Molly Bang: Picture This

Through the arrangement of simple shapes, Bang brilliantly explains our emotional response to the visual abstraction. The principles she had uncovered and shared are a required read for anyone who wants to get into graphic design. The revised and expanded 25th anniversary edition makes a special gift for new design students.

Việt Thanh Nguyễn: The Sympathizer

A thrilling, entertaining, and exploiting picaresque narrated by a communist spy who is a Mỹ Lai (son of a Vietnamese mother and a Western priest). Although Nguyễn had left Vietnam when he was four, he masterfully captured many scenes that are relatable to Vietnamese Americans. As someone who rarely reads novel, I managed to get through the book because of Nguyễn’s playful, virtuous writing. My paperback copy is now filled with Post-It flags. Here’s a taste on cleavage:

While I was critical of many things when it came to so-called Western civilization, cleavage is not one of them. The Chinese might have invented gunpowder and the noodle, but the West had invented cleavage, with profound if under appreciated implications. A man gazing on semi-exposed breasts was not only engaging in simple lasciviousness, he was also meditating, even if unawares, on the visual embodiment of the verb “to cleave,” which meant both to cut apart and to put together. A woman’s cleavage perfectly illustrated this double and contradictory meaning, the breasts two separate entities with one identity. The double meaning was also present in how cleavage separated a woman from a man and yet drew him to her with irresistible force of sliding down a slippery slope. Men had no equivalent, except, perhaps, for the only kind of male cleavage most women truly cared for, the opening and closing of a well-stuffed billfold.

Việt Thanh Nguyễn: The Refugees

Somehow I had mistaken Việt Thanh Nguyễn’s The Refugees as a collection of non-fiction short stories. After reading the first piece, which is about ghosts, I quickly realized that this is a work of fiction. Nevertheless, I went on to finish the whole book. Nguyễn’s narrative writing is understated yet emotional. From a young gay refugee to a Vietnamese professor who suffered dementia to a half sister who used an alternative career, the short stories are beautifully crafted and imagined. My only pet peeve is that Nguyễn omitted accents for Vietnamese words. For a Vietnamese author, not using diacritics is inexcusable.

Tony Seddon: Essential Type

A well-designed, comprehensive typographic reference explaining and illustrating type anatomy, glyphs, terms, classification, and select typefaces. Seddon’s book design and illustrations are simply beautiful. There is a error on page 144, in which type featured is Carpenter, but the text is describing Akzidenz-Grotesk.

Sarah Hyndman: Why Fonts Matter

An enlightening look at the personality of types. Through friendly writing an engaging examples, Hyndman invites readers to feel or even taste the typefaces. Why Fonts Matter is a fun read for non-type nerds.

Paul Kalanithi: When Breath Becomes Air

A heartbreaking memoir of a young neurosurgeon who faced his own terminal illness. Even in his final days on earth, Dr. Kalanithi managed to leave us with his courageous, compassionate words on dealing with death. In her epilogue, his wife writes: “Paul’s decision to look death right in the eye was a testament not just who he was in the final hours of his life but who he had always been. For much of his life, Paul wondered about death—and whether he could face it with integrity. In the end, the answer was yes.” Lung cancer claimed his body but never his spirit. It’s a painful yet beautiful read.

Jeffrey Strausser: Painless Writing

A refreshing reminder to clear and engaging writing. Strausser’s practical advices, approachable examples, and useful exercises make it easy to improve your writing skills. I wish I had read this book in middle school.

Alex White: Listening to Type

Similar to White’s Thinking in Type, his latest Listening to Type is an excellent guide for improving typography. His writing is clear and his examples are comprehensive. Unfortunately, the design of this book, like his previous one, is way too busy. It feels like I am reading a webpage with lots of ads surrounding it. With layouts like these, I am not sure if I should stop reading the main content to look at the examples or I should just focus on the content and go back to the examples afterward. I wish the design was simpler.