Note: Early February

February, what a delight. After the never-ending holiday season, followed by the long stretch of January – an intimidating month, one that highlights our inadequacies and demands resolutions – I welcome short and sweet February.
I bid final farewell to the apartment in Berkeley, handing off its keys to the property manager after a two minute walk-through. The original owner was a spectacular chain smoker who cited the apartment’s proximity to Spenger’s Fresh Fish Grotto as one of its winning attributes, a place we understandably failed to dine at over the course of three years. As shiny new apartments sprung up tall around us, in time the largest real estate firm in the area took over our tired building, as is the trend in these shapeshifting neighborhoods. Finally standing bare and empty, the apartment never felt so small. In fact, it seemed to shrink with each visit since we began moving out in early December, as if distance inspires a fresh understanding of dimensions. The apartment indeed felt small while we lived there, its close quarters made obvious whenever a friend visited or a neighbor’s cat slipped in, easily overwhelming the space. But its familiarity bred comfort, and that comfort distracted from the smallness of 500 square feet. I suspect that comfort is what also led us to prolong the move like we did, to flip back between two chapters for just a bit longer. After the walk-through, I left Berkeley quickly only to take the long way home, driving Highway 37 through the southern tips of Sonoma and Napa. It felt like moving on, like settling in. A couple days later, I searched for the apartment’s listing on Craigslist and there it was, the rent almost double what we paid. So it goes.
Of the books I plan to read this month, I eagerly begin with Girl Through Glass by Sari Wilson, a coming-of-age that unfolds within the obsessive world of 1970s New York City ballet. The subject provokes awe, the tone is reverent, and I anticipate the book to be a fixture of this first weekend in February. Then there is All Stories Are Love Stories by Elizabeth Percer, a favorite new author whose first book I adored; I remember lines in An Uncommon Education like, “she passed in a full sail of silence” and “living within shouting distance of each other.” Her second book centers on a group of survivors in San Francisco, the city in ruins after it is struck by two earthquakes within one hour. It is a scenario that feels scarily inevitable, and a reminder that we merely tiptoe around nature, a character of extremes that operates of its own accord. I am also very curious about Blackass by A. Igoni Barrett. February is a short one, but what is fleeting has left a permanent mark before.
Best, Yuri

Note: December

This year’s December invites the mixed emotions that often accompany the end of one chapter and the beginning of the next. After three years in Berkeley, James and I have moved 50 miles north to Sonoma County. Our new home sits quietly on a short stretch of land, a far cry from our tiny Berkeley studio, which a friend once generously called the “quintessential in-your-20s apartment.”
I’m curious to discover a new day-to-day, to begin tracing familiar routes and establishing go-to spots. Of course, what is a 50-mile move? I have made much farther leaps, over land and sea, in the past. But having moved so many times while growing up, I’ve learned that once you have a day-to-day, once you’re immersed in any kind of familiar, it doesn’t really matter how many cities, states or countries you’ve crossed. Where you come from always feels far away. Besides, if our lives are simply made up of the various random items that fill every 24-hour window, then indeed the smallest of changes can result in the entirely new. Through all of the bittersweet emotions wrapped up in moving, logic never fails, and logic says every experience only informs the next, and I’m very eager to see how informative this new one is.
As I reflect on 2015, one of my biggest regrets surfaces when I realize how many books I missed this year. What did 2015 in books look like, feel like? The single perk of a largely unproductive year in reading, that is, the perk of waiting until December to survey the year’s offering in books, is that major honors like the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award have already been bestowed. The winners and finalists are promised to be the very best of all that was published in 2015, albeit in the United States, and I’m putting some faith in that. I’m using this and this as guides for the year’s final to-read list. It’s time to catch up! Better late than never, I hope.
Best, Yuri

Save the Date: Bay Area Book Festival

June 6–7 | Downtown Berkeley | Learn more here.
What serendipity that the inaugural Bay Area Book Festival takes place in my home turf of Berkeley. You would suspect the first of anything to be a humble endeavor, a mere glimpse of bigger things to come, but the organizers seemingly skipped that custom, and all signs indicate an extravaganza. 300 authors will descend upon a 10-block radius of downtown Berkeley, where the streets will be charmingly renamed the likes of Literary Lane and Radical Row. I am particularly excited to spend an evening with Judy Blume (festival prep involves re-reading Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret), to hear Edan Lepucki’s talk on “Futurism, Fatalism and Climate Change,” and of course to meander and discover the yet unknown. The Festival takes place during the first weekend of June, the kick off of those invaluable summers weekends, and is sure to inspire the summer reading list and beyond. Updates to come!

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Spring Cleaning

I’m wearing a black silk skirt, a black wool sweater, and a black cat bag from my elementary school days. My mom undertook a spring cleaning at her home in San Diego, and as a result, my phone received photos of over a dozen bags of all shapes and sizes, all belonging to me. Do you want to keep any of these? There was a bright yellow tote bag featuring a screen print of Andy Warhol’s “Giant Size” (college), three different blue Jansport backpacks (middle school), a floral purse from Nordstrom’s BP section (definitely high school), among many others. The cat bag featured above is the only thing I kept for myself, though my mom held onto a few others in the name of memories. I’m not as vulnerable to nostalgia; I have no qualms getting rid of the old and clearing things out. For instance, whenever I survey my wardrobe, I find fewer excuses to keep any given item, so I regularly drop off garbage bags full of clothes at Goodwill. I have always held onto handwritten notes, letters, and cards, but I don’t receive nearly as many as I used to, so the collection I have thus far stuffed into three shoeboxes hasn’t required any new accommodations.
My sister recently moved from Seattle to Toronto with the goal of owning as few things as possible, so though I was encouraged to take anything and everything, I walked away with just four books: Lonely Planet’s Amsterdam guide, And Then There Were None, The Death and Life of Sylvia Plath, and a newer edition of The Catcher in the Rye. I very much want to visit Amsterdam, And Then There Were done is a perennial favorite and Agatha Christie is my mom’s favorite author, I’m as forever curious about Sylvia Plath as everyone else, and I collect any and all Salinger. Hauling these four books onto the flight from Seattle back to the Bay Area, I was faced with the sheer inconvenience of such a thing, and though I’m an advocate of good ole’ books, I’m also practical enough to know that the transition to e-books is largely inevitable. I’m just not there yet and I’m in no rush to get there.
I haven’t gone through any kind of spring cleaning myself, but I have embraced spring with nightly walks, deli sandwiches, last summer’s sandals, trips to the beach, and bike rides instead of car rides. I have two books on the immediate to-read list, both by Virginia Woolf. All is well.

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Ninth Street

I have too many floral skirts to count, so I’m always more than prepared for spring. Then again, the lines between California’s seasons have blurred, with each season proving to be unusually warm and dry. Most experts agree this isn’t a good thing. Nevertheless, spring in Berkeley means squinting in the sun on the walk to Philz via Ninth Street and drinking a large iced coffee before dinner. The coffee was accompanied by a couple chapters of Persuasion, and I must say, I may have unknowingly saved the best for last. It is heartfelt, sophisticated, and Anne Elliot is by far my favorite Austen heroine. I love that Anne and Captain Wentworth are the couple to watch, yet they hardly interact with each other, and it is the peripheral conversations and events that push the story of their relationship forward. This makes even the most distant, civil remark between them feel electric and full of meaning.
I enjoyed an abbreviated spring break of three days in San Diego, where relaxing and indulging is easy if not natural to do. The weekend included wine tasting, Indian food, strolling through Coronado, gin and tonic at the bars in North Park, fish tacos, and playing with a chihuahua. March was a fast one, though I suppose they all are. I’m aiming for April to be a productive one, which includes figuring out what exactly that means to me. Away we go.

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