march 8 is international women’s day, though, as far as i’m concerned, every day is women’s day. usually, i’d post a stupidly tall stack of books by writers who are women of color, but, this year, i thought i’d maybe try something different, try to be a little more intentional about this and talk about seven books by asian women i recommend — and why.
maybe the thing really is that i miss talking about books. hell, i miss reading.
(i know; this post is 12 days late.)
t kira madden, long live the tribe of fatherless girls
i’m currently reading this, and i. love. it. so. much. madden’s writing is so beautiful and thoughtful and haunting, and i’m not very far into this because i’ve been so busy, i haven’t had much time to read, and also because i want to savor this, don’t want to rush through it, but i already know it’ll be a favorite from this year.
these cookies, though … i am not a cookie baker. i do not bake cookies. i swore off baking cookies six years ago after i went through my spate of obsessively researching cookie-baking and trying so many stupid recipes in an attempt to get my perfect crispy-on-the-outside, chewy-on-the-inside chocolate chip cookie. all my cookies invariably turned out like cookie pucks, rising too much and resulting every time in a cookie that had slight taste variation but zero difference in texture, whether i had more butter or a higher brown sugar ratio or longer refrigeration time — whatever the recipe, i still always got the same puck-like cookies, and, so, i swore vehemently never to bake another goddamn chocolate chip cookie again.
until a few weeks ago, apparently, because i became curious again — and because i want to try to bake with alternative flours for some reason. (the reason is my health.) i will not, however, be baking cookies with alternative flours; i’m already annoyed that i can’t get that perfect chewy, crispy texture with regular flour (aka gluten); and i know it’s going to be impossible without gluten.
t kira madden is not only a wonderful writer; she is also a delightful human being; and i want to be friends.
she and her partner are so cute together.
there is no period in her name.
angie kim, miracle creek
(FSG sent me this ARC months ago, before they changed the title to miracle creek, so my ARC title is not the publication title.)
i read miracle creek a month ago, and maybe this is lazy, but here’s what i wrote on instagram in my review:
the novel follows a trial after a tragic accident, and, ultimately, if i were to sum it up briefly, i’d say that miracle creek is a story of good people who make not-so-wise decisions that end up having some dire consequences. it’s a story about mothers who make difficult decisions for their children every day, about motherhood and the desire for it, about mothers with disabled or non-neurotypical children and the unique hardships and emotions that only they can truly know. it’s a story about the wisdom of withholding judgment; it is impossible to know a human’s story or motivations or fears or trauma or pain. it’s a story about human meanness, the necessity for human kindness, the lengths to which a little empathy (or lack thereof) can impact someone’s life. it’s about love, tough love, forgiving love. it’s about a whole lot of things, and the writing is smart and introspective and cinematic (this would make a fantastic mini-series), and i highly, highly recommend you add this heart-squeezing, thoughtful novel to your reading lists this spring.
i wonder who gave FSG the memo that they really, really, really needed to start diversifying their list, but whoever did, i’m glad. FSG is the publisher i apparently have read the most from — i have enough books by FSG to fill almost two whole shelves, not counting the books that are published in paperback form by picador. that goes to say that i have always loved FSG’s taste in writing, though my interest had waned in recent years given the blinding whiteness of their list … until the last year rolled around, and, suddenly, there was eugene lim’s dear cyborgs and ling ma’s severance and now angie kim’s forthcoming miracle creek and chia-chia lin’s forthcoming the unpassing, and the really fun, cool thing about that is that i’m fairly sure there are a few titles i’m forgetting.
in the grand scheme of lists, it’s still a small percentage of asian american writing.
in the grand scheme of publishing, it’s not an insignificant change, and i absolutely love it.
miracle creek is a smart, deftly written book. it jumps from character to character, while moving the story along in time, but it’s not a tiresomely ambitious book. in the hands of another writer with a more headstrong writerly ego, miracle creek could easily have gone the way of a tiresomely ambitious book, but, in angie kim’s hands, it is a novel that just wants to tell a nuanced story about the complexity of human love.
because human love is deeply complex. it is twisted up in contradictions, and, while it doesn’t have its limits, human love does get tired. it makes mistakes; it often makes those mistakes because it runs so deep, it can get reckless. human love also has the ability to trap us in a narrow place, creating a bubble around us and our love because that is the only way we can protect our love. it closes us off to greater possibilities, greater potential, greater hope.
and, yet, still, human love is a wonderful and powerful thing. it is the reason we are able to make sacrifices for the people we love. it is the thing that allows us to empathize with and understand other people. human love helps us keep each other accountable in the hopes that we will emerge as better people, and, even now, two months after i finished miracle creek, i’m still stunned at how incredibly and deeply angie kim depicts all this.
eugenia kim, the kinship of secrets
i have not read this yet, but i am sticking it in here because i have actually never seen this around since it was published in november and i am super excited to read it. the kinship of secrets is about two sisters who are raised in two different countries — their parents decide to immigrate to the US, but, at the time, they can only take one daughter with them, choosing to leave the other with her grandparents in seoul. as life goes, though, especially when there’s a major war (aka the korean war) involved, they’re unable to send for her in the timeframe they anticipate, so the two sisters grow up on opposite sides of the world.
i’ve recently been craving some rich, vivid korean historical fiction set during the japanese occupation. i would be very surprised if there weren’t any such novels that have been published in korea, but, as far as i know, none has made it into english translation.
one day, i’ll get back to seoul and spend a week or so leisurely browsing bookstores, checking out the food scene, and trying all kinds of skincare. i’m so curious about what’s getting published and which products are being used in korea because everything we get stateside (or that we even hear about stateside) has gone through numerous gatekeepers who filter what’s actually being talked about on the ground in seoul.
i’d love to get past those gatekeepers and experience things for myself.
han kang, the white book
i also haven’t read this yet, but it’s my online book club’s pick for march, and i am excited to read it. i do wish i was reading it in its original korean instead, though, so i did go out and ordered 흰, which means i might dump this translation and just do the slow, laborious process that is me reading in korean.
i admit that i have a fair amount of reservations when it comes to deborah smith’s translations, to the point that i haven’t been able to read much of anything she’s translated recently. i’ve been trying to read bae suah’s recitation since it was published, but i keep wondering how accurate the translation is, how much we can even reasonably expect as far as “accuracy” goes in translation, and what that even means. is accuracy in translation simply getting all the words right? is it about taking liberties with words and structure to capture the quirks in a writer’s voice and tone? or does translation also entail taking more liberties in order to make things more “understandable” or “accessible” to a foreign reader who will likely not be familiar with the cultural and social context of the novel being translated?
i admit that i am also wary of a translator who is so new to a language and culture, and i’m also wary of the kind of inflated confidence that leads someone to think that she’s capable of adequately translating complex novels after six years of exposure to a language and culture. unlike others who may be impressed by the short amount of time deborah smith spent learning korean before diving into translating, i’m actually made wary by that fact. maybe it’s the korean in me being protective. maybe it’s the writer and reader and translator in me who knows how difficult it is even for me, a korean-american whose first language was korean, who is intimately familiar with korean culture, to translate something and minimize the amount of things that are inevitably lost in translation. i don’t know. whatever it is, i am wary and cautious.
glossier’s milky jelly cleanser is still my number one go-to cleanser. i was honestly planning on bringing more skincare talk into this post, but, heh, that’s not happening.
nagata kabi, my lesbian experience with loneliness
i find this title to be louder and more sensational than it needs to be; this manga is a pretty damn universal story of loneliness, depression, insecurities, and fears — but, by this point, all i keep focusing on is how this blog post feels so choppy that it’s irritating me. i’ve fallen out of the habit of blogging (if you haven’t noticed yet), and, last year, it was because of a bad depressive episode then because of my puppy then because i was working on a memoir-of-sorts-in-essays, but, this year, it’s my day job. i’ve been blaming a lot on my day job, but it really has been a black hole of energy — and positivity. despite what the depression and anxiety might have you think, i am, in general, a positive person.
i hate whining and complaining, and i hate that kind of behavior all the more in myself. i’ve found myself doing a lot of it these last few months, and i’ve been trying to stop, to complain less, to focus on the positive side of things — i like my job itself, love that i’m back in new york, am super stupid grateful to be on my own with my own place.
and the thing about complaining about shit is that i’m always reminded that there are people who have worse jobs than i do — and maybe you’re thinking, well, tell me more about this manga, not about your stupid life! — except, i don’t know, that’s kind of it — this manga isn’t just for lesbians or for lesbians with depression — it’s for anyone who has ever felt lonely, scared, anxious, and depressed.
jang eun-jin, no one writes back
when people ask what they should read in korean literature-in-translation, jang eun-jin’s no one writes back is the one i recommend. someone asked me recently, why?, and i think i said something about how i think no one writes back reads as very korean without being too weird, too foreign, too distant. there’s nothing “exotic” about the novel — it’s about a young man who’s drifting around korea with his dog, befriending strangers and writing them letters. something has sent him away from home, but we’re not quite sure what, not until later.
there’s a quietness and somberness to no one writes back that i find very korean, but that’s honestly all i could tell you. there’s something in the tone, in the melancholy, that just feels very korean to me, and i know i keep saying — it’s “very korean” — but i’m not explaining it. i’m not trying to be mysterious or anything, though; i genuinely do not know how i should explain what i mean by that, just that that is my lasting impression of this novel, which i read a few years ago and still about time and time again.
no one writes back was kind of my gateway into korean literature-in-translation, which is true and isn’t because i’d definitely read other korean books (in translation) before. it is, however, the novel that kicked off a flurry of dedicated reading of korean literature, and it’s also the novel that introduced me to the tremendous work being done by the dalkey archive press that has this library of korean literature that has many, many books across a pretty wide range of authors. it is fantastic, and i am truly grateful for what the press has been doing.
susan choi, trust exercise
susan choi is one of my favorite writers; she’s so smart and insightful; and i finished trust exercise almost a month ago but have not yet reviewed it because i’m still processing — i’m still mulling it over.
i didn’t come out of trust exercise bouncing off the walls and wanting to shout about it from the rooftops. i came out of it thinking that it wasn’t necessarily a book for everyone, but i couldn’t explain what i meant by that. i don’t know that everyone will love trust exercise, though that kind of feels like a dumb thing to say because not everyone should love every book, anyway — books that are “universally” loved always seem suspect to me, like what i this conspiracy that has led people to band around any particular book and overlook its flaws and quirks and particularities? maybe that’s why i tend to be more open about my “negative” opinions; i want to put some kind of “balance” out there.
anyway, i didn’t come out of trust exercise wanting to run up to everyone and say, read this read this read this! i did, however, come out of the novel with a lot to chew on — susan choi raises a hell of a lot of interesting questions about narrative, memory, the ways we revise our narratives. she follows a group of theatre kids from a precious arts high school in southern america, and she takes us through three parts, though that’s all i honestly want to say about form. the less you know about this book going in, the better, i think. the more interesting it is when you can’t anticipate even the basic shape of what will happen.
so maybe that’s where i’ll leave this? because the book is not published yet, and i don’t want to go on and on about it because maybe i do think this is a book people should read. it makes you ask yourself about how you revise your narrative, how you revise who you are as the character in your life’s narrative, how you choose to remember things.
and maybe those are all things worth asking ourselves every so often.