#16: maybe send me some happy things?

welcome to letter of rec!


let’s just pretend it hasn’t been over half a year since my last newsletter, and jump right back in. :-)

tbh, i’m not sure if i still have the same motivations or desires from this thing from when i first began writing this newsletter (literally the week after graduating college i was already missing The Discourse), but i still spend way too much time on my phone and on the internet (don’t ask me what my screen time is lol) which means i find so many gems!! and i’m happy to share.

for the last half year, i’ve (first unintentionally, then eventually intentionally) been not carrying a laptop around (outside of work and home), which meant less time working on compiling a newsletter. i now really enjoy it as a practice. it’s allowed me to actually invest more time (force myself) to sit and focus on reading and finishing books! i still start more books than i finish but i have been finishing more books than i have in years!! i’ve been on a personal journey to try to get myself to be a regular reader (for pleasure) again, much like my young self, who spent many many hours on my own in libraries all over san francisco. (i had friends too lol but sometimes books were just…easier.)

while everyone has been watching, catching up on, and/or thinking about game of thrones, i’ve been compiling this fun newsletter. if you are new here, welcome! this is my newsletter where i sporadically (sometimes monthly) gather ““content”” i’ve encountered that gets me thinking, learning, unlearning, crying, laughing, and/or wanting to talk to others about— usually in forms of things i’m watching (movies, tv shows, youtube), reading (books, longform articles, newsletters, twitter threads), and listening to (podcasts, usually). so enjoy!!! and please feel free to reach out to chat about any of these things or if you have a rec for me.

~~oh, also i made 2 zines! i’ve made them digitally available on my website. you can read them both in full on my website @ michelle-li.com/zines. san francisco raised me: a zine collecting local stories is an incredibly personal one—it’s on what it means to have been raised in and by san francisco, and honoring those things as we continue to the process and grieve how the san francisco we know and love is gone. it includes a couple interviews with some friends (including my own story). zine #2 is a zine i made with science corner @anjilean (hi anjile!) about our favorite podcasts called podcast and chill, which i very excitedly got to hand to avery trufelman & yell “hey you’re in this!!!!” @ east bay zine fest. it would mean a lot if you checked those out—thank you!


  1. bon appetit videos - WE STAN

  2. us… and then read all the discourse and tell me your thoughts and theories. thank you.

  3. KILLING EVE - yes, still killing eve. it’s back ! (i’m still waiting to watch it bc i love to binge and one episode is not satisfying enough of a binge). season 1 is on hulu, and if you have spotify, you can get hulu for free and then binge the first season :-)

  4. documentary: minding the gap (also on hulu) - “Filmmaker Bing Liu searches for correlations between his skateboarder friends' turbulent upbringings and the complexities of modern-day masculinity.”

  5. SEX EDUCATION! what a beautitful, perfect, little netflix show ft. VERY HOT gillian anderson. i want to rewatch it already.


  1. Commonwealth v. Mohamed (Margaret Redmond Whitehead for the Atavist) (btw the Atavist publishes “one blockbuster longform story each month, with the most elegant writing and innovative design on the web” and seriously, every story is a hit) - this is a great plane read if you offline download on app @pocket which i swear by and use daily

    “What if the quest for justice brings no healing, only more pain?”

    “In our narrative-heavy culture, we are taught to interpret people and places as symbols, to imbue them with meaning. Stories, though, often fail to reflect the world’s complexity and contradictions. Justice, a concept ostensibly rooted in clear-cut truths, is in fact fickle. America can inspire grief and faith in the same stroke. And Abdallah, a man onto whom other people—myself included—have projected their perspectives, is nobody’s best or worst dream of him.”

  2. A tale of two housing crises, rural and urban - How one Indigenous family is navigating two very different housing problems. (Julian Brave Noisecat for High Country News - who also wrote this great piece: The Rhodes scholarship wasn't designed for my people -- that's why I had to win ) the housing convo in the bay area is always just about tech ppl, we’ve also gotta not erase the fact that we’re on indigenous land.

    “This is like a collision of two kinds of forces,” Waukazoo told me. “You got the gentrification, and you got the community.”

    “No American place offers a clearer vantage point on that conflict than Oakland. The city is caught in a boxing match between the invisible hand of Silicon Valley capitalism and the defiant fist of Bay Area radicalism.”

    “Waukazoo is even less visible than his fellow street folk because he is Native American — Lakota and Odawa. He is an urban Indian — a demographic that has no place in the public imagination. Native people are generally relegated to history books or remote reservations, not row houses and apartment complexes. They fight cowboys and pipelines, not landlords and rents. But according to the U.S. Census Bureau, seven out of 10 Native Americans — or 3.7 million people — reside in cities. More than 66,000 urban Indians live in the Bay Area alone.”

  3. ‼️ anne helen peterson’s writing on millennial burnout (buzzfeednews) + her newsletters on substack (interesting takes like this one on everything feeling like multi-level marketing aka pyramid schemes)

    “When I first suggested that yoga teacher training was an MLM, someone rightly responded: “it feels like everything today is an MLM.” That’s what happens when an industry is fully enveloped by capitalism: When a hedge fund buys a yoga company — or when universities are figured as money-making businesses, with actual consultants hired to lead them. You can blame massive constructive initiatives intended to lure students, but the real problem is the one no one wants to talk about: the massive divestment of state funds, aka tax dollars, across the board. Over the last thirty years, our elected officials have decided that higher education isn’t a societal investment. It’s a capitalist business that must sustain itself. It doesn’t matter how much the head of a graduate department wants to increase graduate pay when the budget has been squeezed so tightly and tuition has already exponentially risen to counter it.”

  4. LeBron James Opened a School That Was Considered an Experiment. It’s Showing Promise. (Erica L. Green for NYT) - my default is consuming about 98% sad and negative stuff so this one is special. i’m usually skeptical of public education wins, especially around high-profile founders, but this school has promising components that i’m invested in seeing through

    “Unlike other schools connected to celebrities, I Promise is not a charter school run by a private operator but a public school operated by the district. Its population is 60 percent black, 15 percent English-language learners and 29 percent special education students. Three-quarters of its families meet the low-income threshold to receive help from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.”

  5. Demolishing the California Dream: How San Francisco Planned Its Own Housing Crisis (Hunter Oatman-Stanford for Collectors Weekly) the history of problematic urban planning in San Francisco + further readings

    “For visitors and locals alike, part of San Francisco’s allure is its seeming incongruity: Victorian houses perch on hills near glass skyscrapers, antique cable cars clank up the same streets where new technologies debut. Few realize how profoundly the city’s physical form has been shaped by its planning department, whose best intentions have been overshadowed by efforts to appease the city’s wealthy, well-connected homeowners.”

    “By the time this photo was taken, in 1928, the Sunset or Parkside district was being transformed from sand dunes into a suburban neighborhood of single family homes—for whites only, of course. Via the Western Neighborhoods Project.”

    In 1945 "Those “blighted” parts the plan identified just so happened to be the working-class neighborhoods mostly populated by people of color: the Western Addition, South of Market, Chinatown, the Mission, and the Bayview-Hunter’s Point. According to the planning department’s Centennial Brochure, “The implications were that ‘blight’ stood in the way of progress, that it could spread, and that it needed to be removed before it killed the city. It was a deeply political term firmly rooted in structural racism, which relied on fears of white flight and urban disinvestment to justify the wholesale removal of communities of color.”"

    “The FHA endorsed this process, known today as “redlining,” as a legal way for private lenders to deny home loans—America’s primary way of building financial security—to people of color and other working-class Americans. (Redlining was officially outlawed with the Fair Housing Act of 1968, but the damage was already widespread, and the impact of withholding financial support to entire neighborhoods lasts to this day.)”

    “To make a bad decision worse, the 1978 rezoning was adopted less than a month after California voters had passed Proposition 13, a now-infamous law that fixed property taxes at the 1976 rate with yearly inflation of no more than 2 percent, along with a reassessment whenever a property changed hands at 1 percent of the new sale price. Prop. 13 further incentivized homeowners to remain in their homes as long as possible, to oppose new housing construction so their own property value would increase, and to pass their property tax breaks onto their children rather than sell their homes.”

  6. books!!!!! (you can always check what i’m adding to my goodreads reading list and how i’m doing on my 2019 reading challenge - i love seeing yours too!!) i will highlight some good ones i’ve read and recommend since newsletter #16?

    1. educated

      a difficult but important read, hard to put down.

      Educated is an account of the struggle for self-invention. It is a tale of fierce family loyalty and of the grief that comes with severing the closest of ties. With the acute insight that distinguishes all great writers, Westover has crafted a universal coming-of-age story that gets to the heart of what an education is and what it offers: the perspective to see one's life through new eyes and the will to change it.”

      i feel like a different person after reading it, which i had not anticipated going in.

    2. tell me how it ends: an essay in forty questions

      short yet impactful, about the refugee crisis of mexican/central american unaccompanied minors to the U.S. told through the author’s experience volunteering at nyc immigration courts as a translator for the harrowing stories these children live and tell

    3. the best we could do

      berkeley alum thi bui’s illustrated memoir.

      “This beautifully illustrated and emotional story is an evocative memoir about the search for a better future and a longing for the past. Exploring the anguish of immigration and the lasting effects that displacement has on a child and her family, Bui documents the story of her family’s daring escape after the fall of South Vietnam in the 1970s, and the difficulties they faced building new lives for themselves.”

    4. the collected schizophrenias

      esme weijun wang’s powerful affective essays on mental illness, schizoaffective disorder, navigating higher education, starting a family, what it means to also be high functioning, and more!

    5. lucky boy

      this one has a soft spot in my heart only because it helped me get back into fiction!!!

      set mostly in berkeley, “A gripping tale of adventure and searing reality, Lucky Boy gives voice to two mothers bound together by their love for one lucky boy.”

    6. paper sons: a memoir

      i read this piece from aaww.org Severed Ties: An Interview with Dickson Lam last year and was really drawn to the fact that dickson writes about having grown up in san francisco and these topics: cultural memory, cross-generational trauma, and familial separation.


  1. hey, cool life!

    writer mary h.k. choi’s daily podcast on mental health and creativity. love all the reminders to be gentle to ourselves and that we are not alone in the struggle

  2. all my relations - SERIOUSLY SO GOOD

    each episode invites guests to delve into a different topic facing Native American peoples today, to explore our relationships— relationships to land, to our creatural relatives, and to one another

    i suggest Ep #1: All My Relations & Indigenous Feminism for context, then Ep #4: Can a DNA test make me Native American? + Ep #5: Decolonizing Sex bc i love kim tallbear and her MIND

  3. still processing (newest season) - starting with apology to us

    ok i know i suggest still processing a lot, but this most recent season of 12 episodes from them……wow just please listen. i especially love relations, reality, becoming, and joy.

  4. long distance radio

    paola mardo’s indie narrative pod on filipino diasapora ! it’s super bingeable and i learned a lot—such a treat!

  5. terrible, thanks for asking

    also another podcast i am always recommending but every episode is amazing. nora mcinerny is doing the lord’s work by sharing that tragedy happens because that is life and we are humans who just carry grief with us, but we are also more than that. recent favorites: 63: The Intended Outcome (nonfiction lucky boy lol), 62: The Bride Price, 65: Sad and Lucky, 60: The Treatment.

  6. on being with maria popova

    Maria Popova — Cartographer of Meaning in a Digital Age

    big fan of maria popova’s Brain Pickings which i’ve always loved when i came across it but had a hard time explaining to other what it was and why i enjoyed it, well…it’s just becuase i’m a big nerd and brain pickings is a glorious “inventory of cross-disciplinary interestingness, spanning art, science, design, history, philosophy, and more.”

    !! there are so many gems in this 50 minute episode:

    “I think a lot about this relationship between cynicism and hope. Critical thinking without hope is cynicism. But hope without critical thinking is naïveté. I try to live in this place between the two, to try to build a life there, because finding fault and feeling hopeless about improving our situation produces resignation of which cynicism is a symptom and against which it is the futile self-protection mechanism. But on the other hand, believing blindly that everything will work out just fine also produces a kind of resignation because we have no motive to apply ourselves toward making things better. And I think in order to survive, both as individuals and as a civilization, but especially in order to thrive, we need to bridge critical thinking with hope.”

    “I think that’s very much true of knowledge itself. The reason we’re so increasingly intolerant of long articles and why we skim them, why we skip forward even in a short video that reduces a 300-page book into a three-minute animation — even in that we skip forward — is that we’ve been infected with this kind of pathological impatience that makes us want to have the knowledge but not do the work of claiming it.”

    “The true material of knowledge is meaning. The meaningful is the opposite of the trivial, and the only thing that we should have gleaned by skimming and skipping forward is really trivia. The only way to glean knowledge is contemplation, and the road to that is time. There’s nothing else. It’s just time. There is no shortcut for the conquest of meaning. And ultimately, it is meaning that we seek to give to our lives.”

some other lil bits that didn’t make the cut: (oops, turned out longer than i imagined but i kind of like this format 🤔)

i really enjoyed this manrepeller debate on having it all. aboslutely LOVING on being’s new digital home, the best place to comtemplate what it means to be human. min jin lee praises bell hooks in NYT (same). queen aminatou sow gets real about money and grief with nora mcinerny. really obsessed with and impressed by the Asian American Feminist Collective, nyc-based Asian American feminists in solidarity organizing, politicizing & talking back 😍. my respect for viet thahn nguyen grows DAILY—read his these threads on decolonization. making it a thing to buy books (but not on amazon!) for my friends any opportunity i can—i super recommend this little act + using indiebound.org! the difference between aiming for happiness vs for joy. learning how to get better at doing nothing. i ruined my 5 poc-book-completion streak by reading sally rooney’s conversation with friends bc i could not escape THE HYPE and idk, i finished and was left super disappointed. still thinking about the ghost ship tragedy and what happened after. georgetown students vote to pay reparations!! (first learned about georgetown slaves from 2017 planet money). i just love my favorites collab !! - going through it - new mailchimp show hosted my queen ann friedman (who makes my favorite newsletter among other things) about how hard it can be to know when to keep going and went to quit. Diagnosed with dementia at 65 when she decided she no longer wanted to live. still thinking about this mary h.k. choi interview about love. ...speaking of love, there’s a whole podcast i’ve been loving about it, called committed. come experience 2 of my dear friends read their writing this sat 4/20, @ 826 valencia!!

find me elsewhere on the internet @ these VERY important places in this order:

  1. goodreads.com/michelleebooks

  2. twitter.com/michelle_ebooks

  3. pocket - (does anyone know how to actually share this more easily? send me recs @ michelleli7995@gmail.com in ‘send to friend’ via the app. my username is also michelle_ebooks if that’s helpful?

  4. instagram.com/michellybelly

thank you for getting all the way through this issue. this newsletter is a labor of love, and a pleasure to share <3

new to the newsletter? if you’re a curious person and enjoy learning, you’ll hopefully like these! you can subscribe here at michelleli.substack.com. if you know somone who would like these, forward it over to them :-). check out the archive (issues #1-14 on mailchimp) here. you can find me all over the internet but especially on twitter at @michelle_ebooks.