Former Jesuit Volunteer An Bui recounts some of her favorite reading material from this year and how her love of reading started.
By An Bui
For the love of reading
When I was younger, my dad would take me and my siblings to the library every Monday. We would check out books, CDs, and DVDs. The library was our access point to all print and digital media. Our golden key to reading and staying connected with the knowledge and entertainment of the world.
We couldn’t afford to buy such things for ourselves, because we were low-income and hanging onto every penny we had. As refugee immigrants from Vietnam, my family knew how to best use our resources. And the free public library system was one of our favorites.
Every week, I would come home with a different stack of books ranging from graphic novels to young adult novels. Then every day, I would get my homework done as soon as possible so that I could read. I would stay up so late reading that my dad would ask me to stop so I could sleep. I would only pretend to do so until he went to bed, then I’d turn on the lights to read again.
When the pages stopped turning
When I started college, I kinda stopped reading for myself. The overwhelming amount of texts I had to read for class didn’t make it easy. During my year of service as a Jesuit Volunteer, I was able to reconnect with my love for reading thanks to all the quiet time I had.
After my JV year, I moved back to the Bay Area and reconnected with the public library system. I went back to my old habit of regularly visiting the library and checking out a stack of books. After all, it was in libraries that I fell in love with learning and reading. It is in libraries now that I find sanctuary when life gets too chaotic.
In contrast to my younger days when I loved reading fictional stories of romance, comedy, action, fantasy, and dystopia, now I love reading nonfiction works of poetry, self-help, auto/biography, memoir, letters, and essays. Read on for some of my top picks that I read in 2016, and how they shaped this year for me.
Reading recommendation # 1: milk and honey by rupi kaur
This book healed me and gave me what I needed to recommit to my journey of healing and self-love. So often as women, especially women of color, we are told we are not enough or that we are too much. And every single time, it hurts.
These poems embrace all of us that have been hurt by heartache, sexism, and racism with one big hug and the sweetness of community. It reminds us that we deserve healing. Especially because our stories matter, regardless of how ordinary or extraordinary they are.
It reminds us that our existence is its own resistance. It reminds us that we are indeed resilient, intelligent, and most definitely beautiful just as we were created. The book of poems sheds light that nothing can take this magic away from us. If you are looking for healing, simple truth, and beautiful poetry, look no further because milk and honey is perfect for you.
Reading recommendation # 2: Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
A deep breath in and out before I reflect on this book. All words fall short of describing this intimate letter between a father and his son. As a Vietnamese American and California native, I have never faced the kind of fear and anxiety Black folks face in the United States due to the color of their skin. I never will.
This book opened my eyes more fully to the reality of this fear, anxiety, and oppression present in the everyday life of Black families. It showed me all the stress that falls upon Black parents and children alike. How that pressure can force a child to grow up so fast, and how incredibly unjust it all is.
It grants a deeper and more personal understanding of why we need to proclaim that Black Lives Matter. A child should not miss out on parts of their childhood. Nor should any parent be suffocated by stress simply because of skin color.
There are parts of this book that resonate with my own childhood experience, as a person of color with overprotective immigrant parents. I know the anxieties my family faced and faces cannot compare to that of Black families in the United States. Racism and anti-Blackness are still so real here. In fact, it is toxic how prevalent they are in our world. This book is a must read for anyone committed to the fight for racial justice.
Reading recommendation # 3: Let Your Life Speak by Parker J. Palmer
As strange as it sounds to me now, I spent ⅔ of 2016 in JVC. This means I spent a lot of time discerning about my life’s purpose and talking with God. I picked up this book during our silent retreat because I was feeling lost in the midst of all the social injustices in the world. And I found myself reflecting on what my place was in all of it.
In addition to this, I was also struggling with the relationship between my sexuality and my spirituality. I was trying to figure out what God wanted from me. He made the many different facets of my identities and passions so much more prominent this year.
Let Your Life Speak guided me through this confusion and frustration and offered me space to truly reflect on myself. It granted me a kind of peace and courage to just be myself and follow my heart. After all, God created me as perfect by default.
It was God who planted these desires in my heart for a reason. It encouraged me to simply accept the different voices and feelings inside me. To let go of my struggle against them. When we talk about simple living, we tend to focus on how we can simplify our physical spaces and belongings, but it is just as important to simplify our mental and spiritual spaces as well. This book offers great insight onto how we can take this value of simple living deeper into our lives by simply letting our lives speak as they are and allowing ourselves to listen.
An is a poet and writer currently working as a Resident Minister at the University of San Francisco. She served at Covenant House in Newark, New Jersey (2015-2016). She graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles with a degree in English and Education Studies. An is committed to building bridges and creating space for marginalized communities within dominant culture, particularly for LGBTQ+, women, and folks of color within the Catholic church, print and digital media, and education.