There is this brilliant line that has stuck with me since the first time I read Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing— from Act 5.
In the particular scene, Don Pedro tells Benedick, “You have such a February face, so full of frost, of storm and cloudiness?”
Having a face like February when disconcerted is such a wonderful simile (shouldn’t it be used more frequently?). February can, indeed, be a dreary month– full of never-ending frost and cloudiness. No more Christmas cheer; no sense of excitement and intrigue that permeates the air during the New Year. Who knows– perhaps I’m being more pessimistic than usual. If we must look on the bright side, however, February signals that the Spring is near (so is the end of curfews and lockdowns, hopefully).
Either way, January came and went, and I’m only grateful that it has been an uneventful month. My grandparents who tested positive for COVID-19 fully recovered; my cat Venus is feeling much better; we successfully wrapped up the Fall semester at my university, and I’m ready for all the binge-reading that will take place during my winter break. In terms of books, January was an interesting month for me, and I delve deeper into why down below. Initially, I was planning to change it up and post a short video as my January wrap-up–I don’t know what it is exactly (am I still resisting the Instagram reel/ TikTok book review culture, who knows?), but I felt like writing a post–so here is the first wrap-up of 2021!
Books & Reviews & Updates
I started the month with Tina Fey’s Bossypants (2011).
I like Tina Fey–I find her intelligent and hilarious. I thought, why not? In her autobiography, Fey offers insight into her childhood, high school and college years, as well as her SNL experiences. I didn’t think this was a dreadful book, but I simply lost interest in it towards the end. The moment I realized I was reading it just to finish it, I paused and left it unfinished.
If you suffer from perfectionism as a reader, you know how challenging it is to leave a book unfinished. This month has certainly helped me practice the art of letting go when it comes to books I can’t get into.
The second book I picked up was Milan Kundera’s novella The Festival of Insignificance (2013; Trans. by Linda Asher, 2015).
Disclaimer: I enjoy Kundera’s writing; in fact, The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1984) is one of my favorite books. BUT I could not get into this short book, either.
The Festival is a post-postmodern novel that is dark yet humorous– philosophical yet whimsical. The whole novel is an irony in itself; however, it didn’t do anything for me. I deeply believe that one has to be in the right frame of mind to actually enjoy and finish a book. Bossypants and The Festival simply weren’t for me this month; I may get back to reading them sometime later, but let’s face it, probably not.
After tucking these two books away in a freshly created Goodreads shelf entitled “books I courageously didn’t finish,” I had to play it safe a bit and read Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet, which was inspiring and made my soul happy.
During his first trip to Paris, on a mission to write about Auguste Rodin who’d later become his mentor, Rilke received a letter from an aspiring poet and a military school student, Franz Xaver Kappus. Kappus sent some of his writing to Rilke, seeking advice on poetry, writing, and creativity. Rilke had penned ten letters when in 1908 the correspondence slowly petered out. Although Rilke stresses several times that he doesn’t have much to offer, he gives Kappus both practical and spiritual advice on writing throughout his letters. And I was inspired to share some of my favorites in my post here.
Then, I moved on to Sofia Khan Is Not Obliged (2015) by British writer Ayisha Malik, which is promoted as “the Muslim Bridget Jones.” I’m a fan of Bridge, and I’ve been toying with the idea of writing a high-quality chick-lit story about a Turkish woman (not based on myself. Of course, not…). I picked up Sofia Khan to study the art, so to speak, and I liked Malik’s writing.
The novel follows the dating life of a British Muslim young woman who is asked by her boss to write a book about Muslim dating. Sophia is an independent, empowered woman, which is what some chick-lit protagonists lack. I also love that Ayisha Malik deconstructs the preconceived notions about Muslims and Muslim dating. If I’m being honest, though, I just didn’t like the end. I don’t want to spoil the book for anyone who may want to read it, but the way Malik ends the book–this is a pattern in Muslim romance writing, and it is just not for me. I think Malik wrote a sequel to Sofia Khan Is Not Obliged; I’m not very keen on reading it.
In January, I also wrapped up “Become a Better Writer + Write Better” series with some advice from Rilke on writing better (you can click here to read the post). My tribute to Rilke was also published on Hikaayat Magazine, a brilliant online platform dedicated to sharing the expression(s) of Muslim women from around the world. In addition, I launched my second RUOT project, Reading around Asia about which I am profoundly excited. For this project, I created a carefully curated reading list that is contemporary and diverse; the first novel I read as part of my Reading around Asia project, Folklorn (April, 2021) by Korean American Swedish writer Angela Mi Young Hur makes me look forward to reading all the other wonderful books listed. You can read my reflection on Folklorn right here.
January Selected Readings
Every month, I also share some of the intriguing posts, articles, and short stories that I read. Here are some of my favorites this month:
As per tradition, here’s a different photo of my cat Venus…and her lookalike Jake Gyllenhaal.
This is sort of an inside joke I have with one of my friends, but seriously can’t you see the resemblance?
Some responses to the question above from my friends and family:
My friend: “Venus is an attractive cat, he is an attractive man with lots of hair. There’s the resemblance”
My other friend: “Neri, it’s time you put your phone down and never look back” (She is not wrong–I blame the two-day curfews…)
My brother-in-law: “Seriously, I’m still laughing out loud”
My Mom: “Excuse me, how can a human look like a pet?”
(I know, she has no idea. She has no idea that’s the best compliment Jake Gyllenhaal has ever received).
And this brings me to the end of my monthly wrap-up.
I hope everyone is doing well, and the photo of my cat and Gyllenhaal has assured you that you’re not alone if you feel as though you’re about to go mad with all the restrictions and curfews. (There’s a still part of me that thinks he looks like her, but whatever, I give up…)
I sincerely hope that February is off to a wonderful start for you–with no February faces, of course.
Feel free to let me know how you’re doing and/or to post your links to your monthly wrap-ups down below. I’d love to read them.