May 232020
 

Henry and I have a pandemic tradition where we go for walks in cemeteries every weekend while listening to an audio book together, which I am sure I already mentioned but everything just melts together lately like a clock in a Dali painting so who can be sure what I divulge anymore.

Last weekend, we went to this one cemetery in Greenfield called Calvary Cemetery, which I hadn’t been to since Chooch was a baby, like a fresh-ass BABY baby, and I just remember pushing him in his stroller and he was screaming his face off and I was probably wading through post-partum depression waters, if we’re being frank here, and I was like OMG SHUT UP I HATE YOU UGHHHHH and then never went back to that cemetery. I told Henry this cute little anecdote last weekend and he just stared at me. But look at our well-adjusted 14-year-old! I did ok! We moved past it!

Prior to that, there was this other time we went there, pre-Chooch. I vaguely remember it being winter because I tried to sled down a hill without a sled, and I was totally manic but not in the fun way, and then we came home and I tried to create a recipe by swirling peanut butter into scrambled eggs, and I think I got sick so maybe that’s why I never went back to that cemetery in all of these years? Bad associations?

Well, this time it was so lovely (and I honestly recognized NO PARTS of it) that we went both Saturday and Sunday! Usually we go to different ones but I was like, “Nah dude, let’s go back to the same one.” Maybe it was because I was really vibing with the book we were listening to (Love From A to Z), but wow, I was in a great mood on both days, the weather was beautiful, there were other people around but not enough to be alarmed, and it was just a really peaceful place.

I’m so excited that Henry has been so agreeable about listening to audio books together. I let him check out my Libby shelf during the week so he can choose one to start for the upcoming weekend, and it’s pretty adorable. He didn’t pick “Love From A to Z” though – I did because it was about to expire and this definitely isn’t something he would have chosen because it’s YA romance but also fairly heavy-hitting with Islamophobic themes.

Anyway, the majority of this book takes place in Doha so then we started watching Doha travel videos and OMG when will we ever be able to travel again. Sorry, sometimes I just have to get my meaningless complaints out of my system and let my perspective regenerate.

I had to pause the audio book numerous times while we were casually strolling around the cemetery because I was getting so angry about the way the Muslim character was treated and I kept screaming at Henry, “DOESN’T THIS PISS YOU OFF??” and he just mumbled something that sounded curiously like, “I’m a white privileged male.”

Honestly though, I have really been looking forward to these weekends because they are the only times I get out of the house (aside from casual walks around the neighborhood during the week) and it’s fun pretending like Henry and I are in a book club together even though he doesn’t usually bring much to the table opinion-wise…

Chooch won’t come with us because he doesn’t want to listen to books with his lame parents, fair enough lol.

This was a good book, you guys. I thought it was going to be a fluffy YA romance but nope, there’s substance here! I’ll include it in the next bunch of books I review for Asian Readathon, don’t you worry!

I don’t think anything else ground-breaking happened last weekend, except that I remembered the name of this one Japanese horror movie that Henry and I watched back in…2005?? And for years, the only thing I could remember was that there was something with a cello player and also there was a scene where a little girl was forced to watch her parents have sex and I thought it was from a locked closet, so I googled, “asian horror cello parents make girl watch them have sex” or something and I found it! It was called Strange Circus which you would think would ring a bell in my brain but it doesn’t, and also, the girl was forced to watch the parents from inside a cello case, so there’s the cello connection! I’m so happy I finally remembered!

But also I’m very sad because I know for sure that we rented this back then from Incredibly Strange Video still existed and Henry and I used to walk there because it was like 10 minutes away and we were bros with the owner who would automatically recommend new horror he obtained to us and that is how I watched some of the best foreign horror and bizarre student horror films in the early 2000s and sure everything is at our fingertips now thanks to the internet and hundreds of streaming services, but nothing can beat that feeling of walking into a small independent video store and bullshitting with the long-haired man behind the counter, renting shit that sometimes didn’t even have a cover.

Goddammit, I miss that. :(

 

May 162020
 

We’re two weeks into #asianreadathon and I have read some really solid books! Instead of waiting until the end, I’m breaking this up into several posts because I have already read like 14 books and, well, you can only imagine what my end tally will be. So here are the books I injected into my brain through my eyeballs (and in some cases, ears) for the first half of the readathon!

  1. Miracle Creek – Angie Kim

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If you like courtroom thrillers, this one is for you. Out of all the books on this list so far, this is the one that fits into the category of a book I’d be most likely to pick up, regardless of a reading prompt. It’s a multi-POV look into a tragic accident that occurred at a hyperbaric chamber facility run by a Korean family in Virginia. The book goes back and forth between the present-day trial and the weeks/days leading up to the accident. It’s emotionally gripping and the whole time I couldn’t wait to get to the end to find out WHO and WHY.

Each character is equally compelling, so I didn’t have that, “Ugh another chapter about THIS guy” feeling that I get sometimes with multiple-POV books. But I definitely had my favorites and there were times when I was stressed out because it was starting to look like maybe my favorites were to blame and I found myself shouting NO NO NO more than once.

I highly recommend this. It’s a winner.

2. Hotel Iris – Yoko Ogawa

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The faces I pulled while reading this must have been so ugly. I never read Fifty Shades, but I saw some reviews drawing that comparison so…yay. I didn’t LOVE this book, but I didn’t HATE it, and I think I want to read more from this author…just to see.

This is really short, I think it was less than 200 pages, but it really TAKES YOU THERE.

So far, all of the translated Japanese novels I have read in my life have had that same cold feeling to them. A quiet slow-burn. It’s all mundane then suddenly VERY DISGUSTING AND DEPRAVED.

And then the ending is like, what. And then you just kind of sit there silently, digesting, letting the words you read sink into your brain, heating your skin like the sweaty, filthy touch of an uncle.

Also, it made me think about how amazing it is that I never accidentally found myself stuck in some old man’s sex dungeon when I was a teenager.

3. The Stationery Shop – Marjan Kamali

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Before the library closed, I kept seeing this book being pimped out on the best sellers table in the front. I was drawn to the cover, of course, because would you just look at how beautiful it is?! But when I skimmed the synopsis, it just didn’t seem like something I’d be into. First of all, it’s historical fiction which I had myself convinced I didn’t like. It’s partially set in 1953 Tehran, during the Iranian Coup, which I knew nothing about, but when I was getting my TBR in order for the Asian readathon, I decided to take a chance on this because I wanted my selections to be as diverse as possible, and having Iranian representation on the list was definitely something I wanted.

Still, I expected it to be dry, too political, etc. But good lord, this book is, if I had to put it in abstract terms, like a fucking kaleidoscope of colors. The setting, the characters, the dialogue, the descriptions of the food – it was all so brilliant and sparkling and suddenly I was sending Henry links to recipes for Persian jeweled rice.

I UGLY-CRIED AT THE END OF THIS. I’m a sucker for a good love story I guess.

My Goodreads review was literally just “#brokenheartemoji” lol. I told you I’m basically a book-reviewing genius.

4. I Believe In a Thing Called Love – Maurene Goo

I Believe in a Thing Called Love

A book about a Korean American girl who uses K-Drama tropes to help her land a boyfriend? Yes, please.

This book actually started off differently than I expected – our main character actually doesn’t like K-dramas, but her dad does and is always telling her to move her big head out of the way while she’s doing homework and he’s trying to watch them. She makes the mistake of calling them his “soap operas” which makes him get all defensive about how they’re NOT soap operas and I felt myself getting physically defensive on his behalf because LITERALLY a week prior to reading this, I was on a call at work and some of my co-workers were talking about the shows they’re currently bingeing and one of my work friends said, “Erin wanted me to watch some soap opera last year but it was in a foreign language so I never did….sorry Erin” and I was like, “IT WAS NOT A SOAP OPERA IT WAS A K-DRAMA” and I remember EXACTLY which one it was: Are You Human Too?

So, her loss for not watching it because it is one of the best ones I’ve ever seen and I still think about it a lot.

However, this book is probably definitely not something I will ever think about again. It just didn’t do it for me. I couldn’t connect with any of the characters, and yes I realize that this is YA and they’re in high school but I have 100% related to other YA books before, if the writing is good. And not that the writing was BAD, but it just kind of fell flat, for me at least. I did get excited when specific K-Dramas were referenced but there was one part in particular, when our lead chooses the boy over something else, that didn’t sit well with me.

Verdict? Skip this book and watch a K-Drama instead. If you want a good high school drama, I recommend The Heirs.

5. Skim – Mariko Tamaki

Skim

I wanted to include a graphic novel on the list, and my favorite Booktuber, Kat from Paper Back Dreams, recently read Skim and gave it a great review. So I snagged it from Libby and finished it in one sitting before one of my late shifts. I’m not an avid graphic novel/manga reader so I don’t have much to compare this to, but I thought the illustrations were stunning and it was just a solid coming-of-age story. Would recommend.

6. This Time Will Be Different – Misa Siguira

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I liked this book way more than I anticipated. It seemed like it was going to be just another “unlucky in love” YA book but this tackled hypocrisy and racial themes stemming from the Japanese American internment during WWII and how grossly forgiving American history can be.

What I really loved was that this book was centrally-focused on the high school girl trying to win the guy, but actually fighting for something that matters. But yeah, there’s definitely romance in this book, lol. I liked this one better than I Believe in a Thing Called Love, which I hadn’t anticipated, but there you have it!

Also, that cover is gorge.

7. The Book of M – Peng Shepherd

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Ahhh! Henry and I “buddy-read” this together and by “buddy-read” I mean that it took us an entire week to listen to the audiobook which was v. frustrating since I’m on a schedule here. I mean, this book was over 500 pages long and it was kind of heavy, so I guess that should have been expected. It’s a dystopian thriller, about a pandemic-like phenomenon where people are mysteriously losing their shadows, and with their shadows go their memories, though not all at once.

It follows a variety of characters, and has a very strong The Walking Dead feel, in that a bunch of different groups are trying to get to the same place, and having to overcome obstacles (most being other Shadowed people who have taken to a “kill or be killed” survival tactic). It was slow-moving at first and I considered DNF’ing it after our first round of listening, but I’m really glad I stuck it out because some of the characters really grew on me and it was fascinating to watch this new world unfold as the shadowless began “re-remembering” things in different ways, creating odd new species of animals and flying death kites.

If this hasn’t already been picked up for a movie or TV series, I’d be shocked. Because this is such a winner and would translate SO WELL on screen, I think. Especially the battle scenes – I can never picture those in my head and would like to see how the author intended it to play out visually.

Several days later, Henry was reading someone’s synopsis of this book online and was so angry. He kept pointing at inaccuracies and yelling, “DID THEY EVEN READ IT?!” Henry really liked this book, clearly.

I would highly recommend this to anyone who likes The Walking Dead (Carrie, if you’re reading, this is the book I texted you about!), books about pandemics, and anything with dystopian, post-apocalyptic landscapes.

8. My Year of Meats – Ruth Ozeki 

My Year of Meats

Out of all the books I’ve read so far in May, this is my absolute favorite. I am obsessed with it. I added it on a whim, can’t remember where I saw it recommended, but I am so glad I added it to the list. From nearly the very beginning, I had a feeling that it was going to end up being a 5-star read and I was right.

This was published in 1998 I think and set in the early 90s. The premise is that there is a reality show being filmed in the US for the Japanese market about American wives and the meat-centric meals they cook for their families, so right away you’re like, “Erin, why did you like this book, you’re a vegetarian?” This book brilliantly weaves the SHITTY AND SHADY hand-holding between the US meat industry and pharmaceutical companies into an engaging narrative of a Japanese American woman, Jane, who aspires to be a legit documentarian while directing a reality show she feels morally conflicted about. It bounces back and forth between Jane and the wife of the Japanese man in charge of the show, who is dutifully cooking these American meals for him in spite of being constantly subjected to his abuse.

There are so many poignant stories being explored here and I fell in love with every single character (except for the abusive husband, he sucks obviously) and this was one the only books I’ve read ALL YEAR that I felt fully immersed in. And while I already knew a lot of the things explored here about the sickening US meat industry, it served as a great reminder that my last 24 meatless years have not been in vain.  I don’t think I will be able to stop thinking about it for a long time. It was funny, heart-warming, heart-BREAKING, and still relevant even in 2020. Please read this. It’s fantastic (and whoever the narrator of the audiobook was, she sounded like Jane Lynch and I was so into it).

[SIDE NOTE: Whoa, hold up. I Googled the narrator of the audiobook (Kate Fleming) and she apparently died in 2006 when a flashflood trapped her in her basement studio, and according to her Wiki page, at the hospital, her wife of 9 years—Charlene Strong—“was denied access to see Fleming until permission was granted by an out-of-state relative. The experience led Strong to advocate for legislation that was eventually passed as Washington’s Domestic Partnership Law.”]

9. Ghachar Ghochar – Vivek Shanbhag

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Please read this. It’s just a little, unassuming novella, but SO GOOD and poignant, giving a quick insight at how money and class change the dynamics within a family in Bangalore. Henry and I buddy-read this together in one day and the ending made us look at each other like, “OMG what.”

As someone who grew up with everything and then suddenly became an adult with nothing, I’m always interested in reading about the trials and tribs of other families with $$$ drama. It’s amazing how much money (or lack of) can change people, especially family.

10. Braised Pork – An Yu

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I still don’t know how I feel about this book and feel like it deserves a re-read at some point. It’s very quiet, mysterious. Kind of a thriller? Sort of a mystery? There’s a bit of fabulism? A woman finds her husband dead in the bathtub, leaving behind a drawing of a fish with a man’s head. She becomes obsessed with this image and embarks on a journey to find out what it all means.

All I can say is it’s weird and then it ends. Read it or don’t read it. It’s your life.

11. Tiny Pretty Things – Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton

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UGH this book, I don’t know why I was expecting something better. It’s just about how mean girls are to each other (and themselves) in some ballet academy in New York, except that I didn’t care about any of them, not even the “good” girl, and it just seemed like there was no point but I guess it was well-received by those who matter because it’s becoming a Netflix series. I hope the Korean representation is good in the series, because it’s kind of “meh” in this book.

12. Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 – Cho Nam-Joo

Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982

Oh shit son, this book is where it’s at. It follows Kim Jiyoung, from when she’s a child, to an adult, and shows all the ways she’s been discriminated against for being a woman. It’s a quick read, and the ending is WOW JUST WOW. I can see why this book was a best-seller in Korea and I am so glad it’s recently been translated to English. I feel like every man should be required to read books like this.

I didn’t know this until now, but THIS HAS BEEN MADE INTO A MOVIE and one of my favorite Korean actors, Gong Yoo, plays the husband and I am so stoked for it!!

Please read this book. It includes real facts throughout the fictional narrative, which I loved. You know I love learning as much about Korea as possible!

13. Wicked Fox – Kat Cho

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Sadly, I followed that strong Korean pick with a super weak, disappointing YA supernatural romp. I really thought I would enjoy a book about a gumiho (9-tailed fox spirit) in Seoul, but it was sooooooo dumb. The only thing I liked was the quick shout-out to BIGBANG’s TOP, and the various mentions of Korean foods which made me super hungry and miss Korea so much. But yeah, this book was not that great and I was barely able to stay focused.

14. A Thousand Beginnings and Endings – multiple authors/anthology

A Thousand Beginnings and Endings

To round-out my first two weeks of Asian books, I read this anthology of popular Asian folklore retellings. I started it early into the readathon, but I only read one story a night because anthologies, as I’ve discovered, aren’t really for me. This one had a lot of duds but some really solid ones too, like the Korean one – “Land of the Morning Calm” by E.C.Myers based on the Chasa Bonpuli fable –  (I swear I wasn’t being biased, I just genuinely really liked it) and the last two in the book, one of which was a Japanese retelling of the kitsune legend (“Eyes Like Candlelight” – Julie Kagawa) and another was based on the Chinese legend The Cowherd and the Weaver Girl (“The Crimson Cloak” – Cindy Pon), made me cry like a baby.

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Anyway, this has been the last two weeks of my life. Now I’m crying because I’m thinking about that Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 movie and I just can’t handle my emotions right now. Also, I want ice cream.