Reflections on a second socially distanced birthday

Plus books that explore Asian history and lots of new skincare goodies

Hey, readers!

This weekend I celebrated my second pandemic-style birthday, and I’ve been reflecting on all the changes the last year has brought. While we are still sticking strictly to pandemic precautions (only seeing other people outdoors with masks and distancing), this birthday is filled with so much more hope than the last. Last year we had canceled a trip to the UK, my school had moved to virtual learning, and I was feeling overwhelming anxiety about what was to come. This spring, we’re seeing friends and family get the vaccine, making tentative plans for a safe summer road trip, and hoping we’ll get to hug loved ones soon. The last year has been incredibly hard for everyone both collectively and individually, but I’m enjoying taking this moment to celebrate seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. I hope you’re feeling that hope too.

This week in books.

This week I read…

  • Jane Austen: A Life by Claire Tomalin. I had read pieces of this before but this was the first time I’d read it cover to cover. It’s surprisingly propulsive for a biography, and I love the way Tomalin speculates on what biographical facts might have contributed to Austen’s novels. There are also a few chapters where Tomalin offers more thematic interpretations of Austen’s juvenilia and six major works, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading her thoughts. Amazon | Bookshop

  • The Rose Code by Kate Quinn. I thought I was completely done with WWII historical fiction, but after seeing rave reviews of this one from a wide range of trusted readers, I decided I had to give it a go. It is so good!! The book follows three women code breakers at Bletchley Park and weaves in lots of historical figures like Prince Philip and Alan Turing. I think this one worked for me where other historical fiction hasn’t because of its complicated female characters and direct tone. Quinn is gifted at telling a layered story that packs a punch, without relying on artificial narrative gaps or emotional manipulation. Amazon | Bookshop

Now I’m reading…

  • Infinite Country by Patricia Engel. I put this aside for a couple weeks, but I picked it back up again and now I’m really getting into it. Amazon | Bookshop

  • Craft in the Real World by Matthew Salesses. This book is intended for writers and teachers, but I think it’s also going to help me understand the ways what we consider “good writing” have been shaped by white patriarchal artistic values. Amazon | Bookshop

4 books that explore Asian history and identity.

One year into the pandemic, the U.S. has seen a rise in anti-Asian violence, which has been brought into even sharper relief following the shootings in Atlanta this week. While reading can’t be the only way we engage in these important issues, I wanted to share a few books that have helped fill in the gaps in my own understanding of Asian American history and identity.

  • Disappear, Doppelgänger, Disappear by Matthew Salesses. For an extremely timely and slightly trippy story about how it feels to be invisible in one’s own life. Amazon | Bookshop

  • Inheritors by Asako Serizawa. For a series of interconnected short stories that spans centuries and explores life in post-colonial Asia. Amazon | Bookshop

  • Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu. For the inventive National Book Award winner that explores the history of Chinese immigration and race in America beyond black and white. Amazon | Bookshop

  • Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning by Cathy Park Hong. For a vulnerable and provocative collection of essays that blends memoir, history, and sociology to explore the model minority myth and Asian American experiences. Amazon | Bookshop

Links I love.

A reading list to understand anti-Asian racism in America from Vox’s Constance Grady. And this resource guide for for combating anti-Asian violence and racism.

Looking for your next audiobook listen? This is a great list of new releases. And remember you can use my link or code FICTIONMATTERS to get two audiobooks for the price of one!

The 15 best books about TV comedies.

This historical fiction book wasn’t on my radar before, but after reading NPR’s review I downloaded it from

This reflection on 125 years of New York Times book reviews was fascinating.

End notes.

Watching: We finished The Good Lord Bird and absolutely loved it. We haven’t picked our next new show, but I did start a rewatch of Outlander.

Listening: The Ezra Klein Show episode called “Finally, a Covid Conversation You Can Feel Good About,” is just what it advertises and will help you feel hopeful about the coming months.

Making: So much avocado toast! My current obsession is this combo: sourdough bread, avocado (duh), chopped bacon, cherry tomatoes, everything-but-the-bagel seasoning, and a drizzle of balsamic glaze. I’m going to have to go make myself one now…

Loving: After listening to Laura Tremaine’s skincare and makeup episode with Jamie Golden, I ordered myself a few goodies:

  • NARS Audacious lipstick in Brigitte. It’s the perfect rose color, doesn’t dry out, and LASTS.

  • Paula’s Choice Niacinamide. It’s been about 2 weeks and I already feel like it’s evening my skin tone and texture.

  • Farmacy Green Clean and Whipped Greens. My skin had been breaking out from mask wearing so I decided I needed to stop being lazy and try a double-cleanse at night. It’s made a huge difference for me, and I love how gentle these cleansers are.

Readers, I hope you’re feeling renewed during this first weekend of Spring. For questions, comments, or suggestions, please don’t hesitate to reach out by emailing or responding directly to this newsletter. I love hearing from you!

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Happy reading!


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