A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

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I’m letting you know now that this is going to be a long one. I put a little “recommendation” as a “tl;dr,” but I got a lot on my chest that I need to say.22822858

Synopsis (from Goodreads.com)

When four classmates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way, they’re broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition. There is kind, handsome Willem, an aspiring actor; JB, a quick-witted, sometimes cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their center of gravity. Over the decades, their relationships deepen and darken, tinged by addiction, success, and pride. Yet their greatest challenge, each comes to realize, is Jude himself, by midlife a terrifyingly talented litigator yet an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood, and haunted by what he fears is a degree of trauma that he’ll not only be unable to overcome—but that will define his life forever.

Rating: 4/5 stars

Recommendation: Highly recommended, but just be aware of the emotional triggers (suicide, self-harm, sexual and verbal abuse, physical abuse). Also give yourself a fun book to read afterwards because this will stick in your brain like a piece of kale stuck in your teeth. You try and try to get it out, but it just embeds itself further into your gums.

My thoughts

I’m going to try and keep this as short as I possibly can. I don’t know how since this book has been leaving its footprints on my mind for the past few days.

I’m not the type of person to get really pounded down by serious stories. I’ve read many books about drug abuse, physical and sexual abuse, self-harm, and suicide. They’ve never phased me, but this book somehow was able to encapsulate all of those difficult and serious topics and place them into one character: Jude.

Jude is the culmination of every single emotionally deteriorated person in the world. Being a person who will admittedly lived a pretty charmed life, I can’t believe that someone like Jude could exist in the world. A high functioning lawyer with a huge bank load and a swank apartment in the West Village, but he self-mutilates, contemplates suicide, lived his childhood in the system, and was emotionally and sexually abused as a kid? Not to mention the additional emotionally draining episodes of his life that left him sad and alone? Honestly, he’s a contender for the “why does all this stuff happen in my life?” award next to Harry Potter (remember, almost every adult figure in his life somehow dies).

As I was reading the book, I kept asking myself, does a person like this exist? Could I stumble across some high powered corporate exec and also find out that he’s had the most tragic life hidden below all of that suit? Was it purposeful for Hanya Yanagihara to make one person suffer the most?

In all honestly, it felt like every single character suffered in some way. They’ve lost loved ones. They’ve dealt with substance abuse. They’ve been faced with the question of their sexuality. While in this world there’s a certain level of tragedy in everyone, at the same time I can’t imagine one person just being the universe’s personal punching bag.

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And yet Hanya Yanagihara writes this in an exquisite way. While the prose is pretty heavy and in some parts too descriptive, it’s almost poetic. Making poetry from personal tragedy is considered the fuel for art. People weren’t kidding when they said that the writing is so enticing it keeps you reading. It’s beautiful and not in that post-graduated-read-too-much-Hemmingway style, but almost simplistic. It was the difference of a $500 bottle of wine vs. the two-buck Chuck. While it’s not some fancy brand, it’s still delectable.

How to manage emotionally triggering books

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Is it weird when I call a book “emotionally triggering,” I’m talking about the passive of time in the book rather than anything else?

I can deal with my fair share of self-harm, sexual abuse, and even suicide. When a book writes about them (and they do it well), I find it most fascinating and continue to read instead of depressing and want to put the book down.

However, you mention the passive of time and getting older and being on your deathbed and I’m an emotional wreck.

I’m currently reading A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara, and if you haven’t already heard of this book it’s an emotional time bomb. Each section of the book brings forth something else that will break you down, make you cry, or leave you in the dark of your bedroom with a full blown anxiety attack. Almost every review (despite its star rating) has said “THIS BOOK IS DEPRESSING AS FUCK. HEED CAUTION.” Who would ever want to read a book like that?

But people do and they all fall prey to its emotional triggers and depression. Every time someone mentions how old they are and how their bodies and deteriorating and culling up dead people, then I’m in the dark having an anxiety attack. It’s got something for everyone!

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For the most part, if a book is emotionally triggering for me (and many are. How do you write an adult book that doesn’t talk about existential crisis?) I will put it down. If it’s not worth my time reading or if the book straight up sucks the I won’t do it. I’ll just put it down, remove it from my Goodreads, and not mention it again. I won’t write a review. I won’t talk about it with friends. If a book is emotionally triggering for me, it might not be for anyone else so I don’t bring up my opinions on it because I would rather someone read it for themselves.

22822858However, this book is good. The writing is beautiful albeit a little heavy on the descriptors and unnecessary comments. And yes, emotionally triggering. So I’m stuck at this crossroads where I need to decide if I want to continue reading the book despite its emotional triggers, or if I should put the book down and go the route that I’m used to.

And I’ve decided that I’m going to continue reading it. But how do I manage the emotional triggers? How do I get passed them and still enjoy the book. I’ve basically put together a list of ways I can manage this emotion and continue on. I hope you enjoy it!

 

1. It’s just a book. If you’re a big fantasy book reader always wanting to ship your OTP and bust out the knives and guns to defeat the bad guy, then you might be one of those Alice in Wonderland rabbit hole falling people who have pretty bad book hangovers. You get lost in the book. You find yourself traipsing along through a story as if you’re standing beside the main character. What they feel, you feel. It’s a great feeling and one of the ones that really makes me love reading. However, you need to draw a line when it comes to the emotionally difficult stuff. If you find yourself trapped in the abuse of a character or tripping down a dark path, you have to remember that it’s just a book. It’s fiction. It’s a fantasy. It’s something that someone made up in their brain, put to words, and got some sadistic publisher to publish. It’s just a book and reality is waiting outside your bedroom door and reality isn’t as bad as the book you’re reading.

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2. Take breaks. It’s so crucial that when you’re reading a book that is emotionally triggering and an amazing read is to take breaks. Take 5 minutes. Take an hour. Set a timer on your phone. If you’ve got one of those smart watches or a Fitbit, then set it to tickle you every hour and take a walk. Sometimes the cause for the emotion draining is the fact that you’ve spent too much time stuck in the book’s story and you need to pull yourself out. Forcing yourself to take a break while you read will refocus your brain to the reality of things. It’s a sunny day. There’s a dog sleeping at your feet. There’s a cat swatting at your water glass. If you take a break and look around or walk around, your brain will naturally pull itself out of the emotionally draining and give you the energy you need to continue reading.

3. Keep distractions close by. This kind of goes along with taking breaks. If you’re like me and you think about books long after you’ve finished reading them, then you need to  refocus your brain on something else. I don’t want to say “distract” yourself because that implies almost a bandage to the wound rather than a fix. However, if you’re able to refocus your brain on another activity then you’re not distracting yourself from the inevitable continuation of reading, but taking your mind completely off the book and doing something else for a while. It’s a method used for people with have obsessive thoughts (like me). Don’t “distract” yourself, but refocus your brain to do something else other than thinking about the book. I like Candy Crush personally as a way to stimulate my brain and refocus.

4. Learn to know when to let go. The final step is basically pulling the ripcord. While you may try to be as strong as you can be when reading an emotionally triggering book, sometimes the themes and the story are just too much. In this case, you need to let the book go. I’ve come across so many books where I thought it was enjoyable but then feel emotionally triggered by one little theme that runs through the entirety of the book that I had to let it go. It’s tough for us book readers especially since we’re all about reading what’s new and interesting and possible award winners. I feel a little bit of pressure to read and enjoy some very popular books because everyone else is reading them. Granted this is all in my head and I can easily turn it off, but it’s an insecurity of mine. But knowing when to let a book go or stop reading when you’re feeling emotionally triggered is like learning that what you’re going through isn’t the definer of your being. It’s like CBT to know when enough is enough. You have control and it’s as easy as closing the book.

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December 2016 TBR – #readthemargin

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Recently, a fellow book blogger going by the name of @ladybookmad created a new hashtag called #readthemargin for the month of December.

What’s the point of the tag? Well, because there’s a want and need to read more diverse books. As an Asian American woman, I want to educate my fellow readers on the different cultures and backgrounds . Also, it feels good to relate to the people and places I read about.

So, I’ve dedicated my December TBR not only to reading authors on the margins of society, but also to read a little bit of the people that make up a huge part of my being. I hope you’re reading the margin, or at least taking some time to read.

The Wangs vs. The World by Jade Chang

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Charles Wang is mad at America. A brash, lovable immigrant businessman who built a cosmetics empire and made a fortune, he’s just been ruined by the financial crisis. Now all Charles wants is to get his kids safely stowed away so that he can go to China and attempt to reclaim his family’s ancestral lands—and his pride.

Charles pulls Andrew, his aspiring comedian son, and Grace, his style-obsessed daughter, out of schools he can no longer afford. Together with their stepmother, Barbra, they embark on a cross-country road trip from their foreclosed Bel-Air home to the upstate New York hideout of the eldest daughter, disgraced art world it-girl Saina. But with his son waylaid by a temptress in New Orleans, his wife ready to defect for a set of 1,000-thread-count sheets, and an epic smash-up in North Carolina, Charles may have to choose between the old world and the new, between keeping his family intact and finally fulfilling his dream of starting anew in China.

Outrageously funny and full of charm, The Wangs vs. the World is an entirely fresh look at what it means to belong in America—and how going from glorious riches to (still name-brand) rags brings one family together in a way money never could.

 

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

18373213When New Yorker Rachel Chu agrees to spend the summer in Singapore with her boyfriend, Nicholas Young, she envisions a humble family home and quality time with the man she hopes to marry. But Nick has failed to give his girlfriend a few key details. One, that his childhood home looks like a palace; two, that he grew up riding in more private planes than cars; and three, that he just happens to be the country’s most eligible bachelor. 
 
On Nick’s arm, Rachel may as well have a target on her back the second she steps off the plane, and soon, her relaxed vacation turns into an obstacle course of old money, new money, nosy relatives, and scheming social climbers.

 

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

23398763“Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.” So begins this exquisite novel about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio. Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee, and her parents are determined that she will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue. But when Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together is destroyed, tumbling them into chaos. A profoundly moving story of family, drama, and longing, Everything I Never Told You is both a gripping page-turner and a sensitive family portrait, uncovering the ways in which mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and husbands and wives struggle, all their lives, to understand one another.

 

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

22822858When four classmates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way, they’re broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition. There is kind, handsome Willem, an aspiring actor; JB, a quick-witted, sometimes cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their center of gravity. Over the decades, their relationships deepen and darken, tinged by addiction, success, and pride. Yet their greatest challenge, each comes to realize, is Jude himself, by midlife a terrifyingly talented litigator yet an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood, and haunted by what he fears is a degree of trauma that he’ll not only be unable to overcome—but that will define his life forever.