December–Pondering Hong Kong, Germany, India & Ukraine

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December means the holidays–time at my parents’ house, time to repose on the couch, and time to trick myself into taking care of Christmas shopping by bribing myself with a new book (or four). However–December also means the chaos of concluding a semester, the stress of shopping for and wrapping gifts for loved ones, and the runaround of fun holiday engagements. And, of course this year, it’s also been a time for cracking down on wedding decision-making. Even though I expected December to be a tranquil time of reading and relaxing with family, it honestly turned out to be really hard to read anything besides students’ final essays, Amazon reviews for popular gifts, and wedding budget blogs.

I started the month with The Expatriates, a book I’ve been looking forward to reading for quite a while. I was excited for a gripping, literary novel, and while it was a completely unexpected story, I was not disappointed. After struggling to slog through any book in November, I was delighted for such a dynamic and engrossing read. While the plot primarily centered on the plight of motherhood, an experience I’ve only been on the receiving end of, the issues surrounding being a woman in a modern world and trying to make sense of a chapter of life that feels temporary were ones I have been all too familiar with. From college to my two-year stint in Louisiana, I’ve grappled with the conflicting desire for permanence while acknowledging that my current situation was a fleeting one. Now that I’m on the brink of my most permanent decision ever, committing to spend my life with one person, that in-between time of wanting to put roots in but also be looking to take my next leap seems like a lifetime ago. It was nevertheless an important and relatively happy time, and The Expatriates was a moving reminder of those challenges.

Next was Germany with Unbroken, an action-packed piece of shockingly resilient history. As with most nonfiction, this was a bit of a slower read for me. Combined with the added chores of shopping for and wrapping Christmas lists, trying to nail down some initial wedding plans, and grading final essays for my students, it was difficult to find the time to immerse myself in this World War II tale, fascinating as it was. Additionally, I also found the tragic situation of these soldiers often saddled me with nightmares, so reading before bed (one of my favorite nightly rituals) became a little less appealing. I mentioned in a previous post that this wasn’t a typical holiday story, but it certainly made me feel appreciative for all that I have–for the sacrifices others have made so I can live this life–and if that isn’t the Christmas spirit, I’m not sure what it.

Finally, I kicked off Winter Break with The Namesake, a warm and enjoyable read largely about finding oneself via the relationships one sustains–be they romantic or family. As my own relationships evolve as my fiancé and I prepare to be married, I find myself learning new things every day–about myself, as well. I connected with the protagonist Gogol’s highs and lows–with his parents, with his significant others, with his own perception of himself–as he stumbled, succeeded and matured.

Lastly, I finished the year with Everything is Illuminated, a book I knew I’d love and had selected so I could finish 2016 with a wonderful story. Quirky and smart and unique–kind of like 2016 itself. A lot of people complain that 2016 was an awful year, and for some people it really, really was. But I have to say, this weird and long year was pretty wonderful to me. I traveled a lot–to San Diego, to Disneyland, to Europe, to Universal Studios, I started a new job that makes me feel passionate and purposeful, we moved into a new home that is beautiful and closer to our families, and of course we got engaged. Not to mention I’ve kept up with this challenge and blog for a full year (1 year to go!) which is an accomplishment and I’m sure a record I’ll enjoy revisiting in the coming years.

I had hoped to finish the year halfway through this challenge, and I came damn close. And if that’s my only complaint, as I lay in bed nursing a New-Year’s-hangover headache on a rainy afternoon with an enormous cup of coffee, well, then that’s okay with me.

Happy New Year, y’all!

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