Please Vote

If you are planning on voting for not-Trump in this year’s presidential election, you need to register to vote in the upcoming primaries (and they’re coming up fast) to have your say in the sort of president you want to have. A friendly but urgent reminder that several members of our community have graciously volunteered to help you (shoutout to Anusha, Abby, and Tommy) if you are unfamiliar, uncomfortable, or feeling otherwise uncertain about this process. Check your inboxes for a form to help you get started (1/13, from Anusha), and look out for SLAC sessions! I’m also willing to help you out – just let me know. Register for that absentee ballot! Or if you’re from Massachusetts, mark your calendars if you haven’t already. February 12th is the voter registration deadline, and March 3 is Super Tuesday, aka Voting Day. 

I am also here to remind you that it is your Honor Code-bound duty to Do Something. We all signed this document, vowing to uphold it in our time here and beyond. We all agreed to strive to better ourselves and our community and take responsibility for our own behavior. If you have been disappointed, distraught, disillusioned, terrified, paralyzed, gutted, or otherwise by the words and actions of our sitting president; by the non-stop headlines denoting some fresh violation of a nation’s integrity, of a citizen’s pride; by the atrocities committed at our nation’s border; by not only the ignorance of climate change but outright denial of it; by the utter disregard for truth, unabashed shamelessness, and gleeful erasure of culpability — now, NOW is the time to do something

I will remind you that the privilege of democracy relies on its constituent members speaking up; that the power of a collected, concerted effort is greater than that of any individual, and that now is the time to do something.

I will remind you that families are being torn apart. I will remind you that American troops have been sent to Iran following our assassination of one of their military leaders. I will remind you that the sea levels are rising and that Australia is burning, that Puerto Rico is still recovering from Hurricane Maria, that more storms are on the way. I will remind you that we had 417 mass shootings last year. And these are only the headlines. I am begging you to do something. 

I am fully aware that it is too much. This is too much. As I type, I have the Senate Impeachment trial audio in the background, listening as Trump’s defense actively deflects and distracts from the message of previous hearings and testimonies, as they construct an alternative fiction to live in. I, too, would love to live in a world where our president has done no wrong, but given the facts before me, that would be a choice of willful ignorance. I am reminded of the closing lines of Ash Sanders’s essay, Under the Weather : that when the world is ending, our health depends on closing ourselves off to the awareness of this fact. I’ve closed the video. It’s too much. Senate is not going to put a stop to this. I don’t know how else to ask you. Please vote. 

And now, after that thoroughly depressing onslaught of appealing to your moral sensibilities, I am here to remind you that voting in this primary is an act of hope and possibility, not one that stems purely from desperation, and should be treated as such. It is the opportunity to choose a candidate that best represents your beliefs whom you could be proud to vote for. Who represents an idea of an America that you would like to live in? Who stands for the same issues that you stand for? We will never be able to erase the events of the Trump presidency, nor should we. But we can certainly put an end to them. We can learn and change and do something about the things that did not work, that are not working. This is the opportunity to vote for a representative who will be a champion of that vision. 

I am voting for Senator Bernie Sanders in this upcoming primary. 

I believe that he believes in the people of the United States: he stands (and has stood) for the rights and opportunities of those who have been disadvantaged and treated unjustly by our society. The titles of his stances and policies– a welcoming and safe America for all, Medicare for All, College for All– indicate to me that he believes in giving each and every American a shot at their American dream. He does not work just for himself, not just for those who are uninhibited by existing structures, who already have the privilege to do so. He speaks to work for us all.

He is a vocal supporter of the Green New Deal and is the only candidate I have seen that has treated climate change as a serious issue both on the campaign trail and through his votes in the Senate. I believe that Senator Sanders will support legislation brought up through our Congress that empowers the people and aims to reduce the disparities of justice in our country. Senator Sanders has given me every reason to believe this is the case: in 5 decades of public service, of standing in picket lines, in standing up to the most powerful without flinching to represent the people, he has championed a consistent message, even when the message was unpopular. He will stand up for you even when nobody else shows up, as he did in 1991, warning about continuous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. My point is, he is here to support the people because he believes in us.

And of course, ideology is great and all, but these must be carried out into concrete policy. Senator Sanders has:

  •  provided 9 million more Americans with primary health care, 2 million more with dental care, and 860,000 more with mental health services
  • Raised the wages of 350,000 Amazon workers to at least $15 an hour
  • Restored $320 million in pension benefits to 130,000 IBM workers
  • Passed veterans legislation with John McCain providing $5 billion to hire more doctors and nurses at the VA
  • Passed the first and only audit of the Federal Reserve in 2010
  • Passed the National Affordable Housing Trust Fund Act
  • Passed $3.2 billion in Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy grants
  • Prohibited the importation of goods made by forced or indentured child labor

Just to name a few. 

Senator Sanders is electable. Many have stated they like Senator Sanders but are unsure of his electability: meaning they are unsure if other people would be willing to vote for him. These primaries are the time to show that he IS electable; that people ARE willing to vote for him. If there is anything to “win”, we win by playing to win, not by playing not-to-lose. If you believe that Senator Sanders is a strong representative of your beliefs, play to win. 

I’m happy to talk with you more about this decision if you’d like to know more, or if you’d like to tell me I’m an idealistic dum-dum, or anything in between or beyond. But the most important thing to me is that you do not miss your opportunity to have your voice heard in the arena where it will certainly make a difference. Please vote. 

Book Review: Winter Break Edition

Hope you had a great break and start to the new year. Perhaps you’ve set some resolutions to expand your brain, like making a bookshelf bigger because you have more books to put on it. Maybe you just want to make the start of your spring semester even more packed than it already is. Or you fit neither of these descriptions but have a few minutes to kill at the moment.  

In any case, below are a few more books that I added to my mental catalogue over break. I have included a spoiler-free summary of my feelings toward these books, as a treat [insert Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as Maui in Disney’s 2016 Moana here]. 

For your at-a-glance satisfaction, I am using the Goodreads™ rating system:

5 stars: it was amazing

4 stars: really liked it

3 stars: liked it

2 stars: it was okay

1 star: did not like it


written by Alan Moore, illustrated by Dave Gibbons

5 of 5 stars

The classic 1987 graphic novel (of which there exists an excellent – and recent – television show existing in the same universe in the present day. This new story adds a new level – nay, I dare say completes – one of the characters from this graphic novel and adds a necessary dimension to the universe of this original, both of which are commendable, rare feats. Now back to the book). The back cover speaks:

“Watchmen is peerless.” – Mikal Gilmore, Rolling Stone

“A brilliant piece of fiction.” – Richard Gehr, The Village Voice

“The first great humane act in superhero comics.” – Steve Edgell, Escape

“This is the book that changed an industry and challenged its medium. If you’ve never read a graphic novel, then WATCHMEN is the one to start with. And even if you have, it’s time to read it again.” 

I wholeheartedly echo these sentiments. The storytelling and artistic choices of Watchmen are stunning. The way the story is framed (literally and figuratively) is filled with so much care and consideration; I can’t help but think it’s a masterwork. There are so many different modes of storytelling, characters, and tropes, where each element is interesting and unique and then put all together it is greater than the sum of its excellent parts. I can gush endlessly about Watchmen, but for your sake and mine, I’ll end my endorsement of it here. Available in the Olin College Library. 

The Idiot 

by Elif Batuman 

5 of 5 stars

I love everything about this book. I love the way the narrative was set up in sort of vignettes from the protagonist. And I love the protagonist through her thoughts about the ongoings of her lived and emotional life. I love the idea Batuman explores both through the protagonist and through the process of me (the reader) becoming acquainted with the protagonist: about how we can fall in love with people through their written accounts and written correspondence and how at the same time, communication in person can be awkward. Is it the version of ourselves that we can communicate through writing that is more Real and True, or the version of ourselves that communicates to others in person that is more Real and True? Is this a question that is even worth asking, and if it is, does the answer matter? (something something, Plato’s Theory of Forms, something something) What do you do with the love you have for an idea that is not projected perfectly, or even closely, into reality? Is learning what to do with that love part of “growing up”? Is our ability to project ideas perfectly into reality limited by language, the framework we use in order to convey ideas? Or is it simply a matter of finding the right words at the right moment in the right language?

In some ways, I felt that this book was written for me. I am a math student in college that had a recent semester abroad in Hungary who spends a lot of time reading the words of others. Maybe that personal profile resonates particularly well with certain characters in this story. Maybe my meeting with this book was serendipitous: some stars aligned, I happened to have the exact life I have had up until this point and encountered this book at exactly the time that I did and everything just worked. What I’m trying to say is that maybe this book is not for you (maybe I am possessive). Maybe you will read this book and think it is long and the characters are annoying and The Worst and holy-crap-nothing-even-happens-and-no-one-does-anything and don’t-even-get-me-started-on-emotional-immaturity. Maybe you don’t love the protagonist, maybe you don’t love the book. If that ends up being the case, that’s okay. But you know, I don’t think this book was written for me, so I think you might love it, too. (CORNY! BOOOO!)

The Left Hand of Darkness 

by Ursula K. Le Guin 

5 of 5 stars

Bro. Are you kidding me. The hat trick? Ridiculous. At this point, I’m three for three over winter break. Yeah my break was good, thanks. Le Guin’s worldbuilding radiates with her love for her imagined world, created from loving observations of ours. Her love is not uncritical, rather the sort of love that is there despite the flaws, but still treats them as such. A creator’s love, perhaps? It did take me a while to really get into the world she had created, but once I got there, it was a fascinating one to explore. I think it would be both unfair and wrong to map her imagined world directly to ours; however, she does get to the core items. It takes vulnerability, open communication, and mutual trust to get to understanding, and we owe it to one another to acknowledge our differences and work towards that understanding. And it is important that these differences are not necessarily items to be resolved. Can you meaningfully change someone without meaningfully changing yourself, if we are all different sides of the same coin? Or forget duality, if we are all individual differentials on the same continuum? We can all be better for one another; we make each other better by being there for each other despite all of our flaws (our differences), because of our flaws (our shared ground), by acknowledging that not all flaws are necessarily flaws (our changing perception), by believing that we can all be better. 

Phew. Corny. Jeez. THE POINT IS, I highly recommend this book. Also, forget all the “lessons” and “themes”, it’s a well-crafted universe, a joy to explore, an intriguing story and plot. But actually don’t forget the “lessons” and “themes”, because those are important, too.

Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community

by Robert D. Putnam

2 of 5 stars

Since my previous three books were rated so high, it might be kind of jarring to see such a “low” star rating for this one. I will take the opportunity to remind you that 2 of 5 stars is not only my subjective opinion but also that it means I thought the book was okay. So, on a scale of 0 to 100, this would be like a 75, as opposed to a 40. 

This book is meticulously researched, with its central claims painstakingly supported by graphs and findings from a multitude of studies. The discussion of these graphs is well-done and specific: Putnam is careful in making claims, and is also careful to clarify what he is not claiming. All of this is well and good. However, this book was a slog to read through. The careful specificity and individually outlined variables were intentioned to make his claims robust, which they did, but they also made them dreadfully repetitive to read. It didn’t help his case that his claims were ones I already believed and believed easily; he was merely showing me many, many numbers and metrics by which this belief could be backed up (That isn’t to say that believed claims shouldn’t be questioned, nor is it to say that the methods were beyond reproof. All I am saying is that the manner in which it was presented felt repetitive, especially given that I was already following what he was saying). I find that I am most compelled by hard statistics when I have a specific anecdotal narrative to attach them to, a tactic often employed in many recent non-fiction books. The times when Putnam employed that tactic made his book noticeably more readable.

Putnam was most compelling when he offered his analysis through truisms, statements such as:

“There may be nearly as many fans in the political stadium nowadays, but they are not watching an amateur or even semi-pro match. Whether the slick professional game they have become accustomed to watching is worth the increasingly high admission price is another matter.” 


“American nostalgia in the late twentieth century is no run-of-the-mill, rosy-eyed remembrance of things past. It is an attempt to recapture a time when public-spiritedness really did carry more value and when communities really did “work”.”

Putnam’s chapters on television and politics felt especially poignant today, so much so that at times they felt prophetic. These chapters highlight his astute observational and analytical skills, which are not hidden in the rest of the book where they are simply less interesting.

In the 20 years that have passed since this book’s initial publication, we’ve witnessed so much change: earth-shaking events like 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, the internet and personal computer becoming ubiquitous, the election of President Barack Obama, improvements in overall societal attitudes towards marginalized groups, the conversion of national politics and mass media into relentless sources of entertainment, and the commodification of lifestyle, to name a few. Even with no knowledge of these events, this book offers an explanation for why things have trended in the way that they did, and issues a well-intentioned plea to not forget the importance and impact of community. I cannot say that I loved or even liked reading this book, though at the same time I cannot say I did not like the book, nor can I claim that its message and insights are unimportant. It was okay. 

I’ll be reading the following titles sometime in the (hopefully near) future, dependent on the amount of free time I end up having (yes…priorities):

  • Uncanny Valley by Anna Wiener
  • Against Everything by Mark Greif
  • To Save Everything, Click Here by Evgeny Morozov

Even if I forget to reply to you, I enjoy hearing about books you’ve read or your opinions on the aforementioned books. 

I’ll end this review with some (relatively) shorter reads that have really stuck with me. In my opinion, all of them are essential reading. As an aside — the amount of incredible work out there floors me. It is overwhelming in a way; I am incredibly grateful that this is the case. Seriously, each one of these pieces made my world bigger:

  • On Keeping a Notebook by Joan Didion
  • My Instagram by Dayna Tortorici
  • The Art of Dying by Peter Schjeldahl
  • A Common Seagull by Sheila Heti
  • Elizabeth Wurtzel Confronts Her One-Night-Stand of a Life by Elizabeth Wurtzel
  • The Fog of Rudy by Jonathan Mahler
  • Would you please please please please please please please stop talking? by Wyatt Willilams
  • Under the Weather by Ash Sanders
  • What is Monoculture? by Kyle Chayka

Happy reading!

How to Read for Fun

Do you want to read?  Have no idea where to obtain the books you want to read? Have no idea what to read? Never have time to do it? Don’t have any of those problems but want to kill some time?

I gotchu. 

“I have no idea where to find the books I want to read.”

Libraries are perhaps one of the greatest things that exist.

Our school library has a collection of fiction books that I happen to love very much (East of Eden by John Steinbeck, On Beauty by Zadie Smith, Moby Dick by Herman Melville, No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy are just a few of my favorites that are on the shelf). If you’ve read through the entire fiction section of the school library I believe that you will feel a deep sense of inner peace in your heart. DISCLAIMER: I haven’t done this and thus cannot confirm the truth of that but I just…feel it in my bones. Anyhow, feel free to prove me wrong (this would require reading through the entire selection of fiction).

BUT if none of those titles interest you particularly or you’re looking for a specific book that the library doesn’t have, we are within reasonable walking distance of not just one but two (2) free public libraries! The Wellesley Public Library and Needham Public Library are capital F Free to borrow books from, and all it takes is a library card! I cannot endorse getting a library card enough, in part because both libraries are part of the Minuteman Library Network. What’s the benefit of this? Minuteman Library Network has an Overdrive library, which is to say that they have an online catalog from which you can read books ONLINE. IN YOUR BROWSER. DOWNLOADED AS A PDF. SENT TO YOUR E-READER. You don’t even have to return the book; Overdrive will automatically remove your loan after your time is up, so you won’t incur any late fees. But wait! there’s MORE!! The Minuteman Library Network has partnered with several other library networks in the Greater Boston Area/Eastern Massachusetts, so not only do you have access to the MLN Overdrive Library, but like, 10 other network’s libraries as well. This gives you online, free, legal access to basically any book you wish to read (If it’s not there, you can request they obtain it).

“Okay, now I know where to find the books, but I have no idea what to read.”

I have a few recommendations, but I’m only recommending ones that I’ve read or reread within the past 6 months (so you know, we can discuss if you have feelings about them). There are so many others, but I need to start somewhere. Also: I personally really enjoyed these books. If you don’t end up enjoying them there will be no refunds or take backsies, you’re just gonna have to live with it. 

East of Eden by John Steinbeck

Steinbeck is one of my favorite authors, if not my favorite. He makes the land come alive, and his stories always strike something deep within me that makes me feel like more of a Human Being. This is my favorite work of his. 5 of 5 stars.

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

A story of resilience, hope, displacement, family, the land and the people of the United States of America, and how we sustain ourselves and one another, among other things. 5 of 5 stars.

Fleishman is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner

The novel debut of the author, one of my favorite journalists and profile writers. A modern novel (just came out this summer!) about marriage, divorce, love. The writing is sarcastic, observant, critical, and compassionate. Thoroughly enjoyable to read (and maybe more accessible than the books I’ve already mentioned). 4 of 5 stars.

On Beauty by Zadie Smith

I was in China this summer and spent 8 hours in a café reading this book. I skipped lunch. I cried in public like 4 times. I laughed to myself with total disregard for embarrassment. Another modern novel about marriage, divorce, love, family. This book made me appreciate my mom a lot more. Probably my favorite book I’ve read this year. 5 of 5 stars.

Severance by Ling Ma

Another modern novel, but this time not about marriage or divorce. Somewhat sci-fi apocalyptic in premise. A bildungsroman. Yeah, I cried to this one, too. 4 of 5 stars.

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari

A non-fiction book! Had me thinking about SO much stuff I’d never considered before, and if that’s not the mark of a good book, what is? I learned a lot. Structured well and written in a very accessible way. Good/5 stars.

Weapons of Math Destruction by Cathy O’Neil

Another non-fiction book, which was the Olin summer reading book the year before this one. I’m not supposed to give my opinion (lol) but I think it’s got a lot of great content that everyone at Olin should be aware of and have floating in the back of their heads, or in the front. Also Good/5 stars.

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky

I think about this book all the time. A classic for good reason. It’s good, really good. 5 of 5.

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

If you’ve ever wanted to read a like, 5 season TV drama as a book, this book is like that. Entertaining to read, and the embodiment of a dish served cold. 3 of 5 stars.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

I finally got around to reading this one and it wasn’t at all what I expected. If you like flirtatious banter in 1800’s British aristocratic society, this is the book for you. If TCoMC is a drama, this one is a RomCom. 3 of 5 stars.

Additionally, here are books that I am reading or plan on reading Soon™:

  • Spring Snow by Yukio Mishima 
  • Range by David Epstein
  • On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong
  • The Solitude of Prime Numbers by Paolo Giordano
  • Normal People by Sally Rooney

“Okay, yeah alright, that’s all well and good but I don’t even SLEEP these days and you must be delusional to think I have time to slog through a 700+ page book like Moby Dick or Crime and Punishment or literally anything that will take me longer than 15 minutes to finish.”

That’s fair, we’re all busy people. If reading and finishing a book is something you want to accomplish, make it a goal to read 5 pages a day during a meal or on the toilet (maybe don’t do this one with library books). Maybe before you sleep, in which case, you’ll either fall asleep to the book or you’ll read exactly 5 pages or you’ll get engrossed in the book. There’s no losing scenario I can conceive of (but I’d be happy to learn about your losing scenarios).

If reading and finishing a book isn’t something that interests you, but you still enjoy reading, there are some very talented journalists and short-form writers (ok I don’t know if this is the correct terminology but I’m gonna roll with it) out there that put out some thought-provoking, moving, or just plain enjoyable to read articles and/or short-form pieces. These take generally 5-20 minutes to read, and are much easier to consume in one sitting. Here are some pieces I thought were Good for some reason or another and journalists I look forward to reading on a semi-regular basis: 

Taffy Brodesser-Akner wrote Fleishman is in Trouble, and is one of my favorite celebrity profile writers. What’s a celebrity profile? It’s a partially biographical piece written usually after a 2-3 day interview, and when done well, makes me feel like I’ve learned more about myself, as well as about the person in question. Here are two of the ones written by Brodesser-Akner, and another one that isn’t:

I always look forward to what Jia Tolentino writes for The New Yorker (and she has a new book out that I haven’t gotten around to reading yet that’s in the school library!). Here are some of her recent articles that I’ve enjoyed:

Two recent articles in The Economist that I valued reading:

If you got here, dang bro. That’s a lot of reading you just did. Hopefully this was helpful. Send me your book and article recommendations. I’ll send you more if you want them.