hello friday! (150605)

these days, i'm finding myself increasingly frustrated with how white/eurocentric [mainstream] publishing skews.  this week, the new yorker released its summer fiction issue and the paris review released its summer issue, and the table of contents of both publications had my head shaking and eyes rolling because, YEY, little tiny streak of color amidst the blinding white!

honestly speaking, this doesn't have much to do with me being asian-american as it does with me being a reader who's frankly bored to death with the same white/eurocentric narrative that so dominates publishing.  i'm bored with the riffs on the same young-ish quirky-ish yuppy-ish brooklyn-ish white writer.  i'm bored with white suburban america.  i'm bored with opening these "top" american literary magazines and finding the same stories -- it's not the MFA vs. NYC quasi-debate people should be interested in; it's the white-MFA/NYC vs. everyone else divide.

i'm also bored with having to make a concerted effort to find writers of color, outside the handful of poster children authors who are bloody fantastic, yes, (and many of whom i absolutely love) but always seem to be the fallback authors publications can implicitly wave around and point to and say, look!  our token author of color!  look how good we are!  pat us on the back!

because, look, i have nothing against white/eurocentric authors.  one of my favorite living authors is white and male, and i religiously read everything he publishes as well as interviews he does.  i think only margaret atwood can be as kickass and awesome as margaret atwood is.  i can't fucking wait for nicole krauss' next book to be published, and i will continue to read ian mcewan's next books even if solar and sweet tooth and the children act were massive disappointments because, god, his prose is lovely.  

but that's not enough.  these authors are a varied bunch who tell different stories in different voices, but that's not diverse enough.  books should take us to wildly different places, places we can't reach or access on our own.  they should show us worlds we would never experience, countries we've never seen, cultures that aren't our own, and books should introduce us to people we've never met, people outside our circle of acquaintances and friends.  books should make us think about issues and struggles we've never known, sometimes had the fortune and privilege never to know; they should challenge us, stretch our comfort zones, illuminate us in the context of a rich, diverse, varied world; but they can't do that when they're so limited and insular and self-contained.

because, look, we can do better -- we can all do better -- and i'm including myself in that we.  earlier this week, i put out a request on instagram for recommendations on writers of color, and i intend to follow through, especially because people were awesome and left a bunch of comments.  it doesn't mean that i'll only be reading from writers of colors, simply that i will be balancing out my reading more and reading deliberately, and, in connection to that effort, i will also be starting a weekly post here that talks specifically about writers of color.  it will run on wednesdays and will start next week!

have a great weekend!

hello friday! (150515)


I FINISHED MIDDLEMARCH LAST NIGHT.  fucking accomplishment, y’all.  i’m so happy to be done with it, which might seem to contradict the fact that i did actually enjoy it and find it refreshing, especially with eliot’s poking of the marriage plot, but 838 pages is too damn long.  no book needs to be 838 pages.  i remain unapologetic in my aversion to long books.

as you've probably ascertained from the title, this is not a middlemarch post.  there will be more middlemarch posts, at least two more.  thanks for being patient!

one of my favorite things i did in LA was go to a bookstore with the illustrator friend and look at covers.  she bought me renee adhieh’s the wrath and the dawn (putnam, 2015), which is stunningly designed, and i showed her the beautiful black edges of kazuo ishiguro’s the buried giant (knopf, 2015) and the beauty that is michel faber’s the book of strange new things (hogarth, 2014).  we oohed over sara novic’s girl at war (random house, 2015) because circle! (we both like circles) (which means we both like the covers to rebecca solnit’s a field guide to getting lost [penguin, 2005] and the faraway nearby [penguin, 2013]), and we came across taylor antrim’s immunity (regan arts, 2015)which is so fucking beautiful and consistently designed that we were both tempted to buy it, even though we’d no idea what the book was about or if it were any good.

which, y’know, we could’ve done something about by actually reading the book, but there were more covers to see.

we saw caryl phillips’ the lost child (FSG, 2015), and i said, this is inspired by wuthering heightsand she said, i can see that; the cover reflects it.  she liked daniel handler’s we are pirates (bloomsbury, 2015) -- the color-blocking of the wraparound cover (i don’t know the technical terms; in another life, i would’ve been an art school kid and known these things), and the contrast to the more rollicking cover on the actual book -- i thought that was nifty.  i talked about jeff vandermeer’s the southern reach trilogy (FSG, 2014)*, how it was totally the cover that made me pick up the books in the first place because, holy shit, they’re beautiful and how can you talk stellar book covers and not bring them up.  afterward, after we’d exhausted the new fiction section, we went to a cafe, and i pulled up FSG’s redesigns of flannery o’connor’s work**, and then i scrolled through twitter to show her alex mar’s witches of america (FSG, 2015, forthcoming) because (01) circles and (02) gold and (03) isn’t that gorgeous? -- after which, we fell back on what the hell happened to purity?  though purity (FSG, 2015, forthcoming) is so wtf that it's memorable, so i suppose the design can be considered a success.

spending time in a bookstore looking at covers sounds like a weird thing to get excited about, but it’s one of the things we do, this friend and i.  she's also one of my closest friends and one of very few people i know who get excited over book covers like i do, who understand what i mean when i open a book with a great cover only to find that the layout has been haphazardly done.  or who laugh when i say i can’t buy rachel cusk’s outline (FSG, 2015) because i can’t do the sans serif (seriously, i’ve tried; i can’t) (good thing i subscribe to the paris review).  or who understand what i mean when i open murakami’s colorless tsukuru tazaki (knopf, 2014) and point at the jagged right margin and make my :| face.  (one day, i’ll learn these technical terms.)  small things, maybe, but we have a lot of fun, and i miss her constantly because she's across the country in california.

* this might be a weird link because it's talking about the spanish covers, but the spanish covers are gorgeous, too.  the paperback US covers can be seen if you scroll down.

(also, here's my review of the trilogy.)

** this is a cooool post.  make sure to go through the slideshows of each cover to see the work-in-progress!

currently reading margaret atwood's stone mattress for book club tomorrow, and i don't know what it is about me and leaving book club books to the day before we meet.  it's miraculous that i manage to finish (i have this thing where i must finish all books for book club), though i do think i should start reading them earlier, so i can have time to mull over them and think on them.  

i love how this book club came around, too, because it was totally by chance.  i took part of a vocational intensive at redeemer, and, last october, i went to a marilynne robinson reading in park slope.  as i was leaving, someone stopped me because she recognized me from the intensive (i was part of the artists' cohort; she was part of the educators' cohort), and we met up for coffee and, eventually, invited other people and decided to start a book club!  our first "unofficial" book was robinson's lila (FSG, 2015)then we read alice munro's the beggar maid (vintage, 1991, reissue), kazuo ishiguro's an artist of the floating world (faber and faber, 1986), and, now, atwood's stone mattress (nan a. talese, 2014).  we're planning on reading some toni morrison soon, too; maybe it'll be our next read!

heh, i should be reading right now ...

my april recap is forthcoming; i will write about the books i read last month.  i got caught up with my read of middlemarch, though, and then i was in california, and we always have excuses for these delays, don't we?  in the end, i haven't written it yet because i haven't written yet.  i will write it over the next few days, though, and have that up by the end of next week as well!

... or maybe i continue to be stupidly ambitious ...

hello friday! (150508) aka middlemarch, part five.


(sprinkles cupcakes are terrible.)

in chapter 4 of my life in middlemarch, rebecca mead writes:

"we all grumble at 'middlemarch,'" a reviewer for the spectator said.  "but we all read it, and all feel that there is nothing to compare with it appearing at the present moment in the way of english literature, and not a few of us calculate whether we shall get the august number before we go for our autumn holiday, or whether we shall have to wait for it till we return."  with book four, we are approaching the very middle of middlemarch -- and even though i know well how the novel concludes, the riddle posed in chapter 30 always beguiles me with its suggestion of alternative fates, of different love matches, of other possible endings.

certain genres of fiction derive their satisfactions from the predictability of their conclusion.  the reader knows where things are going to end up:  in a romance the lovers are united; in a detective story the murder mystery is solved.  there is a pleasure in the familiarity of the journey.  but a successful realist novel necessarily takes unpredictable turns in just the way real life predictably must.  the resolution of middlemarch, even as seen in prospect halfway through the book, cannot possibly be completely tidy.  (an example:  mary garth has two possible suitors, fred vincy and mr. farebrother.  both have qualities to recommend them, but at least one is bound to be disappointed.)  middlemarch permits the reader to imagine other possible directions its characters might take, leading to entirely different futures, and as so often in life, love is the crossroads.  (mead, 113-4)

one.  imagine a time when novels were serialized and people anticipated the next installment, couldn't wait to read it and discuss it and simmer in anticipation for the next.  imagine that.

two.  this made me think of hillary kelly's article in the washington post about the serialized novel, which was linked on melville house's fabulous blog with discussion, all of which makes me think of the paris review, which recently serialized rachel cusk's outline (published in book form by FSG in 2015) (excerpts from the paris review:  part 01, part 02, part 03, part 04).  also i swear the paris review recently said they were going to start serializing another novel in their next issue -- or the fall issue -- but this is the problem with following all things literary on twitter, instagram, tumblr, facebook, and subscribing to publishing newsletters and reading blogs like the melville house blog, the paris review blog, lit hub -- i can't remember where i read this (spent the last 15 minutes trying to find it), but i swear i did, and it makes me happy, the end.

three.  that last sentence in the paragraphs quoted above is one reason i feel compelled to keep going with middlemarch.  i honestly don't know what's going to happen, not in any constructed narrative way but in the way that it is in life with life's penchant for throwing curveballs as it pleases, and i'm finding it just interesting enough to keep the pages flipping.

four.  mr. farebrother > fred vincy.

five.  ... because i don't like the number four?

book four of middlemarch is when i decided that i despised causabon.  what a selfish man.  it wasn't even the stupid clause in his will that did it for me; it was the stupid request he lay before dorothea after waking her in the night because he felt restless so she had to wake up and read to him so he could edit via dictation, when he says:

'before i sleep, i have a request to make, dorothea.'

'what is it?' said dorothea, with a dread in her mind.

'it is that you will let me know, deliberately, whether, in case of my death, you will carry out my wishes:  whether you will avoid doing what i should deprecate, and apply yourself to do what i should desire.'  (eliot, 477)

oh my god, you selfish man, you'll be dead -- what does it matter to you what she does with her life?  she's a human being, not something you can control and order around, and i was glad that dorothea hesitates, doesn't give him an answer right away and asks for more time.  it's not fair for her, either, because she ends up getting no sleep and struggles away, aware that he's asking for too much:

still, there was a deep difference between that devotion to the living, and that indefinite promise of devotion to the dead.  (eliot, 479)

in the end, it's moot because he dies, and, instead, dorothea's left with a stupid, petty condition in his will that bars her from the property if she marries ladislaw.  she can marry anyone else, but she can't marry ladislaw, all because of causabon's small-minded jealousy -- and part of me laughed over all this because i couldn't help but think that, if dorothea so bends herself under her husband's will and causabon is so selfish and petty, they must have had some incredibly unsatisfactory sex.  if they had sex at all beyond the consummation of the marriage, that is ...

it's already saturday, which means, drat, i'm going to have to haul this brick of a book to california after all.  i was planning on taking atul gawande's being mortal (metropolitan books, 2014), but i'm thinking maybe i'll just take middlemarch and my life in middlemarch instead.  that should be enough reading because i don't have a lot of free time in california, anyway, especially when i only have four days to cram as many people in as i can.

i'll still be posting a middlemarch update tomorrow, though, so check back for that!  and i promise to talk about characters other than dorothea and causabon.  :D

hello friday! (150501)


happy may!

it's independent bookstore day tomorrow!  check this melville house post for a sampling of events taking place!

over the last few weeks, i've been texting with a good friend of mine who always seems to end up reading bad books.  the thing, though, is that she sticks with them, determined to finish them, even if she's already read the summary online and knows what's going to happen, something about holding out hope because the summary is good or there are bits of good writing here and there or there's a character she likes.  i, on the other hand, have become a robot in replying back, stop reading bad books, and laughing at her misery or disappointment because apparently i'm much more brutal as a reader -- a novel gets fifty pages to convince me it's worth my time, and a short story gets five, and, if it starts flailing when i'm halfway, three-fourths of the way through, then, well ...

... and i shared this here because we've been texting back and forth about this constantly over the last month, so it's been on my mind.

in april, i read six books.  it felt like a long month, so i didn't think i'd done much reading, but i feel like part of that was because i read a lot in concentrated bursts with empty days in-between.  it's been a weird month, but i guess i tend to substitute the word "weird" when i mean "super super low."

six books isn't a shabby number, but april's actually been a tough reading month.  i've felt largely uninspired to read, and reading actually bummed me out for a good week or so about halfway through the month, especially when i'd pick something up and find the writing mediocre at best, the story flat and uncompelling, the voice uninteresting and lacking in personality because, then, all i was left with was the same old tired question of how did this get published.  

sometimes, i think about publishing and how it has to change, open up, diversify, and it bums me out.  sometimes, i go to book events and look around for another person of color, and it feels like looking for unicorns.  sometimes, i think about these redundant articles that have been popping up about people who've committed to reading only books by women or books by people of color, and i call them redundant because they say the same thing -- that it's an enriching experience, that it's difficult to find writing by people of color or writing in-translation, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera -- and i wonder how many of these articles need to be published for things to start shifting.  sometimes, i think about how houses essentially publish riffs of the same writer, and i think about how boring that is and how, if these houses that can afford to take risks aren't, then what does that say about the state of books?  we can only point at amazon for so long when the industry itself needs to change, too.

i confess to feeling a bit disheartened, and i also confess that part (not all) of that stems from being a reader of color.

and i will endeavor to have my april post up in a timely manner!

this week i've been reading ... not much.  i found an ARC of mia couto's confession of the lioness (FSG, 2015, forthcoming) at housing works last week, so i started reading that earlier this week, and, while the writing is enchanting, i'm finding myself a little lost, unable to ground myself in the world or with the characters.  then i started reading an ARC of erika swyler's the book of speculation (st. martin's press, 2015, forthcoming), also found at housing works a few months back, and i'm only thirty pages in, which isn't enough to form an actual opinion yet.  i've also been reading amy rowland's the transcriptionist (alonquin, 2014) on my iphone via oyster books over the last month, and i've been enjoying a whole lot, even though it took me a while to stop thinking of it as taking place mid-20th century or something.  i'd actually like to have this book, so i'll probably go looking for it tomorrow during independent bookstore day!

other things to read over the weekend:

hello friday! (150424)


i was up and awake at 2 a.m., thinking, hm, what shall i talk about this friday?, when i looked to my right (not very far to my right) to the pile of books stacked rather perilously on the corner of my desk -- or, rather, the pile of things stacked rather perilously -- and, because the books in this pile are usually what i've been reading (or intending to read) currently, i think maybe we'll dive right in.

meg wolitzer, the interestings (riverhead, 2013):  it's been an extraordinarily shitty few weeks, and i know it's been extraordinarily shitty because i've been having a difficult time reading.  when i'm having a difficult time reading, i tend to reread because the familiar is assuring and comforting, none of that nervousness or anxiety that comes with starting something new, so i picked up the interestings again because i loved the interestings for the friendships, the banalities, the exploration of talent and potential, although the last maybe stings a little, given my current crisis in my own writing.  (i stepped away from writing fiction last week.)

a mango:  because i love mangoes.  this needs to ripen a little more, but i cannot wait to eat it.  i hope it's good, but, to be honest, fruit isn't as good in new york as it is in california.  maybe all that goddamn sunshine's good for something.

jonathan franzen, farther away (FSG, 2012):  i pulled this out because i went to see the documentary, emptying the skies, this week.  it's based on the essay franzen wrote for the new yorker (published in farther away under the title, "the ugly mediterranean"), so i wanted to give the essay another read after seeing the documentary (on earth day, when it was released).  it's a great essay -- one of my favorites of franzen's non-fiction -- and the book is just so pretty and well-designed all the way through.

betty halbreich, i'll drink to that (penguin press, 2014):  this was my response to "i need some light, frothy reading," and what a riveting look into privilege this was.  i'm fascinated by money, not gonna lie, mostly because i'm rather amused by the indulgence and entitlement and sheer ego that accompany it, all while the privilege and, again, entitlement are off-putting and repellent.  halbreich has a measure of self-awareness, though, and acknowledges the unnecessary luxuries of her clients and of clothes, and, in the end, i'll drink to that was exactly what i wanted and needed during the week -- light, frothy reading.

ted hughes, birthday letters (FSG, 1998):  i pulled this out to find a poem for my hello monday post and kept it out because this may be my favorite poetry collection.  heh, i say that like i read a whole lot of poetry, but does that matter?  this collection still means a lot to me and warms my cold, cold heart, and i love having it nearby.

rebecca solnit, a field guide to getting lost (penguin, 2005):  like i said, extraordinarily shitty week means i'm stalled on this book, not because it's bad but because i'm stalled.  i'd love for my heart to heal so i can read without feeling twinges again.

marilynne robinson, housekeeping (FSG, 1980):  i started reading this last friday on my way out to coney island, but, wow, i'm already depressed as fuck, so i set it aside for lighter reading.

timothy keller, prayer (dutton, 2014):  sometimes, i read theological books, too.

papers, notepad, etcetera:  i'm not undoing my tower of books and crap to see what these papers are.  i think there's a printed receipt in there, maybe a story draft, drafts of résumés and cover letters -- not very interesting, eh?  moving on!

jonathan franzen, strong motion (FSG, 1992):  damn, i have two franzens in the same pile?  i started reading this a few weeks ago because i miss having fiction by franzen to read, but, see, i have this habit of reading, like, seven books at any given time, and it's always a gamble to see which book sticks and which one is temporarily set aside for a later day.  this one, too, was put aside for something lighter.

flannery o'connor, the complete stories (FSG, 1971):  recently, i went on this buying spree of o'connor books -- got the complete stories then the habit of being then mystery and manners -- but o'connor is someone i seem to be able to take only in morsels because she has this intensity that requires digesting.  maybe it's just me, but, sometimes, i wonder if i'm "getting" her stories because i'm oftentimes left a little unsure at the end, wondering if i "got it" or if i missed something along the way.  this isn't necessarily bad, though, because it makes me slow down -- actually, over the last two years, i've been trying to be a more careful reader instead of simply flying through books.  i've always been a fast reader, so it's been a good exercise to slow down a little and rest on the page, in the story, with the characters and absorb more of everything.  also, i'm not allowing myself to buy any more books until i find a job ... but i am horribly weak when it comes to books, and the CLMP lit mag fair at housing works is this sunday, in which case, shit, well, lit mags aren't books, right?

and that is the pile!  as it goes, though, tonight, i'll be finishing a book that isn't in this stack, kazuo ishiguro's an artist of the floating world (penguin, 2013) (drop caps edition), for book club tomorrow, which also means i get to bake strawberry cream scones because it's book club + brunch because what's a book club meeting without food?

have a great weekend, all!  enjoy this battle between winter and spring if you're in nyc!