A good librarian

Whenever my friends want to chat with me, seeking for perspective or needing a pair of ears to listen, I’d invite them to my studio apartment. People usually expect my apartment to be nicely decorated as that seems to be a pre-requisite for any designer. Mine probably disappoints; it’s austere with no decoration besides some art prints that were poorly hung — you could see the outline of my poster stickies in the corners.

What caught their attention is, in fact, the chaotic bookshelf that carries books from Ishiguro to Rovelli, from decision making to plot writing. When they see my shelf, it’s almost like seeing me at my rawest, since I’d attribute almost everything I know to what I’ve read.

Many ask how can I read so much? I tend to read many books at the same time, without order and without a plan, sometimes with specific inquiries but almost always in fragments of chapters. No phone. No internet.

In terms of how I select books, I have two simple criteria: (1) written by a well-respected writer who has won major awards or has outlasted time; (2) recommended by an individual whom I respect. I am definitely missing out on some hidden gems, but I’m okay with it since I can’t even get close to finishing the books that fit the two criteria.

Recently I found myself starting to qualify as a librarian, or more accurately, a book therapist. I’m cautious about giving advice, but I can almost always point to a certain book on my shelf when my friend has a question. I then ask them to take the book home.

I jokingly told my friend that I should be a book therapist, but then I sat with the idea further and thought that’s actually not a bad idea. From childhood to my angsty teenage years of discovery where I did an undercut to the more relentless pursuit of my career, I’ve always carried books around me, even when another contender has flashed its ankles at me. Music, film, podcast, the visual arts — all thoroughly enjoyable, but however powerful, beautiful, and thought-provoking they might be, they just aren’t really up to the task of elucidating the whole world to me — both the stuff outside and more enticingly, the stuff inside. I start to wonder perhaps one of my vocations in the world is being a good librarian, a janitor of words. Instead of making it an indulgent hobby of a dilettante, I hope I can serve others with this ability.

As mystical as I’ve made reading sound, books can truly open new windows and re-enchant the world around you. It’s an asymmetrical investment where the downside is close to zero (a couple cups of coffee), and the upside is almost infinite if you happen to encounter a life-changing book; chances are you will and for multiple times.

With all of that being said, I’m going to do a book review every Sunday instead of the newsletter, since apparently sending the newsletter on Sundays increases the likelihood of being marked as a spam. I will move those newsletters to Monday.

I will also ship a book to a reader once in a while. If you’re interested in doing a book exchange, please drop a line here.