i have to say my last post was kind of a mess; i shouldn’t really try to write things when my writing brain is still recuperating; but i had photos i wanted to share, though i suppose i could have just shared the photos, forget about attaching so many words … but, anyway, on to the next thing.
sometimes, i like to spend chill, uneventful weekends at home, doing little else but running the most basic errands (usually just to the grocery store) and reading and doing little else. sometimes, i’ll meet friends for dinner; sometimes, i’ll clear my schedule so i can rest for the upcoming week; and i don’t know, i suppose the funny thing is that my idea of resting is to clean, cook, and clean some more.
you can’t cook without cleaning. it just doesn’t work that way.
anyway, so maybe i should stop saying “anyway” so often, but, anyway, i read multiple books at one time, hopping from title to title until something captivates my full attention and demands that i commit. now that i’m done with my book (for now), that means i have the time and energy to read again, and it’s been such a pleasure, diving back into the world of words i didn’t write, stories that aren’t mine to tell, to be reminded again of the vitality of stories and voices and narratives, especially given the state of our world today.
right now, my three main books are kamila shamsie’s home fire (riverhead, 2017), which was recently long-listed for the man booker, paul graham’s in memory of bread (clarkson potter, 2017), and eun heekyung’s beauty looks down on me (dalkey archive press, 2017). i’m about halfway through the shamsie and the graham and just barely started the eun. none of this stops me from having an opinion about everything.
i suppose, first things first — this is not my house. i’m temporarily staying at my parents’, and this is their house, the house i grew up in. it gets great light and is spacious, and it’s got counter space galore, which is great for making pasta, working with dough, cooking in general, hanging out, eating while doing some writing, reading, creating. when i think of home spaces, when i think of whatever future home i will make, i think of kitchens because, to me, the kitchen is the heart of the home, the center that holds it together.
(when i think of home, i think of you. i think of the meals we’ll make together, the messes we’ll create and clean, the life we’ll build from this core.)
i keep hearing that home fire is a retelling of antigone, and here is where i confess that, yes, i did read antigone — over ten years ago — and i’ve a bare bones remembrance of that story. here is also where i confess that i didn’t bother to google antigone; i don’t really care for retellings or “inspired by”s or “loosely based on”s or whatever; and maybe that’s a weakness in myself as a critical reader — shouldn’t i be interested in the source of things, the inspirations, the places things come from?
i don’t particularly care for greek tragedy, though, and never have, and i like walking into a book without external influence. it’s why i very rarely read reviews before reading the book (and, also, very rarely read reviews after reading the book), and it’s why i stay away from books that are newly published to absurd levels of hype. it’s also why i tend to stay away from the books that circulate heavily through instagram and media at-large.
going back to home fire, though — i’m about halfway through now and have hit the third part, the third character. the book is divided into five parts, each focused on a different character, and the novel, overall, tells the story of a family, of three orphaned siblings really, the children of a jihadi. the eldest is studying in northampton; the younger daughter is in london studying law; and the son has run off to join isis. it’s a book that has a lot to say about who we are, and it’s a book that might have fallen into the trappings of pedantic moralizing in another writer’s hands. (i feel the same about moshin hamid’s exit west, also riverhead, also long-listed for the man booker.)
rather than dive into content, though, i’m going to end this with a note on form: i’m always wary of walking into a book that focuses on multiple characters because, oftentimes, the book falls prey to ambition, the voices all sounding the same. shamsie, however, avoids this trap by staying in the third-person, simply honing in very tightly on each character. i’m tempted to say that i love this kind of narrow perspective, but i’m tempted to say that about any narrative form that’s done well. it’s the execution that matters after all.
but this is connected to what i mean when i say that it’s a book that could have been something else in another writer’s hands. instead, shamsie has thus far delivered a very human book, one that is unflinching in examining and presenting its characters as who they are, that is uninterested in casting one-dimensional judgments about one kind of person being morally better or superior to another. at the same time, home fire is also not interested in making excuses for people’s heinous actions or questionable behavior and thinking; shamsie doesn’t shy away from being critical, from drawing lines where they ought to exist, while still asking us, the reader, to be self-critical of our own assumptions and the narratives we force and enforce on people who might, on the surface, be Other from us.
in the mornings, i keep my skincare simple, though some may argue that applying five products to my face isn’t simple at all. i don’t wash my face in the morning, not with cleanser, because i don’t want to over-cleanse my face, so i just rinse with water in the shower and have that be that because, yes, i shower every morning, and, yes, i wash my hair everyday — if i don’t, my hair becomes a greaseball, and i have neither the patience nor the desire to “train” my hair to require a wash only every 2-3 days.
also, hi, i love eggs.
i picked up graham’s in memory of bread at elliott bay book company in seattle, and i picked it up because i loved that cover. (isn’t it beautiful and clever?!) i wasn’t planning on buying a book at all, but that sounds like a stupid statement to make because why would i walk into a bookstore in the first place if not to browse, hopefully find something that catches my interest and calls out to me, read me, read me, read me, i KNOW YOU WANT TO.
and, why, yes, i did want to read in memory of bread. i felt like i’d relate quite a bit, though it isn’t celiac that i have.
in his late-thirties, graham is diagnosed with celiac disease, and, after becoming deathly ill and being misdiagnosed several times, he has to make drastic changes to his life. to put it simply, he can no longer eat gluten, and it sounds like a deceptively simple thing — just don’t eat gluten, and you’ll be fine — much like living with diabetes sounds deceptively simple — just don’t eat sugar, and you’ll be fine.
the problem (also condensed down) is that gluten is in everything, much like sugar is often in everything, and, beyond that, graham has an emotional connection to food. to him, bread is not just bread; it’s ritual, familiarity, history; and a meal — the prospect of meals — is more than simply physical sustenance.
it’s all that emotional complexity to which i relate so heavily, and i’m marking up passages in this memoir while nodding along vigorously because, god, it’s nice just to know that someone gets it. food is not just food; it’s how we make connections with other people, other cultures; it’s one very visceral, very intimate way we learn about the world — and, for someone like me, someone like graham, that initial sense of loss is a terrible, terrifying thing.
part of me thinks this is a dangerous thing, writing about books before completing them. i mean, i might end up not finishing them at all; i might read further on and realize that this book is starting to fall apart, it isn’t worth my time; or i might finish them and think that i actually disliked them intensely.
and yet i don’t think that would invalidate the thoughts i’ve recorded here, how i’ve felt about them thus far.
i mean, if it hasn’t become clear yet, i’m interested in the process of things, whatever they are, even if it’s reading a book, not simply the end result or thought.
i never used to be the type of person who did much work or reading or anything other than sleep in bed. this has changed in recent months, usually as my day job wipes me out so i like to catch up on stuff in bed before i turn in for the night. i still need a desk, though, and i do most of my work at my desk, currently this blue one from ikea i’ve had since college. it’s my favorite still, and i love it, and i hope one day to take it to brooklyn with me, whenever i make my way back home.
now that the book is done (for now), there’s an essay i’m trying to finish, an essay i started writing late last year, one that’s gone through several iterations before settling into the shape and form it’s in now. it’s an essay that was born out of a desire to write about depression and longing, about love and desire, about the lingering, hateful will to survive, and, as always, i’m surprised by the ways any writing project grows, how it begins as a seed and goes through life cycles, how it attempts to flower, fails, lies fallow.
maybe that’s the fun of it, the malleability of projects, and i love this about creating content in general, whether it’s an instagram post, a blog post here, a long-term writing project i’ll spend hundreds, thousands, of hours on and try to publish. i don’t think one is lesser or greater than the other; it’s all work; it’s all something to create and to create well because work is work is work and i have to believe that all of this means something.
the great accomplishment of this weekend is that i managed to take down my cookbook tower (which was balanced precariously on a barstool for months) and arrange my collection on a shelf. i’m (obviously) being glib about that being my great accomplishment; i’m impressed my collection only toppled off my stool twice and didn’t damage anything; and this shift in space was a long time coming.
(speaking of, that massive cookbook post is still coming.) (also, that post-it on my macbook? it’s from seattle last month, and it has a list of restaurants on it. it’s still hanging on pretty impressively; i mean, i take my macbook to work everyday.)
if you hadn’t noticed, i like parentheses a lot — and, honestly, i don’t know what the point of this section was, maybe just to show: if you live with a reader or with a writer, you should be used to books everywhere.
(sometimes, i think about you, and i think about one day having to bring our books together. i imagine we’d read pretty different things, maybe with some overlap in food. i wonder if we’d end up with any duplicate copies. i wonder what we’d do with those. i wonder if i’ll ever write this goddamn story i started writing about you.)
brine, sear, bake — my holy trinity when it comes to chicken breasts and pork chops. brine your meat in a salt-sugar-water solution (i added some smashed garlic this time) (there’s something so therapeutic about smashing garlic); let it sit in the refrigerator for 30-45 minutes; while it does that, heat your oven and your cast iron skillet to 400 degrees; take your pork chop and rinse, pat dry, salt and pepper it; transfer the hot cast iron to the stove on high heat; toss on a chunk of butter (and some apples here); sear your meat on one side (for this pork chop, i seared the first side for 4-5 minutes); flip it; bake in oven (chicken takes about 20 minutes, pork chops from 6-10, depending on thickness) (chicken is done when the juices run clear; pork is done when you press a finger to the surface and it feels firm but still springs back).
you’d think i could have written that out in a list instead of a giant paragraph.
*insert shrug emoji here.
i first came across the library of korean literature, published by dalkey archive press with the literature translation institute of korea, at mcnally jackson, the bookstore i still consider my home bookstore, as funny as an idea of that sounds. (it’s true, though; my other home bookstore is greenlight.) (when i think of home, the one and only question that always starts ringing through my head is, will i ever get back home again?)
over the last two or so years, i’ve been growing my collection of books from this series, and i absolutely love that this exists. i love the range of authors, though it remains pretty contemporary in time, which i actually don’t mind, and i’ve even come to be fond of the covers, which are, at least, consistent and stand out, despite the plainness and, idk, un-aesthetically-pleasing-ness. every time i went to mcnally jackson, i’d check their shelves to see if they had any new titles (new meaning anything i didn’t already have), and, if i wanted a specific title, i’d always order through them. (if i wanted to preorder anything in general, i’d always order through them.)
truth be told, i haven’t really kept an eye out for new titles recently, not since coming back out to los angeles, but, on friday, i went to the last bookstore because i’d had dinner at grand central market and was debating whether or not to read home fire. i found this eun heekyung in the same display as the shamsie and had to pick it up. it’s new to the series, published this year, and i’m interested in any writing out of korea that has to do with bodies and food and people who don’t belong, marked as they are by their physical appearance. korea is largely a conformist society, and it expects sameness — it expects you to wear the same makeup, be the same size, want the same things — and, as someone whose body was always too big, too tan, too un-made-up, i’ve always existed outside that, spending much of my life looking in, wanting to be a part of that world, to be accepted and considered beautiful and desirable within those standards.
it’s a terrible way to live your life.
one of my favorite korean novels-in-translation is park min-gyu’s pavane for a dead princess (dalkey archive press, 2014), and it, too, is a novel that explores people who exist outside contemporary mainstream society, whether for socioeconomic or physical reasons. in pavane, the main female character is ugly and has been shunned her entire life for it, relegated to a life that would never attain much, would never be able to aim for anything outside her station, and maybe that sounds overly dramatic, but i dare say there are many women who might relate.
anyway, so, i started reading beauty looks down on me in the bookstore, was interested in the way eun writes about food, how often the mentions of food seemed to appear as i flipped through the pages, and i can’t wait to read this. i’m waiting to finish the shamsie first though, maybe wrap up the last one or two stories i have left of jenny zhang’s sour heart (random house, 2017) — i’ve been lingering over that collection because i don’t want it to end; i want more from jenny; i always want more from her because i always want more from the writers i love.
and the other thing maybe is that going back to korean literature-in-translation is also a way of going back home again. there’s a strangeness to it, yes, because korean culture is a place both familiar and intensely foreign to me, but there’s a comfort in all of it, in that base recognition of names and cultural cues and patriarchal bullshit. it’s a thing both attractive and repulsive to me, and that’s my way of negotiating my relationship with my ethnic identity, this simultaneous intense love and reproach that hold me close while often making me wish i could pull away, all the while knowing i never will.
this was supposed to be a simple, short post.