Thursday, June 30, 2011

One last challenge book...

Just one more
I finished Beijing Coma on the 27th and could easily have decided that the challenge was over and I could move on to other things, like that TBR stack I mentioned. But I didn't. Perhaps emboldened by the completion of Beijing Coma or because the month isn't actually over and I didn't want to quit, I picked up another book for this China Rican challenge. I skipped over another Puerto Rican book because I've been having a hard enough time finding titles, let alone titles that I want to read. Plus, even if I did find something, I'd have to buy it. Instead I went with another Chinese book for a couple reasons.

First up, China Pop by Jianying Zhu was already sitting on the shelf. In college, Boyfriend took a couple Chinese classes: language, culture, philosophy. So he has some Chinese books laying around the house. No Chinese lit, but things that qualify for this challenge. So it was easy to get. Plus it has bright colors and is about pop culture, which means it sparked my interest. The more trivial the topic, the more interesting I find it. There must be some inverse mathematical formula that can be applied there, but I'll let some of my smarter friends figure that out. I asked him how the book was and he shrugged his shoulders and said pretty boring. Super. Hopefully he's wrong.

Second, this picks up discussing Tiananmen Square, the horrors that happened there and the cultural move from that point onward through China's shifting identity. And I need that because my reaction to the ending of Beijing Coma was similar to my reaction to Orwell's 1984: I wanted to hide under the covers with my fingers in my ears and pretend nothing like that could ever happen. I'm pretty sure I turned on the TV after I finished the book, but I was just blankly staring at the images while trying to process what I'd just read. I needed something to show me not everything is dark and evil and there is hope, even if it's wrapped up with a Chinese soap opera.

So yeah, the challenge that I debated giving up on not long ago. I extended it. Because I'm a glutton for punishment apparently. Review to come soon.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

No one living in a dictatorship has a healthy state of mind

I just finished up Ma Jian's Beijing Coma and wow. Obviously I've mentioned on here a number of times that this is a long book. I did a whole whining post about how I wanted to break this up with another book. It wasn't solely the length that made me want to put this down and pick up something else. This is an emotionally draining book.

If you already know all about the Tiananmen Square massacre and the events leading up to it, congratulations, you're starting out in a better place than me. It's embarrassing how little I know about Chinese history of any time period and especially when it concerns years I was actually alive. Granted I was all of 5 when this happened and my high school history classes never seemed to make it past the Industrial Revolution but still. Literally the only thing I even recognized about it before starting this book is Tank Man. So on the one hand, yay I'm a blank slate going into this book. On the other hand oh my God, this can't really be real. How could this happen? How could I not know?

Beijing Coma tells the story of Dai Wei, who has been in a coma due to a gunshot would to the head during the massacre. The story jumps between Dai Wei's memories and the present day. He recalls his early life as the child of a "rightest", his university days, and primarily the escalating protests in Tianament Square, where he is head of security. His present day covers his years in the coma, being take care of by his mother who was at first an adamant supporter of the Party but slowly changes her mind. He finds out how things changed after the protest, what happened to his friends, girlfriends, brother.

His memories around the weeks of protest are certainly the primary focus, but I preferred his early life and the coma sections more. I suppose there's this assumption that there is a darkness before the dawn. The massacre is certainly the darkness so afterwards things had to improve in Beijing. But they don't, not for Dai Wei's family, certainly not for his mother, who was my favorite character. She's at once resentful she has to take care of her comatose son, often wishing him dead, while at the same time completely devoted to him. You can feel her frustrations, and she never comes off as some one-dimensional monster. She can't work because caring for Dai Wei is a full time job, yet she can't even get proper care for him because of his involvement in the protests.
At one point, she has to sell one of Dai Wei's kidneys in order to get money to keep caring for him. There are so many acts of desperation I don't know why this one stands out so much for me, but it did. It isn't the worst thing depicted, but it's the one I guess that I can actually wrap my head around.
*Continue on. You're safe from spoilers now*

Dai Wei seems to get caught up in the fervor of the protests but never seems to really care about what everything is for. He doesn't slack at his job, but he's just going along with everyone else. And there is so much in-fighting as different students struggle for power of the square. That got repetitive and would have benefited from some culling.It was the same fights over and over again that they began to blur together. I suppose that itself says something for the mood of the time, but I had trouble staying focused.

Overall this was an incredible, heartbreaking, terrifying book and I'm extremely glad I read it, despite any of my whining to the contrary.

Sidenote: Not only does Kindle let you highlight and make notes, but it keeps track of everything and gives you a total. With previous books I've had maybe 20 at the most notes/highlights. This time I have 71. Granted this book is long but it's still a greater amount than the other ebooks I've read. There is so much here I wanted to go back to, so much I was ignorant of and Ma Jian has a way with words that many of these passages could stand alone without the book feeling like a cobbled together series of quotes. Although I suppose the compliments of the language go almost as much to the translator Flora Drew.

Title quote from location 3749

Jian, Ma. Beijing Coma. Trans. Flora Drew. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 2008. Kindle edition

Thursday, June 23, 2011

What's your agenda?

The Blue Bookcase's Literary Blog Hop asks the following question: Should literature have a social, political, or any other type of agenda? Does having a clear agenda enhance or subtract from its literary value?

It's hard to think of a book that doesn't have some sort of agenda or promote something beyond just the story at hand. Of course this may not be entirely intentional on the author's part or at least the author may not have set out to write a persuasion piece, but for the most part a story is going to have some sort of larger purpose. Now whether this enhances or detracts from the story, well that's up to how good the author is.

I may or may not have mentioned a zillion times that I'm reading Beijing Coma. It's about the protests that happened in Tienanmen Square in '89 and get out of town, that has some politics in it? But, thus far anyway, there is no political diatribe for or against what happened, the movement, the government, anything. There is no point where it feels like Ma Jian puts his own words into a characters mouth. That doesn't mean Ma Jian doesn't agree with a point one of his character's is making, but at no point am I removed from the story to listen to him prattle on about something that could easily be removed from the book with no harm to the story.

Connie mentions George Orwell's Animal Farm and how Orwell fully acknowledges the agenda he had while writing the book, and while the message is clear it doesn't detract from the story. But even stories that don't have a set out agenda still make some point.

I don't know what Austen's intentions were when she set out to write Pride and Prejudice but the character Lizzie certainly seems from beyond her time, perhaps echoing the type of woman that Austen wanted to see. Or perhaps I've brought my own agenda to the reading.

So, what do you think?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Why I avoid challenges

I am 65% of the way through Ma Jian's Beijing Coma which translates to 468 pages out of 720 and I really wish now Kindle would just put little page numbers on here in addition to the location and percentage stuff. I need at least 3 different indicators of how far along a book I am when I don't have the weight of the book in front of me. Anyway, what I'm saying is, I'm not going to have a review of this anytime soon. I know I tend to post multiple times about a book while I'm reading it, but believe it or not, I do tend to do that only if I have something to say. Or at least I think I have something I want to say. Whether you think I did is really a different matter. I have lots I want to mention but so far it mostly has to do with how little I know about this period of Chinese history, even though I was alive for most of the time period described. Don't worry, I'll go into how pathetic I am in that post. Right now though what I'd like to do is take a little break from Beijing Coma so I have a new, less-depressing book and maybe something I can post about. I don't have a problem breaking up a book like this. I did it with Strange & Norrell and that book wasn't even depressing. Just ridiculously long.

Here's my problem though: I'm doing this China Rican reading challenge. But I don't really want to break up Beijing Coma with another book for this challenge. See I haven't really been able to find, well, any books I can use for the Puerto Rican part of this challenge. I only have the 2, the one I already read When I Was Puerto Rican and I heard about another one called The Time It Snowed in Puerto Rico. I read about the "snow" one on someone else's blog and honestly, they didn't have great things to say about it. It was OK but not really worth it. I added it to my list in the hopes that I'd find something better. But I haven't yet. And When I Was Puerto Rican was alright but a bit of a let down as well. So I don't really have another challenge book I can use to break up Beijing Coma, at least nothing I'm looking forward to reading.

To top that off, I do have a pile of books that I really do want to read, just staring me in the face with these Disney eyes, asking why I'm ignoring them. I know lots of people have insane TBR piles, but I don't. When I say my TBR pile I'm referring to an imaginary list that I'd like to maybe get around to reading at some point. I don't typically have an actual, physical pile of books. This time however, I do have that stack*. And I want to read them, but none of them qualify for this challenge. Yeah, I know I made up this challenge. No one actually would care if I finished it. Hell, Boyfriend doesn't even really care. At one point I asked him what he thought of me doing this and he just laughed. Granted that was most likely his reaction to watching me run in circles while playing L.A. Noire** which really just means he ignored my question. Because I think that he likes that I'm doing it on some level, but really it doesn't matter to him all that much. He doesn't want to say it doesn't matter, hence the change in subject. Even though he doesn't care, and really precisely because no one cares, I don't want to cheat, because then I'm just cheating me. OK, so I'll stick to the challenge, but now the challenge is starting to feel like work. And I hate that.

I guess what I'm saying is, I'm glad I started this challenge because I read some books I very likely wouldn't have picked up and I have a whole bunch of Chinese authors on my TBR pile (the imaginary list one) to check out and I do think I'm learning slightly more about the countries and cultures. And I've cemented why I normally avoid challenges and that I'll most likely be avoiding them in the future.

*If you're curious, here's my current stack of books that is just waiting for me to finish up with this challenge so I can get to them:
A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark
Hogdoggin' by Anthony Neil Smith
Tokyo Vice by Jake Adelstein
Superfreakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner

**OK, the last game I just finished playing (replaying) was Luigi's Mansion so obviously I am a sporadic gamer. I've watched people play the GTA series but I've never done it myself. So what I'm saying is the controls are all new to me and quit laughing at me just because I get stuck between like every door and gate there is in this stupid game and omg did the suspect get away AGAIN because I still can't figure out how to read a map. Dammit.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Why I love book blogging

To celebrate their one year anniversary, the ladies over at The Broke and the Bookish have posed the following top ten challenge: what are the top 10 reasons you like book blogging.

1. A chance to talk with other bookish people - This is my favorite reason for book blogging and an unexpected one. Let's face it, reading can be a solitary hobby. So I love that I've had the chance to meet (in the digital sense) lots of other bookish people and we can talk about books and lit and other topics that other friends of mine and I never talk about. We tried at one point to do a book club which ended up just being a hang around and drink wine club. I had a lot of fun, don't get me wrong, but it didn't satisfy my desire to discuss books.
2. A chance to write - As an English major in college, I wrote a lot. Paper after paper after paper it seemed. While I can't say I miss the deadlines and the long nights, I was starting to miss the act of writing. Boyfriend convinced me that a blog was a good way to get back into the habit. Also I think he thought this outlet for my random thoughts would spare him some of my ramblings, but little did he know I have lots of babble to go around.
3. Tracking my reading - I never kept track of the books I read. I'd read a book and never really looking at a big picture of what I'm reading. Tracking the books here, especially with my monthly reading wrap-ups, gives me an idea of how my reading is shaping up and where I could improve a bit. Plus, I'm fairly forgetful so having all the books I've read written down will help me remember what I read and what I thought.
4. Book recommendations - Following up the topic of tracking my reading. book blogging has also provided me with lots of new book recommendations. Prior to this I had a few friends I would get book recommendations from but I was reading a lot of the same stuff. Don't get me wrong, I love the stuff I was picking up (a lot of Christopher Moore) but I wanted to expand my horizons and didn't know where to start. Not only was I reading a lot of similar things, but I was also re-reading a lot because I'd never know what new books were worth the time. I'm doing less re-reading now because there are so many new books I want to read. Plus I don't want to be writing about the same book multiple times here.
5. Bookish recommendations - It's not just book recommendations but book-related ones that I love. When they first came out I was never crazy about e-readers. But book bloggers helped convince me to get one. I read a bunch of posts about them, both for and against, people linked to stories about Kindles and Nooks and ebooks, and I learned what I needed to know to make an informed decision.

OK so even here I didn't come up with 10 but these are 5 very strong reasons why I love this! What about you? Why do you love book blogging or even just being bookish in general?

Friday, June 17, 2011

Where I've been

I wanted to give a little explanation as to where I've been this last week when I clearly wasn't posting here. I suppose this is really for the 2 of you* who even noticed I've been MIA here and on Twitter.

First up, Beijing Coma is long. I mean not the longest-book-everrrrr or anything, but longer than I was expecting. This is especially notable because Pete from What You Read, who gave me the recommendation, mentioned the length. And, since I downloaded the book onto my Kindle, I checked out how many pages the paperback version has (720) so it's not that I didn't know exactly how long it is. It's just that with the Kindle I'm not constantly reminded of the length except as I'm watching the "percentage finished" bar barely move, no matter how many pages I turn. I apparently don't equate that with length, just my reading speed. I have a feeling I'll be here for awhile. I may break up the book and pick up another Puerto Rican author in the middle. We'll see.

Secondly, I was assuming going into this month, that I was going to have way more reading time. When I moved down to LI I was still working for the job I had in Boston. My job is primarily through email and phone calls anyway (the majority of my clients are in Dallas, Seattle and NYC) so the move wasn't too much of an issue for me to work from home**. The plan was I would start working part time in June. This meant I'd have lots of extra time for reading, blogging and job searching. And as happens anytime I make plans, things change. There was some restructuring within my group which gave me the chance to keep working full time. As the rent isn't going to start paying itself and this opened some new opportunities, I took that. This change meant I have far less time to do all of these aforementioned things. Even quickly popping over to Twitter or my Google Reader hasn't happened all that much. Don't get me wrong, I like being busy at work. It's just doubly unexpected.

So those are my excuses. And of course this gave me a reason to post. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to take some more screenshots and figure out how to make sure Twitter people's curses quit sneaking around these filters.

*For the rest of you, what do you mean you have your own lives and aren't just sitting around in a dark room waiting for the genius that is my posts and tweets? That can't be right at all.
**I love my commute, I miss face-to-face interactions with people

Monday, June 13, 2011

What a jibara

I now have 2 books down for my China Rican reading challenge.  First up was something from the Chinese corner with Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club. Now I've just finished an  entry from the Puerto Rican side with Esmeralda Santiago's memoir When I Was Puerto Rican.

Santiago chronicles her early life living in rural Puerto Rico, eventually moving to a suburb just outside of San Juan and eventually ending up in Brooklyn. She is the oldest of many siblings (12 by the time she's in high school), loves her Mami despite the strictness and occasional beatings, and loves her Papi despite his repeated disappearing on the family. Santiago's real talent lies in her descriptions of her surroundings: the oregano bushes that grew near the latrine, the smell of the garlic her mother cooked with, the crocheted bedspread her grandmother made. She is able to paint such a vivid picture you can almost feel yourself squinting into the strong Puerto Rican sunlight.

Perhaps because the culture is different from my own, I liked it when she described her home, her barrio, and her experiences growing up in Macun. In the early portion of the book she talked about jibaros which she defines in the glossary as Rural Puerto Rican with distinctive dialect and customs (location 4351). She talks about at first wanting to be one and then later when she moves closer to San Juan being taunted by the other kids and teachers with "What a jibara"
Poems and stories about the hardships and joys of the Puerto Rican jibaro were required reading at every grade level in school. My own grandparents, whom I was to respect as well as love, were said to be jibaros. But I couldn't be one, nor was I to call anyone a jibaro, lest they be offended. Even at the tender age when I didn't yet know my real name, I was puzzled by the hypocrisy of celebrating a people everyone looked down on. (location 170)
Her settings almost make up for the lack of description around the characters of her memoir. You hear very little about her brothers and sisters and they really just form one lump of siblings for Esmeralda, or Negi as her family calls her, to fight with. Her Mami and Papi get the most description, but even they are very one-dimensional. There's very little dialogue, so there's never a chance to get to know these other characters.

Overall the story itself doesn't really go anywhere. There is no story arc to follow, just a series of events as her family moves around and around. The story has wonderful moments but it never adds up to a whole.

Title quote from location 506

Santiago, Esmeralda. When I Was Puerto Rican. De Capo Press, 1993. eBook

Thursday, June 9, 2011

What affects your reading experience

I'm still making my way through Esmeralda Santiago's When I Was Puerto Rican (review coming soon. Soon-ish) but in the meantime I thought I'd take part in this week's Literary Blog Hop, hosted by The Blue Bookcase. I've skipped out on the last few because I haven't felt like I had anything to add to the conversation, but I've decided not to let that stand in my way this week.

This week's question is: What outside influences affect your reading experience? Do you think these influences enhance or detract from the experience?

Obviously outside influences affect what I read and how I read it. No man's an island, people don't live in a vacuum, etc, etc. There are the obvious bits such as general hype around the book, if the book is considered a "classic", what friends and family may have to say about it, what the cover looks like*, and on and on**. But Meagan wants to know what other influences out there change the way we read. Fine make this more difficult.

There's a scene in one of the later Thursday Next books*** where the characters discuss how much a reader actually brings to a book and that the reader should get as much credit as the author for bringing a work to life. Without the reader's imagination the words don't have much power. Of course, if the reader has gets so much credit for a book, that means each person that reads a book is going to bring their own beliefs, their own past, their own morals to the table and have a different experience from every other person. The experience could be similar or wildly different. It's not only different people but one person can have an entirely different reading experience from the same book if read at different times.

Catcher in the Rye is an example of this. I first read it at 15, which is prime age to read this. I was sort of a pain in the ass teenager, and now I'm not sure if my English teacher was being nice or insulting when he suggested I read this book for a report because he thought I'd like it. And I did like it. Holden was great, everyone was a phony, angst, angst, angst. I decided to read it again at some point in college and man Holden was annoying. Shut up already with the whining. But I didn't expect this. I expected to like the book just like I did when I was in high school. But my experiences had changed and I could no longer see what 15 year old me saw.

I want to re-read 1984 for similar if opposite reasons. I read this book when I was about 14 and hated it. I didn't think it was a badly written book or boring or a stupid story. I hated it because it terrified me. I just wanted to hide under my bed with my hands over my eyes, because obviously that would keep Big Brother from showing up. But people talk about loving the book so I feel like I should give it another shot. I don't know how I'll react to the book this time, but even if I'm still terrified I'm sure that fear will be coming from a new place. Then I'll even more reasons to hate the book.

*Yes, of course I judge a book by its cover. That's the covers purpose. Don't be so judge-y. Everyone does it. Except blind people I suppose. They are free from cover prejudice.

**See I didn't use etc again. That's called skills

***How often can I bring these books up? Constantly obviously. Also I am going nuts with footnotes today. I'll try to stop.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Favorite Book Settings

I have been slacking on these weekly Broke and the Bookish Top Ten Tuesday posts. The last two topics just didn't inspire me to write anything worth reading. Or rather, they didn't inspire me to babble on long enough to make it a post. But this week's topic is my favorite book settings. Now that it's summer I'm in a vacation-y mood. But my limited funds and the need to work to make up those meager rations means I can't travel around as much as I'd like. So books have to pick up the slack and here are some of my favorite locales to escape to:

General settings I love
NYC - I don't have a single book in mind for this, just that I love NYC so books set there make me happy. Jack Finney's Time and Again covers both old and new New York, so you get a little variety. But I'm all for NYC as it is now and anything where I can think "I know that area" makes me smile.

Boston - speaking of knowing the area, after having lived in Boston for almost a decade I like books set there. I like knowing my way around the setting and little quirks of the neighborhoods that the author may not necessarily come right out and say. It's one of the reasons I think I enjoyed Mystic River by Dennis Lehane and All Souls by Michael Patrick McDonald so much.

Italy - Again with the knowing of the area. I didn't spend as much time here, but I fell in love with the place those four months I did live there and so I love anything taking place here. Almost to the point where I'll pick up Under the Tuscan Sun or Eat, Pray, Love. Almost. Instead I sate myself with Bryson's Italian travels in Neither Here Nor There

Specific settings I wish I could go to
Hogwarts from Harry Potter - It would be awesome to actually be able to do magic. And Hogwarts seems like a fun place to hang out, even if it's pretty unsuitable for children. There probably shouldn't be that many ways to die in a school but whatever.

Bookworld from the Thursday Next series - Notice the title? It's a world. Of books. How can that not be amazing? For those unfamiliar, Bookworld is literally a world where the characters from novels live. They reside primarily within their own book but can hop around and visit others, visit the seedy Well of Lost Plots, or even work for JurisFiction (yup, that's policing fiction).

Well, I came up with 5 settings anyway. I'm sure as I hop around I'll see some more and think "damn, I should have thought of that one".

What are your favorite book settings?

Monday, June 6, 2011

Overreacting parents and YA fiction

The interwebs, at least the book section of it, seems to be up-in-arms over a recent WSJ piece Darkness Too Visible by Meghan Cox Gurdon about how YA is too dark and disturbing for little cherub teenagers and they're minds are being corrupted if they read this stuff and they'll all become serial killers and whatnot. Won't somebody please think of the children. The usual complaints that pop up every few years. I'm not going to worry about that argument or even get into the #YASaves hashtag that popped up on Twitter. Plenty of other people have taken this up and written in defense of YA. I don't think I have too much to add to that argument. I don't really read YA now and when I was 13 I read a weird mix of Alexander Dumas and Stephen King, so I won't be able to share a story about how YA saved me.

Here's the part that I do want to share and why I'm having trouble getting worked up over this latest call for censorship: Gurdon seems to be going off a knee-jerk reaction to the main YA titles represented in bookstores. Here's a line from the opening of the piece:
[Amy Freeman] had popped into the bookstore to pick up a welcome-home gift for her 13-year-old, who had been away. Hundreds of lurid and dramatic covers stood on the racks before her, and there was, she felt, "nothing, not a thing, that I could imagine giving my daughter. It was all vampires and suicide and self-mutilation, this dark, dark stuff." She left the store empty-handed.
Granted, this is not Gurdon's own experience, but rather her telling of a different mother's failed journey to find a book for her teen. Freeman walks into a bookstore, looks around and see books she doesn't like for her daughter and leaves. Without buying anything. Again, she wants to buy a book for her daughter, sees some YA books she doesn't want for her daughter and she leaves without getting her any books. I'm pretty sure had Freeman looked slightly to the left, she probably would have seen some non-vampire, self-mutilation books that would have made a fine gift. I'm often able to go into a bookstore and avoid the shelves of books I don't want. Part of that freewill thing I try to make use of. So she didn't like the YA book options that make up the majority of that section. I don't either. Welcome to the club. Find something else for your daughter if you don't want her reading it. Plenty of other options available. Hell, I'm sure there are other options within the YA shelf. But she looked at the shelves, freaked out over a couple titles and left.

Again, I know this isn't Gurdon's experience, but she chose it to open her story and thus I'm applying the Freeman's reaction to what Gurdon sees as a reasonable reaction to the state of YA publishing. And that alone is keeping me from taking this seriously. In the end I'm against general censorship, but if you don't want your kid reading something, it's your kid. Go ahead and keep it from them. That's your choice as a parent. Hopefully you're taking the time to really understand what the books you're banning around about (sadly I doubt this happens very often) but if not, well, just don't get in the way of me reading what I want.

He was hulihudu. The power of my words was that strong.

I recently finished re-reading Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club for my China Rican reading challenge. It's a series of connected stories about mothers and daughters, about remembering the past and looking forward to the future. Four women came over from China around the 1940s and together formed the Joy Luck Club, a weekly mahjong club where they could remember their homes, gossip about their neighborhood and brag about their children. The story begins with Jing-Mei Woo taking the place of her recently deceased mother, Suyuan Woo, who started the Joy Luck Club. She's worried she can never fill her mother's shoes and when she had mentioned someone once commented how alike Jing-Mei and her mother were, Suyuan responded "You don't even know littler percent of me! How can you be me?" (15). And thus we hear the histories of the 4 members of the clubs: An-mei Hsu, Lindo Jong, Ying-Ying St. Clair and Suyuan, whose story is told through her daughter.

Jing-Mei isn't the only one worried about not understanding her mother and the other half of the book is dedicated to stories from the Joy Luck Club member's daughters (Rose Hsu Jordan, Waverly Jong and Lena St. Clair), tales from their childhood in San Francisco and then their lives in the present. The theme between all of the families is tension between the generations. None of the daughters feel that they know their mothers and indeed the stories told in the mothers' stories are not shared with their children. Only Jing-Mei hears the full story about her mother and only after she is gone. The mothers feel this disconnect as well, a rift between Chinese customs and American life. Lindo Jong says "I wanted my children to have the best combination: American circumstances and Chinese character. How could I know these two things do not mix?" (289).

I preferred the mothers' stories. Maybe because China is so foreign to me or because all of the stories take place pre-1940s but whatever the reason, they felt more like legends or fairy tales, with morals and lessons to be learned. Every action, every event has some deeper meaning. The daughters' stories are modern, especially when they are older and their stories deal with their careers and relationships. These are still well written and interesting stories, but compared to the mothers' stories they're mundane. The don't have the spark that their mothers' histories have.

It's easy to forget that parents have lies before kids. Logically, you know this is the case.. You can be told the stories and see the pictures, but really accepting and understanding this as truth is a different. I know my mom was someone before she was my mom. She grew up a little of everywhere, from Taiwan to Libya to the States* and I can be told this is the case but every once in awhile it will hit me that it's true. My mom recently took a trip to Egypt and has a picture of herself on a camel. I thought it was great and we never traveled around much when I was little so I forget she has spent plenty of time outside the US. She sent the photo to my aunt who responded with "Who cares. You did that when you were in the 4th grade" and it hits me that these aren't her first trips. They're just her first trips since I've been here and clearly I'm the center of the universe so nothing happened before I was around. Everyone just waited quietly in dark rooms until I arrived.

Jing-Mei comes to a similar realization. She remembers her mother saying a bomb had fallen on the family home and killed everyone, so they had no family back at home. She recalls her mother "had said this so matter-of-factly that I had thought she had long since gotten over any grief she had." It's not until Jing-Mei prods, asking how can she really know that they all died and that they didn't get out of the house in time that her mother tells her the story of going back to search through the wreckage and finding a doll that had belonged to her niece. "She cried if that doll was not with her always. Do you see? If she was in the house with that doll, her parents were there and so everybody was there, waiting together, because that's how our family was" ( 313-314). She knows the basic story of her mother's life in China, but it's difficult to relate to it as real people when it's her mother.

Amy Tan's prose is simple and beautiful. It's not overly decorative or overly complicated, but she paints vivid pictures of her character's lives. As I said, I prefer the mothers' stories and I think from the way they're written, Tan preferred writing these as well. They're stronger, more lyrical than the modern daughters' stories.

And thus one down in my China Rican reading month. Next up something from the Puerto Rican side.

Title quote for page 219

*Military family

Tan, Amy. The Joy Luck Club. Ballantine Books, 1989.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

China Rican reading month is here

Back in April I wrote a post declaring* that I was going to do my own little China Rican reading challenge in honor of the fact that I know pretty much nothing of Boyfriend's Chinese and Puerto Rican heritage. I feel like I should point out his knowledge on the topic is only slightly more developed than mine by whatever. I asked him what month he wanted and he picked June because it's warm out and that is all it takes to declare that month yours.

I never hoped to be able to find books written by China Rican authors so I settled for books written by either Chinese or Puerto Rican authors. Then I expanded it to include books written by Chinese-Americans or Puerto Ricans living in the US. Or books about those locations even if the author isn't from there. With the help of some fellow book bloggers I have a fantastic list of Chinese books, more than I'll ever get to this month but that are making it on my regular TBR list. Puerto Rican authors have been much harder to come by. I found a couple books and have them on my list but hopefully another will show up and I'll have some variety.

I'm starting with Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club because I already own it. The less money I have to spend the better. That review will be coming up shortly.

*Just writing that makes me think of The Office and "I declare BANKRUPTCY."

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

May Reading Wrap-Up

Another month finished. It's crazy how quickly time is flying by. Another month of reading down and I have seriously failed at getting non-white, non-US authors. Unless I'm making a deliberate effort, it seems they do not fall into my normal reading habits. And that's a shame. Next month, as part of my own China Rican reading month, I should be able to fix those stats. Again, I need a challenge in order to get a little diversity into my reading, but I'm making the effort. Stats time:

Number of books read
Black Coffee Blues by Henry Rollins
Bossypants by Tina Fey
Who Are You People? by Shari Caudron
The Adjustment Team by Philip K. Dick
Dreamcatcher by Stephen King

Total pages read

Percentage of fiction read

Percentage of female authors

Percentage of white authors
100% - this is just sad

Percentage of authors from the US
100% - all white, all US. I will fix this

Percentage of eBooks

Percentage of re-reads

Books written by decade
1950s - 20%
1990s - 20%
2000s - 40%
2010s - 20%

Next month will fix the all white, all US reading list. It's most likely going to hurt my non-fiction numbers, but I'm less worried about that. Also, I'm still open to suggestions for Puerto Rican authors. They have been far more difficult to come by than I would have assumed.