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!

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.

hello monday! (150216)

was laid up with (what i assume was) the flu last week/over the weekend, which means i was bedridden for four days, which means i read a whole lot because there wasn't much else to do when i wasn't sleeping or thinking i was dying ... which is maybe a tad melodramatic, but i'm alone here in new york, and being sick alone is really just pure misery.

(my mum called to check in on me every day and took advantage of the situation to get in her, see, this is why you should move back to california bit to which i replied, no, this is why i need a husband.)

(this is why i'm flying out to california for a week next month.  there's nothing like getting the flu alone to make any grown person want family.)  (and tacos.)

it kinda goes without saying that it was a great reading week:  plowed (and i mean plowed) my way through kim thúy's mãn (random house canada, 2014), jenny offill's dept. of speculation (knopf, 2014), patricia park's re jane (viking, forthcoming 2015), and megan whalen turner's the queen of attolia (harpercollins, 2001), made significant headway into caitlin doughty's smoke gets in your eyes (norton, 2014), and listened to jonathan franzen's the discomfort zone (FSG, 2006).  i loved the characters of the queen of attolia so much that i had to pop in at mcnally jackson yesterday (the first time i left my flat in four days, and what a glorious, freezing day it was) and buy its follow-up, the king of attolia (greenwillow books, 2006).

that was a lot of titles in one paragraph.

sometimes, these posts are easier to write, and, other times, i sit here staring at the blinking cursor on my screen and think, now what?  what is there i want to say?  today is one of those latter days, maybe because it's so fucking cold outside  or because i've still got the remnant lingering congestion and cough from the flu or because i'm back to editing my manuscript which inevitably consumes much of my life.

so links!  let's do links!  i've wanted to do a post of links for a while!

thanks for hanging around, and have a great week!