october reads!


it was a pretty great month for almost everything else, though, particularly in the soup-making department.  this month, i made a korean seaweed soup, a baked potato soup, and a cream of tomato with chicken and radiatori.  i also made a double-crusted chicken pot pie and matcha madeleines.  in november, i'm tackling more ambitious projects because my big purchase of october was a dutch oven (finally) -- next week, i plan on making kalbi-jjim (braised short ribs, i think is what they're called in english), and, at some point, i'm going to develop a starter to bake bread.  food is as much a love of my life as literature is.

returning to book talk, though:  i didn't finish a single book in october.  i started many brilliant books, though, but couldn't commit to any, and the truth is that, as with most other things in my life, i go through lulls in my reading.  i've found that i tend to read most voraciously in the beginning of the year, the end of summer/early autumn, and the end of the year -- i don't necessarily know why that's the case, but it's the general trend i've noticed in the last few years, when i actually started to document my reading.

that said, i haven't gone a whole month without completing a single book in a while.  it's not that i haven't been reading; i simply haven't had the mental capacity to focus and sit down with a book and complete it.  it happens.  it means november is going to be an excellent reading month. (:

*thérèse raquin and mrs. dalloway pictured above because i dropped both books.  there will be a year-end post about the books i actively dropped this year.

july + august + september reads!

apparently, three months is the charm.


thirty-eight.  margaret atwood, the handmaid's tale (HMH, 1986) (via oyster books).

she did not believe he was a monster.  he was not a monster, to her.  probably he had some endearing trait:  he whistled, offkey, in the shower, he had a yen for truffles, he called his dog liebchen and made it sit up for little pieces of raw steak.  how easy it is to invent a humanity, for anyone at all.  what an available temptation. (ch. 24)

creepy, creepy, creepy — margaret atwood’s dystopia made me think of something edan lepucki said at a recent event for the paperback of california, that, when she was coming up with the dystopia in california, she thought of all the things that were going wrong in our world today and simply imagined up how the world might look years from now if we continued on this same trajectory.  atwood’s dystopia creeps me out for the same reason — the world featured in the handmaid’s tale is not a wholly unimaginable or inconceivable one.

not only that, but offred also isn’t a character who was born into that society — she was there for the change, the transition, and she remembers life from before she lost her job, had her account frozen, was put in a red robe and tasked with sleeping with a married man for the sake of conception.  god, it makes me shudder just thinking about that, though the real terrifying part of this is that there are societies out there women are thusly repressed (women aren’t allowed to read in gilead) and valued solely/principally for their ability to spawn and meet the needs/demands of men.

that said, i must confess that i really was not keen on the ending, that last bit that’s meant to be an academic study.  i felt it was unnecessary and a little jarring, actually.


thirty-nine.  michael cunningham, the hours (FSG, 1998).

yes, clarissa thinks, it’s time for the day to be over.  we throw our parties; we abandon our families to live alone in canada; we struggle to write books that do not change the world, despite our gifts and our unstinting efforts, our most extravagant hopes.  we live our lives, do whatever we do, and then we sleep — it’s as simple and ordinary as that.  a few jump out of windows or drown themselves or take pills; more die by accident; and most of us, the vast majority, are slowly devoured by some disease or, if we’re very fortunate, by time itself.  there’s just this for consolation:  an hour here or there when our lives seem, against all odds and expectations, to burst open and give us everything we’ve ever imagined, though everyone but children (and perhaps even they) knows these hours will inevitably be followed by others, far darker and more difficult.  still, we cherish the city, the morning:  we hope, more than anything, for more.  (225)

cunningham writes with so much heart and so much love.  there’s a lovely quiet to the hours, a steadiness that gets disturbed as you get deeper into the book, into the lives of these three women’s lives.  on the surface, they each want such simple things, but nothing is quite so simple — it makes me think of what cunningham said at his lecture at columbia earlier this year, that there’s no such thing as plot, just characters trying to get something they want with some kind of force preventing them from getting it.

it’s been a while since i read the hours, so i admit to being fuzzy on specifics — the hours left in its wake a lovely, hazy feeling, though, and i remember it fondly, something i find to be common amongst books i’ve loved but have only read once.  my book club is reading the hours for our october read, though, so i do plan on reading it again next month!

one distinct thing, though, that i remember disliking:  there were two of three parts i found jarring because we’re removed from the POV of the three main women.  i loved the narrow focus on the women, and i felt myself shaken from the novel in those moments we’re taken away from them — because it only happens a few times, it’s quite startling.


forty.  margaret atwood, the heart goes last (nan a. talese, 2015).

then he’s unconscious.  then he stops breathing.  the heart goes last.  (70)

again, one of the disadvantages of waiting three months to write reviews is that, well, it’s been three months.

after i finished the heart goes last, i instagrammed, “trust margaret atwood to deliver your regular dose of what-the-fucks with smart social commentary, dry humor, and a dystopia that could be right around the corner.”  i didn’t love it effusively, but i enjoyed it — devoured it in twenty-four hours, actually.  i love the title, though.  and can’t wait to hear her read/speak in a week!


forty-one.  jeffrey eugenides, the virgin suicides (picador, 1993).

we couldn’t imagine the emptiness of a creature who put a razor to her wrists and opened her veins, the emptiness and the calm.  (243)

two things:

(one)  this is a case where rereading produces an unfavorable change in opinion.  i loved this a whole lot when i first read it a few years ago (It was also one those rare instances of liking the movie as much, too), but i had a lot of problems with it this time around.  for one, i felt like i was floating over the narrative the whole time (a similar problem i had with middlesex), and, for another, it lacked introspection, but, most of all, i was creeped out by the lack of self-awareness that would have mitigated the stalking and voyeurism.

i’m not saying that literature shouldn’t creep us out.  literature should disturb us, take us into depths we wouldn’t normally descend, but we’re supposed to be getting the virigin suicides in the past.  the narrative we is grown-up now; they’re middle-aged, looking back on their youth; but they haven’t grown up — there’s frankly no depth, and the romanticizing of their creepy behavior did not sit nicely with me at all.

i also was never convinced of the narrative “we” and its “reportage” — for the former, the “we” would fade into an omniscient third-person from time-to-time, giving us stories that were either imagined or being recalled and narrated for the reader, neither of which i was convinced was the case.  (inconsistent narrative voice is, apparently, a thing that bothers me a lot.)  as for the latter, i simply wasn’t convinced that they could get the access they could.

(two)  only a man could have written this book.  i’m not saying that’s inherently good or bad, simply that it is.


forty-two.  helen macdonald, h is for hawk (grove/atlantic, 2015) (via oyster books).

gos was still out there in the forest, the dark forest to which all things lost must go.  i’d wanted to slip across the borders of this world into that wood and bring back the hawk white lost.  some part of me that was very small and old had known this, some part of me that didn’t work according to the everyday rules of the world but with the logic of myths and dreams.  and that part of me had hoped, too, that somewhere in that other world was my father.  his death had been so sudden.  there had been no time to prepare for it, no sense in it happening at all.  he could only be lost.  he was out there, still, somewhere out there in that tangled wood with all the rest of the lost and dead.  i know now what those dreams in spring had meant, the ones of a hawk slipping through a rent in the air into another world.  i’d wanted to fly with the hawk to find my father; find him and bring him home.  (ch. 23)

i LOVED this.

the premise of the book is simple:  after the sudden death of her father, macdonald learns to fly a goshawk.  it’s a beautiful book about grief, full of heart and mourning and love, whether for her father, for her hawk, mabel, or for the greater world around her and the history that came before.  macdonald’s writing is sparse and raw and honest, and i simply loved this book.  it’s one of those loves that leaves me coming up empty when trying to write about it, but i loved it and highly, highly recommend it.

(i did think there was a bit too much about t.h. white, but, overall, i liked how she wove his story into her own.)

here’s another passage just because:

of all the lessons i’ve learned in my months with mabel this is the greatest of all:  that there is a world of things out there — rocks and trees and stones and grass and all the things that crawl and run and fly.  they are all things in themselves, but we make them sensible to us by giving them meanings that shore up our own views of the world.  in my time with mabel i’ve learned how you feel more human once you have known, even in your imagination, what it is like to be not.  and i have learned, too, the danger that comes in mistaking the wildness we give a thing for the wildness that animates it.  goshawks are things of death and blood and gore, but they are not excuses for atrocities.  their inhumanity is to be treasured because what they do has nothing to do with us at all.  (ch. 29)


forty-three.  richard lloyd parry, people who eat darkness (FSG, 2012) (via oyster books).

i thought a lot of things while devouring people who eat darkness, but i still have no idea how to articulate any of it.  i had a lot of rage, a lot of anger at this patriarchal world and its double standards of women, that much i can say.

here are three long-ish passages instead.

anne allison writes, “there is something dirty about [the hostess], the sexuality she evokes, and the world of the mizu shōbai she represents.  all of this sexual dirtiness, in turn, makes the woman who works in this world ineligible for respectable marriage, ineligible therefore to become a respectable mother with legitimate children … in a culture where motherhood is considered ‘natural’ for women, the mizu shōbai woman is constructed as a female who transgresses her nature.  for this she is degraded; for this, however, she is also enjoyed.”  (ch. 6)


surrounded by powerful and aggressive neighbors, korea had been a battlefield throughout its history.  as far back as the sixteenth century, samurai armies had plundered the peninsula, returning across the narrow strait of tsushima with treasures, slaves, and the severed ears of slaughtered korean warriors.  japan began to dominate korea once again at the end of the nineteenth century; in 1910, the country was formally annexed into the emerging japanese empire.  the colonizers built roads, ports, railways, mines, and factories, introduced modern agricultural methods, and sent the children of the korean elite to be educated in tokyo.  but whatever good japanese power brought in the form of economic development was eclipsed by the racism, coercion, and violence of the imperial occupation.

the policies of the japanese administration shifted over time.  but by the late 1930s, its goal was not merely to control koreans and exploit their resources but also to dissolve their culture and colonize their minds.  the japanese language was made compulsory in schools; students were required to worship at shinto shrines, and koreans were encouraged to take japanese names.  infrequent uprisings were quelled with arrests, torture, and killings.  and a vast and unequal human exchange took place, as japanese bureaucrats and settlers were shipped over to govern and farm the new lands, and poor koreans sailed in the opposite direction to find work in the industrial cities of tokyo, osaka, and fukuoka.

at first, this migration was voluntary, but as the pacific war turned against japan, its colonial subjects were forcibly conscripted, both by the imperial army and civilian industry.  by 1945, hundreds of thousands of koreans were scattered across asia with the japanese forces, as soldiers, orderlies, camp guards, and military sex slaves (the “comfort women” whose existence was officially denied for almost fifty years).  in japan itself there were two million zainichi, most of them concentrated in ghettos close to the the mines and factories where they were set to work.  as much as anything, it was the sudden presence of so many foreigners in the motherland that showed up the hypocrisy of japanese colonialism.  (ch. 14)


the most serious failure of the police was in not identifying and bringing obara to justice years before.  katie vickers, for one, had reported him in 1997; she was ignored.  how many others, who have never told their stories publicly, experienced similar treatment?  the greatest disgrace had been another five years before that, when the police dismissed the suspicions of carita ridgway’s family about “nishida,” the man who brought their dying daughter to hospital.  the failure was one of imagination, an institutional inability to think other than in clichés.  people were types, and types were to be relied upon.  the young hostess who went to a customer’s place and then claimed rape must be trying it on; the respectable chap who talked of a bad oyster and food poisoning was to be believed. (ch. 24)

forty-four.  lois lowry, the giver (HMH, 1993) (via oyster books).

“the worst part of holding the memories is not the pain.  it’s the loneliness of it.  memories need to be shared.”  (the giver, ch. 20)

the giver was one of my favorite childhood books, but i was much less enthralled by it this time.  i still love the premise of it, this dystopian world where everything is controlled and tightly managed, but i think i wanted more — more conflict, more tension, more ending.

also, i watched the trailer for the film adaptation after i finished rereading it, and what the fuck?  good job taking all the layers of the giver and reducing it to your generic dystopian YA flick, cold tones, stupid romance, and all?


forty-five.  stephen chbosky, the perks of being a wallflower (mtv books, 1999) (via oyster books).

i had an amazing feeling when i finally held the tape in my hand.  i just thought to myself that in the palm of my hand, there was this one tape that had all of these memories and feelings and great joy and sadness.  right there in the palm of my hand.  and i thought about how many people have loved those songs.  and how many people got through a lot of bad times because of those songs.  and how many people enjoyed good times with those songs.  and how much those songs really mean.  (december 7, 1991)

i couldn’t sleep one night, so i finally read this.  i liked it more than i thought i would, but the most surprising thing to me was how the film captured the exact tone and mood of the book.  i’ve seen the film several times (idk, i liked the film, awkward american accent by emma watson and all), and its’s one of those instances where the film didn’t ruin the reading experience — like, i actually didn’t mind have the actors’ faces in my head.  it kind of made the reading experience more enjoyable in a way.  (i felt the same about the virgin suicides.)  i guess it shouldn’t be much surprising given that chbosky wrote and directed the film adaptation, but, regardless, crossing mediums isn’t something that’s always done so seamlessly, so props!


forty-six.  laline paull, the bees (harpercollins, 2014) (via oyster books).

“then kindly remember that variation is not the same as deformity.” (sister sage, ch. 3)

i wondered about my tendency to read books about animals as allegories (not that i read many books about animals), so, when i started reading the bees, i deliberately, intentionally refused to read it as such, and what a delight it was!

(if the author meant it to be allegorical, i apologize.)

the bees was one of the weirder, more engrossing reading experiences i’ve had — like, i-missed-my-subway-stop level of engrossing.  we follow a worker bee through the ranks of bees — first as a nurse, as a forager, and so on — and it’s a fascinating world, the hive.  it’s hierarchical, with the bees divided into their different roles, and there’s also a cult-ish feel to it, the way the queen is so revered.

i feel like there could be a greater social commentary present, but i admit that i took the dumb reader route to this because i was resisting an allegorical reading and because it’s also that engrossing.  i randomly came across this on oyster, and i’m glad i read it!


forty-seven.  lauren groff, fates and furies (riverhead, 2015).

because it’s true:  more than the highlights, the bright events, it was in the small and the daily where she’d found life.  the hundreds of times she’d dug in the soil of her garden, each time the satisfying chew of spade through soil, so often that this action, the pressure and release and rich dirt smell, delineated the warmth she’d found in that house in the cherry orchard.  or this:  every day they woke in the same place, her husband waking her up with a cup of coffee, the cream still swirling into the black.  almost unremarked upon, this kindness.  he would kiss her on the crown of her head before leaving, and she’d feel something in her rising through her body to meet him.  these silent intimacies made their marriage, not the ceremonies or parties or opening nights or occasions or spectacular fucks.  (389)

groff’s prose is exquisite, and one of my favorite things about this book was its structure.  it’s broken into two parts, the first (“fates”) being strictly linear and the second (“furies”) jumping around in time and poking holes in everything we’d learned (or thought we’d learned) in “fates.”

“furies” was awesome.  i loved mathilde; nothing about her life was as expected; and i loved the ways she’s a survivor.  

i wasn’t as fond of “fates,” which is why i wasn’t as effusive about the novel as i thought i might be.  “fates” felt a little too long, trapped by the strict linearity, like we had to flip through these pages to get to the interesting part — in that way, it did feel like “fates” was clearly foundation-building to give us the necessary backdrop for “furies” to start puncturing.  one example of this is the section in “fates” that follows lotte and mathilde in their first new york city apartment.  it’s built of short segments of gatherings that are meant to show us the passage of time, and it’s written beautifully, yes, but, after a while, it started to feel a little too convenient, a little tedious.

also, frankly, lotte wasn’t that interesting, and i had no sympathy for or connection with him.  he’s kind of pathetic, and not in any endearing way, and then he acted pathetically to mathilde near the end of “fates,” and i would’ve been fine if we got less of him and more of mathilde.

because “furies.”  “furies” makes “fates” worth it.


forty-eight.  cristina henriquez, the book of unknown americans (knopf, 2014).

when i walk down the street, i don’t want people to look at me and see a criminal or someone that they can spit on or beat up.  i want them to see a guy who has just as much right to be here as they do, or a guy who works hard, or a guy who loves his family, or a guy who’s just trying to do the right things.  i wish just one of those people, just one, would actually talk to me, talk to my friends, man.  and yes, you can talk to us in english.  i know english better than you, i bet.  but none of them even want to try.  we’re the unknown americans, the ones no one even wants to know, because they’ve been told they’re supposed to be scared of us and because maybe if they did take the time to get to know us, they might realize that we’re not that bad, maybe even that we’re a lot like them.  and who would they hate then?

it’s fucked up.  the whole thing is very, very complicated.  i mean, does anyone ever talk about why people are crossing?  i can promise you it’s not with some grand ambition to come here and ruin everything for the gringo chingaos.  people are desperate, man.  we’re talking about people who can’t even get a toilet that works, and the government is so corrupt that when they have money, instead of sharing it, instead of using of using it in ways that would help their own citizens, they hold on to it and encourage people to go north instead.  what choice do people have in the face of that?  like they really want to be tied to the underside of a car or stuff dingo a trunk like a rug or walking in nothing but some sorry-ass sandals through the burning sand for days, a bottle of hot water in their hands?  half of them ending up dead, or burned up so bad that when someone finds them, their skin is black and their lips are cracked open?  another half of them drowning in rivers.  and half after that picked up by la migra and sent back to where they came from, or beaten, or arrested.  the women raped in the ass.  and for what?  to come here and make beds in a hotel along the highway?  to be separated from their families?  (237-8)

this might be the expected reaction, but my main thought as i was reading the book of unknown americans was, god, see, this is why we need diverse books.

this is a beautifully written book.  it’s in multiple POVs, though, narratively, we principally follow a family that’s come from mexico to delaware so the daughter can attend a school for kids with special needs, and there’s a whole lot of heart in these pages.  one of my favorite things about it is that henriquez doesn’t try to soften the reality but, more importantly, doesn’t lose the novel to it.  she talks openly about immigrants and the discrimination they face, but the story isn’t lost to a political agenda or a social “purpose” — and i greatly appreciated that, given how easy it would have been to go the other way.

i highly recommend this.


forty-nine.  jonathan franzen, purity (FSG, 2015).

around scotts valley, the dear fog appeared, and suddenly the season was different, the hour less determinate.  most weekends in june, a great paw of pacific fog reached into santa cruz, over the wooden roller coaster, along the stagnant san lorenzo, up through the wide streets where surfers lived, and into the redwoods on the hills.  by morning the ocean’s outward breath condensed in dew so heavy that it ran in gutters.  and this was one santa cruz, this ghostly gray late-rising place.  when the ocean inhaled again, midmorning, it left behind the other santa cruz, the optimistic one, the sunny one; but the great paw lurked offshore all day.  toward sunset, like a depression following euphoria, it rolled back in and muted human sound, closed down vistas, made everything very local, and seemed to amplify the barking of the sea lions on the underpinnings of the pier.  you could hear them from miles away, their arp, arp, arp a homing call to family members still out diving in the fog.  (66-7)

(god, franzen’s passages about california made my face go all :SLKJ:LSJDFSDF.)

truth be told, there are few authors who deliver books of sheer enjoyment and joy like franzen does.  it’s not news that i’m a huge fan of franzen or that i was looking forward to purity since it was announced last november, and i had to stamp down a lot of my anticipation, so i could go into purity without that baggage.  i also actively avoided any and all reviews and most interviews (which is usually the case with most books), and i still haven’t read many of them (reviews) because i admit to being fatigued by the same old noise around franzen.  everyone knows what opinion to have of him, so little of interest or depth is said anymore, which is unfortunate but unsurprising.

it’s also a little funny because purity made me think that here is a man who loves and cares for people and the world.  he thinks deeply about it, and he writes affectionately and thoughtfully of it.  sure, he puts his characters in unsavory and/or extreme situations, and he doesn’t write kindly of mothers, and his women aren’t always “likable” or “nice,” but, you know, i tend to like his women most of his characters, and that was no different in purity.

it took me a bit to get fully into purity because it really is tonally different from the corrections and freedom.  (i lean more towards the side that reads a book within the context of the author’s backlist.)  there was a sort of dissonance in my head, especially during the first two parts of purity, and it wasn’t until i got to “too much information” that i found myself relaxing into the book because there was franzen as i knew and recognized him, which is neither good nor bad and maybe sounds a little bizarre, but one reason i think we love the authors we do is that there is some core that resonates with us, some thing that makes their work knowable and familiar.

although i must also add that the second part, “the republic of bad taste,” was an odd initial read because it had been excerpted in the new yorker (i am vehemently not a fan or supporter of novel excerpts being published in the new yorker) — i actually resented that it had been excerpted because the excerpt was obviously chopped up and cobbled together of parts, and it reads differently (and better) in its whole.

so there was that.

altogether, i loved it.  i got annoyed with all the references to beauty (especially in regards to annagret), and there was a very questionable word choice that took me out of the narrative because i had to be five years old and laugh (if you’ve read it, you know what i’m talking about), but, overall, purity is a more relaxed, happy franzen, one i can get behind, even if it means the anger is gone.  purity is fun — i had a hell of a time reading it, and i liked that it was plot-heavy, while retaining the idealogical and thematic explorations franzen loves, so here’s a big thumbs up from me!

(franzen said in an interview with esquire uk that, “[after] this last novel [purity], i’d been planning not to write a novel again for at least a decade,” to which i say, NO, PLEASE DON’T, i can’t wait another ten years.  T_T)


fifty.  jonathan franzen, the corrections (picador, 2001).

it was the same problem enid had with chip and even gary:  her children didn’t match.  they didn’t want the things that she and all her friends and all her friends’ children wanted.  her children wanted radically, shamefully other things.  (121)

the corrections is still my favorite of franzen’s novels, and i was sad after i finished purity because i had no more franzen to read, so i decided to reread the corrections.

at this point, it’s more interesting, to me, to think about what was different in this most recent read.  this was my third time reading the corrections, and i was filled with guilt when i finished reading it this time because, at the moment, i was in a complicated place with my own parents and their wants for me.  as i’ve gotten older, i’ve been thinking more about how parents and children conflict, specifically as we get older and start to become cognizant of our parents as being full human beings, independent of us, while we also try to assert ourselves as full human beings, independent of them.

and i think that’s one reason i love the corrections so.  you can argue that nothing really happens, that there isn’t much of a plot (ha, remember what cunningham said, though?), but i love how it explores the complicated dynamics of family, of parents and children.  parents undoubtedly have expectations for their children; they try to raise them well, provide them with everything they need, open up as many opportunities as they can; but, at one point, sometimes, it all falls apart.  children have minds and wants and desires of their own, and i enjoy how the corrections explores what happens as children grow up and try to be their own people and make shitty decisions and get themselves into absurd situations and fall away from their parents and from each other — but how, in the end, they’re able to come together because they’re family.

i think the korean in me loves this.

i try to be concise when talking about franzen, but that never works.  i don’t know what it is about his books (minus the twenty-seventh city) that i love so — part of it truthfully might be that i will never write the kinds of books he does, and i say this as a good thing (i quite like the kinds of books i write/will write, thank you very much).  there’s something kind of awe-inducing about how full his world is; one review recently talked about how franzen probably knows every little tiny detail about his characters; and i agree and find that impressive in its own way.

and i like that he makes it a priority to give his readers a good time.  i’m not a fan of art for art’s sake, and i disdain that kind of pretension in literature — i want [extremely] well-written, thoughtful, nuanced books, and i’m not here for authors getting lost in their own language or their own selves.

going back to the corrections, though:  i still hate caroline.  and gary.  but i love everyone else, especially denise and alfred, even enid.  and i’m still bummed the HBO adaptation didn’t happen because, god, if there were ever a perfect cast, that was it.

wow, i could talk about franzen for ages.  don’t ever get me started.


fifty-one.  nell zink, mislaid (ecco, 2015) (via oyster books).

because people never grow accustomed to lies.  they either believe them or they don’t.  and a big lie is never forgiven.  the person who told the lie stops existing, and in his place stands a paradox:  the truthful liar.  the person you know for sure would lie to you, because he’s done it before and confessed.  you never, ever believe that person again.  (ch. 4)

halfway into mislaid, i stopped to write myself a note on my iPhone:  i think the thing that puts me off mislaid is that it’s lacking audacity.  it’s too glib, too smooth, that it reads dangerously toes the line of superficiality and flippancy, never mind that zink really is making astute observations about race (and privilege) in america without being weighed down by the fact that she’s white.

and then i finished it, and … i don’t know.  i’m so torn about it, but i don’t know how i’m torn about it.  i didn’t love it, but i didn’t hate it, but neither am i totally indifferent to it?  and i don’t think i liked it, but i also didn’t dislike it — we can do this forever.  i could see the merits in it, but, even when i’d finished the book, i still think that it’s lacking in audacity and risk.  i also further think that it just didn’t go anywhere.  no one learns anything.  no one really changes.  nothing really changes.  nothing really happens.

and yet …?

idk i like nell zink.  i mean, she writes a line like:

she would be the brontë of warm, malarial moors, the dramatist of the great dismal swamp.  (ch. 3)

and she generally seems not to give a fuck (in all the good ways), so there’s that.


fifty-two.  jang eun-jin, no one writes back (dalkey archive press, 2013, published in korea in 2009)

i do, however, like to write when i travel.  written words are less extravagant than photographs and souvenirs, and they are serious and contemplative.  words penned while traveling do not lie; they’re not for showing off, but for making you reflect on, and take care of, yourself.  i dare say that in life, it is when we travel that our minds and hearts are the most open.  it’s a time when we think more than at any other time in our lives.  we may even think of something that we would never have thought of in all our lives.  and so, it would be the loss or the mistake of a lifetime not to write down in words those thoughts which may never have occurred to us.  you can always go back and take pictures, and buy as many souvenirs as you want.  but the thoughts that come to you while you travel will not come back.  when you go back, the feelings and sensations you have will no longer be the ones you had before.  (8)

what a great book to end september on.

it’s been a very heavily white reading year, and i find myself growing exhausted with it.  i’ve been saying for years now that i want to read more from contemporary korean literature, but i’ve admittedly been so lazy about it, falling back on the excuse that a lot of it isn’t translated, which also doesn’t actually work as an excuse because i can read korean.  and, as i learned last year when i read 3/4 of kim young-ha’s most recent novel, i can read fiction in korea better than i thought i could.

when i saw no one writes back at mcnally jackson (one reason i love mcnally jackson is that they actually have a section labelled “korean literature;” it’s not very big; but it’s there!), i had to buy it.  i’d read about it earlier, and i intrigued — the narrator is a 30-something who’s on a journey with his dog, staying in motels and writing letters to people he meets while in transit.  he tells himself he’ll go home when someone writes him back, and, every morning, he calls an old friend to see if he’s received any mail.

it’s a lovely, thoughtful book, and i can’t help but wonder how much better it would read in korean, given how lyrically and hauntingly the korean language captures melancholy.  (the korean language is fucking beautiful.)  i just finished this an hour or so ago, so i’m still processing it, still kind of stunned by it.

april + may + june reads!



twenty-two.  meghan daum (ed.), selfish, shallow, and self-absorbed (picador, 2015).

any person who marries but rejects procreation is seen as unnatural.  but a woman who confesses never to have felt the desire for a baby is considered a freak.  women have always been raised to believe they would not be complete and could not be thought to have succeeded in life without the experience of motherhood.  (did woolf believe that her husband’s life must also be judged a failure for reasons of childlessness?  i doubt it.)  that there could be something in the world that a woman could want more than children has been viewed as unacceptable.  things may be marginally different now, but, even if there is something she wants more than children, that is no reason for a woman to remain childless.  any normal woman, it is understood, wants — and should want — both.  (sigrid nunez, “the most important thing,” 109-10)

when this collection was first announced, i immediately started making grabby hands for it, purely for selfish (heh) reasons, as i fall within the ranks of those who do not want and have never wanted or been fond of children.  i was delighted when it was published, and, while i loved it, i admit to wanting more.  i wanted more from people of color.  i wanted more from younger people, people in their twenties and thirties.  i wanted more from people who didn’t want children because they don’t like babies/children.  i wanted more variety, which isn’t to say that the sixteen essays don’t have much variety — i just found myself wanting more.  still, highly recommended.

twenty-three.  michel faber, the book of strange new things (hogarth, 2014).

“you are …” said lover five, and paused to find the right word.  “… man.  only man.  God is more big than you.  you carry the word of God for a while, then the word become too heavy, heavy to carry, and you must rest.”  she laid her hand on his thigh.  “i understand.”  (474)*

one of the things i found most impressive about the book of strange new things was that we were with peter the whole time, and yet his perspective didn’t get dull or boring.  it added to the weirdness of the situation, of being on another planet, unable to communicate with earth except through this shoot, and it added a visceral sense of immediacy because, as he experienced everything for the first time, so did we.  i liked how faber wrote about faith, even when peter was being so frustratingly narrow and pastor-first, husband-second — i found it frustrating in the ways that people [of faith] can be frustrating.  i think that’s what struck me most about the book, how realistic it felt.  like, even though it was mostly set on an alien planet with this unknowable corporation, the heart of the book was human and knowable and relatable.  also, this is one helluva gorgeous book.

(edited:  god, i was flipping through the book to find a quote, and pages 442-5 still reduce me to a sobbing mess.  i don’t know why.  there’s something about those pages that are a punch to the gut, this character’s desire to live, her faith that is so different from peter’s evangelistic faith in the rawness, the desperation, of it.  in the face of that, peter’s faith comes across as privilege and indulgence.)

* a note:  the oasans (the native population), can’t pronounce “s” and “t,” so, in the book, they’re written in special characters that i can’t mimic on my keyboard, so i’ve simply filled in the “s”es and “t”s.)

twenty-four.  catie disabato, the ghost network (melville house, 2015).

“what does it matter if you’re not going?”  (molly, 279)

i read this in less than twenty-four hours, starting in the late evening and finishing in the morning, pausing only to sleep.  the ghost network is a fun, zippy ride that takes you around chicago, and there’s a mystery element to it (a pop star has gone missing!), with a weird sect, underground stations, and mysterious headquarters!  there’s also plenty of sass and humor, and it’s just a lot of fun, a great way to pass a summer afternoon with some iced coffee and something sweet!


twenty-five.  rebecca solnit, the faraway nearby (penguin, 2013).

something wonderful happens to you and you instantly look back over your life and see it as a series of fortunate events stretching off into the distance like mountain peaks.  something terrible happens and your life has always been a litany of woe.  the present rearranges the past.  we never tell the whole story because a life isn’t a story; it’s a whole milky way of events and we are forever picking out constellations from it to fit who and where we are.  (“apricots,” 246)

i. loved. this.  i loved how solnit talks about stories, how the book is bookended by her mother’s alzheimer’s, and i was surprised by how personally it touched me.  my grandmother passed away in 2012 from alzheimer’s, and the faraway nearby took me back to those months of her deterioration, to the ways my family rallied to care for her, and, eventually, to her death.  it also made me think of backpacking through japan by myself the summer after my grandmother passed away — and maybe it’s odd to be talking about what the book made me think of, but i say good books take you places, which include retrospective explorations of your own memories.  very thoughtful.  loved it.  can’t recommend it enough.

twenty-six.  betty halbreich, i'll drink to that (penguin press, 2014).

if one buys a piece because of a label or a particular store and it is not becoming, that item is worth nothing.  it can be the most wonderful dress in the world (and marked down to the best price!), but if it doesn’t fit, it might as well become a mop-up cloth.  terribly costly mistakes like this are made all the time — and they come with a lot of guilt.  (i know, because i have a dozen pairs of shoes in my closet that are so beautiful.  only my feet don’t think so.  i would like to wear them on my hands.  then i could absolve myself of the guilt i feel at all the money i spent on the shoes themselves and on the shoemaker who tried to stretch them.)  (136)

this was frothy fun.  i don’t know quite how else to describe it.  i find glimpses into the lives of the privileged and wealthy to be fascinating, and i liked halbreich and her frankness.


twenty-seven.  kazuo ishiguro, an artist of the floating world (penguin, 2013) (originally, 1986).

“it’s hard to appreciate the beauty of a world when one doubts its very validity.”  (mori-san, 161)

i am forever in awe of ishiguro’s ability to inhabit the first person.  one of the things i loved about an artist of the floating world is how the dialogue read almost like it was in-translation — ishiguro captures the roundabout nature of the japanese language, the deference, even the differences between honorific speech and casual speech.  he also captures the voice of an old japanese man, reminiscing back on his youth and his experiences during the war, as well as the generational and cultural/social changes in postwar japan.  i make it sound like an artist of the floating world is a historical study, but that’s not it — i love ishiguro’s ability to weave questions about culture, art, memory into his narratives, and, with this particular book, i was very intrigued by how he wrote japan, not necessarily about japan, per se, but how the narrator’s voice is japanese.  does that make sense?  i feel like i’m not saying this clearly …  an artist is great, though, even if i’m muddled up what i find so lovely about it, and i recommend it.


twenty-eight.  george eliot, middlemarch (penguin classics, 2011).

in marriage, the certainty, ‘she will never love me much’, is easier to bear than the fear, ‘i shall love her no more.’  (“two temptations,” 652)

omg, i’m so sick of talking about middlemarch.  i finished it.  i enjoyed it enough to finish it.  i’m glad i never to have to experience it again.  the end.


twenty-nine.  margaret atwood, the stone mattress (nan a. talese, 2014).

young naveena can scarcely believe her luck.  her mouth’s half open, she’s biting the tips of her fingers, she’s holding her breath.  she’s embedding us in amber, thinks tin.  like ancient insects.  preserving us forever.  in amber beads, in amber words.  right before our eyes.  (“dark lady,” 107)

i loved this collection except for the last story, which i’m realizing i didn’t actually finish … oops.  i’m still counting this, though.  my favorite stories were the first three interrelated stories (“alphinland,” “revenant,” and “dark lady”) because i have a particular soft spot for interrelated stories (the book i’m writing is a collection of interrelated short stories) (how many times can i say “interrelated stories” in one sentence?), and these in particular were fun in how they offered different perspectives, different takeaways.  there are nine stories in this collection, but they’re varied, and atwood is one smart, witty woman.  love her.

(by the way, i hate deckle edges.)

thirty.  amy rowland, the transcriptionist (algonquin, 2014) (via oyster books).

“whatever do you think you learn about people from a newspaper?”

“i suppose you learn things about humanity, but very little about individuals.”  (chapter 12)

the funny thing about the transcriptionist is that i kept getting confused because i kept thinking it was set in the mid-twentieth century.  i don’t know quite what it was, but the confusion was particularly strong in the beginning.  maybe the descriptions or the fact that the narrator lived in dorm-like housing for women only with a curfew?  either way, i never really fell in love with the transcriptionist, but i enjoyed reading it now and then when i was on the train.  it was my subway read for a few months.



thirty-one.  paul fischer, a kim jong-il production (flatiron books, 2015).

kim jong-il had invented the mass games in 1972, for his father’s sixtieth birthday, and it was one of the ways he hoped to demonstrate his virtues as an heir.  the games were at the center of what came to be known as “succession art,” write historians heonik kwon and byung-ho chung, “considering that the central objective of the era’s artistic production was to sublimate kim il-sung’s authority in preparation or transforming his personal charisma into a historical, hereditary charisma” that could be passed on to kim jong-il.  (128-9)

this was fun and interesting, and i liked it particularly because it focuses on a specific series of events (the kidnapping of a south korean star actress and star director by north korea because of kim jong-il’s obsession with film and desire to make a name for north korean cinema) and because it gives us a different look into north korea than other books about the country tend to give us.  there’s less politicizing and more story-telling here, but i must admit that i found fischer’s writing to be a tad dramatic.  he kept ending his chapters/sections with these cliffhanger-esque, reflective sentences, and, after a while, i found it a bit overdone.  it’s still a lot of fun and interesting — recommended!

thirty-two.  jonathan galassi, muse (knopf, 2015).

so people [at p&s] — those who lasted — relaxed and homed in on their work, endlessly complaining about the peremptory, ungrateful, self-involved authors whose writing they idolized.  they were utterly mad, of course, but they did their level best to ignore one another’s foibles since they were the same as their own.  and to many of them the cramped, filthy offices on union square were a mind-bending, topsy-turvy little heaven on earth.  (18)

muse is one of those strange reads where i liked it but i’m also not sure how i felt about it.  i’m interested to read galassi’s next fictional offering, though, so that’s a positive sign.  i think my quasi-ambivalence comes from being familiar with a lot of the relationships/people in the novel, so some of the history and background read as a bit long for me because it was mentally redundant, though it wasn't narratively.  which means that you don't have to know anything about publishing to read and enjoy the book -- i actually think that might be better?  at the same time, though, i also admit to this being a case of the publishing geek side of my brain going into overdrive and trying to make connections subconsciously, which probably affected my reading of the book.  regardless, i'd recommend it to anyone who's interested in a bit of publishing history!  it was also a huge pleasure to hear galassi read and talk about the book.

thirty-three.  yangsze choo, the ghost bride (harpercollins, 2013) (via oyster books).

(i made no highlights, therefore no quote)

this was interesting because i zipped through this in one night and enjoyed it … and then a friend of mine started reading it, and she reads slowly, so i would revisit it with her as she read … and we both ended up disliking it.  the ghost bride had a whole lot of potential; it was set in a rich, layered, interesting world; and the main character was set up for an awesome adventure.  instead, there was quite a bit of historical/cultural explanation, predictable turns, and damsel-in-distress moments — instead of the main character actively saving herself, she kept getting into binds and calling out for the hero to rescue her, which got old after the second time.


thirty-four.  lily king, euphoria (atlantic monthly press, 2014) (via oyster books).

‘do you have a favorite part of all this?’ she [nell] asked.


favorite part?  there was little at this point that didn’t make me want to run with my stones straight back into the river.  i shook my head.  ‘you first.’

she looked surprised, as if she hadn’t expected the question to come back at her.  she narrowed her grey eyes.  ‘it’s that moment about two months in, when you think you’ve finally got a handle on the place.  suddenly it feels within your grasp.  it’s a delusion — you’ve only been there eight weeks — and it’s followed by the complete despair of ever understanding anything.  but at that moment the place feels entirely yours.  it’s the briefest, purest euphoria.’  (chapter 5)

a few friends recommended this to me, and i am so glad i finally read it.  i’ve never thought much about anthropology, not in the sense that i think little of the discipline but rather that i’ve never given it much thought, just kind of assumed people went off to hidden corners of the world and tried to observe cultures and societies from as objective a view as they could get.  never once did i think of what that entailed, and euphoria did a wonderful job of exploring what anthropologists do, without resorting to exposition.  king tells the story of three anthropologists whose lives become tangled up as they study different tribes with different approaches, and there’s a love triangle, too, but it doesn’t feel trite or cheesy.  i actually quite enjoyed it because it fit seamlessly into the whole big picture of the novel.  thanks for recommending this to me!  and i pass the recommendation along!

(also, i loved the twist with the narrative voice in the first chapter.  that was great.)


thirty-five.  bill clegg, ninety days (little, brown, 2012) (via ibooks).

how many times had i been convinced there was a dark conspiracy of intricately placed people observing, entrapping, stalking, and circling?  so many.  now, with this kind, sober woman sitting next to me in the thicket of a challenging dinner party, i experience the flip side of this paranoia — the opposite of all that wild-minded dread, the feeling instead that there are forces conspiring on my behalf, placing people in my way at precisely the right moments to guide me on whatever path i should be on.  (“shoulder to shoulder”)

i woke up a week or so ago, needing to reread ninety days.  there’s so much rawness and vulnerability in this slim book (well, i assume it’s slim because it’s a fast read — i read it in a few hours — but i read it on ibooks, so i haven’t actually held the physical book in my hand) (D:), and i like clegg’s voice.  a lot.  he’s not a very fancy writer who gets caught up in beautiful sentences, but i like that.  (i describe it as “clean.”)  ninety days is about his struggle to get and stay clean, to get ninety days sober (the first milestone), and he talks frankly about his relapses, his temptations to relapse, the ugliness of addiction, about how it’s people who save you, how it’s community that keeps you going in the day-to-day, that it’s about being there for each other, with each other.  that’s something we all need to be reminded of, i think — and there’s something very humbling about ninety days, too.  it’s easy for us to think that we’re better than addicts because we aren’t addicted to a substance, but that’s not true — we’re all human; we’re all flawed; and we all fuck up.  we all alienate and isolate and hurt the people who love us, and we all destroy relationships.  we all need people and second and third and tenth and hundredth chances.  who are we to judge?

thirty-six.  megan whalen turner, the queen of attolia (greenwillow books, 2000).

“nahuseresh, if there is one thing a woman understands, it is the nature of gifts.  they are bribes when threats will not avail.”  (attolia, 298)

read this for the second time this year because i loved gen and attolia and wanted to read something light and fun.  there’s a lot of heavy-handed plotting and politicizing in queen of attolia, but i love it, anyway.  the romance kind of comes out of nowhere, too, but i love it, anyway.  i love the characters, which means that i can overlook a lot of the other weaknesses because i’m that emotionally taken.

thirty-seven.  bill clegg, did you ever have a family (scout press, forthcoming, 2015).

it is raining now.  somewhere on upper main street a metal mailbox slams shut.  she thinks she hears footsteps again, this time rushing away, but soon there is only the sound of raindrops tapping the fallen leaves, the parked cars, the gutters.  she closes her eyes and listens.  no one calls her name, there are no more footsteps behind her, but still she turns around before unlocking the door and stepping inside.  she takes a long, late-day look at the town where she has lived her whole life, where there are no friends, no family, but where her feet are famous to the sidewalks.  (46)

clegg’s debut novel has been getting a lot of praise, so i was a little nervous going into it because i didn’t want it to disappoint.  the novel follows the aftermath of an accident at a wedding, and the chapters each focus on a different character (kind of like in claire messud’s the emperor’s children, but better).  i loved how the book unfolds, introducing and delving into the different people who are somehow touched by this tragedy, whether directly or indirectly.  it's done beautifully and poignantly in lovely, sparse language, and, while the different voices aren’t so markedly, dramatically different, they are varied in voice, tone, and color, which is no small feat.  i can see where all the high praise is coming from and highly recommend this — it’ll be published on 2015 september 8, and i can’t wait for the book tour!


we are now in the second half of 2015!  i'm happy to say that i am right where i need to be in my goal to read 75 books in 2015!

and, YEY, i caught up to my monthly reading recaps!  sorry for the delays -- it's been a rough three months, but things are better now!  thanks for reading!

march reads!


fifteen.  allie brosh, hyperbole & a half (touchstone, 2013).

(no quote because i don’t have the book, sorry!  i borrowed it from a friend.)

read this in an afternoon in los angeles, and there were no surprises here — what you see on her blog is what you get here.  the book felt a little long, though; i found my interest significantly waning as i got closer to the end. 


sixteen.  asa akira, insatiable:  porn — a love story (grove press, 2014).

i stormed off set.  it takes a lot to get me that mad, but dan had done it.  i was tired of people trying to tell me the sexual orientation of my boyfriend.  no one was going to tell me my boyfriend was gay anymore.  in an industry where we were so often shunned from society because of our sexuality, you would think people would be more open-minded and understanding.  it made me sick.  ("penis envy")

asa akira’s a porn actress, and she wrote a memoir about, well, being a porn actress, and this was an easy read.  her writing is simple and casual, and she’s very frank and open and doesn’t try to cater to an audience — i got the feeling that she was writing insatiable more for herself than anyone else, though, at the same time, there wasn’t a cloying sense of “this is a diary,” either.

i’ve read reviews/comments about insatiable being shallow or lacking in introspection or deflecting from deeper thought about issues like asian fetishization or homophobia in the straight porn industry or personal things like her family, and i’m torn about this.  on one hand, yes, it would have been interesting if she’d delved deeper, but, on the other, i don’t know — as far as her relationship with her family’s concerned, we aren’t owed that, and, as far as issues in the porn industry are concerned, do we need that — or, from another perspective, why do we require that?

i didn’t feel that the book was lacking much because of the lack of introspection, but maybe that’s because i went into insatiable expecting a fun, breezy read with blunt sex talk.  i will say that i found the last bit (her letter to her future child) a little too flippant and defensive (and most telling, in ways) for me, but, otherwise, i enjoyed it for what it was, a casual memoir by a woman who works in porn and enjoys her work.


seventeen.  joy cho, blog, inc.  (chronicle books, 2012).

authenticity simply means writing in a voice that comes naturally to you, and posting things that you simply want to share with others — not what you think they want to see.  (39)

i picked this up because i spent a lot of the last few weeks thinking about what to do with my blog and wondering how the hell people made money off their blogs and, yes, if i might be able to do something more with my little corner on the internet.  a lot of the stuff about blogging in blog, inc., wasn’t new to me, but i was glad for the chapters about monetizing blogs and what things like analytics or SEOs and such were.  i love cho’s blog, oh joy!, and her sunny, approachable personality is very present in this book, which is also laid out well and designed beautifully and filled with interviews with other bloggers (these were my favourite parts).  in the end, i still don’t know what i’m doing with this blog, but that’s okay — i’m glad i picked this up and have it as a resource.


eighteen.  jonathan franzen, the kraus project (FSG, 2013).

sex looks like nothing or like everything, depending on when you look at it, and it must have been looking to me like nothing in munich, at the predawn hour when you’re finally exhausted by unsatisfied desire and only want to sleep a little.  not until i was back in my clothes and standing on a train platform in hannover, a few hours later, hurling pfennings, did it look like everything again.  (250-1)

this is a book of franzen’s translations of karl kraus, along with annotations and commentary from himself, paul reitter (kraus scholar) and daniel kehlmann (austrian novelist + kraus fan) — okay, so, i’m going to confess to a sort of bad thing and say that i didn’t read all the kraus essays.  :|  i started reading the kraus project when it was published in autumn 2013, but i put it down until march 2015, and i have a habit of not going back to reread things to refresh my memory, so … i never went back to figure out where i’d left off in the kraus essay and merrily proceeded to read all the commentary.

… i’m sorry, franzen.

i thought the kraus project was kind of cool, and i loved the dialogue in the annotations between reitter, kehlmann, and franzen.  there seems to be a deep camaraderie there, which i enjoyed; they approached kraus seriously, thoughtfully, intellectually without being pedantic or teacherly; and i liked how they sometimes build on each other and ultimately created this living, communal project that encourages the reader, too, to engage (yes, even without having read all the kraus).  i found the kraus project to be an interesting experience, and i look forward to revisiting it and maybe giving the kraus essays another go.

also, this was one beautifully designed book.  (cue:  whathappenedwithpurity.)  (and cue:  five months to purity!)


nineteen.  roxane gay, an untamed state (grove/atlantic, 2014).

"it is often women who pay the price for what men want."  (mireille)

read this on oyster books (which i am loving) — i wrote about this in a hello monday post, and i don’t know if i want to expand on it more.  except maybe to say that, wanting better writing does not mean wanting flowery, beautiful writing.  it just means wanting better writing, and i wanted better (much better) writing from an untamed state.  not beautiful writing.  better.


twenty.  miriam toews, all my puny sorrows (mcsweeney’s, 2014).

on the way back to the hospital i thought about my crazy outburst in the parking lot.  it’s my past, i say out loud to nobody in the car.  i had figured it out.  i was sigmund freud.  mennonite men in church with tight collars and bulging necks accusing me of preposterous acts and damning me to some underground fire when i hadn’t done a thing.  i was an innocent child.  elf was an innocent child.  my father was an innocent child.  my cousin was an innocent child.  you can’t flagrantly march around the fronts of churches waving your arms in the air and scaring people with threats and accusations just because your family was slaughtered in russia and you were forced to run and hide in a pile of manure when you were little.  what you do at the pulpit would be considered lunatic behavior on the street.  you can’t go around terrorizing people and making them feel small and shitty and then call them evil when they destroy themselves.  you will never walk down a street and feel a lightness come over you.  you will never fly.  (177-8)

this is a novel about two sisters.  the elder is a brilliant pianist, and the younger is “ordinary” — she’s been twice married, twice divorced, with two kids and a decent (basic?) writing career.  the brilliant pianist is suicidal and wants to die, and her sister struggles to come to terms with this, whatever “coming to terms with this” means — and all of this meant i was, one, instantly interested and, two, intensely wary.

i’m wary of portrayals of depression and suicide because i’m wary of reductive caricatures, a lack of sympathy/empathy, dismissive condescension.  i also generally avoid writing of/by people who’ve lost loved ones to suicide, so i walked into all my puny sorrows with a whole lot of reservation, ready to close the book and move on at any given point.  the voice sucked me in, though — the novel is told by the younger sister, yolandi, and there is so much personality and vivacity in her voice that i couldn’t help but be invested in her story, in her relationship with her sister and mother, in her conflicting emotions and thoughts about what to do for her sister.

toews’ portrayal of suicidal depression is remarkably nuanced and human, withholding in judgment and simply portraying the person within, but, surprisingly, i think i appreciated more how she conveyed the complicated nature of caring for someone who’s suicidal.  yolandi is faced with heavy questions, questions whose answers might have seemed obvious in hypothetical situations but become more complex in the face of her sister’s real desire to die, and her grief, too, is complicated, not a static thing but one that goes through cycles and emotions, rage one instant, deep sorrow the next, normality in yet another.  it’s this humanity that grounds the novel and pulled me in and left me at the end satisfied, even though the book did go on a little long.


twenty-one.  alice munro, the beggar maid (vintage, 1991).

the most mortifying thing of all was simply hope, which burrows so deceitfully at first, masks itself cunningly, but not for long.  in a week’s time it can be out trilling and twittering and singing hymns at heaven’s gate.  and it was busy even now, telling her that simon might be turning into her driveway at this very moment, might be standing at her door with his hands together, praying, mocking, apologizing.  memento mori.  (“simon’s luck,” 173)

i also wrote about the beggar maid in the same hello monday post linked above, and i don’t know if i want to write more about it here.  i’m not being lazy, i swear — i honestly don’t have much to add to it, which leaves me feeling conflicted and leads me to …

it’s been a weird reading year thus far.  i find myself hungry to read constantly, and i’ve been reading a lot and consistently, but, while i’ve been having several strong, intense reading experiences, i’ve found much of my reading kind of falling away from me once i’m done.  an untamed state was like that; the beggar maid also fell away from me once i’d completed it; and hyperbole and a half, too, had zero sticky factor (though i wasn’t much surprised by that, to be honest).  i’ve admittedly found it a bit discouraging, that i can be so invested in a book while i reading it, only to emerge from it and essentially forget about it.

though that wasn’t the case with the beggar maid, so maybe i should have brought this up after writing about it …

to be honest, if i hadn’t been reading the beggar maid for book club, i wonder if i would have finished it.  it’s not that i don’t see the merits in munro’s writing, but there’s a staticity and flatness to her stories that wear me down and leave me wanting more.  i thought about marilynne robinson when i was reading the beggar maid, and particularly of lila, how there’s a provinciality to robinson’s gilead, too, but how robinson’s stories feel bigger than that, seem to encompass so much more and transcend the narrowed focus of her characters and stories.  i don’t think it’s a novel versus short story thing because i still found much of the beggar maid static, but i wonder if it isn’t a tone thing because there was a distance to munro’s writing in the beggar maid, a lack of connection that kept me at arm’s length from rose and made me see her more as a series of actions/movements than an emotive, expressive person.

which isn’t to say that all characters should be emotional or expressive, just that i couldn’t get a gauge for anything below the surface or the sense that rose was simply a quiet, reserved woman or even that she was suppressing things.  she was simply there on the page doing things, so there wasn’t much there for me to hold onto as a reader.  i do like munro’s writing, though; it’s quite lovely.

april thus far has been a great reading month.  selfish, shallow, and self-absorbed has given me plenty to mull over, and the book of strange new things haunted me for days (and still fills me with despair when i think about it).  the ghost network was loads of fun and excitement (though let’s see about the sticky factor), and i’m absolutely loving the faraway nearby (and can’t wait to acquire/read a field guide to getting lost next) — and i’m not sure where i’ll go after that, so we’ll see!

as always, thanks for reading!

february reads!


(sometimes, i pester the cat while she's napping on my bed.)

five.  kim thúy, mån (random house canada, 2014)

in less than a second his face appeared, and at that exact moment i was in the present tense; a present without a past.  (117)

mån tells the story of a vietnamese woman (mån) who’s abandoned as a baby and eventually marries a vietnamese man in toronto.  he owns a restaurant, and she’s a skillful cook, catching the attention of a caucasian woman who befriends her and opens up new opportunities for her that lead her to a man in paris.  this is such a trite description of the book.

i loved the format of the book — how each section has a “theme” word that’s printed in both vietnamese and english in the margin.  the narrator’s voice has a magical quality that i loved and greatly enjoyed; it brings a haunting sheen to the novel; but, in the end, that’s kind of all it was — a sheen — because, ultimately, mån fell flat for me.  there wasn’t any conflict, no tension — everything seems to happen so easily for the narrator, and her actions don’t have any consequences.  it makes me think of the michael cunningham lecture i attended earlier this month — a character is driven by desire, by want for something — but mån doesn’t seem to want anything, which in turn means that i, as the reader, don’t have any reason to root for her or want things for her.


six.  jenny offill, dept. of speculation (knopf, 2014)

but she does get irritated when her college sends around the memo at the end of the semester about how to recognize a suicidal student.  she wants to send it back marked up in black letters.  how about you look in their eyes?  (106)

if i were to summarize dept. of speculation, i’d describe it as “notes on a marriage and an infidelity.”  the book is told in short notes written from a wife to her husband, and the voice shifts roughly halfway in after the husband has an affair, switching from the first person to the third — and i’d have to say that that’s when the book started losing me.  i understood the shift in my head, and i liked it theoretically, but it didn’t quite succeed on the page, feeling abrupt and distancing, the latter of which maybe was the point because it was the narrator distancing herself from her husband’s affair.  that said, the shift also distanced me, the reader, from the narrative, and made me a mere spectator.

dept. of speculation was an engrossing quick read, though, and i did appreciate its exploration of marriage and the ways an affair breaks it in splintering ways.  i loved the mentions of her daughter — those were easily my favorite parts of the book, and i was sad there wasn’t more of that — but, in the end, now that i’m a few weeks away from it, i think i’d have to say that i found dept. of speculation to be a book without much cling, fizzling away once i’d finished it and leaving no residue behind.


seven.  patricia park, re jane (viking, forthcoming 2015)

“that’s real rich, you know that?” he [ed] shook his head.  “you’re telling me i need to fix my relationship with my daughter, when look at you!  do you hear the way he [your uncle] talks to you?”

i’d actually thought it was one of our more pleasant phone conversations.

“for one, he hollers at you — although that’s not new to you, the way you hold the damn phone away from your ear.  he wasn’t even on speaker.  but then he expects you to come at his every beck and call.  and guess what?  you come running.”

“he’s family.

“does he even pay you to work?”

i wasn’t officially on the books — that wasn’t the way we did things at food — but sang would always pack me with groceries when i went home, and he’d give me the periodic handout.  in fact, ed had just eaten one of sang’s apples that morning.

“well, does he?”

“do you clock in and out to watch devon?”

maybe it was a cheap shot, but his question felt that preposterous.  you don’t keep a tally of expenses with family.

ed let out an exasperated sigh, the way he sometimes did with his daughter.  “i just hate watching the way he treats you.  and don’t even get me started on everything with your late mother.  you know he’s still holding all that against you.”

i hadn’t actually broached the topic of my mother — and father — with my uncle since i’d returned from seoul.  i continually debated whether to bring it up, but things had been going so well between us (okay, as well as they were probably ever going to go) that i’d held off.  i didn’t want to rock the boat.

“he’s a man of his generation,” i snapped.  “you try working fourteen hours on your feet all day.  you try operating in a language that’s not your native —”

“stop defending him!” ed interrupted.  his tone was so sharp that i shrank back.  he must have seen my stricken look, because he softened his voice.  “he should love you for you.  not in spite of.  but that man talks to you like he doesn’t have an ounce of respect for you.”

ed’s words stung me into silence.  (286-7)

re jane is a half-korean orphan who was sent to flushing, queens, to be raised by her uncle’s family after her parents died in korea.  after graduating college, she’s jobless and without prospects when her friend suggests that she take a job as an au pair for a caucasian family in brooklyn.  she makes the mistake of falling in love with the husband, ed, and a series of mishaps sends her around the world to south korea where she discovers a different life as well as family and the truth about her parents before eventually returning to queens.

i love how park writes about koreans, korean-americans, and korea from the perspective of a korean-american.  i also love how she writes about culture clashes, the above passage being an example of one.  i love the relationships, how she captures the complications of korean families that don’t seem to make sense to non-koreans and also how she captures that as well as the confusion, sometimes, of being korean-american and caught between two cultures, two worlds, that don’t seem to understand or mesh with each other.

i cried ridiculous amounts while reading this, in pretty much every scene that had to do with korean families and that convoluted expression of love.  hell, i’m tearing up writing this, just thinking about it because there’s kind of nothing like the korean family to tug at my heart — and i don’t mean to make all of this sound so othering, these distinctions between “korean families” and “non-korean families,” but the truth is that cultures are different, and i think there’s something wonderfully beautiful and messy about that.  (there’s also something so awesome about the fact that we can have books that portray different cultures and different families and different people, and reading re jane often made me think, YES!  a thousand times, YES!  in some ways, i’ve been waiting for a book like this for a long, long time.)  i also have no qualms in stating that i do fiercely love and am proud of the culture i come from, even while i find so much problematic about it, and i appreciated that re jane didn’t try to present a perfect, glossy image of korean culture but showed it also for its flaws and weirdnesses and the ways that it fucks you up, too, as a 1.5- or second-generation korean-american.

however, i so intensely dislike the whole “modern re-telling of jane eyre” bit because it seems so obviously a bit, like someone decided that the novel needed something “relatable” because readers wouldn’t connect with it simply being a story about a korean-american girl finding herself.  the most unnatural parts of the book are the parts that obviously hearken back to jane eyre, like all the moments the narrator tries to pull off referring to the reader as “reader” or the descriptions of ed that clearly make you think “mr. rochester,” and they feel unnatural because they feel like they were thrown in there to make re jane a “modern re-telling.”

(it was clever to name re jane’s father currer bell, though.  that was a good, quiet reference to charlotte brontë.)

i don’t fault park for this, though, because the whole “modern re-telling” thing feels clearly like a marketing thing, and, though i had some issues with some of the writing here and there (the beginning reads very literally, like “here’s a step-by-step account of my day”), i found re jane to be engrossing and funny and heartwarming, and i’d definitely recommend it.


eight, nine, ten.  megan whalen turner, the queen of attolia (greenwillow books, 2001), the king of attolia (2006), the thief (1996)

“… but, gen, i know my decisions are my own responsibility.  if i am the pawn of the gods, it is because they know me so well, not because they make up my mind for me.  […]  we can’t ask the gods to explain themselves, and i, for one, don’t want to.”  (eddis in the queen of attolia, 171)


“if she pardons people because she loves them, someday someone that she loves will betray her and all of attolia with her.  a queen must make sacrifices for the common good,” relius said.

“and if what she sacrifices is her heart?  giving it up a piece at a time until there is nothing left?  what do you have then, relius, but a heartless ruler?  and what becomes of the common good then?”

“the queen could never be heartless.”

“no,” said the king.  “she would die herself, relius, or lose her mind first and then her heart.  could you not see it happening?  or is your faith in her strength really so blind?  everyone has a breaking point.  yet you never stop demanding more of her.”  (the king of attolia, 288)


oh, thank gods, i thought.  they’re going to leave me.  all i wanted to do was lie in the dry prickly grass with my feet in a ditch forever.  i could be a convenient sort of mile marker, i thought.  get to the thief and you know you are halfway to methana.  wherever methana might be.  (the thief, 30)

this is not the order of the books but the order in which i read them.  the thief is actually the first book of the series, but the friend who recommended this series to me has a thing for second books and, thus, started me on, surprise surprise, the second book … which i loved so much, i immediately sought out the others.

i’m feeling lazy (bad book blogger!) (but i also don’t know how to summarize this without spoiling it?), so y’all can google a summary if you are so inclined.

these books aren’t badly written, but neither are they without prominent flaws.  there’s a lot of explaining in the queen of attolia — there’s a war being waged in the story, but it’s pretty much all presented in tactical explanations — and nothing really happens in the king of attolia.  on top of that, a lot of key things in the books simply seem to happen or pop up out of nowhere.

that said, though, these books are fun, and i loved the main character, eugenides, to pieces.  there’s also a strong feminist streak to them, what with badass queens (both attolia and eddis) who protect their kingdoms while spurning husbands and tactical marriages, and i particularly loved attolia for all her toughness and loneliness.  i was also intrigued by turner’s treatment of gods and how they’re actively involved in the characters’ lives, but the bottom-line really is that i had loads of fun reading these books, and i still think about eugenides and attolia all the time.  i do love me a good love story.


eleven.  diana wynne jones, howl’s moving castle  (greenwillow books, 1986)

“go to bed, you fool,” calcifer said sleepily.  “you’re drunk.”

“who, me?” said howl.  “i assure you, my friends, i am cone sold stober.”  (374)

i might as well throw this out there:  i’m not keen on the ghibli adaptation of howl’s moving castle.  not at all.  i don’t even know how miyazaki got from this delightful book to his heavy-handed movie about war and such — what’s the point of an adaptation when you’re taking such wide, wide liberties?

the book, though — the book is enchanting.  we follow sophie hatter, the eldest of three girls, as she’s cursed to be an old woman by the spiteful witch of the waste, leaving her home and ending up at howl’s moving castle, where she installs herself as the new cleaning woman after making a bargain with calcipher, a fire demon.  howl is a vain, kind of silly wizard who slithers out of everything, but he’s also kind-hearted while being non-committal, taking in a young apprentice, michael, without “officially” taking him in — and, together, they make an odd family of sorts as howl continues trying to slither out of finding the king’s brother and confronting the witch of the waste.

it’s a sweet book and a funny one, too, and i love it more every time i read it.  


twelve.  chimamanda ngozi adichie, we should all be feminists (knopf, 2014)

some people ask, “why the word feminist?  why not just say you are a believer in human rights, or something like that?”  because that would be dishonest.  feminism is, of course, part of human rights in general — but to choose to use the vague expression human rights is to deny the specific and particular problem of gender.  it would be a way of pretending that it was not women who have, for centuries, been excluded.  it would be a way of denying that the problem of gender targets women.  that the problem was not about being human but specifically about being a female human.  for centuries, the world divided human beings into two groups and then proceeded to exclude and oppress one group.  it is only fair that the solution to the problem should acknowledge that.”  (41)

this is from adichie’s 2012 tedx talk, and, to be quite honest, i don’t know how i feel about printing speeches in book form.  i feel like it’s become a thing in recent years, and, while part of me enjoys having these awesome speeches as books, the other part of me sort of side-eyes the cost (though, to be fair, this one is priced at $8).  (then again, the first part of me is like, at least do it the way FSG did with franzen’s commencement speech and put it in a collection.)  

regardless, though, everyone should read this.  or listen to it (link to youtube is above).  and, seriously, if you don’t get why we need feminism after reading/listening to this (and rebecca solnit’s men explain things to me), idk what to say to you.


thirteen.  chimamanda ngozi adichie, americanah (knopf, 2013)

“the only reason you say that race was not an issue is because you wish it was not.  we all wish it was not.  but it’s a lie.  i came from a country where race was not an issue; i did not think of myself as black and i only became black when i came to america.  when you are black in america and you fall in love with a white person, race doesn’t matter when you’re alone together because it’s just you and your love.  but the minute you step outside, race matters.  but we don’t talk about it.  we don’t even tell our white partners the small things that piss us off and the things we wish they understood better, because we’re worried they will say we’re overreacting, or we’re being too sensitive.  and we don’t want them to say, look how far we’ve come, just forty years ago it would have been illegal for us to even be a couple blah blah blah, because you know what we’re thinking when they say that?  we’re thinking why the fuck should it ever have been illegal anyway?  but we don’t say any of this stuff.  we let it pile up inside our heads and when we come to nice liberal dinners like this, we say that race doesn’t matter because that’s what we’re supposed to say, to keep our nice liberal friends comfortable..”  (ifemelu, 359-60)

americanah is a beautifully sprawling book that mostly follows ifemelu, a nigerian, who travels to the united states to go to college.  to a lesser degree, it follows obinze, her boyfriend from secondary school, who tries to get his papers in england but ends up back in nigeria — and, in some ways, it’s a love story, but, mostly, it’s a story of their lives, how they leave their home country and go to these other nations where they are suddenly black, where race suddenly matters in simultaneously complicated and reductive ways.

i loved americanah, but i admit i wonder if i loved it for itself as a novel or for how adichie writes about race.  i liked ifemelu, but i don’t know that i was that invested in her emotionally or that i really cared what happened to her, not in a cold indifferent way but in a way that assumed that she would be fine and, therefore, did not require my concern.  i did find myself liking her less when she returns to nigeria and picks things up with obinze again, just like i found myself liking obinze less, too, and part of me wished that we could have spent more time exploring that conflict, more of the small, personal things, because i found some of the things between ifemelu and obinze to be a little clunky — but that’s kind of the only big criticism i can think of because i was totally engrossed with this book, finishing it in twenty-four hours.

the awesome thing about americanah is that it’s not trying to be a novel about race; it just happens to be telling a story that has to do with race; and it does so deftly and skillfully, not in heavy-handed, didactic ways but in rich, vibrant portraits of its characters’ lives.  similarly, adichie also writes just as naturally about modernization and social norms in nigeria — and, altogether, she’s woven a living, breathing world filled with nuances and complication and humanity, and it is pretty damn magnificent to behold.


fourteen.  laura van den berg, find me (FSG, 2015)

once we are touching each other, how can we be expected to stop?  soon i am flat against his bed, my scrubs around my ankles.  my legs are parting and then he is on top of me, pushing.  it’s daytime and there is no lock on the door, so we are quick, but i will never forget the feeling of blood flooding my body or our hot grasping hands or the way his eyes rolled back as we slipped into a place where time has no meaning, where we forget all about hunger, where we are so completely alive it seems impossible that we will not live forever.  (98-9)

a pandemic has swept through the states, one that causes silver sores to grow on people’s skin and makes them lose their memories before they die.  joy, the narrator, is offered a place in a hospital with a select number who are thought to be immune, where staff in hazmat suits study them and monitor them in search for a cure.  eventually, in the second part of the book, she leaves the hospital and travels down to florida in search of her mother.

i wanted to like this.  i tried so hard to like it.  instead, i almost ended up dropping it halfway in because i couldn’t connect with joy or the story at all, but i pushed through, basically skimming/flipping through the last seventy-five pages for the sake of getting to the end.  ($26 will incentivize you to push through sometimes.)

the thing is, van den berg’s writing is lovely.  i respond positively to it on a technical level, and i enjoy her prose a lot.  unfortunately, a story isn’t about just writing, and i think the novel started to lose me as it became increasingly clear that nothing was going to happen.  it started off positively enough, and i think it helped that the first part of the book also had to give us joy’s backstory, so it didn’t feel as stagnant — but, then, as the pages went on and joy was still in the hospital and nothing was really happening, i started to lose interest, and i started to lose it fast.

one reason i pushed on, though, was that i hoped things would start moving when joy physically got on the move and left the hospital and started making her way from kansas to florida.  unfortunately, though, part two suffered from a very literal, step-by-step telling that told us a lot movement-wise but nothing much deeper than that — and then joy and her friend, marcus, ended up stuck at a place called the mansion, which meant more pages of nothing happening, and, by then, i was skimming/flipping and hoping to hit florida.

i do love the premise of the book — as someone who’s personally obsessed with loss and memory, i was really intrigued by the idea of a pandemic that not only killed people but also did so while taking away their memories.  that’s fascinating to me.  unfortunately, though, find me failed to deliver, even if it does have such a beautiful cover.