Category Archives: Culture and Society

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

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

My Tarot Card Journey and How I Found the Perfect Deck for Me

July 25, 2021

Culture and Society / Roque Recommends / Self-Care

I have had Tarot readings done for me at different times of my life, and I dismissed it as a new age kind of novelty that I should not take all that seriously—categorizing it as something fun to do with a friend and nothing more. I had a deck that a dear mentor gave to me as a gift many years ago that I had tried out a few times, but even then, it did not resonate with me in any deep and substantive way.

Fast forward to 2020, the tumultuous year that will go down in history as the year that a global pandemic put the entire world on lock-down. It was a scary time. People were getting sick and dying everywhere. I was scared for myself and my friends and family. In my adulthood, I do not consider myself to be a formally religious person. I have my own personal beliefs that I keep to myself which gave me some solace, but I started to think about how I can be more grounded in life amid all of this death and fear. I put all of my energy into my filmmaking and creative work, and I did my best to exercise and eat healthier foods. Even so, I found myself needing something more.

Fast forward again to March of 2021, I had lived through a year of pandemic hysteria (and a stressful presidential election) by then. I had this random thought that if I had a tarot reading could it tell me if I would get Covid and die? Does it even work like that? Paranoia was getting to me, and I wanted answers. I started to browse online to read about Tarot cards. I quickly found out that there is so much more about them to explore.

To my surprise, there are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of different kinds of Tarot card decks out in the world. They each embody their own theme and sensibility. I dug deeper to find out that they are all adapted from the original deck called “The Rider-Waite Tarot Deck” that is comprised of 78 cards divided up into major and lesser arcana groupings. I also discovered that I could actually do readings for myself without involving another person.

Along with my research, I asked my friends on Facebook if they had any Tarot card recommendations. I was expecting to get maybe a couple of responses, but I got almost 30 recommendations! I did not know that so many of my friends were into this. I looked up all of the decks that they suggested, and while there were some extremely awesome decks among them, none of them resonated with me.

What I was looking for was a deck that focused on self-care and healing, and nothing had quite hit the mark. I decided to start with my own set of the Rider-Waite deck. I worked with it for a couple of weeks after it arrived in the mail. I started a practice of doing a one-card reading in the mornings, but I found the deck to be a bit clunky and hard to understand. It definitely has an old-world feel to it that was both Eurocentric and almost medieval. Neither of these characteristics connected with a brown Asian boy who grew up on an island in the South Pacific.

Then, I used a deck called “The Wild Unknown” that was fairly popular and featured gorgeous artwork. These days, my life is oriented around nature and the outdoors. I take lots of walks outside. I live out in the woods, and I actively care for a half-mile long driveway. As such, its use of animals and elements found in nature appealed to me. I purchased it and also used it for a couple of weeks. Even then, something about the experience felt lacking. I found myself referencing the Rider-Waite deck that I had along with various Tarot card websites online just to get a better sense of what the cards were suggesting to me. I wondered if there was an easier way, outside of giving it up as a failed experiment.

Finally, I found a deck called “Neo Tarot.” Here was the description that I found for it online:

With a beautifully illustrated 78 strong deck included alongside relatable explanations of the profound symbolism of each card, this modern guidebook and deck is a mixture of revealing insights, practical wisdom and actionable exercises that readers can incorporate into their self-care practice instantly, and watch their self-love flourish.

Along with its rave reviews, the booklet that comes with the set includes descriptions of each card along with suggested activities that are contemplative and explorative in nature. The emphasis on self-care is a big deal for me. So, I decided to try one more time and bought myself a set.

In this case, the third time was an absolute charm! “The Neo Tarot” deck has met all of my needs and gone beyond my expectations. It is written in a tone that is gentle and thoughtful. The artwork features images of people with various skin tones, body sizes, and genders. The entire package is skillfully designed. I absolutely love the artwork. This deck was constructed with an awareness of inclusivity and the importance of self-care and healing.

Both the creator (Jerico Mandybur) and the artist (Daiana Ruiz) hit this out of the ballpark in terms of how its visual design and thematic elements integrate with the written content. One significant complaint about this deck from various reviews is that its booklet is attached to the box that holds the cards. As such, one has to hold the entire box in order to read about each card. This does make using this set feel a little clunky, but I have gotten used to it. It’s also not as easy to pack into a bag when traveling because of the thickness of the whole box. To me, these are minor complaints. The benefits of the deck far outweigh it significantly.

I use this deck every day in the early mornings. I do a one-card reading followed by writing down my thoughts and reflections in a journal that is dedicated to this purpose. What this ritual allows me to do is get me outside of my regular thinking patterns and to contextualize different aspects of self-care and healing into my daily existence. Each card prompts me to explore parts of my life that might need tender mending. As of this post, I’ve been doing this morning practice now for almost four months, and I now have a deeper awareness of what I need to do to protect, nurture, expand my wellbeing.

This may not be the last set of Tarot cards I will ever use, but at this current stage of my life when I am seeking to heal and prioritize my personal health and wellness of my mind, body, and spirit, this set is perfect for me.