Catalina by Liska Jacobs

I kind of went into this book without knowing what it was going to be about. The whole time, I couldn’t stop thinking about the title and how there’s this famous line from the comedy Step Brothers. It goes:

catalina-wine-mixer

And maybe this gif can explain exactly how I feel about this book and the events that took place. Perhaps it will do the same for you.

33257651Elsa Fisher is headed for rock bottom. At least, that’s her plan. She has just been fired from MoMA on the heels of an affair with her married boss, and she retreats to Los Angeles to blow her severance package on whatever it takes to numb the pain. Her abandoned crew of college friends (childhood friend Charlotte and her wayward husband, Jared; and Elsa’s ex-husband, Robby) receive her with open arms, and, thinking she’s on vacation, a plan to celebrate their reunion on a booze-soaked sailing trip to Catalina Island.

But Elsa doesn’t want to celebrate. She is lost, lonely, and full of rage, and only wants to sink as low as the drugs and alcohol will take her. On Catalina, her determined unraveling and recklessness expose painful memories and dark desires, putting everyone in the group at risk.

At only 240 pages, I was worried this was going to be another one of those books where a young girl comes to New York with a lot of promise and only finds drugs and sex are what help her cope with her quarter-life crisis. I’m honestly so tired of stories that have people moving to New York and becoming drug-addled without a hint of trying to do anything for the big dream. However, this is completely opposite of that.

In fact, she was doing what she set out to do. She was working for the place of her dreams before she started having an affair with her boss. She then loses her job and travels back to California. While I never had an affair with my boss, I know the kind of upset you feel when you had a job one day and then it’s all completely taken away from you. There’s a small amount of depression that sets in and for Elsa, it comes with a nice sidecar of pain killers.

I kind of put this on the same level as Bridesmaids or any of those female groups that get together after a long time. They learn that they’re different or they learn that they’ve grown apart. I can imagine someone like Amy Schumer or Kristin Wiig playing Elsa if they adapted this to a movie. I can imagine her fiddling with pill bottles in the bottom of her purse wearing her best sequined dress and giant black sunglasses. I can see her waking up next to a random stranger hoping that they didn’t take it too far. I can see her even modeling bathing suits to the underage bellhop in the hotel she’s staying in. Like all those female friendship movies, there’s always someone that doesn’t care enough or only cares about themselves. I think that’s the perfect analogy to explain Elsa.

However, unlike those movies, Elsa doesn’t really learn anything other than the fact that she’s not her friends. She doesn’t want the same things in life and she doesn’t care about getting back to reality. She’s also deeply depressed. While you’re reading the story, Elsa goes back and rehashes on the events leading up to her affair, her job in New York. She talks about the relationship she has with her friends, with her ex-husband, and even her mom. I think it’s interesting how “rock bottom” can feel like the catalyst for change and sometimes it can feel like a good time to break open a bottle of booze. For Elsa, it’s the latter.

Even as she finds her best friend no longer cares about her and she has no one to looked to, she finds a way to be self-destructive. She doesn’t speak to anyone about what happened to her in New York and she doesn’t look for help. All she wants is to do is find those drugs to help her fall darker into her own pit.

To me, this didn’t read like a depressing story of a young woman on the verge of a breakdown. In actuality, all the characters in this story have something going on in their lives they’re not talking about. Since the story takes place in Elsa’s point of view, that’s all that you’re getting. However, the characters are super well-developed and you care more about them than you do about Elsa.

Speaking of writing, I thought this was eloquent and easy. The characters felt natural and almost real. I think the only thing I could comment on was how unfeeling and cold Elsa was. I guess that’s what the author was trying to do here. She was trying to make you feel for everyone and feel a little bit for Elsa, but in the end, you won’t really care for her very much. It’s obvious even with the way Liska Jacobs ended the book. She didn’t care for her friends and she clearly doesn’t care about herself, so why would the reader want to care about her too?

I received a copy of this book from NetGalley for free in exchange for an honest review. My opinions have not been influenced by the publisher or the author.

  • E-galley: 240 pages
  • Publisher: FSG Original
  • Rating: 4/5 stars
  • Buy Catalina on Amazon

Simone and Her Books is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. This in no way affects my opinion of the above book.

Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko

Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko

I kind of went into this book blindly. Because a friend was doing a challenge to read books by Native American authors. With very little knowledge of what this book is about, I read it. I could write a whole dissertation on the different themes of this novel. It was surprisingly short and compact for what it was conveying and I loved it.

First, let’s talk about what this book is about

Tayo, a young Native American, has been a prisoner of the Japanese during World War II, and the horrors of captivity have almost eroded his will to survive. His return to the Laguna Pueblo reservation only increases his feeling of estrangement and alienation. While other returning soldiers find easy refuge in alcohol and senseless violence, Tayo searches for another kind of comfort and resolution. Tayo’s quest leads him back to the Indian past and its traditions, to beliefs about witchcraft and evil, and to the ancient stories of his people. The search itself becomes a ritual, a curative ceremony that defeats the most virulent of afflictions—despair.

I really regret not looking into this one some more because while it was really interesting to read, it was pretty dense writing. It was also stylized in a way that made it quite confusing in the beginning. Once I finally got a grasp of what was going on, I approached the book more cautiously.

The story is told in flashbacks, in present day events, and in the ceremony to help Tayo heal from the atrocities of his life and the war. There weren’t chapters in the book, but each section was determined by the crazy indentation the paragraph starts with. The one thing I loved from this method were the poems. Every few pages, Leslie Silko included some stories written in a poetic-style about a hummingbird and a fly trying to bring water to their draught-filled land. The lengths these animals were going was a direct reflection of Tayo and his struggle.

Despite some strange stylistic choices the author made, there were tons of themes going on in this book. I think the easiest way to explain them all would be to list them and cite how the book tackled it.

Being a war veteran

Of course there are the themes of being Native American and how that’s affected Tayo and the Laguna people, but something else I thought might be interesting to explore is being unaccepted by America, but fighting a foreign war for them. Don’t you find it a little hypocritical to fight a war for a country that doesn’t even acknowledge you as a citizen? Force you to live on land in the middle of the desert with nothing to grow or harvest. I digress.

For Tayo, the horrors of his time in the Marines were not only met with having to kill a soldier, but also watching your cousin die, being a captive of Japanese army, and facing a point of insanity. When he returned from WWII, he struggled with finding himself. Who was he when his cousin and his uncle were both dead? Who was he before the war took him? He would vomit and sleep and imagine his uncle and his cousin, Rocky, were somehow present after they had died. He was hallucinating and struggling to stay sane when the tribe’s medicine man suggested he visit another medicine man that lived high in the hills. There he performed the ceremony to help him rid the “witchery” holding him hostage.

The best part of this novel that I found intriguing was the “taste” of being American. Emo, another Laguna native who went to the war, found the experience to be enlightening. While he spent his days in the bar, he would talk about how great the war was, how people treated him for wearing his uniform, and how all of that disappeared the moment he returned to the reservation. For Emo, the American life was something to be desired, but difficult to grasp because of the color of his skin. He built resentment for being Native American and resented anyone who didn’t appreciate the American life. I think this also contributed to Tayo’s frustration with figuring out who he was.

Being bi-racial

There was a lot of discussion about Tayo’s background. His mother was Native American from the Laguna tribe he was born into, but he didn’t know who his father was. I think there was mention of him being part white and part Mexican as well as part Laguna. They do go into his mother’s background a little more in the book, but because of the choices his mother made, the family he lives with doesn’t accept him. He’s not accepted by the other Laguna people, and he’s considered a half-breed who’s mother sold herself out to please white men.

I don’t know what it’s like to be bi-racial, but I do know what it’s like to be both American and Asian. Being flung between two cultures and trying to be accepted by both is not an easy task. You want to be loyal to both sides, but when one tribe doesn’t like you and the other doesn’t accept you, where do you go? Not white enough to be white. Not Native American enough to be Laguna.

I think Tayo never talked about this with himself. He never explored what made up his background and this contributed to the feelings he had when he returned from the war. He fought a war for Americans, but then returned to that same reservation he grew up in. No one applauded him for being a veteran and everyone outside of the reservation just saw another “Indian.” I think this ultimately contributed to him going slightly insane.

Returning to your roots

There’s probably other themes that I’m missing here, but I don’t want this post to get too long. The final theme I wanted to chat about was returning to your roots. While be chastised for being born a numerous number of races, I always felt like there was one that will always call to you. You’ll gravitate towards it and you’ll find peace there amongst the people who love you for who you are.

For Tayo, this journey began when he returned from the war. He enlisted to fight in a war for a country that doesn’t even accept Laguna as citizens of the country. However, he and many other Native Americans enlisted for the opportunities. What they found was a place of respect. People loved him because he was a soldier, not a Native American. They received the best because of their uniform.

But what I think he lost was his own sense of self. He struggled with it his entire life by the ridicule of his family and his friends. He was never accepted and now he was about to fight in a war for a country that didn’t accept him. When he returned, it only took the power of the ceremony to help find who he is and dispel him of the frustration of being a fringe human being. He found love in a woman who also was half and she helped him find peace and growth through her love.

This book was an interesting story about a man who had no idea who he was, what he stood for, and what really made him the person he is. By returning to his roots, he was able to find pieces of himself again. He was able to contribute and help grow the land and the people around him. Of course he didn’t get rid of the people who didn’t accept him, but what he did find was a way to keep those thoughts away from who he truly is.

 

November 2017 Wrap Up

img_7082

November seemed to go quickly, but also jam packed with news, articles, and great reads. I had a blast this November and here are some of the highlights.

Thanksgiving at my in laws

I’ve never had Thanksgiving at anyone else’s house before. I’ve always had it with my family with the same meal and the same sides to be expected. The same guests too! But this year, I got to explore what other people observe for their Thanksgiving.

If you ask my friends, I always bring up how Thanksgiving is one of those meals that is the same for everyone but different as well. We all have the turkey and stuffing and mashed potatoes. Coming from an immigrant family, many of my Thanksgiving included things like kimchi and rice and even a little lasagna.

I have this great pic from a feast like this many years ago and there, right in the middle of the table, is a pan of lasagna. I’m not sure who brought the lasagna, but it really isn’t Thanksgiving without it on the table.

So this Thanksgiving, I was thankful to have a place to go and share a meal with my other family. The food was slightly different than what I would see, but there were some subtle differences. Like my family never watches football…ever. Also, we don’t have the adults fighting over the desserts. Most of the adults passed over dessert making room for a cup of hot tea.

It was fun to hear family stories and laugh with people who welcomed me into their home. I think it was the most American Thanksgiving I’ve ever seen!

Alright, enough chit chat, let’s hit the books.

Books I read

Links from the Internet

This is probably my favorite part about the entire post! I get to share the articles and essays I found this month and LOVED! Make sure to definitely check these out when you have a chance!

I found this really great article from 1995 about what Little Women was really about. I was doing some research on an article about women and literature and I was just enamored by this detailed article about Little Women. Definitely check it out!

My favorite thing this month was reading this article about Colin Kaepernick and how GQ found him his own team while he still is banned from playing in the NFL. It must be really difficult to follow your dreams only to be thrown out from your dreams because of what you believe in. How do you manage to do both? Are they mutually exclusive? I don’t know, but this article was great to read!

This is a reminder for myself that I need to pick up I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika Sanchez because this interview really blew it up for me!

I feel like I should mention this, but I’m super sad that The Mindy Project is done. However, I found this wonderful article about how great the show was and how it really appreciated the romantic comedy genre.

Continuing my work to become a better writer, I found this wonderful essay in NY Review of Books about writing memoirs especially after a family member has died.

I’m such a nerd because Mara Wilson aka Matilda wrote this article for Elle magazine about young female actresses and how they’re sexualized at way too young an age. It also dives into Millie Bobbi Brown and the controversy she didn’t mean to cause, but did because she’s 13 and yeah, that makes sense (eye roll).

I couldn’t be more happy for my friend, Maggie, @mugandnook for opening up and sharing her personal story about being a human with a disability. Thank you so much for sharing, Maggie!

I am so happy that people are seeing Lena Dunham for what she truly is and writers like Zizi Clemmons are taking a stand against her backhanded, racist comments. Take a look at the official statement in this article.

I love me some great essays lately and this one from TheMillions.com talks about how we shouldn’t forget that a walk in the woods in a book shouldn’t replace a real walk in the woods. This was a pretty interesting read!

I love Sophie from Main St. and Maple and how candid she is about her struggles to find work in a very male-dominated career. Good luck! I know that something will find its way to you and don’t give up! Come out to the coasts where women are totally wanted to help break down those barriers!

This was one literary piece from Electric Lit about how women turn themselves into trees when approached by unwanted desire. It’s moving and poetic and makes you want to tear the years of bark growing over you.

That’s it! Thanks for reading my blubber about the Internet. Honestly, I love sharing these articles with you!

Until next time!

How do I review Sing, Unburied, Sing?

8bcd7bc0-1864-4459-b91f-ad05e5b65992

The other night, in the silence of my apartment, I tore through the last 50 pages of Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward. I sat on my couch while waiting for my dinner to cook in the oven, getting up every so often to make sure my meatballs weren’t burning. Once I finished the book, I put it down and then proceeded to not think about it.

I put off writing this review for a few days because the impact this book leaves is so intense that it only feels appropriate to give it a few days of mourning. I still don’t know where to begin with writing this review. I guess I should start with the summary.

SING, UNBURIED, SING

32920226Jojo and his toddler sister, Kayla, live with their grandparents, Mam and Pop, and the occasional presence of their drug-addicted mother, Leonie, on a farm on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi. Leonie is simultaneously tormented and comforted by visions of her dead brother, which only come to her when she’s high; Mam is dying of cancer; and quiet, steady Pop tries to run the household and teach Jojo how to be a man. When the white father of Leonie’s children is released from prison, she packs her kids and a friend into her car and sets out across the state for Parchman farm, the Mississippi State Penitentiary, on a journey rife with danger and promise.

I feel like the central theme in this novel was grief and loss. Leonie struggling with the loss of her brother. Jojo is struggling with the loss of his mother emotionally. Pop is struggling with the possible loss of his cancer-ridden wife and his friend when he was younger. Everyone is dealing with some form of loss and everyone is doing is so quietly.

The story takes place in both Jojo and Leonie’s point of view. Each chapter switches off which tale you’re going to hear. For Jojo, you hear a lot of resentment for his birth mother. He can’t stand that she’s not the mother she’s supposed to be. Instead, she’s found indulging too much on meth and forgetting she’s ever really had kids. Jojo finds himself having to grow up much sooner than he expected, impressing his grandfather with how “manly” he is in serious situations.

For Leonie, you hear a lot about her struggle with fighting against herself. She knows she’s a bad mother, but she can’t help herself. Her grief began when her brother, Given, was murdered on a hunting trip. Given was her favorite person in the world and she never quite got over him dying. Every time she does drugs, Given comes to visit her while she’s high. You can see how that can drive any person insane.

However there’s a third perspective that reveals itself slowly throughout the story, which is the ghosts of the people who have been killed in terrible ways. Leonie, Jojo, Kayla, and Mama all have these powers that allow them to know the future, read minds, and speak with the dead. It’s not supernatural, but almost like a gift bestowed upon their family ever since they came to this country. They were given a gift and sadly, it was taken for granted.

fe66ed71-b5a0-4610-aafb-9d82f79eea06

I’ve asked numerous people what they thought and all of them felt the same. It was good, but I can’t put into words exactly how good this was. Was it the ghostly images of the African Americans who have died throughout the years? Was it the drug abuse Leonie uses to escape her own sorrows? Is it the ability to see between the veil of life and death? Was it the use of an old farm to enslave prisoners and bring back a part of this country’s history to punish them? Was it seeing a mother struggle with wanting to be one and her son taking up the responsibilities when she couldn’t?

Sometimes you find yourself with a book that is really difficult to put into words how good it is. It’s good, you know that much. But why? I can’t put my finger on it. And the adjectives other people have used to describe this book match what I feel. It’s haunting, slight disturbing, with doses of reality, sadness, foreboding, intrigue. You want to read more because you want to know more. You want to find out what is happening to this family.

However, I’m not even sure that’s the appropriate way of explaining this novel. I am really struggling with this one.

In many ways this book reminded me a lot of Beloved. The dark and densely moving story about a family who is haunted by the decisions they made in their past. How much they wanted to move themselves away from those horrors in order to live a peaceful life and how the dead can never truly rest without hearing and knowing the truth. I honestly thought this book would be about the struggle of being African American in the South, but this book was so much more.

My favorite thing about this entire experience was the writing. It was extraordinary writing. Each chapter had pearls of beautiful quotes that displayed each character’s personality and also their struggle. Each quote another example of how life is so important because death is hanging right outside the door. It was an incredibly breathtaking story that I had a hard time putting down.

I think the only flaw this book has was the pace. While Leonie and the kids are driving up to release Michael from Parchman, the pace felt slow and even. They were a dysfunctional family on the road to meet their father; whom Kayla hasn’t even met in her life. They were on the road to becoming a family again.

By the time they returned from Parchman, the story somehow picked up in pace. Suddenly, the history of their family unravels and the mystical powers they have and the ghosts that have been haunting them swirl together in the penultimate scene. Mama is on her death bed and she’s about to open the curtain between life and death so that she can die in peace. Of course you can only imagine that the door doesn’t just open in one direction.

I don’t know where to begin. I honestly just believe that you’ll need to experience it for yourself.

 

Sourdough by Robin Sloan

 

Processed with VSCO with hb2 preset

I’ve only tried to make bread once in my life and while I did have a tasty loaf, I can’t say if it was the best bread in the world. However, I have an inkling that Lois can.

SOURDOUGH by Robin Sloan is the story about a woman named Lois Clary who arrives in San Francisco with a computer science degree. She begins to work at a small tech company building mechanical robot arms to help people do ordinary things.

As a newcomer to the city, she didn’t have many friends so she spent many of her nights at home ordering food from the local restaurant called Clement Street Soup and Sourdough. Every night, she would order the same delicious spicy soup with their famous sourdough bread. And as she ordered, she became friendlier with the two brothers who owned the restaurant.

That was until one day the boys had the move back home due to immigration reasons. Before the two boys left, they gifted Lois with their starter for sourdough bread. It’s an ancient starter that has been passed along generation to generation. The boys left the starter with Lois to keep providing that she takes care of it everyday and makes sure to feed it.

As the skeptic that she is, she goes ahead and does what the boys say, but little did she know that this starter is about to take her on an interesting journey.

San Francisco tech and sourdough go together like peanut butter and jelly. These two things are so synonymous with the city that it makes sense to put together a whole book about it. It was an easy read with an interesting story, but it wasn’t a wow for me. It was good and I liked it, but I wasn’t thinking this could be the best book he’s ever written. What I liked in reading a story about carbs also lacked in some other technical things.

The story is kind of set up like little pockets of time. Each chapter represents one story and the entire book is a culmination of all those stories. It didn’t have the same beat that your average book would have, but each story spoke along the same lines. It’s about bread.

You see Lois get the starter and try to bake her first loaf of sourdough bread. She’s never baked or cooked anything in her life, but she was somehow magically able to bake a loaf of sourdough bread. I know that bread isn’t easy and from the people I know who have tried to make it, no one has done it perfectly.

Yet, you see her bake a loaf and her reaction seemed like this was easy and doesn’t really require much. I understand if Robin Sloan was trying to use the starter as the reason for all the great baking, but I don’t know if you can bake great bread right from the get-go without considering that maybe it’s the starter?

Lois immediately catches the baking bug and start not only making bread for herself, for her friends, for her office, for everyone. One person suggests that she try and sell it and thus begins her story to really make something from the bread. Throughout this, you get little hints and clues as to what might be the cause for her success and you see the magic of the starter. It’s like reading someone’s diary on how they got started with baking bread and all the different things they did to get the bread they wanted. It was more telling than it was showing which made it kind of dull for me.

Then all of a sudden, the sourdough changes on her and about three quarters of the way into the novel, the story really picks up. I was kind of confused by why this didn’t happen much earlier in the novel to help really push the reader along. I really wanted to see what happened with the dough, but even the ending was wrapped up into a neat little bow. I just wanted a little bit more, just another taste of that delicious bread rather than being told.

Processed with VSCO with hb2 preset

However, the book did keep me interested because I did end up finishing it. I think it had something to do with the starter, finding its origins, learning how to hone it, figuring out where all of this leads. You get to read about all these things through the email correspondences Lois has with Beoreg, the guy who gave her the starter. It almost feels magical and alive and that was more intriguing to me than listening to her figure out how to make more bread. Like well kneaded dough, these pieces were sprinkled in like bench flour to keep you from getting stuck.

My favorite part is really the descriptions of the bread. The fluffy and doughy centers where people slabbed butter on top and I wish that this story was more about that than learning how to double the bread output Lois was making everyday.

I think what really drew me to the story was the idea that Lois was going into a vocation that she was good at, but not passionate about. Then, you see her start to make bread and become obsessed with creating a beautiful loaf that pleases a lot of people. She questions her job, she questions her motivation, and then she finally figures out what she wants. I think that’s a story that a lot of people can relate to especially when you work in a field that you’re not a fan of. You just want to see Lois succeed because you want to succeed and that’s a resonance I know far too well.

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

Processed with VSCO with hb2 preset

I was in one of those moods where it felt like ages since I read something magical. There’s a lot going on in real life that feels so different and messy. It’s like one of those montage scenes in movies about the Vietnam War where you just see one depressing headline after another followed by shots of soldiers in the fields fighting for something they don’t understand. The world seems to be just holding it together and the only cure for that kind of reality is escapism.

I started reading Neverwhere as my Halloween read. I can’t read a lot of thriller or horror without having a massive anxiety attack, so I went for fantasy instead. We start off with a guy named Richard Mathew who is your typical bored working guys. He has a girlfriend and a steady job and one of those old school Ashton Kutcher faces where you can’t help but to crush on him.

One day as he’s walking with his girlfriend to dinner, he notices a girl laying on the ground bleeding out. He finds himself wanting to help her even though he has no clue who she is. He ditches dinner with his girlfriend and takes this near-death stranger back home. Little does he know what exciting events will follow.

Richard finds out the girl’s name is Door and she is the only surviving royal family member of this underground city called London Below. She is being hunted down by two goons who have other plans for her. Ever since Richard meets this girl, his entire life has changed. His girlfriend doesn’t know who he is and his job doesn’t remember him being there. Everything seems like a big joke until he realizes that he’s

I’m a huge fan of Neil Gaiman. He’s probably one of those authors that I’ll end up reading their entire body of work. Neverwhere is his first novel from what feels like millions of years ago, but I think it’s one of those timeless pieces of work that will never get old.

This is not your kid’s fantasy novel. There’s fighting and violence. There’s anger and mystery.  There’s, thankfully, no love which is great because if Gaiman forced a love scene between Door and Richard, I would have shot him that 1-star review.

I love that we get to learn about the London Below along with Richard Mayhew who is just coming to grips with it himself. I love the incorporation of this urban setting. It’s magical realism at its finest without being like Murakami weird with a strange egg form growing in the corner of your room (1Q84 reference).

I absolutely loved how he incorporated the homeless population. In this story, those who are homeless aren’t always just strung-out junkies or people suffering from mental illness. As Gaiman describes it, they’re folks that have fallen through the cracks of society. They use trades and bartering for money. They’ve built an entire world around the real world. I honestly wish I can be a part of it at least to feel like a little magic still exists.

However, it wasn’t the perfect Gaiman. I think that my favorite of his novels will always be American Gods, but this does rank pretty high to the top. I will admit that I was pretty exhausted while I was reading, so many times I tried to read I fell asleep. It made it difficult to keep track of the story and read the descriptions. I may give this another read in the future when I can fairly judge this work.

The writing was a bit too descriptive and I felt like there were definitely some redundant lines here and there. However, I can also see this being a movie in the future. I love the character descriptions and in the illustrated version you get to really envision something Neil Gaiman was considering. It was like Harry Potter, but if he didn’t find out he was a wizard until he was in his thirties. What do you do when you’ve run out of imagination and a mysterious girl lands in your lap?

You can get a copy of Neverwhere Illustrated Edition on Amazon.com

November 2017 TBR

Processed with VSCO with hb2 preset

I’m pretty proud of my list this month. First off, it’s a manageable list of books that I personally want to read. I know that this month (like every month) will have its random reads and books that need reviewing, but they’re unseen and unpredictably arrive. Whenever I choose my TBR for the month, I think fully and heartily for myself.

This month, I’m trying to catch up with my Book of the Month Club books. I actually skipped this month because most of the books (4/5) I already own and have either already read or will read in the future. It’s a sigh of relief to know more books aren’t coming my way for a little while. I love getting and buying books, but my book stacks are starting to reflect my mounting anxiety levels. I need to catch up.

Also, it’s November. There’s only two more months before the end of the year and I want to clear my shelves for 2018!

So here’s my book choices for November 2017. What will you be reading this month?

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

32920226Jojo and his toddler sister, Kayla, live with their grandparents, Mam and Pop, and the occasional presence of their drug-addicted mother, Leonie, on a farm on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi. Leonie is simultaneously tormented and comforted by visions of her dead brother, which only come to her when she’s high; Mam is dying of cancer; and quiet, steady Pop tries to run the household and teach Jojo how to be a man. When the white father of Leonie’s children is released from prison, she packs her kids and a friend into her car and sets out across the state for Parchman farm, the Mississippi State Penitentiary, on a journey rife with danger and promise.

Sing, Unburied, Sing grapples with the ugly truths at the heart of the American story and the power, and limitations, of the bonds of family. Rich with Ward’s distinctive, musical language, Sing, Unburied, Sing is a majestic new work and an essential contribution to American literature.

Rich People Problems by Kevin Kwan

29864343When Nicholas Young hears that his grandmother, Su Yi, is on her deathbed, he rushes to be by her bedside–but he’s not alone. It seems the entire Shang-Young clan has convened from all corners of the globe, ostensibly to care for their matriarch but truly to stake claim on the massive fortune that Su Yi controls. 

With each family member secretly fantasizing about getting the keys to Tyersall Park–a trophy estate on 64 prime acres in the heart of Singapore–the place becomes a hotbed of intrigue and Nicholas finds himself blocked from entering the premises. 

As relatives claw over heirlooms, Astrid Leong is at the center of her own storm, desperately in love with her old sweetheart Charlie Wu, but tormented by his ex-wife–a woman hell bent on destroying Astrid’s reputation and relationship. Meanwhile Kitty Pong, married to billionaire Jack Bing, finds a formidable opponent in his fashionista daughter, Colette.

WARCROSS by Marie Lu

29385546For the millions who log in every day, Warcross isn’t just a game—it’s a way of life. The obsession started ten years ago and its fan base now spans the globe, some eager to escape from reality and others hoping to make a profit. Struggling to make ends meet, teenage hacker Emika Chen works as a bounty hunter, tracking down players who bet on the game illegally. But the bounty hunting world is a competitive one, and survival has not been easy. Needing to make some quick cash, Emika takes a risk and hacks into the opening game of the international Warcross Championships—only to accidentally glitch herself into the action and become an overnight sensation.

Convinced she’s going to be arrested, Emika is shocked when instead she gets a call from the game’s creator, the elusive young billionaire Hideo Tanaka, with an irresistible offer. He needs a spy on the inside of this year’s tournament in order to uncover a security problem . . . and he wants Emika for the job. With no time to lose, Emika’s whisked off to Tokyo and thrust into a world of fame and fortune that she’s only dreamed of. But soon her investigation uncovers a sinister plot, with major consequences for the entire Warcross empire.

Sourdough by Robin Sloan

33916024Lois Clary, a software engineer at a San Francisco robotics company, codes all day and collapses at night. When her favourite sandwich shop closes up, the owners leave her with the starter for their mouthwatering sourdough bread.
Lois becomes the unlikely hero tasked to care for it, bake with it and keep this needy colony of microorganisms alive.  Soon she is baking loaves daily and taking them to the farmer’s market, where an exclusive close-knit club runs the show. 
When Lois discovers another, more secret market, aiming to fuse food and technology, a whole other world opens up. But who are these people, exactly?

Emma in the Night by Wendy Walker

33574211One night three years ago, the Tanner sisters disappeared: fifteen-year-old Cass and seventeen-year-old Emma. Three years later, Cass returns, without her sister Emma. Her story is one of kidnapping and betrayal, of a mysterious island where the two were held. But to forensic psychiatrist Dr. Abby Winter, something doesn’t add up. Looking deep within this dysfunctional family Dr. Winter uncovers a life where boundaries were violated and a narcissistic parent held sway. And where one sister’s return might just be the beginning of the crime.

My thoughts on Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold

Processed with VSCO with hb1 preset

I’d made an early resolution recently to be a better non-fiction writer and committing myself to my voice and my writing. I want to do a better job sharing my experiences with the world through rhetoric. I want to be armed with adjectives and poetry to help me share what I see. I know it’s a little early for resolutions, but I still gathered all my favorite non-fiction works for inspiration; Susan Sontag, Hunter S. Thompson, the journals of Sylvia Plath. And of course, Joan Didion.

I woke up early Saturday morning hoping to get some chores done before diving into my current read. But for some reason, I was compelled to watch TV. Perhaps it had something to do with the new season of Stranger Things, but I tend to follow my gut. I remembered that a document recently came out about Joan Didion. Being the nerd that I am, I wanted to watch this.

I watched The Center Will Not Hold on Netflix before noon and I was surprised to find that Joan Didion is way more than just a non-fiction writer. I thought of her as your average writer; nothing remarkable or interesting. Someone who’s work speaks for themselves. Little did I know her life and her experiences were so crucial to showing the world what’s going on. How she came up in journalism and used her observing eye to share with the world the reality of life. Her work is poetry and even if her intention wasn’t to share her thoughts, she somehow manages to make you see and think the way she did.

When you see her for the first time, you see this tiny little old woman. Her bones hanging off her flesh and deep purple veins bulging through her like rivers on a map. She barely speaks without stopping to consider her word choices, so the movie is driven mostly by the readings of her work out loud.

I thought it would be interesting to hear how she spoke. You always assume that she would speak as eloquently as she wrote, but the words on the page and the words from her lips never matched. I guess you can say that she is a true writer, someone who finds her words in ink. I think my favorite part of hearing her read her own stories is also understanding where she was coming from and what she thought about. How she found a 5-year-old tripping on acid in the middle of someone’s living room to be journalistic “gold.”

But I’m not here to talk about the movie. I’m here to talk about this story and this life that has been stuck in my brain for the past 24 hours and I can’t seem to stop thinking about it. I’m here to talk about my serious goals to improving my non-fiction writing because I love writing it. I’m here to talk about how Joan Didion will probably be my favorite non-fiction writer until the day I die.

I used to be able to write observationally. I would listen to music and point out the variations and mixology of drums to guitar to vocals. I would watch a stream of water from a car wash and how the soapy bubbles refracted hints of a hidden rainbow. I used to sit in my room and write terrible poetry about the imagery in my mind. “Consciousness is…” being a poem I wrote in five minutes.

I didn’t hear about Joan Didion until a few years ago when I read A Year of Magical Thinking. After watching that film, it was obvious I knew nothing about her life. All I knew was that she wrote this book about losing her husband and how incredibly beautiful it was. I honestly wish I learned more about her in college while I was studying journalism.

Journalism nowadays feels like the rapid reporting of trivial issues. A quick tweet from our president or five things you should know about your face cream are the kinds of stories that rise to the top of reading lists. It’s a series of short articles less than 500 words and meant to be read, digested, and forgotten. Even political pieces about the subject of the hour are overwrought with over-emotional commentary and opinions on how much he sucks.

If I’d known about Joan Didion in college, then maybe I would still be trying to be a better journalist. Maybe I wouldn’t believe that all journalism was a sham to please advertisers. Perhaps my experience interning at Conde Nast wouldn’t have left me with a bad taste in my mouth. I gave up that dream because it didn’t seem worth working hard when everyone was networking harder.

But after watching Joan Didion and how she made reporting a style and how her observations haunt her until she writes them down, it’s really made me rethink how I approach my work here. I don’t want to be writing short pieces that you can throw away. I want to write substantially, poignantly, and richly. Of course I don’t want to bore you as well, but as Joan Didion says, I just want to answer the questions I ask myself.

October 2017 Wrap Up

Processed with VSCO with hb2 preset

I’ve decided that I’m going to make my wrap ups way more robust. Yes, I’ll be highlighting my reads, but something else I want to do is also highlight great articles I’ve read around the Internet and maybe a few updates from my life. There are so many other great things that happen over a month and I just want to share that with you!

First, let’s talk about the weather because no small talk doesn’t have some amount of weather conversation. It was really hot in October and when you’re trying to get in the cold weather mood, the last thing you want to do is wear shorts. However, we all persevered and November is already starting off with some nice chill feels.

We start off the month with an article written by Jeremy Lin and his recent hair choices. If you’ve got a moment to read an article written by a basketball player, I would suggest doing so. While Jeremy Lin isn’t the most profound writer, he does speak more about cultural appropriation, being Asian, and always keeping in mind the culture you’re choosing from.

One thing I know for sure was that October reads were on fire with a new one from John Green, a prequel to Practical Magic, and some thrillers. Because what kind of October is it without some spooky reads?

The Ardent Biblio asked me to write up my favorite from the month, so I’m going to skip my review of them here and just point you to what I did read. Check it out!

Processed with VSCO with c9 preset

Last month, Celeste Ng released her book Little Fires Everywhere and the Internet broke with how many people loved this book. I even loved this book! But I was able to find a dissenting voice amongst all the likes and Owl’s Little Library review of Little Fires Everywhere will switch your perspective just a little bit.

Which brings me to the post I wrote about how not all POC writers need to write about the struggles of being themselves. I spoke with a friend that didn’t want to feel the obligation of writing about being Chinese American and I thought it was a great point. POC writers shouldn’t feel pigeonholed to writing about being themselves. Many of the conversations I had with bookish friends felt it was important to share these stories. Where do you stand on the issue?

However, that post did bring up some issues with my writing. I made an early resolution to write better than I am doing. So, I did what I do best, I did some research.

Processed with VSCO with hb1 preset

I dug up this amazing article from Joan Didion on why she writes. Written in 1976, she discusses her process for writing; how she took the observations she made in reality and answered the rhetorical questions brought up in her mind. It reminded me how I used to write. When I was little, I would be able to write and create beautifully. Now I’m trying to find if it’s as easy to get back on this bicycle. Here’s a great quote:

By which I mean not a “good” writer or a,“bad” writer but simply a writer, a person whose most absorbed and passionate hours are spent arranging words on pieces of paper.

I also just watched the Joan Didion documentary on Netflix. While my post on my thoughts there won’t be up until tomorrow, I did want to mention that it was a deeply moving story and it’s way more substantial than just her losses. I honestly am so enamored by her right now I can’t think straight!

Not to shamelessly plug my own work, but I wrote a piece for Bookriot on 5 ways to cope during a book buying ban. Please don’t get caught up on the “addict” language. I see how I messed up there and I won’t do it again. Here is where I mention again that I’m working to improve my writing.

We end the month with Kevin Spacey’s allegations and coming out. Everyone on the Internet is up-in-arms about this one especially since it touches on the LGBTQ community. Me? Well, I think it’s bad form to save yourself by coming out of the closet. Uncool, Kevin Spacey. Uncool.