Author Archives: roque

My Late Summer and Fall Reading List

August 15, 2021

Culture and Society

Today, I thought it might be a great change of pace to look ahead into what I will be reading soon instead of my usual book recommendation. Before I get into that, I want to share with you the qualities I look for in a prospective book.  

Here are the polka dot points:

  • Genre

For nonfiction, I tend to favor books about productivity, Zen buddhist minimalism, and anything having to do with cultivating creativity. For fiction, I get all Asian-excited if I find something whimsical. I’m always looking for this. (The first book of “The Magicians” comes to mind.) Otherwise, I try to find anything that is well-written and has a thoughtful and engaging story. Because I’m a weirdo, I also look for books that have anything to do with libraries and pianos, and I happen to have found some special ones.

  • A Separate World-View

I always try to seek out authors who are either people of color or who do not originate from America. The books that are considered classics have been generally written by white people (and largely white males). They often have Eurocentric and dare I say colonial sensibilities. Of course, many of them are actually great books, but I’ve read enough of them by now. I seek a broader perspective of the world and a multitude of sensibilities. This satisfies my curiosities much more fully.

  • Whimsy

I’ve mentioned this above, but this is something I always try to sniff out. It is hard to describe what I mean by this, but the best I can say is a book that expands the imagination joyfully.  The Harry Potter books might fall into this category, but they don’t necessarily have to be all that fantastical either.  There is a children’s book I love called “The Garden of Abdul Gasazi.” The illustrations and the story are whimsical but in a subtle, real-world, and mysterious sort of way. (In fact, many children’s books could easily be grouped into this category, but I look for one’s that are intended for adults too.)  

Now that you know what I look for, you have a better idea of where my sensibilities lie. For the rest of August and into September, I have a few books on my to-read list. 

Here they are in no particular order.

Nonfiction:

Breath by James Nestor

A World Without Email by Cal Newport

The Shallows by Nicholas Carr

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl

The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson

Fiction:

Summer Book by Tove Janssen

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

Bullet Train by Kotaro Isaka

The Conference of the Birds (Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children, Book 5) by Ransom Riggs

The Desolations of Devil’s Acre (Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children, Book 6) by Ransom Riggs

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet by David Mitchell

The Wikkeling by Steven Arntson


I am always open to book recommendations from anyone, especially those of you who have become familiar with what gets my Asian goose in a tizzy.

As you can see, I have a lot of reading to do, which is no more or less than usual.  

What books are you tackling for the rest of the year?

—Roqué

My Choice for One Film to Rule Them All

August 8, 2021

Roque Recommends

I was recently asked by a friend to think of one film that I would recommend to everyone. She thought to ask me this since I am a filmmaker, and, as such, I might have a good answer. The question became a wonderful thought experiment and a tall order. By my estimation, my choice would have to be both entertaining and a representation of what I believe a good film is. I came up with a short list of films right off the top of my head, but there is one that I kept going back to over and over again. That particular film had to fly through the following criteria:

  1. Does it have an engaging story and a satisfying ending?

    Yes. It certainly does. From its opening scene and all the way through the end credits, the viewer will certainly be enthralled. This film is imaginative and does not hold back.

  2. In terms of film craft, is it visually and technically well done or even masterful?

    Yes. Virtually all of the elaborate sets were custom built and every sequence (including crazy action sequences) needed to be carefully choreographed in order to work. It took a massive army of a creative team to bring this film to life. I am humbled and in awe of what these filmmakers accomplished.

  3. Does the film still hold up many years after its theatrical release?

    Yes. It is still entertaining and, sadly, as relevant as it was when it was released.

  4. Does the film embody different ideas and layers, as opposed to being shallow and one-dimensional?

    Yes! In addition to being a brilliant satire of real life, it is an action movie, a theatrical musical (with the best songs EVER!), a romantic film, and a hysterical comedy. It takes every Hollywood cliche and turns each one up a notch. It’s basically a satire of everything, and it does not get more ambitious than that.

  5. Does this film appeal to a large cross-section of people?

    I would say it would appeal to any adult anywhere in the world. As a comedy and geopolitical satire of America, this film would have strong international appeal for anyone who looks at America with a critical eye. Anyone within the US could benefit from seeing a satire such as this. For them, this film is a mirror image of what America projects onto the world, for better or worse. It’s also incredibly funny and quite a sight to behold. However, I would strongly caution against young children watching this because of its adult content and language (even though they would be highly entertained by it otherwise.)

Well then, my choice checks all of the boxes. So, without further ado, here is the theatrical trailer for the film I would recommend to everyone:

Team America: World Police

Yes, this film uses puppets. Yes, it looks ridiculous, but you have to watch the whole thing to understand where I am coming from. The musical sequences and the songs (which are not mentioned in the trailer) are brilliant. (AMERICA! F__K YEAH!!!!)

I give mad props to directors Matt Stone and Trey Parker. They took every risk imaginable, and it all paid off.

Honestly, I can’t believe this is my choice, but I keep going to back to it in my head.

If you haven’t seen this film, I highly recommend watching the extended and uncensored version. (It has a lengthy sex scene that will leave you ROFL and LOL’ing for sure, among many other tidbits.)

So, based on the criteria listed above, what is one film that you would recommend to everyone? Leave a comment here or on the Facebook to let me know.

Thanks for reading, and please, grab some popcorn. Gather up a few friends and watch “Team America: World Police.”

You will certainly be entertained, if nothing else.

Roqué’s Sunday Book Review: The Sweetness of Water by Nathan Harris

August 1, 2021

Culture and Society / Reading Books / Roque Recommends

When I read a description of the book The Sweetness of Water by Nathan Harris, I was intrigued by its premise and placed a hold on a digital copy from my library once I found out that one was available. Its story is set at the end of the US Civil War and the beginnings of the Reconstruction era when the north followed through on its pledge to do the work to end slavery in the southern states. To be honest, I find stories from this era to be difficult to read because of how terribly slaves were treated. It is unfathomable that the white people of that time believed so completely in their superiority that they treated other human beings so horribly. This era is one of the most shameful in human history. Nonetheless, I read it anyway because I cannot turn down the power and the sense of possibility of what a good book can give.

This harrowing tale centers around a small white family living on a large swath of inherited land that borders several plantations that are worked by slaves. Two black brothers, who were slaves owned by a local and particularly cruel land baron, left one of these neighboring plantations as freed men. Their lives become intricately intertwined with this small white family, for better or worse. Embedded within all of the ensuing complexity is an illicit romantic affair between two white men and former soldiers who secretly meet deep in the woods to spend time together.

This is a good book. Its steady pacing and complex characters drive its plot to places that are unsettling to experience but necessary. It offers a case study in the ways by which racism can decimate any sense of human decency and compassion and a primer on what it means to care for others in times of immense struggle and sorrow.

Is it a lighthearted, easy, and fun book to read?

No.

But it is a book that has a lot of depth and layers, in which actions and consequences are at odds with what is just and fair. It takes the bonds between parent and child, friend and friend, brother and brother, lover and lover, individual and community, and husband and wife into situations in which they become strained and gutted. Up until the final page, we find out which bonds survive.

This is one of those books I hope everyone gets a chance to read for the important example it gives of how racism breeds nothing but destruction. There are plenty of fun and lighthearted books available to read, but it takes a book like this one to see a much bigger and broader view of the world—a panoramic vista that shows us what we need to see.

—Roqué