The Beat Asia Reads, Staff Picks Edition: What Books Do We Recommend?
May 02, 2023
If there's one joy greater than reading, perhaps it's sharing books with others. Granted, there's much delight in the act of reading alone, ostensibly solipsistic as it may be, but there’s delight, still, in recommending works of literature that have resonated with you to a friend or a stranger and discussing its merits (or lack thereof). It’s a vulnerable and fulfilling way to interface with the world.
We won't ask how many books you've crossed off your to-read list this 2023 or abandoned mid-read. In this month's The Beat Asia Reads, our staffers gathered round to talk about the books they’ve read or are currently reading and why they're worthy of being shared. Check them out!
‘Send Nudes’ by Saba Sams
"Send Nudes" is London-based writer Saba Sams' debut short story collection, which bagged the 2022 Edge Hill Prize. Sams' raw and honest voice will resonate with women readers, as it navigates the intimate territories of friendships, learning one's own body, motherhood, and the experience of growing up that is at once awkward, jarring, tender, and confusing. Here's what our staffer thought of it!
Alisa (Editorial): Sams is able to move between different stages of growing up as a woman, maintaining clear-eyed introspection and an intimate sense of empathy in this series of short contemporary tales, all told with a consistent and convincing voice. The archetypal Sams protagonist is usually self-denying, insecure, and unsure of herself, at times self-destructive – which isn't a typecast that's wildly new to the zeitgeist of femme-centric coming-of-age fiction. Yet the [earnestness] with which she writes (and her expert-eye for ending the piece at just the right moment) was deeply effective on me. Like Meg studying Lara for "flashes of ugliness" in “Snakebite,” Sams' vignettes are emotive through subtleties that speak volumes, giving deep glimpses into complex feelings that are eerily relatable, if only just for a second before looking away forever.
‘A Short History of Nearly Everything’ by Bill Bryson
How much do we really know about the universe that we live in? In this feat, Bill Bryson attempts to trace "nearly everything" that happened in the universe, from its beginning as a single point to the birth of civilization. This non-fiction book is as clarifying as it is humbling, as it (un)intentionally serves as a reminder of just how minuscule we are in this "pale blue dot" when set against the vast universe. Here’s what our staffer thought of it!
CJ (Web Development & Production): “A Short History of Nearly Everything" is a witty and entertaining exploration of the history of science and the universe. With engaging writing and easy-to-understand explanations, Bryson takes readers on a journey from the Big Bang to the modern day, introducing us to fascinating characters and discoveries along the way. Whether you're a science lover or just curious about the world around us, this book is an enjoyable read that will leave you with greater appreciation for our planet and the universe we live in.
‘Lupang Ramos: Isang Kasaysayan’ by Gantala Press and Amihan National Federation of Peasant Women
This slim work published by Filipina feminist publisher Gantala Press and peasant women's organization Amihan brings together the narratives of the women farmers of the Katipunan ng mga Lehitimong Magsasaka at Mamamayan sa Lupang Ramos (KASAMA-LR), who toil the fields of the 372-hectare farm in Dasmariñas, Cavite. The project's aims were to record the written narratives of women farmers, which have gone unpublished for far too long, and to lay bare the women's longstanding struggle for land reform.
Cody (Editorial): The publishing of "Lupang Ramos: Isang Kasaysayan" is an outstanding undertaking all on its own. It answers the glaring scantiness of women’s voices in local publishing – specifically voices of working-class women like farmers, the fisherfolk, and laborers – by working with peasant women to create a space in which they could employ their own agency and share their personal narratives about their generations-long struggle for genuine land reform and democracy. I've long believed that writing was never meant to be practiced by a select few as a separate, atomized, and glorified profession, but a practice that should be accessible to and performed by the all. "Lupang Ramos" has proven the possibility of this, that writing can be, and is, a form of communal resistance. It succeeds as a model of writing as engaged praxis and writing as a democratizing act; it’s a feat that very few locally published works can say they’ve done, if even attempted.
‘Daisy Jones & The Six’ by Taylor Jenkins Reid
This novel centers on Billy Dunne, the lead singer of The Six, and Daisy Jones, whom the band takes on for her soulful voice. Set in the sex, drugs, and rock n' roll era of the 1970s, the book follows the band members as they deal with rising tensions among each other, most especially between Billy and Daisy, and the eventual breakup of the group. The wildly popular novel gave rise to a TV series of the same name on Amazon Prime. Here’s what our staffer thought of it!
Chelle (Design): The book fundamentally redefines love. It shows how messy relationship dynamics can be. It ultimately proves that people love broken, beautiful people. There was a line from the book that got to me: “You have these lines you won’t cross. But then you cross them. And suddenly you possess the very dangerous information that you can break the rule and the world won’t instantly come to an end. You’ve taken a big, black, bold line and you’ve made it a little bit gray. And now every time you cross it again, it just gets grayer and grayer until one day you look around and you think, there was a line here once, I think.” Beautiful and chaotic at the same time, it made me realize that not all lines are meant to be a nuisance. There will always be days [when] you’ll feel the urge to cross the lines you drew for yourself… Indeed, life is a series of chords and lyrics. It is only through experience and moving forward that we learn to appreciate the essence of songs and their messages.
‘Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe’ by Benjamin Alire Saenz
This young adult queer novel is an endearing tale of two loners who find an unlikely friendship in each other despite their differences. A coming-of-age book, it explores, with nuance and lyricism, themes like gender identity and self-discovery, as well as the power and joys of true friendship. Here’s what our staffer thought of it!
Mark (Editorial): As a fan of coming-of-age stories, I found "Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe" to be relatable. It explores the journey to self-discovery and finding your place in the world. The author's writing style is so evocative that I found myself connecting with Ari on a deeply personal level. Besides the romantic plot, I also enjoyed the dynamics of Ari and Dante's friendship and the portrayal of family relationships. It's a must-read for those looking for an authentic depiction of queer narratives.
‘Birds Without Wings’ by Louis de Bernières
This historical romance novel by Louis de Bernières is set in the small village of Eskibahçe during the last years of the Ottoman Empire. It's an ambitious work that follows the transformation of Turkey as caused by the First World War and the tragedies that befell its characters due to the ravages of conflict. Here’s what our staffer thought of it!
Reed (Editorial): I was never familiar with how Turkey and Greece are connected to each other, and to be honest, after five minutes reading the Wikipedia page for “Greece-Turkey relations,” I’m not sure if I’ll have the time to absorb all that information. But “Birds Without Wings” is the kind of history lesson that I can stomach. It uses familiar themes (love in the time of war, mothers being mothers, esoteric cultural traditions) to make the reader pay attention. I’m in no rush to finish this long book because, so far, the chapters suggest something bad will happen to Philothei, the Hellenic figure of the story. And I’m just not ready for that yet.
‘The Mysterious Benedict Society’ by Trenton Lee Stewart
There's much to be gained from reading children's literature as an adult. For many young readers, these children's books were a source of wonder with their fantastical and incredible tales and, for many still, a lesson on empathy and compassion. "The Mysterious Benedict Society" is certain to rekindle that sense of wonder of your inner child as it takes you along in its adventures with the bizarre Mr. Benedict. Here’s what our staffer thought of it!
Arcy (Digital Marketing): Way back in high school, I asked for a different book for an exchange gift, but ‘Mysterious Benedict Society’ instantly became my favorite book series of all time. I'd describe it as totally non-cliche, humorous, oh-so-worthy, and all-in-all, a great read.
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