[dec 5] here's a challenge.

ash twisted up all the courage inside herself and said, “i was waiting for you.” when the words came out of her they seemed to hang in a cloud of desire, and the texture of them surprised even ash. (lo, ch. xiii)

here’s a week’s challenge:  to read and write and post every day. five days, five posts, it’d be nice if it could be five books, but, ha, that’s funny.

at some point in these five days, we’ll get into why this challenge comes here and now.

“it may not be your dream, stepsister, but do not scoff at those who do dream of it.” (clara, lo, ch. xiii)

last night, i read ash (little brown, 2009) by malinda lo, a YA retelling of the cinderella story, except it’s set in a more fantastic realm where the boundary between the human world and the fairy world is blurred. it’s also different in that the cinderella figure (ash) neither falls in love with a prince nor is rescued by one; she falls in love with the king’s huntress instead and seeks her own freedom to choose and pursue her love.

i am not one who is enthralled by retellings, and i find the cinderella story to be a tired one, one that wastes unnecessary pages in the same set-up of girl losing mother, girl’s father remarrying, girl losing father, stepmother forcing girl to become a servant to pay off her father’s debts.

we know what happens in the cinderella story, and writers know that and yet (or thus) slog through establishing this tired background like it’s essential for the reader to slog through it as well. it’s not like i’ve read a lot of cinderella retellings, but i do wish we’d just get dropped into the story, forget starting from childhood, like how i don’t understand why korean dramas must invest episodes with child actors instead of just starting with the main characters as adults and weaving their backstories into the story.

ash, though — lo luckily doesn’t spend more pages than necessary on the set-up, and she also uses the pages to establish her world and to situate us within it, to make us familiar with the role fairy tales play in ash’s life. the book is well-paced and zips along nicely, integrating its own mythology with the cinderella story, such as with the fairy who takes the role of fairy godmother, except, in ash, he’s male and sinister and not quite so genial.

the novel really hits it stride when ash meets the huntress, kaisa, and ash starts falling in love. lo doesn’t make a big deal of this, though; ash doesn’t worry over her developing feelings for kaisa, except in the ways we wonder if our feelings are reciprocated; and, in lo’s world, there is no agonizing over sexuality or attraction — it is what it is, and it is love.

maybe it goes without saying that it’s refreshing to read a love story like this, to read about two women who fall in love and that’s that. it’s not to say that we don’t need narratives that show the struggle to recognize and accept one’s sexuality and orientation — as long as we live in the world we do, we need to hear those stories, and we need to listen to and recognize and work to heal that pain — but we need narratives like this, too, narratives that show this love to be normal, that postulate a world in which it is simply accepted and allow us the hope to continue working towards making that our reality.

… but what about the two books that are actually photographed in this post?

i read cookbooks like i read books, cover to cover, and i’ve recently been developing a taste for a certain kind of cookbook, one that’s more like a hybrid of cookbook and memoir, that’s there less to be cooked from and more to derive inspiration from. i like cookbooks that challenge us to look at food a different way, to look at food culture a different way, to look at its history and examine its place in the world and explore where else it can go. taking it a step further, in general, this is the food writing i love.

which isn’t surprising because what i’m drawn to in creatives is a unique way of looking at things. i’m interested in the ways that we bring our backgrounds and histories and tastes and preferences to something like a story or food or music and create something that is individual and vibrant and alive. i’m interested in how we each individually negotiate our relationships with our ethnic, gender, sexual identities because we all do so in different ways and that, in turn, shapes what we say through our work.

and i’ve found that those are the discussions about craft i’m interested in and those are the cookbooks i’m drawn to — and all this is to say that this is why i’ve been looking forward to reading corey lee's benu (phaidon, 2015) so much. i mean, lee says it himself:

there are recipes, but this is not a book intended to be cooked from. it is meant to archive and share with you something that our team works so tirelessly to execute every day. food is an ephemeral form of expression, and i want to document some of our hard work.

at its most ambitious level, i hope this book will spur chefs to make new and delicious creations with some of the ingredients that we use. and for diners, to seek out some new food adventures. i hope you enjoy it. (lee, 23)

so there’s an introduction of sorts. i’ve been reading benu slowly (for now; i could go into devouring mode tomorrow), so there’ll be more on benu as i read it over the next few days, and on o chonghui’s river of fire (columbia university press, 2012). i started reading the first story in the collection today, and it is delightfully strange. i’m looking forward to these five days.


i had lunch at danji today. it was good, not great, and a tad overpriced. truthfully, i wanted to like it more than i actually did, and the price was a contributing factor in my impression of the restaurant. to be honest, it's hard for me to find korean food (and tacos) i love in NYC when i grew up in LA, where korean food is excellent in flavor, quality of ingredients, and price. my expectations are unfortunately high indeed.

as she walked, she touched the trees one by one as if she were marking the path, as if her handprints left glowing traces on the bark. she felt a little guilty because she had lied to the huntress, and she wondered if the huntress had known, for ash had not been lost that day. (lo, ch. xi)