November 2017 Wrap Up

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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!

Turtles All The Way Down by John Green

I honestly am so happy that a book like this exists. Shortly after being told I had OCD, I tried to search the book world for fiction stories featuring characters with similar traits. I was a little surprised to find out that the world’s exposure to OCD was only As Good As It Gets with Jack Nicholson and some documentaries of folks with such debilitating compulsions that they rarely leave the house.

My mother told me that when I was in kindergarten class, I would wash my hands after using a single color in finger painting. The teacher thought it was adorable that I would dip my finger in the paint, brush it across the paper, then get up to go wash my hands. Was it because even at that age I didn’t want to blend my colors too much or was there something more insidious going on?

I never liked getting my face painted. I don’t like touching things with my bare hands. I hate bugs of all kinds even butterflies and lady bugs. I can’t stand when strangers touch me. I can’t walk on grass barefoot. I’m the only person who knows how to clean my house.

And I thought these were all quirks. That everyone thinks about the microbial germs crawling across the surface of a subway pole. That everyone knew if you touched a smelly homeless person, you would get whatever disease that they had that made their feet and ankles balloon up. I believed everyone thought about the dust mites that crawled across your skin and carpet.

It wasn’t until I was diagnosed with OCD that I realized these thoughts weren’t thoughts everyone had. This isn’t “normal” and most people think about them briefly and then move on with their life.

TURTLES ALL THE WAY DOWN starts with the sudden disappearance of a local billionaire. In attempts to try and win the reward for more information, Aza and her best friend Daisy start to look for clues that could help them score some big money. After all, it was Aza’s friend, Davis, who’s father disappeared suddenly.

Aza was just your average girl who seemed for the most part just living her life. She went to school. She had a pretty solid family life despite her father’s death. However, what you find out and realize is that her mind is a swirling jungle of thoughts and worse case scenarios and worries that she didn’t need to worry about.

I thought this book was going to be about a group of kids who were looking for a missing billionaire. You’d believe that too if you read the inside cover. I thought this would be The Goonies of the 21st century with a little twist, that the main character would have OCD. I thought this would be some manic version of Sherlock Holmes.

It most definitely wasn’t.

While you’re led to believe this is some rag tag team of teenagers looking for their friend’s dad, TURTLES ALL THE WAY DOWN is not about that. The story is truly about Aza. The use of the first person point of view in this context lends a hand to shape the story. You read what Aza thinks about in her head. You see her running through her thoughts. You find her battling herself and reminding herself that it’s not real. Her thoughts aren’t real and that her OCD is battling out against her.

I guess the idea of having a story about a billionaire gone missing also lends itself to the power of OCD. One minute you’re trying to find a missing person and have a grand adventure with your friends. The next you’re having an all out anxiety attack and spiraling downward toward oblivion.

For Aza, everything is a battle. Trying to maintain her friendships while her brain tells her to go and do something else. Trying to keep her mother from worrying too much as she picks on a scab that’s been trying to heal. Trying to be in love with a boy she’s known for a long part of her life without freaking out about kissing him.

There were so many examples of how debilitating OCD can be. I loved that John Green gave examples of how the thoughts can be so evasive that you forget you’re in the middle of a conversation with someone. You spend a lot of time pushing to be present and speaking directly with the person in front of you.

It did feel like the whole looking for a billionaire part was an afterthought that was wrapped up in the last ten pages of the book. I wish there was a little bit more there and spread more evenly throughout the book.

While it would have been really cute to see the four kids running around trying to find a missing billionaire and get some answers to the choices he made, I get that this book is to be more about exposure and understanding when it comes to OCD.

For those who do have OCD, you’ve found a friend in a book that knows exactly what you’re going through. Although, I would be careful because there are some triggering thoughts. I needed to step away for an evening even with only a few pages left. The thoughts it triggered in my head were too overpowering for me at times.

And for those who don’t have OCD, you get some idea of how our brains work daily but I would keep in mind that everyone struggles from any mental health issue in different ways. I feel I have a firmer grip on the thoughts my brain tells me, so I’m able to snap back to reality much quicker than Aza. I know that my condition could be so much worse, so I’m grateful that it’s manageable.

I would strongly recommend approaching this with an open mind. This book is good, but I can imagine someone who doesn’t have OCD getting really annoyed by the characters and their mindset. It’s really hard not to want to shake Aza and say “snap out of it,” but this is how it is. You’re doing whatever life thing that you’re normally doing and then, something triggers you and you’re spiraling down.

Little Fires Everywhere to Celeste Ng

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I know this review is a long time coming. I’ve been mulling over this book for the past couple of weeks. I don’t know how to describe my feelings for this book, but I know they are good. I just don’t know how to explain it the best way possible. I’m going to at least try.

I don’t know where to start with this book. There were stories within stories and some of them I wanted to know more about and there were others that I could have done without. There were stories that randomly popped up and ones you followed throughout the book.

Have you ever been the new person in town? I’ve never been new and when I’m new, I’m already assimilated to the town the best that I can. However, some towns are just too small and too friendly that if you’re slightly different you may be facing some serious backlash.

In Little Fires Everywhere, you follow Mia and Pearl as they arrive in Shaker Heights, Ohio. It’s considered one of the most idyllic towns in the suburbs of Ohio and we all know that with idyllic towns there’s always something hiding under the surface.

This was my official first book by Celeste Ng. I’ve tried reading books by her in the past, but I had some trouble with them. Mostly because of the I’m really bad when it comes to death and dying and her first book was all about that.

Little Fires Everywhere feels like a combination of stories. It’s almost like watching a play where all the characters are important and all of them have a background that needs to be discussed and discovered to help with outlining the bigger theme of the book; the sacrifices mothers go through.

I’m not sure if it was Celeste Ng’s intention to make a book about being a mother, but it happens to be that way. And for some reason I’ve been reading a lot of books about mothers and what they do for their children. Perhaps it’s a sign that I should call mine?

But the story is a culmination of different stories. Themes covered from sex as a teenager, pregnancy, abortion, adoption, surrogacy, sacrifice, suffering, struggle, all the words that start with the letter S. Honestly, I thought the book could be longer since there was so much covered.

So Mia and Pearl arrive in this town and you’re curious as to where they came from. What made them move here? Why did they decide on Shaker Heights? All these questions kind of rise up while you read the book. The further you read, the more you find out.

However, I think the most important part of the book and probably the catalyst for everyone’s secrets revealed is when a young couple tries to adopt an abandoned Asian baby. Without giving too much away, the birth mother realizes too late that she didn’t want to give the baby away and the couple who wanted to adopt her was already in love with the baby. You can imagine the tension between the two families and what will happen next.

What’s interesting is that Celeste Ng takes on every major character in this book and starts to unpack their lives. It’s expertly laid out throughout the novel so that with every chapter that goes by, you learn a little bit more. Perhaps it’s more like watching a serial TV show than a play where each episode shares with you more about the people involved.

But the amazing part is how everything is sort of attached to the lives they chose, the decisions they made, and the actions that took their lives and changed who they are and why they did what they did.

It’s really hard to talk about this book without giving it away. I will say that if you’re a mom and you know the struggles and sacrifices you’ve made for yourself and for your children, then this will be a good book for you. And if you’re a person without kids, you might wonder what your mom went through in order to let you grow up in a good and loving home.

I received this copy of the book at BookCon. You can find Little Fires Everywhere on Amazon.

Dreamology by Lucy Keating

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When I was a little girl, I used to have these amazing dreams about this guy. I would first fly through the air around my childhood home and watch the sun set orange and red across the lawn. I would finally land and sit down on our front stoop.

Suddenly, he would walk over to me. He’s always wearing an oversized sweater and well cut jeans. His smile made me melt and his dark hair was always in his eyes. Because it’s a dream, there’s always some strange quirks about what you see. For example, he was an alien from another planet.

I don’t remember all the details now that I’m older but I do recall that we would kiss under the street light before he headed back up to his home planet.

While the details of the dream are a little hazy, for some reason, I’ve never forgotten that dream and that dream boy and I think fondly about that time when I was a kid.

Have you ever had that dream before where it was so amazing and so memorable that even as an adult you can’t get it out of your head?

In Dreamology by Lucy Keating, you get to experience the same feelings for the main character Alice, who has been dreaming about her dream boy since she was a kid. All she knows is that the dreams were vivid and ended when she woke up. It was a surprise to her when she began school in a new city and found her dream boy in reality.

Of course, Max isn’t who he was in the dreams. In fact he appears to be rude, indecisive, and already in a relationships. You can see how a girl who has been in love with her dream boy for so long could be disappointed by the real thing. I mean, I would never want to meet my dream boy in real life worried about the same results.

From this point on, the story begins to get a little weirder as their dreams start to bleed into reality. They visit this dream lab to get it fixed and it’s something out of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind where the main characters’ brains have been altered to allow for their dreams to meld together and then have their dreams become a reality.

I love books like this sometimes. The premise is pretty simple, the story is easy to read and follow along and you finish reading it in a few days. You get to feel that rush of love when you first fall for someone. It makes you feel good and sometimes you need a little bit of sugar in your life.

But I think what I love most about this novel is how they chase each other and their dreams. If I dreamed of my dream boy every single night, I would be worried that one day he would just disappear. It’s kind of the same here. What if Alice woke up and never dreamed of Max again? Would she be okay with the real Max or would it never be the same again?

You can find Dreamology on Amazon.

Banned Books Week: Be Proud to be Banned

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Today, I’d like to highlight one of my favorite authors: Toni Morrison.

Toni Morrison’s work to me has been these haunting tales of loneliness, sacrifice, desperation, and turmoil. Set during some of the most difficult times for black Americans, Toni Morrison has this incredible way of making you feel and understand what it must have been like for black and African American people. You’re transported there and you gain more consciousness.

And obviously, her works have been banned or challenged.

I absolutely love banned books week. I think it’s because I’m a perpetual questioner of the rules of engagement. I always have to test things out for myself and go against what the popular thinking is. I blame my mother, who has been subversive my entire life.

But I love banned books week and I love checking out all the books that have now been banned. Can you imagine in 2017 books are still being banned because they have themes like homosexuality, teenage girls getting pregnant, drug abuse, mental illness, and…magic?!

I’ve been going through the list of books and there are so many favorite authors where everything they write is banned or challenged. Toni Morrison happens to be one of them where most of her books have been challenged or banned in some way.

I thought to myself what must authors think to see every single book they’ve written is challenged or banned?

In my mind, I hope it’s a state of pride. I imagine them puffing their chest and standing very tall knowing that they challenge something for people. They make adults uncomfortable. Their books are deemed inappropriate even if they’re written for children. And not just one book. All of their books.

Authors like JK Rowling who’s books were deemed too magical and magic is some form of satanism so that’s bad. John Green’s books are also banned or challenged too. It’s probably all those kids dying of cancer and falling in love in the final days of their lives. Who knows?

It must give them a sense of pride to know their books challenge the way people think.

And if they aren’t proud, they should be. We’re creating a world where what we say can influence what other people think. It’s a massive form of power and while not every book needs to hone that power in, those who have been judged and misunderstood should continue to do what they do.

Keep pushing the envelope and talking about those taboo topics people are so keen on sweeping under the rug. It’s important to the kids in the world and the adults who are interested to know that someone is speaking up.

Be proud of your work! Be proud to be banned or challenging. Continue to challenge the social norms of this country or your country and hopefully we’ll be all proud to say they’re not longer challenged or banned books.

Welcome to Banned Books Week!

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Happy Banned Books Week and it’s going to be a good one.

This year’s theme is “the freedom to read,” which feels oddly relevant given that everyone has been talking about. Censorship is always around us telling us what to do and what to think and how to say things. It’s the faceless folks that tell us that something is too edgy and pushes the envelope. It’s the inability to discern for yourself if something is good or bad for you. It’s the fodder for amazing books that make you think for yourself and that’s a wonderful feeling (as long as you can cope with the anxiety).

On Instagram each day this week, I’ll be posting a book that’s been consistently banned or challenged in the past. While I’ll be highlighting one book, they’re representative of the many books in that genre that undergo scrutiny everyday. I know that the people who make these decisions aren’t doing it to harm young readers. In fact, they would argue that they are protecting them from it.

The choice for children to stay children, but sometimes you have to understand that children grow up. When they grow up without exposure to these banned and challenged books, then they face a world where it isn’t friendly and it isn’t kind and what they think could possibly be more dangerous than helpful.

Of course, I come prepared with an infograph from the American Library Association website on who these big whigs tend to be:

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Freedom should be celebrated. We do it every year in July where we remember our fore fathers who came to this country to free themselves from the censorship and persecution. We can pray to whatever God we want, but we can’t read books? Bit of a double standard.

So let’s celebrate our freedom to read! We’re one of many countries that allow it, but I do want to remind people that that’s not the case for a lot of people and still a concern for us as a country. So let’s ring those bells of freedom and get to reading.

If you’d like to participate in Banned Books Week with me, here’s some ways you can easily join in!

1. Read and share a banned book

While for some people this is easy as pie, for others it might not be that easy. It could be because their families don’t like it when you read these kinds of books or it could be because you don’t know what books are on the banned books list.

If you’d like to read a book that’s been banned or challenged in the past, check out this comprehensive list of books provided by the American Library Association.

The most important part about this one is to share those reads. If you learn anything from the book you choose or if it opens your eyes in ways you didn’t think it would, then share that love! Books aren’t meant to be stuck on a shelf and kept to yourself. They’re like living and breathing animals that need to let go and available for someone else. Don’t let what you’ve learned only stick with you.

2. Donate to ACLU or to ALA

While you may not be a reader, reading is considered one of the many freedoms protected by our first amendment. If you believe that we should have the freedom to read or even the freedom of speech, then donate whatever you can to the American Civil Liberties Union.

ACLU is doing everything they can to ensure that we, as a people, continue to speak freely, practice religion without any issues, and always always read books that may make you look at your world a little bit differently.

If you’re not into civil liberties, then perhaps you’ll be into reading books. The American Library Association is also always taking donations to help with keeping libraries across America open. If you ever complained that you don’t have enough money for books, then obviously you haven’t been to a library. Free books! All you need is a plastic laminated card.

3. Share with the bookish community

I emphasized this once, but I’ll emphasize this again. We should all be sharing our love of books with each other. It’s so important to share especially when it’s considered a community. Don’t be afraid to read your books and don’t be afraid to talk about them.

I hope that we’re loving and open enough to accept anyone and their beliefs. The only way our community will be able to make a difference is to share these reads and be empathetic to those who don’t want to read them and hope that they will.

Don’t keep your books locked up on a bookshelf. These may be yours, but the written words are for everyone. Buy another copy of your favorite banned book and leave it on the train or in the park. Donate your old copies of banned books to the local library. Books are physical copies of an amazing journey and you can always take that journey again. Let’s let someone else walk down that path for the first time.

Being a book blogger and being authentic

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I’ve been thinking a lot about authenticity lately. I think it might be because my Instagram following is getting bigger and I’m getting asked to read books and try new things and promote new products that aren’t related to books. I’m what people consider an “influencer” and while I’m super grateful for the point that I’ve reached I’m asking myself where’s the authenticity of all of this?

I found myself the other day taking over 50 shots of myself in different positions just thinking whether or not this post would get me over 500 likes. I mean, how is that a way to think about things and what is the message I’m sending if that’s what I’m trying to accomplish?

On one hand of the spectrum, you are gaining this traction and sharing your thoughts and sharing your life with so many people and on the other side you want to make this a career and become an entrepreneur and be your own boss. It’s a constant push and pull and a place to easily lose your sense of self and authenticity.

So what do you do in a situation like this? How do you keep yourself you in a sea of possibility and growth and what other people would consider “selling out?”

I know a lot of people (myself included) that want to take what they’re doing for free and make something real out of it. For some people it’s already a reality and for others we’re still working on getting there. And thinking about it, I think I realized that authenticity exists even if you’re trying to sell a product to people.

The funny thing about authenticity is that it’s easy to see beyond the bullshit. So how do you avoid that situation?

I have no idea. But I can’t help but to think about three steps that I hope to remember every time I wonder about my authenticity.

The first step to developing your brand is always knowing who you are. Are you a vegan selling dairy ice cream? Are you a naturalist putting on lipstick to sell to your followers? Stick to what’s true to you because in the end after wading all the bullshit, that’s all you have left.

The second step is to find those things you want to promote because it just makes sense to you and it makes you happy. Don’t sell sunglasses if you don’t like going outside and don’t wear high heels when they hurt your feet.

The final step is don’t give up. I think a lot of us want to feel “important” or more like an influencer so they say yes to everything. Don’t sell yourself short. You’re a unique and interesting human being, so follow that first step of knowing yourself and know that even though you’re not making money being a blogger, you’re influencing people’s lives.

 

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

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My grandparents were married during the Japanese occupation of Korea. There’s only two remaining photos of my grandparents from that time both taken on their wedding day. The whole family was out in front of their house standing to take the picture while a massive Japanese flag waved in the background.

My family background is Korean and I’ve always been fascinated with this photo and what it means to my grandparents. They never really talk about this time, but you know that they’ve been affected from it when my grandmothers keep telling me to eat more and don’t waste. When you have next to nothing, you waste nothing.

I’ve only heard a few stories from that time period like how my grandmothers sold whatever they can find to make ends meet and my grandfather’s family, being from the North, escaped to China and sold his blood to help out my grandmother. My grandmothers still speak in Japanese and you can even catch them calling back “hai!” when you address them. Thinking of these stories now brings tears to my eyes.

And then Pachinko appeared and I wanted to know more.

Min Jin Lee is an incredible author with her own voice and style of writing. While she is eloquent and simple, I found myself a little disappointed with the story. Don’t take that statement to be the end-all of this review. While this book didn’t work for me, I do still believe it is a beautiful portrayal of Korean people and how they survived during some of the worst times in our history. Bear with me because I’m going to be a little scatterbrained writing up this review.

I approached this book as a Korean reading about Korea wanting to know more about my family and their heritage. I wanted to hear about the persecution and the injustice and most importantly, the racism. I wanted to hear about the soldiers who died during the Korean War and the families who subsisted by selling their blood like my grandfather.

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These themes were definitely in Pachinko, but not in the sense I imagined. Perhaps this standard was too high because what I found was a story about a Korean family met with many challenges in their life, but managing to stay together as a unit for as long as they could through a country completely foreign to them and yet they couldn’t see themselves anywhere else.

I met someone the other day and I described to them the book I was reading. “Oh, I never heard that about Korean people in Japan. How crazy?”

I was surprised by this comment and now looking at the reviews written on Goodreads, I’m surprised by what people are saying (really, Roxanne Gay?! Really?!) because I had already known this and I guess this isn’t a fact they teach in History class when you’re in high school. Instead, you read about how Japan bombed Pearl Harbor and how all the Japanese Americans were placed in internments camps somewhere in the middle of the country. But all the way on the other side of the world, Koreans were struggling to fight off the Japanese and then themselves.

So if you’re a person who hasn’t read about Korean history in the early 20th century, this book may be an education for you. You get to read why my dad, to this day, still hates Japanese people. You get to read how Korea hasn’t seen a day’s rest since WWII and how communism broke us apart and we still haven’t figured out how to piece that together.

You get to read about how Koreans tried to make ends meet in Japan by working with the yakuza or making money through gambling rings. You get to read about how Koreans were without a country. No longer accepted by Koreans and would never be accepted by the Japanese.

But I think this truly resonated with me the most out of the entire book and was perhaps one of the biggest themes of the novel. As an Asian American born in America, my home is not Korea. You can say that my home is America, but I still get asked “where I’m really from” and the few people that know some Korean try to speak it with me like I’ll react and be surprised at how good they are at it. I can barely speak Korean and I can’t read or write it. I went to Korea for the first time in my entire life THIS YEAR.

I’m from America lost in a world where the color of my skin and the way I was raised doesn’t match that of most people with deep American roots. Where I’ve assimilated myself to be a part of this country and blend in as much as possible and yet I still stand out. I may not be in Japan, but I know how it feels and Min Jin Lee hit that nail right on the fucking head.

If you’re thinking about reading this and wanting to know more about Korean history, do it. This book will make you see the kind of racism that lives outside of America; the kind they don’t teach you to march about because the best thing you could do is brush it off and continue to survive. Approach this book with an open mind and an open heart and understand that while my grandparents stood under a Japanese flag on their wedding day, they always stayed true to their country.

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