means attacking the body’s own cells.” Indeed, the body keeps the score – more than we realize it does.
Van der Kolk also explored and explained a lot of methods in dealing with and managing post-traumatic stress, while emphasizing that there is no one treatment or approach that could apply to all. Each treatment plan is and should be tailored to a patient because there is no guarantee that one treatment that worked for another would do the same to a different person.
This book is more on the informative side but I did find comfort reading it, as I also suffered the effects of trauma in my life. It validates a lot of things and it made me less alone in my feelings. Bear in mind though that reading this is not a substitute for therapy or counseling. Also, as a reminder, this book discusses a lot of traumatic events so thread carefully and expect a lot of triggers peppered throughout. Backed by years of data and practice, this book is a worthy way to spend your time if you want to learn more about traumatic stress. If you’re a mental health professional or someone passionate about it, AND especially if you’ve suffered the effects of trauma or know people whose lives were greatly affected by it, I highly recommend this book.
Content Warnings: detailed depiction of traumatic events, discussions of post traumatic stress and effects
BREATH: The New Science of a Lost Art by James Nestor – 3.5☕
When I saw Breath in one of Ali Abdaal‘s newsletters, it really caught my interest – particularly because breathwork has been one of the key practices that I try to incorporate in my daily life to manage my anxiety and also a recent bout with the COVID-19 virus left me feeling short of breath. I was riding the high of reading The Body Keeps the Score that I had really high expectations going in this book. I just really wanted to know more about this topic. I understand now, though, the reviews saying that the claims in this book are “wild”. This was more anecdotal than necessary and I was interested in more fact-based discussions. There were points in this book that bordered on new age-y and the accounts kept getting stranger and stranger – so sometimes, it’s hard to wrap my head around what I was reading.
It was great to learn a lot of breathing facts, though. And there are definitely a couple of practices that I am determined to incorporate in my daily life (e.g., breathing through the nose more, slowing down my breathing per minute, etc.). It was curious to learn about how breathing ties to religions across the world. At one point, the author mentioned how the prayers (as they are usually sung, from long ago) follow a certain rhythm that naturally regulates the breath as a result. And given the healing benefits of breathing, this reinforces the notion that prayers really do heal. It was also fascinating to know that some of the most experienced “pulmonauts” (nasal breathing advocates who use it to boost immune systems and treat illnesses) came from the most unlikely backgrounds: choral conductors, swimming coaches, singers, mystics, etc. The author calls it a “lost art” particularly “because so many of these new discoveries aren’t new at all” but were just undocumented and, thus, forgotten over time. What just bothers me is that: if these methods are so effective, why did they not stick?
That’s it for this post. Hope you find something interesting in this list. I’ve been burning through a lot of non fiction books lately so I’m hoping to make another Non Fiction Round Up post in the coming days.
Have you read any of the books above? Comment up and let’s talk!