Tuesday, April 28, 2009

YAY FOR CHINESE HEROINES!


I just wanted to announce to everyone that my good friend Cindy Pon's YA debut, Silver Phoenix, is hitting bookstores TODAY! I haven't snagged my copy yet (will get myself a nice signed copy... or two) so I haven't read it yet, but I'm SO EXCITED for Cindy and SO PROUD that the day is finally here! And I'm sure her book -- a YA fantasy set in a fictional Chinese land -- is going to be awesome and fun... especially bc it features a strong Asian heroine.



CONGRATULATIONS CINDY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Monica Sone and a question of race.

Final post and I'm all caught up! And then I swear I'll be good on maintenance (this is like cleaning... or dieting... I always promise maintenance. But entropy is such a strong force in the world!)

Monica Sone's Nisei Eyes is a biographical account of a Japanese-American girl living in Seattle during the 2nd world war. She eventually gets sent to internment camps when she's in her young adulthood, but much of the book details her experience being a first generation Japanese-American girl.

I liked this book. Mostly because I can identify, obviously, with the conflicted feelings of being both 100% Asian and 100% American, and yet at the same time feeling like you actually belong nowhere completely. Given when it was published (early 1950s), I think it's also really educational for people back then who didn't know much about Japanese culture or the Asian American experience. She does a decent job of deconstructing myths about subservient, harsh, unloving Asians and their families and highlights a lot of the dilemmas that come with being "hyphenated".

At the same time, I felt her treatment of Japanese internment was a bit too soft and fluffy towards the end and didn't necessarily punch in enough of the injustice of this incident in American history. Granted, Japanese internment wasn't like a concentration camp, but it is still appalling to think that so many Americans were forced to leave their homes and possessions and livelihoods to live in camps, and forbidden to return for so many years. The history of alienation against Asian Americans makes my blood boil...


An interesting note -

In the class in which we discussed this book, I am the only East Asian. I'm sure most of my classmates have no idea if I'm Japanese or Chinese or something else, but I find myself acutely self-aware when I raise my hand to make a comment. I think I purposely try to make my comments sound as objective and neutral as possible, because I don't want to be seen as saying something "representative" or for people to think I'm touchy. At the same time, when we do talk about certain things, I know that inside I have a very personal reaction to this concept of Asian alienation and stereotypes, and I also find myself inwardly trying to keep myself from taking anything in offense, despite my desire to want to blurt out my own knowledge. It's really interesting, because I don't think I've ever been in an academic situation discussing Asian something or other, and being the only Asian person in the room. I wonder if people are secretly taking sidelong glances at me to see my reaction, or if that's simply my own self-consciousness that doesn't exist.

The thing for me about being Asian is that most of the time I forget I am. Oh, I'm VERY Asian in a lot of the way I live my day to day life - I love karaoke, Asian food, have tons of Asian friends - but to me this is just the way I live my American life. I take it for granted that to be an American means everybody lives their life their own way. So I don't necessarily think about the Asianness of it. I think I forget I'm Asian most of the time until I'm forced to remember it. The way I forget all my friends are Asian until I invite a couple of white friends to a bday party.

We're reading a couple more Asian-American books over the next couple of weeks, and I wonder to myself if there's anyway that I can insert my experience without turning myself into somebody who becomes only represented by my Asianness.

It's the very reason I don't want to be niched as an Asian-American writer. To me, I'm just a writer. An American. Who happens to live her life in a very Asian-American way. But I honestly feel most of the time that I am just a person. And yet at the same time, I am also acutely aware of how my face might affect people in certain situations. How is that possible? To feel so raceless and yet so racial at the EXACT same time?

Blood Meridian vs. The Road

Okay, I'm kinda reluctant to write about Blood Meridian in my state of "I just want to bang out my blog reviews so I'm all caught up" because I know this book deserves a thoughtful review. It is McCarthy's so-called masterpiece. But please bear with me, as I also just finished writing a 12-page paper on this book, comparing it to The Road.

The book was much denser than either The Road or No Country For Old Men, the only other McCarthy works I've read. It took me hours upon hours to get through the book (over the span of 3 days, so that I could finish it in time to write about it), and often times I had to go back and reread sentences. So in that sense, it's decidedly different from The Road.

Like The Road, it's freaking bloody. No. Way bloodier. The gore is so much that after a certain point, I found myself completely desensitized to it (much in the way that the inhabitants of the world probably were, hmm?).

I found it a dazzling, epic read, yet really really bleak in its outlook due to the senseless death and the way goodness pretty much is unrewarded. The judge, the devil incarnate, pretty much wins in the end, and that in itself was so depressing.

Also, I know this book is based upon a real gang of scalphunters that lived. This book depressed me so much, thinking about how terrible we were to the people who originally lived on this land, all in the name of "manifest destiny".

I was talking to E. about this book vs. The Road a lot via facebook the other day. Here is some of what we said (I'm posting this mostly because I'm too lazy to try to sort through all my thoughts on this book again):

Me: im writing my essay on pretty much how the two books are antitheses of each other, and how while BM reveals hopelessness/the dominance of violence in human nature over morality, TR does the opposite. speaking of the religion aspect of it though -- would u say that BM represents a perversion of God? I felt like I read it that way when I read it and I was going to write a para on how it's like that in BM versus TR (where at first you think God has abandoned them but then the father kinda sees the boy as an embodiment of God-ish), but I can't seem to find the citations I need for it and now I'm wondering if I just imagined it.

E: I think the key to thinking about religion and BM and TR is through these relationships. Arguably the Kid and the Boy are both the "christ figures" in the horrible stereotypical literary theory sense. But the question is what happens when they are taught by "good" or "evil". BM can actually be seen as really positive because The Kid, despite all the influence of the Judge, eventually rebels and goes from being someone of a questionable nature to someone of pretty solid moral character. The evil made him good. In BM the judge functions as the Devil. In TR it's the world. The world functions as the excuse people have for depravity, so in some ways it's a more slippery character. Both books look at religion through a moral perspective. In BM it's religion being warped that helps the Kid find a true sense of righteousness. In TR it's the world being warped that leads the Boy to religion... which may or may not be a savior depending on how you read it.

Me: i ♥ mccarthy. though (as you very well know), i find the road hopeful as all hell and i found BM to be depressing stabby stabby, and that's what my thesis is about. i mean the kid, sure, he starts getting a backbone, but he still kills that random kid in the forest at the end and anyway his "goodness" is unrewarded when the judge decides to axe him in the bathroom or whatever. creepy dude that judge.

E: I know what you mean. The Judge is the Devil! But he's just amazing that way, alternately fascinating/horrible/wonderful. The whole making gunpowder bit was incredible. We had such opposite reads. I find BM totally inspiring, while TR I had to like... look for some uppers afterward. HA!

Me: haha. i wonder what that says about us, that we read the same two books and read them in the complete opposite direction. i took the judge's triumph in the end as a final, the-devil-has-won-and-quashed-you-silly-moralists sort of win. hee!

E: I think that Blood Meridian is the more complex of the two books; The Road proposes a more black and white morality. Doubt also plays a really quiet, subversive role in BM that as far as religion goes delves into some of the more uncomfortable parts of Christianity. TR sort of whacks you over the head with it. I do love the starkness of the prose in TR tho... But I'm just a sucker for the over the top of BM. BTW a fabulous character study could be done comparing the role of the Judge in BM with the antagonist in Oates' short story Where are You Going, Where Have You Been. Same Devil, same seduction, two wildly different approaches. Not that I ever thought about that or anything... nooo.

Me:
BM is definitely more complex in its layers, but i think the stark black and white quality of TR is exactly its point. here is a world in which morality is absolute and above circumstance, which of course is not the way the real world works, but perhaps in a world as stripped of civilization as the one in TR is, it's the only way humanity can ... Read Moresurvive. i think it makes a case against bending the rules, and how once u do that, things can quickly devolve to where everything becomes a free for all. BM to me is the flipside of the coin -- this idea that morality is simply a manmade construct, and that in fact, humans are governed by a survival for the fittest and a bloodlust inherent in all of us.


Okay, I know I really should take the time to write more about this. And perhaps I will. Later. I'm seriously burned out, guys.

Like a shadow that disappears

The next book I read for my adolescent lit class was A Certain Slant of Light. It's about a lost soul who meets another lost soul that has taken over a body that was abandoned (the kid did too many drugs so his soul just abandoned ship). They fall in love, she finds another abandoned body to cleave to, and thus begins a journey of love and also of navigating through the lives of the people they now inhabit.

The book was interesting enough that I read it all in one night, mostly because it's strange and the language is more lyrical than most of what you see in some of these YA lit novels. The premise is strange yet compelling. Despite that though, now that it's been a couple of weeks since I read it, it's not necessarily something that sticks with me, if you know what I mean. It was entertaining at the time, and nothing bothered me about it, but it's also easily forgettable.

That's pretty much all I have to say about it.

Say no to drugs.

I recently read Crank for an adolescent lit class of mine, not really sure what to expect. The book is really unconventional, written in a series of poems. Basically it's a story of a girl's descent into meth addiction.

First of all, I enjoyed the poems. I thought it was clever the way the words are set up so that you can get multiple meanings out of the same poem.

Secondly.. dude. This book is a pretty heavy horrifying moralistic tale -- rape, pregnancy, etc. It really made me fascinated to learn more about crystal meth addiction -- I confess I spent some time googling after I finished the book.

Lastly, the fact that this book is actually based upon the author's daughter's own story puts another layer on it. I spent some time googling that too.

I really liked the book, to be honest. It was definitely a cautionary tale, and at points perhaps a little too extreme, but it is crystal meth, which is some scary shit. As an adult, this book scared the bejeezus out of me, so I can only imagine what it does for its intended audience of teenagers.

(Yes, I'm getting lazier with my reviews. I just have such a tremendous backlog!)

Selfish love.

I was trying to decide whether to pick up Victoria Redel's Loverboy or her more recent novel. At first I was going to go for the more recent one (whose name escapes me right now) because it sounded more interesting to me, but remembering that Vivian had reviewed Loverboy and had liked it, I decided to go with it.

Loverboy is about a mother who conceives her son through a one-night stand. Purposely. And she loves him a little too much. When he starts pulling away from her at a school age, she has a hard time coping. The book looks at the fine line between unconditional love and selfish love.

I really have mixed feelings about the book. I thought the writing was wonderful, beautiful, lyrical. But I found myself really uncomfortable with the subject matter, which was probably the point, but it was pushing the envelope to a point where I wasn't really able to be sympathetic to the protagonist. Her almost incestuous love for her child is really disturbing, as it's meant to be, but it alienated me a bit. I wondered if part of it was that I myself am not yet a mother, and I wondered if a mother could relate a little bit better how somebody less emotionally stable might love someone so much, it might become selfish to an extreme. Instead, I found myself making judgments, something I really didn't want to be doing.

I did think the writing was good, so I probably will still pick up her next book, where the subject matter seems like it might alienate me a little less.

Who are you remembered by?

The only reason I picked up The Brief History of the Dead is because I'd been looking to possibly submit a story to a contest he was judging. Curious about him, I looked him up on BN. The cover of the book looked familiar, but I guess the cover and title alone weren't something that would normally get my attention, so I'd never bothered to read the back. However, once I read the description on BN.com, I was so fascinated that I put in my order online pretty quickly.

This was a book that I was sucked into immediately, from beginning til end. The concept is so original that you can't help but want to get to each next page.

The book is basically about a world, an "afterlife" where people go to after they die. There, they have normal lives, have jobs, eat, etc. They hold onto their identities and their memories of their lives on earth. The catch is that they only get to stay there as long as someone living remembers them. Once forgotten, they disappear, onto some unknown next phase of the cycle (heaven or whatever). Intertwined with this is the story of a young woman on Earth, who might possibly be the last living person, thanks to a massive pandemic that has wiped out everybody else.

The book is inventive and rich in its details about the lives that people live in this 2nd world, and the different people. Additionally, there's some great memories that he comes up with, highlighting the poignancy of the little things, as well as how important it is to remember things and people. My favorite moment is this memory where a man catches a girl's balloon on a roof as it floats by and he takes it back down to street level to return it to her. What a wonderful memory. So fresh and vivid.

The joy in this book isn't so much a plot arc - you kinda know where it's going - but to delve in the lives and memories of these people who are facing the end of the line and can now think about who they remember and who they are remembered by.

I really really enjoyed this book, and will probably pick it up again in a couple of years, because I feel like it's something that probably gets better with a second read because of all the details.

History lesson about the Holocaust.

I picked up Sarah's Key at BN because it was sitting on one of those tables in the middle of the aisle. It sounded really interesting, despite the fact that it was yet "another Holocaust story". Not that I don't like the genre, but I've already read The Boy in the Striped Pajamas and The Reader this year. Nevertheless, the premise of the book sounded intriguing enough.

Sarah's Key weaves two differnt tales - one about a young girl in France who locks her little brother in a closet so that he'll be safe as the rest of her family is sent into concentration camps, the other about a grown woman journalist who is doing an article on the Velodrome d'Hiver roundup. As the novel progresses, the two stories interweave.

I had never heard of this particular angle of the Holocaust, so the book was really educational for me. The horror of it was that it wasn't the Nazis who did the roundup, but the French police, who voluntarily aided the requests of the Nazi government. Additionally, although the Nazis had only asked for adults, the French government, unsure of what to do with the kids that would be left behind, also took the children into custody, which meant that all of them died as well.

The language of the book could have been better - I felt the dialogue stilted at times, and I wasn't all that compelled by the story of the present day narrator. She wasn't particularly likable. But I was willing to overlook all of that as a framing device, just to find out more about the story. I guess inherently, something like this is compelling, so it's easy to be sucked into it regardless of language. Also, I wondered if the book was originally and French, and so was perhaps something about the translation.

Nevertheless, I did find the story content touching and heartbreaking at moments, and we all know that if a book can make me cry, well, I'm a sucker for it. So I still liked this a lot and recommend it. Plus, it was a really fast read.

You.

I first heard about You or the Invention of Memory via NY Mag's Vulture blog, where Jonathan Baumbach was giving a reading. I googled, and found out that his publicist was giving out free copies of his book if you emailed her, so I went for it. Didn't get the chance to read it until I was in Belize.

The interesting thing about You is that it opens in a seemingly second person (though really, it's a first person just speaking to an unnamed "you"). In this intro, the narrator explains that this book is basically about some woman he's loved in his life.

What follows are several chapters of different possibilities of how the narrator and the anonymous woman meet, carry out, and end their romance. After a few of these, there is then sudden shift into explaining it from the POV of the woman who is supposedly the author's love.

I liked the concept behind the book, but it verged on being a tad too post-modern for me. I found myself wanting to know how things really happened, but even with the POV of the woman at the end, I found myself confused by the details.

Nevertheless, it was interesting, and I liked reading about all the incarnations a relationship can take, when ultimately it simply boils down to the love that one person can't forget throughout his lifetime.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A little Road moment...

I am currently in the process of writing a 12-15 page paper on The Road vs. Blood Meridian. It's killing me, only because I haven't written a real English paper since junior year of college (and even then it wasn't really a PAPER, it was part of a take-home final).

I am so relieved I got special permission to at least write about this though. I might have had to papercut my wrists if I had to do the undergrad paper topics.

In any case, the only reason I mention this is because, as everyone well knows, The Road is my favoritest book ever (I can read it a million times and still be struck with the same emotions I got the first time around). And I don't think I posted anywhere one of my favorite moments in the book:

You're not the one who has to worry about everything.
The boy said something but he couldnt understand him. What? he said.
He looked up, his wet and grimy face. Yes I am, he said. I am the one.
--[pg. 259, The Road]


No matter how many times I read that section, I get chills, it's so beautiful.



7 pages written, 5 to go. I have so much to say, but at the same time, I'm having a lot of trouble organizing and making things relevant so it feels like I don't have enough and that I'm pulling teeth here...

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

MIA...

Sorry. I know I'm super backlogged here (and backlogged at the new food blog I created!) but I'm so swamped with impending papers and stories and general school work as the semester winds to a close. I WILL get to all book reviews (however mediocre the effort) at some point. Trying to do one a day, but that's not working out so far.

Be back soon.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Sherman Alexie brings Native American experience forward.

The next book on my list to talk about is Sherman Alexie's The Toughest Indian in the World, a collection of short stories.

I really liked this collection. All the stories deal with Native Americans trying to find their place in a country where, well, historically they've been driven out and watered down. Some stories I found more resonant than others.

My favorite story of them all is the last one, One Good Man, about a grown son and a father who is sick from complications of diabetes. His father mentions he's never been to Mexico, and so they go on a roadtrip, until, just shy of the border, his father gets too sick to travel anymore, and the son carries him over. It's really quite touching.

I hadn't read anything by Alexie prior to this, but I think he is definitely filling a niche here, and being a foremost voice for American-Native Americans (I know that's not a proper term, but you know what I mean), and bringing these experiences to the American public. I'm reading Blood Meridian right now, so these thoughts of what this country has done to Native Americans are at the forefront of my mind right now. This book definitely makes me reflect on what the experience for contemporary Native Americans must be like, and the unique struggles they encompass. I also just appreciate the humor and wit, yet poignancy that Alexie folds into all these stories.

The book is an easy read, and worth it.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

I've been a bad girl!

Okay, a million book review updates. I'll go through them one-by-one, but this pretty much means I'm going to give lackluster updates for most of the ones I just thought was good but nothing special. haha.

First up:

Patricia McCormick's Cut.

Synopsis:
About a girl who cuts herself and is institutionalized for it.

The book is really short, but it never hit the mark for me. I felt it was shallow, and the characters were shells. It never resonated with me, and as a person who understands the sort of driving force that can lead someone to a pathway of self-harm, I expected to empathize with the character much more. I didn't. This book is clearly written for adolescents, but I also felt it wasn't given adolescents enough credit. And the ending was too neat and pat. So I thought it was just a whatever read.

The end.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

I owe a TON of posts on books I've read

I promise I'll catch up soon...