Personal Escapes From Daily Anxiety, Political Strife and Childhood Trauma

Essays, Reflections, and Illustrations
By Jonny Sun
256 pp. Harper Perennial. $19.99.

Sun’s collection is an almost too-perfect companion to the present anxiety, exhaustion and loneliness wrought by the pandemic. He wrote it while he was supposed to be taking a self-imposed break from his overscheduled life of “productiveness” — as a doctoral candidate, graphic novelist (a.k.a. jomny sun, of “Everyone’s a Aliebn When Ur a Aliebn Too”), screenwriter (on “BoJack Horseman”) and illustrator (of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Gmorning, Gnight!”).

Through essays and minimalist drawings that resemble wood cutouts, Sun begins to re-evaluate his relationship to the world, and “this constant voice in my head telling me that my own rest and recovery and catharsis were not valuable to anybody,” including himself. Amid our fast-paced and distracted culture, it is oddly calming to read these obsessive, but also quiet and tender, dispatches from a mind overwhelmed by guilt and worry: over how often to water plants or call friends, how to properly scramble eggs or talk at parties, how not to be so alone.

Sun meditates often on time and mortality — making a playlist for his funeral, planting succulents that signify rebirth. In “Go Slow,” he recalls the restaurants his parents love that all “have waiting built into them.” They linger for hours, Sun imploring, “Mom, let’s go,” but when they finally leave, the restaurant gathers, like a family, to say, “man zou, man zou!,” Mandarin for “go slow,” but also “take care.” Sun has written this book to find a way out of the restless panic, for all of us: Slow down, because “the leaving is more joyous when you have become too full of the place where you are.”

Notes From a Life in Motion
By Aminatta Forna
272 pp. Grove. $26.

In her title essay, Forna reminisces about the “marvel that is flying.” As part of an elite, educated generation of children in post-colonial Sierra Leone, sent to boarding school in Britain, Forna frequently traveled alone as an unaccompanied minor, and recounts how “flying and fleeing often amounted to the same thing.” Being in the air — “that fifth dimension,” gazing over the Sahara or the Alps, suspended above the realm of human violence — shaped her early sense of herself, her fearless trust in her immortality.

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