Here are the books I finished in June.
1. Does Jesus Really Love Me? by Jeff Chu
GENRE: Non-fiction/ Spirituality/ Memoir
ABOUT: Jeff Chu traversed America in search of an answer to his question: I’m gay; does Jesus love me? Jeff spoke to Christians everywhere, affirming and non-affirming alike. He even spent time with the Westboro Baptist Church members, who are—for those unfamiliar with them—infamous for their homophobia.
THOUGHTS: The one thing he said that really stuck with me is that so many pastors are chickens. He didn’t put it that way, but that’s what he meant. Although they secretly affirm the gay community, they do not go public with their stance in fear of backlash. There was one particular pastor Jeff came into contact with that inched away because he was worried about losing his funding.
As much as I understand where they are coming from (I’ve seen a lot of otherwise rational people withdraw funding over this topic), I am wary of people who refuse to take a stand. If you are unwilling to affirm, then say so. Put it on your church website. Don’t stay silent in the name of peace, because then all you are is deceitful.
The Christian gay community sorely lack support as it is. And for you, the straight person, chances are that what you lose from being affirming will never match what they lose from you shutting up. So don’t shut up.
2. Inspiration and Incarnation by Peter Enns
GENRE: Non-fiction/ Religion/ Spirituality/ History
ABOUT: Many Evangelical Christians insist that the Bible is the infallible, inerrant, inspired word of God. Are there problems with this view?
THOUGHTS: So much to say on this topic, but I’ll limit it to this: we have to accept that the Bible is not literally true. It is a collection of letters and poems and slanted political narratives and folklore and mundane laws and apocalyptic texts. Nuff said.
2. Everything is F*cked by Mark Manson
GENRE: Non-fiction/ Self help
ABOUT: How to find hope in this hopeless world.
THOUGHTS: I read the first book, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck, and loved it so so much. There is beauty in the way Mark Manson draws meaning from total nihilism.
There were a few points that caught my attention. Number one is the moral gap, or what the Chinese like to call qian ren qing (direct translation: owing humanity). Someone wrongs you, you find yourself on the elevated area of the moral gap. Somebody does you a favour, and now you’re on the lower end of the moral gap.
Another interesting point is slave morality vs. master morality. What’s that?Well, say, as a student, I study hard and get good grades. That’s good, right? If your answer is ‘yes’, then that’s master morality. However, imagine I failed to study because I have to work to help put food on my family’s table. The putting food on the table part is good, right? If you think so, that’s slave morality.
The writer also wrote extensively about our thinking brain and feelings brain. It will surprise you how many circumstances that we consider to be the works of the thinking brain to actually be the effects of the feelings brain.
Last but not least, here’s a quote by Immanuel Kant: Treat humanity as an ends and not a means.
3. A Most Peculiar Malaysian Murder by Shamini Flint
GENRE: Fiction/ Crime/ Mystery
ABOUT: A tycoon is found dead, shot with a gun from close range. He had been in the middle of a bitter custody war with his ex-wife. His ex-wife, Chelsea Lieu, former supermodel turned abused spouse of misogynistic, narcissistic billionaire, is the prime suspect. After all, just before the deceased was murdered, he had converted to Islam in an attempt to blindside Chelsea and gain a foothold in the battle. Naturally, Chelsea was pissed.
THOUGHTS: This is the first book of the Inspector Singh Investigates series. The quality is top notch, a true page turner. I was hooked from beginning till the end.
4. Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari
ABOUT: The essence of this book is best relayed with the closing paragraph (of which I copied word for word below). It is as follows:
- Science is converging on an all emcompassing dogma which says that organisms are algorithms and life is data processing.
- Intelligence is decoupling from consciousness.
- Non-conscious but highly intelligent algorithms may soon know us better than we know ourselves.
THOUGHTS: I really, really loved the first book, Sapiens: A brief history of mankind. Therefore, this book was a natural progression.
Because of this book, I want to explore the duality of the narrating self and the experiencing self. The writer argues that the liberal concept of ‘self’ is debunked with this concept and I really want to read up on this.
5. The Last Tang Standing by Lauren Ho
FORMAT: Physical book
GENRE: Fiction/ Click lit
ABOUT: Andrea Tang is a high-flying lawyer on the partnership track. She has a posh condo, tons of designer bags, and hangs out at all the hip spots. One problem though: she’s 33 years old (“Jesus’ age when He died”) and single. She meets Eric Deng, billionaire and ultimate safe choice and decides to give him a chance. Meanwhile, her relationship with Surresh Aditparan—her nemesis at work—will show you the meaning of ‘slow burn’.
THOUGHTS: Ladies and gentlemen, this is how you write chic lit. I preordered this book from Lit Books (super cool bookshop. Check them out!) and dug in as soon as I got my copy.
Lauren explores several important themes like asian parents’ expectations and the corporate hamster wheel. She weighs safe choices against hedonism, and the pseudo boundaries society sets for us regarding race and reproduction.
She is so so funny. Sigh, I wish I am half the writer that she is. I recommend this book to anyone that wants an escape from this sucky world.
BONUS BOOKS (Books I Finished on Blinkist)
A.k.a. books I have never read in full, but know the summary of. Blinkist is a God-sent app service. Popular books are summarised into bite-sized “Blinks”, to be consumed on the go or while lazing in an enormous lazy chair.
6. Buddhism—Plain and Simple by Steve Hagen
GENRE: Non-fiction/ Religion/ Spirituality/ Self-help
ABOUT: If you feel empty and dissatisfied with life, buddhism might have the answer. Very often, we suffer because we compare reality to expectation. Instead, we should just be aware of the moment.
THOUGHTS: Here are two quotes from the blinks that I really like: (1) So, you don’t have to do the long search, the frantic chase, the painful quest. You’re already right where you need to be. (2) We suffer. Everything we need to alleviate this dissatisfaction is right here before us. Yet, we don’t realise it.
7. The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz
GENRE: Non-fiction/ Self help
ABOUT: Having an abundance of choices can make us less happy. This is because no matter what, we’ll feel less satisfied with our choices (due to opportunity cost). There are two kinds of people. The maximisers are those that feel like they must achieve the best available option. They will overwhelm themselves with making the best possible choice. On the other hand, the satisficer will settle for any option that meet their standards. For the satisficers, there are only two categories: options that meet the standard and options that don’t meet the standard. Naturally, satisficers are happier people because they don’t live each day mourning the choices they could’ve made.
THOUGHTS: I am a satisficer. This is probably why I have such low standards in life.
8. Talking Across the Divide by Justin Lee
GENRE: Non-fiction/ Self help
ABOUT: When talking to people with different opinions, the tool is strategic dialogue. When doing this, there are 5 barriers to keep in mind: ego protection, team loyalty, comfort, misinformation, and worldview protection. The person you are conversing with should be framed as the protagonist. Also, don’t make them look foolish.
THOUGHTS: The ongoing example throughout the book is dialoguing with conservative Christians about the subject of homosexuality. Since I’ve found myself in exactly this conversation many times, I could completely relate with all the examples. The writer emphasised that their homophobia is inexcusable. However, it helps to step into their shoes. Very often, to change one’s mind about one belief is to give up an entire worldview, along with all the other beliefs that come latched to that worldview. This is the reason why people are so violently protective of their beliefs—especially in the case of Christians and homosexuality.
9. From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation by Kenanga-Yamahtta Taylor
GENRE: Non-fiction/ Commentary
ABOUT: In the US, the judicial, economic, and social systems have locked black people in systemic oppression and racism for a long time.
THOUGHTS: There is a relationship between racism and capitalism that has to be first acknowledged, then acted on. The recent death of George Floyd was no isolated event. It happened at the end of a long chain of systemic oppression. George Floyd, a black man in the US, died after a white police officer knelt on his neck for almost 8 minutes 46 seconds while George was handcuffed and face down on the ground. He was pronounced dead an hour later.
10. When They Call You a Terrorist by Patrisse Khan-Cullors & Asha Bandele
GENRE: Non-fiction/ Memoir/ Commentary
ABOUT: This book was written by one of the co-founders of the Black Lives Matter movement. Racism against black people in the US is systemic. The author carefully writes about the systemic oppression she faced from a young age all the way into adulthood. She compares the mostly-white middle school she attended to the majority-black one she attended for summer school, only to illustrate an undeniable fact: systemic racism is real. Her brothers, even as teenagers, were routinely thrown against the wall by uniformed officers for the slightest of things. One of the brothers eventually did prison time, the sentence of which was handed out with complete disregard to the mental conditions he was arrested with. Likewise, her father did time for drugs, of which, to be reductive, is a major component of systemic racism. Instead of helping those in need of help, the justice system locks them up.
THOUGHTS: I’ve always known that the racism against the black people in the US is systemic, I just didn’t know the extend of it until now. Reforms are a must. The only question is how.
11. Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge
GENRE: Non-fiction/ Memoir/ Commentary
ABOUT: The writer is a black British girl. She argues that to understand racial privilege, one must first acknowledge the history of race in Great Britain. Quote from book—”Britain has a racist history. If we’re going to work together to overcome it and ensure that everyone has equal opportunities, we’re going to have to learn about that history and deal with its repercussions, which are still felt today. Yes, slavery and the British Empire might be gone, but their legacies live on in deep institutional and societal discrimination and racism”.
THOUGHTS: Here’s another quote, (because I’m all about quotes today), “Not seeing race does little to deconstruct racist structures or materially improve the conditions in which people of colour are subject to daily”. I’m thinking of the naive narrative where being colour-blindness is a virtue. Many people think by doing this, they are being inclusive in a meritocracy. But the truth is, doing that only makes it more difficult for the people who are oppressed by skin colour, because now there is no bandwidth for conversation.
12. The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
GENRE: Non-fiction/ Commentary
ABOUT: Similar to the previous three books, colour blindness does more harm than good. It is colour blindness that led to the mass incarceration of black people. The so-called ‘war on drugs’ has led to racial biases in judgements and sentencing. And then it never stops. Even after they are released, they are, by law, excluded from receiving public housing and participating in federal food stamp programs. They are also denied the right to vote. To begin with, many of them were arrested as a result of racial profiling. This is despite—wait for it—the studies that have shown that people of all races use and sell drugs at a similar rate. “In fact, research has shown that white people, and especially young white people, are more likely to be involved in drug crimes than any other race.”
THOUGHTS: The writer unpacks the racial bias a lot of people have when it comes to crime. Even in Malaysia, bias against dark-skinned people is palpable. It is something that has to change.
13. How to Be An Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
GENRE: Non-fiction/ Memoir
ABOUT: This book is an in-depth dissection of racism.
THOUGHTS: Something I have been struggling with is the view that people from lower income groups are lazy and dependant on government welfare. Is it true that giving them aids would increase their reliance on outside benevolence, giving them less motivation to be self-reliant? I plan to read The Myth of the Lazy Native by Syed Hussein Alatas to develop my thoughts on this.