sumofparts: picture of books with text 'books are humanity in print' (books)
[personal profile] sumofparts
I finished my second set of 50, yay and started a new set. Below are some thoughts on the books.

Remainder of second set:
39. Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri
40. A Gesture Life by Chang-rae Lee
41. Orange Mint and Honey by Carleen Brice
42. Zone One by Colson Whitehead
43. The Vast Fields of Ordinary by Nick Burd
44. The Icarus Girl by Helen Oyeyemi
45. Funny Boy by Shyam Selvadurai
46. Snakes and Ladders by Gita Mehta
47. The End of East by Jen Sookfong Lee
48. Beijing Confidential by Jan Wong
49. Something Fierce by Carmen Aguirre
50. Brick Lane by Monica Ali
New set:
1. Decoded by Jay-Z

Cut for length )
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Haven't posted in a while. Here's a series of mini-reviews with some spoilers. Also, some of the books contain potentially triggering content.

6. Un-Nappily in Love by Trisha R. Thomas
7. Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat
8. Tracks by Louise Erdrich
9. The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid
10. Umbrella by Taro Yashima
11. Little Joy by Ruowen Wang
12. Why War is Never a Good Idea by Alice Walker
13. Erika-san by Allen Say
14. Dahanu Road by Anosh Irani
15. What the Dog Saw by Malcolm Gladwell
16. The Automatic Detective by A. Lee Martinez
17. In the Company of Ogres by A. Lee Martinez
18. Gil's All Fright Diner by A. Lee Martinez
19. Divine Misfortune by A. Lee Martinez
20. Monster by A. Lee  Martinez
21. Certainty by Madeleine Thien
22. So Long Been Dreaming edited by Nalo Hopkinson and Uppinder Mehan
23. A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers by Xiaolu Guo
24. Too Many Curses by A. Lee Martinez
25. A Nameless Witch by A. Lee Martinez
26. A Person of Interest by Susan Choi
27. Apex Hides the Hurt by Colson Whitehead

Mention (not counted)
Josias, Hold the Book by Jennifer Riesmeyer Elvgren (white); illustrated by Nicole Tadgell (person of colour)

Read more... )
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[personal profile] rsadelle
The joke I kept making as I read Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac was that while I couldn't remember having read it before, it all seemed vaguely familiar. I'm not sure if that means I did read it once before, if it's because I'd read bits and pieces before when I was deciding if I wanted to read it, or if it's because the book is so well constructed that it all fits perfectly together.

Spoilers )
[identity profile]
Hi! It's been an unforgivable eleven months since I last posted, so you've probably all forgotten me or had a generational change and transcended to become godlike beings, in which case, good for you! Try to be benevolent. Anyway! I didn't come close to reading 50 books last year or this, but my involvement in this community definitely changed my reading habits for the better, permanently, so, you know, thanks for that.

34. Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go

In my defense I read this long before I realized there was going to be a film (which I will probably end up seeing anyway, because Keira Knightley's cheekbones, guh.) Strange, haunting setup as what seems to be no more than a slightly weird British boarding school novel turns into something science-fictional and appalling. I think it works brilliantly as a critique of late-capitalist society, in which we are all fungible body parts intentionally distracted by trivialities while being fed into the rotating knives. But then I always say that.

35. Nora K. Jemisin, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

Finished it. Didn't fly for me, not sure why, since everyone I know and respect adored it. Will try it again.

36. Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Imperial Life in the Emerald City

Pitch-perfect on the revolting excess and absurdity of the Iraq war. An excellent companion piece to Rory Stewart's The Prince of the Marshes.

37. Gene Yang, Prime Baby

Having loved American Born Chinese with a fond love, I picked this up for Kid #1, who is a prime number enthusiast with a baby sibling. The book - which features an older brother figuring out that his baby sibling is an alien through her strategic deployment of primes - was an instant hit with its target demographic, and has since been taken up by Kid #2 in turn.

38. Kamila Shamsie, Burnt Shadows

Contrived Coincidence.

39. Mei Ling Hopgood, Lucky Girl

40. Jane Jeong Trenka, The Language of Blood

Nothing galvanizes your curiosity about transracial adoption like your best friend adopting transracially (unless, I guess, it is you that is adopting transracially. But I always get the two of us mixed up.) These two adult adoption memoirs are often recommended as point and counterpoint, which is a little unfair to Hopgood, an adult adoptee who was born in Taiwan. Her Lucky Girl is competent and her story extremely interesting, if sometimes too digressive (I am here for the reunion, I am not very interested in the geography of Taiwan right now) and too reliant on journalistic tricks (please do not telegraph your plot twists in advance, thanks, the management.) Hopgood ends up deciding she was better off adopted, which makes her book the darling of adoptive parents who don't really want to hear the bad news.

Trenka: not so much! Her circumstances are very different, for one thing. For another - and this is what makes the comparison unfair - while Hopgood is a perfectly serviceable reporter, Trenka is an extraordinarily gifted writer, and her story is harrowing on any number of levels. I finished The Language of Blood sitting in my favourite cafe with tears and snot running down my face, and it is still with me. Trenka engaged me far beyond my original need to know about international adoption and its injustices and outcome. I'll read everything she writes.

Bonus round! Whether you consider the following writers white or not probably depends on where you grew up. The Australia in which I grew up was so overwhelmingly white that people of Greek ancestry tended not to identify, or to be identified, as "Anglo." That hair-splitting racial tension is ever-present in The Slap and nowhere in Logicomix, not surprisingly, because the latter book is not Australian! But I couldn't figure out a consistent way to include or exclude these two until I decided to list them both as extras, and so here we are!

Apostolos Doxiadis and Christos Papadimitriou, Logicomix

If you love mathematics and history and especially the history of mathematics, call me! Or at least walk over broken glass to get your hands on this beautiful, brilliantly-researched graphic novel, which follows the life of a personal hero of mine, Cambridge mathematician Bertrand Russell.

Christos Tsiolkas, The Slap

This book was big news when it was published in Australia last year, and then again in the UK when it was longlisted for the Man Booker. In the English reviews especially there was a lot of handwringing about how awful some of the characters are, especially the deliverer of the eponymous slap. This was very amusing to me, because those characters tended to be note-perfect depictions of the kinds of men I grew up with. Anyway, to conflate the author's opinion with that of a character he is clearly satirizing is to fail lit crit 101. Get on that, London reviewers! More substantial criticisms addressed the sometimes-flabby prose and the invariably-squicky sex scenes. But. But!

Tsiolkas means a lot to me. He has been publishing novels since I was a fresh-out-of-uni candy raver in Sydney. He started in the gay ghetto and this is his first real crossover novel, and I am probably overidentifying more than a little, but I found it quite exhilarating that a writer of more or less my exact generation could take on such an ambitious project and nearly, almost pull it off. It's flawed, sure, but it's picaresque and panopticonic and high realist and it's groping for a Dickensian or Trollopian critique of all of Australian society. I love the book for being at once unapologetically provincial and unashamedly serious. And yet it's also very funny. I'm rambling! But I liked it a lot! Maybe you would too!
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6. Paula Yoo, Good Enough

Patti is a Korean-American high school student who plays classical violin but has a secret obsession with boy band Jet Pack. Her parents expect her to study hard, go to her church youth group, and not date, but she's interested in new student Ben Wheeler, who teaches her about groups like the Clash and encourages her to apply to Julliard instead of HarvardYalePrinceton. I really enjoyed both Patti's problems and their resolution; it felt very true to me. Just as a personal note, I always love it when I find a well-written intelligent character, and Patti very much is. Many books will tell the reader that a character is smart, but it's rare for me to find one that can actually show it.

This isn't a deep book, but it's fun and engaging. It had some very funny parts, particularly the silly chapter titles (like "How to Make Your Korean Parents Happy") and spam recipes (which, uh, actually sounded really tasty, and I hate spam). A great read for when you want something light but enjoyable.
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When My Name Was Keoko When My Name Was Keoko by Linda Sue Park (Random House, 2002)

This is the first beneficiary of my "prioritised reading program" in view of my upcoming departure from WHS. It's been on my to-read list for a long time: it was probably one of the first to be added, back when I was compiling my 50books_poc lists.

It tells the story of a family in Korea during the Japanese occupation, modelled on the family of the author's parents. When the government orders that all Koreans are to take a Japanese name, Sun-hee is renamed Keoko. And yet the family form their Japanese names very carefully, resisting the government even while they follow the law. Further, the narrative only ever refers to Sun-hee, her brother Tae-yul, and the other family members by their Korean names. The Japanese name is only used in the mouth of Japanese characters, particularly officials.

Read more... )
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The young adult novel Wait for Me tells the story of two Korean-American sisters living in the shadow of their bitter and disappointed mother.

Hearing-impaired Suna, about to enter middle school, has always been rejected by their mother, who sees her disability as an unforgiveable imperfection and disparages her intelligence. Mina, the elder and favored child, has woven an intense web of lies to preserve her mother’s image of her as the perfect daughter—a straight-A student, good Korean girl, and selfless worker at her parents’ laundromat.

Over the first half of the novel, we slowly discover just how false this carefully-crafted image is, and the toll maintaining it takes on the anxious and unhappy Mina. Her love for Suna, for whom she serves as a surrogate mother, is the only true thing in her life, and even that is endangered by her inability to face the truth—and by the fact that both she and Suna fall for Ysrael, an illegal immigrant from Mexico who comes to work at the family laundromat.

Very minor spoilers )
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This quasi-autobiographical book is about Young Ju Park, a Korean girl who immigrates to the U.S. when she’s 4. Thinking that “Mi Gook,” the Korean term for America, means that America is Heaven, she’s not prepared for the confusion, strangeness, and near-poverty that await her. The book focuses on the difficulties of being an immigrant being raised in two cultures at once, and faced with a parent who cannot adjust to the second culture.

Told in a series of first person, stream of consciousness vignettes, it’s very similar in theme and feel to Sandra Cisneros’s The House of Mango Street, which An Na confirms as an influence, and is the rare (for me) effective use of first person, present tense narration.

I warn, though, for domestic abuse, which is initially vague when Young Ju is too young to understand it, but becomes increasingly clear and explicit as the book continues, coming to a head when she’s in high school. Thankfully, this aspect doesn’t seem to be autobiographical, judging from An Na’s comments. Domestic abuse-both real and fictional-is always horrible, but becomes a little worse when you realize you’re reading someone’s memories.
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#29.  Same Difference and Other Stories, Derek Kirk Kim
2004, Top Shelf Productions (material originally self-published between 2000-2003)

I really, really like this story.  (Also, the edition I'm reading has an extraordinarily beautiful cover, which I wish would show up more readily on Google searches for the book.  I just love it a lot.)

This is a collection of short stories, but the book is clearly dominated by the title piece, which at 80 pages makes up more than half the book.  (The rest of the pieces are a grab bag of variable interest and quality, ranging from two to eight pages or so.)  "Same Difference," though, is a novella -- or a short graphic novel -- and I really dug it a lot.  The central characters are Simon Moore and his friend Nancy; both are Korean-American, both are recent college graduates, both are living and working in Oakland and working on finding their adult footing and way in the world.  An over-the-top prank played by Nancy, and her insistent desire to follow it up (Nancy has a very forceful personality, to the point of being domineering), leads to a day-trip-cum-road-trip down to Pacifica, the quiet, beautiful beachside suburb where Simon grew up.  The day brings encounters and surprises; it ends, as days do, with sunset, night falling, the stars.

It would make this a longer review than I have time for to go into detail about all the reasons I like this work, but I'll throw out a few.  I like Kim's aesthetic; by that I mean not just the technical execution of his artwork (which I also like very much), but also the way he chooses to depict things: his sense of pacing, of rhythm, of composition; his interest in quiet spaces and quiet passages, in the emotional value of light and natural and constructed-urban patterns in the environment.  (This stuff is not blatantly obvious while you're reading the story, which I think is also deliberate -- it has a cheerful, almost noisy flow -- but it's definitely there.)  Also, I like his character design, and I like his characters.  

I find myself thinking of this in comparison to other comics I've been reading lately.  Adrian Tomine's 2007 book Shortcomings throws up a similar dynamic: the protagonist's best friend Alice Kim is, well, actually almost identical to Simon's best friend Nancy.  (Huh.  The more I think about those details of character design and dynamic, the more I start to wonder about that.  Kim's came first... )  But I like Kim's characters, and story, better: I find the protagonists more realistic (although that's admittedly a complicated term) and more engaging and endearing.  Another comparison that comes to mind is Dan Clowes' Ghost World, for reasons which will probably be evident if you've read both books.  Once again, though, I find myself liking Same Difference better.

I think the reason might be... or boil down to... because I find Kim's view of his characters, and the world, ultimately much more compassionate and humane than is the case with either Tomine or Clowes?  And I like humane.  It is ultimately what makes great literature great to me; which is why I'm not really a fan of either Clowes or Tomine, despite the respect I can accord to some of their work. 

Your mileage, of course, might vary. This is why the world is full of books! :)

[Tags I would add if I could: california, disability, twentysomething, coming of age, culture shock]

PS: Oh yeah -- the rest of the stories are interesting, too, at least some of them.  (A number of the tags I've used apply to them, not to the title story.)  I couldn't really get into most of them, though; a lot of this work seems to be Kim complaining about how girls don't like him.  They are fairly superior examples of the type, but there's not much depth there.  This is, I'm coming to think, just material that many artists have to work through before they can get to plumbing their memories and emotions for richer and more mature work, and Kim has worked his way through it and gotten beyond.  (Unlike some other cartoonists I could mention, like Chester Brown, or Ivan Brunetti, or Adrian Tomine, or Dan Clowes.  (Oh, excuse me!  Did I say that out loud? ;))
[identity profile]
#25. This Bridge Called My Back, ed. Cherríe Moraga & Gloria Anzaldúa
1981/'83, Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press

This is another book that is so full of... ideas and thinking and newness, and that has so many visions and so much emotion in it, and that contains both so much I can identify with and so much that seems deeply foreign -- I don't mean only the experiences and attitudes of the women who wrote it, but also, which is harder for me to assimilate, the lens through which they view the world: the moment of history, cultural and political, in which thy formulated these ideas and these manifestoes -- that I feel overwhelmed when I try to think about posting a review of it.

But I also feel kind of like a coward for backing out of reviewing it. What to do? I think I will let it simmer for a while. I may also read the much more recent companion book to it (this bridge we call home, used, I see, as an icon for this group ;), and see if that helps me understand, and bridge the thirty years of historical difference between these women and me.

[tags I would add if I could: assimilation, sociology, spirituality [or: religion/spirituality], puerto rican, a: morales rosario, a: rushin donna kate, a: wong nellie, a: lee mary hope, a: littlebear naomi, a: lim genny, a: yamada mitsuye, a: valerio anita, a: cameron barbara, a: levins morales anita, a: carillo jo, a: daniels gabrielle, a: moschkovich judit, a: davenport doris, a: gossett hattie, a: smith barbara, a: smith beverly, a: clarke cheryl, a: noda barbara, a: woo merle, a: quintanales mirtha, a: anzaldua gloria, a: alarcon norma, a: combahee river collective, a: canaan andrea, a: parker pat] 

(Also, apropos of nothing: Whoo! Halfway through! This book feels like an appropriate one for that milestone.)

[identity profile]
#22. Good as Lily, by Derek Kirk Kim (writer) and Jesse Hamm (illustrator)
Marvel Comics (Minx imprint), 2007

I ordered this book from the library on the strength of the short-story collection The Eternal Smile (reviewed in a previous post), the 2009 collaboration between Derek Kirk Kim and Gene Luen Yang. I have already had a taste of Yang's solo work (in American Born Chinese), and I liked The Eternal Smile well enough that I became eager to check out Kim's solo work as well. So I asked the library for Same Difference and Other Stories, which is Kim's debut collection, published in 2003; and Good as Lily, which is a graphic novel published in 2007 by Marvel's short-lived Minx line for tween girls. (AAARGGH I HATE THAT NAME.)

Anyway. Good As Lily isn't bad, although I don't like it as much as Kim's earlier book (for reasons I will elucidate). Here's why... )

All in all a very interesting book, one of the more successful pieces I've seen from the Minx line. (I STILL HATE THAT NAME! And I can't help being glad they got served for it. ;)

[Tags I wish I could add: i: hamm jesse, coming of age, california, magic realism.]
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27. Good Enough, by Paula Yoo

YA novel about a Korean-American girl whose parents push her to take all AP classes, get at least a 2300 (new scale...) on the SATs, etc. so she can get into an Ivy League college. She's also a very talented violinist, and her parents push her to achieve as much as she can in music so it will look good on her college applications.

She meets a boy at All-State orchestra rehearsal that she's very attracted to, and over the course of the book she gets closer and closer to him, sneaking out to his house to play music with him when her parents forbid her to hang out with boys or to waste any time that she could be spending studying. He teaches her about improvisation and the value of rock music, and helps her realize how truly passionate about music she is (he encourages her to apply to Juilliard behind her parents' backs).

And then, of course, there's the climax where they sneak out to a concert, she gets caught, there are consequences... and then it all wraps up nicely in the end. (I don't think I need to give a spoiler warning for any of this; how could the ending be anything else?)

I liked this well enough. The author's a musician and gets the music parts of the story exactly right (I'm picky about that sort of thing). And she gets math much better than Justina Chen Headley (although the part where the protagonist says that she doesn't have enough time to solve the last problem on her extra credit homework, d/dx(sin(x2+5)) or something like that, between homeroom and when she has to hand it in in the middle of the day... came off as false - how long could it really take her? 30 seconds?)...

And there is not too much girliness.

28. The Whale Rider, by Witi Ihimaera

I thought this was just lovely. I decided to read it after reading a friend's review of the movie, in which she said that the movie's message seemed to be inconsistent - that it seemed to be alternatingly sending the messages "The hope of indigenous peoples is returning to the Old Ways" and "Sexism is bad, and the Old Ways are sexist," when it should have been a real examination of how to keep indigenous cultures alive, living, evolving to survive in their times.

The book didn't seem to me to have that inconsistency at all. It actually seemed to be exactly what my friend wanted to see... except that it was less an examination and more that... both themes, returning to the ways of the Maori people and letting those ways evolve, were just there, pervading the book. The sexism of some of the traditions was challenged, but that challenge came from within the culture; it was not imposed on it from outside. This was not about a conflict between The Enlightened White Conception Of Human Rights and Our People's Cultural Identity And Traditions. Not at all.

Once again... lovely.
[identity profile]
#11.  Shortcomings, Adrian Tomine
2007, Drawn & Quarterly

I keep trying to like Adrian Tomine, and he kind of just keeps leaving me cold.  Cool, anyway.  I'm not really sure what else to say about it. 

I read Shortcomings in the space of about an hour; and thought about it; and then I reread it, trying to be sure to catch whatever I might have missed.  Tomine's work is  much more technically accomplished now than it used to be, and sometime he even gets daring or lyrical in his framing.  But his characters are kind of... they leave me untouched.  What can I say?  I know plenty of people who love his work.  But I keep comparing his spare, skillful black-and-white comics about humans in relationships to the spare, skillful black-and-white comics about humans in relationships of Jaime Hernandez, and I'm like, "Man.  One of these artists I keep going back to and his characters live in my imagination.  And the other one... I close the book and they're gone."

Which is probably just as well, because they were assholes anyway.  Nobody in Shortcomings is very likable, including the protagonist -- which is, I suppose, one of the strengths of the book.  Ben, who (like Tomine) is Japanese-American, is having a rocky time in his relationship with his girlfriend Miko.  Miko, also Japanese, suspects that Ben has a wandering eye for white women (by which both she and he appear to mean "blonde and blue-eyed," which apparently describes all the eligible Caucasian females in California).  Ben denies it... and then concedes that maybe, yeah, he's been culturally conditioned to find that sexy, but it that his fault?  Ben is intensely defensive, and never seems to give a moment's thought to Miko's well-being.  Which is why, when the relationship gets rocky, it comes as no surprise...

An interesting book about interesting issues, and certainly a protagonist and perspective we don't see much -- or enough -- of.  I just wish... I wish I could find an emotional heart in Tomine's work.  It's so cool and cynical, it stands so far away while it dissects, that it's hard for me to care.  A story about emotions that refuses to become emotionally engaged is... it's not something that can really become meaningful for me.

[identity profile]
#9.  The Eternal Smile, Gene Luen Yang and Derek Kirk Kim
2009, First Second


The Eternal Smile is a collaborative anthology by comics artists Gene Luen Yang and Derek Kirk Kim.  Before reading this, I had read Yang's American Born Chinese (which won the Eisner award in 2007, and which I recommend highly, albeit with a few reservations).  I hadn't previously read anything else by Kim; after reading The Eternal Smile, though, I went and added his earlier books to my reading list (Same Difference and Other Stories, which won the Eisner and the Harvey in 2004, and Good As Lily, which was published by Marvel's tween Minx imprint in 2007).


It's a little hard to know how to review this book, partly because what it really is is a compilation of three different stories which differ so widely in style and tone that it would be a stretch to call this a cohesive work.  You can make an argument, though (as did my brother, who also read this book) that they treat one or two of the same core themes, and that their collective comment on these themes is more complex than any of the pieces would be alone.


I can't really go into much thematic criticism without spoiler-ing the stories, so I'll confine myself to other aspects.

Here we go... )


[identity profile]
Everything Asian, by Sung J. Woo (New York: St. Martin's Press, 2009; ISBN-13 978-0-312-53885-9)

This novel-in-stories centers around the Kim family, particularly 12-year-old David Dae Joon Kim, who has just come from South Korea with his mother and 16-year-old sister to join his father in the United States. Mr. Kim runs a store called "East Meets West" at a shabby New Jersey mall called Peddlers Town.

Stories from different perspectives show many facets of the Kim family and their world; although David's is the central point of view, other narrators include his sister, a private detective who's opened an office in Peddlers Town, the Kims' friends and fellow Korean emigres the Hong family, and others who are part of the mundane yet richly imagined world Woo evokes for his characters.

I really enjoyed this book. The characters are vivid, and Woo finds a delicate balance between depicting the specific cultural challenges of lower-middle-class Korean immigrants (English-language classes, the Kim children's first attempts to cook a spaghetti dinner for their parents) and the family dramas experienced by so many adolescents in every culture (David's difficulties in relating to his father, his sister's rebellion against their parents' expectations).
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[personal profile] sanguinity
Three graphic novels!

35. Toufic El Rassi, Arab in America.

Pretty much precisely what the title says it is: reflections on being Arab in America, especially after 9/11. El Rassi covers quite a lot in a fairly short space, and does a good job conveying the feeling of insecurity in being perceived to be the enemy in the only country you have ever known.

36. Derek Kirk Kim, Same Difference and Other Stories.

I really liked the title story, but am at a loss to say anything useful or intelligent about it. The "other stories" are an odd collection of short pieces, pretty diverse in style and subjects, many-to-all of which had originally been published as webcomics. Some I adored, others were simply odd. I'd definitely look forward to seeing a second grab-bag collection from him.

37. Derek Kirk Kim, Good As Lily.

The storytelling on this one was tight and engaging, and I liked the inter-squabbling between the characters. I did have problems with the central conceit, however: one's eighteen-year-old self as the fount of meaning and insight for one's life? I kinda want to sit down with Kim and ask, "Really? You thought being eighteen was all that?"


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