October 2018


Just finished Bury What We Cannot Take by Kirstin Chen, and before that was Circe by Madeline Miller. I enjoyed both, although particularly with Bury What We Cannot Take maybe enjoyed is the wrong word….

Circe tells the story of Circe, a rather minor character in The Odyssey if I’m recalling my junior high reading assignments correctly… I’ve heard some criticism that this book required a little too much knowledge of Greek mythology, but I’m no expert and I still found it to be a fast and compelling read. Circe is a goddess, a child of a Titan (Helios a sun god) and an Oceanid nymph, and she’s little loved or appreciated in her family because she’s not as beautiful or as beautiful sounding as they are (she has a human voice).

The novel begins with Circe’s unhappy childhood, and follows her through the centuries — about halfway through she meets Odysseus. I found her incredibly compelling, despite being a goddess, she’s sort of the post of the #metoo era, a woman who is willing to call the men in power (or not in power) who have harmed her to account. Many powerfully sad things happen to her, and there was a bit of a sense of doom for me for much of the book, but the end is pretty happy.

Bury What We Cannot Take also has a somewhat happy ending, although the book itself looking back, is basically about the worst few weeks in a family’s life. I thought this novel would be more about, the years and decades of a family after escaping communist China, but it was really about that very initial period of their escape. The main characters of the story are nine-year-old San San and her older brother Ah Liam. As the story opens, they are well-to-do children with a father who is stuck abroad working in Hong Kong because the borders of China have been closed.  The two are both young enough to be completely taken in by the communist party’s message and in fact the wheels of the plot are set in motion by Ah Liam turning their grandmother in as a counter-revolutionary after witnessing her smash a picture of Chairman Mao.

I don’t know that the Chinese government would like this book, and it doesn’t exactly paint a pretty picture of the communist party — several minor characters are killed by the party for trying to leave China. At the beginning of the book, after Ah Liam has turned his grandmother in, grandmother and mother are able to get exit visas for three members of the family — but not all four. As a result, most of the book switches back and forth between Ah Liam and their mother in Hong Kong and San San, still stuck in China. San San’s resourcefulness, her sheer capability was what made me enjoy this book. It’s terrible, because you see her realize that her family lied to her about why they were leaving and you see her decide that the only person she can trust and rely on is herself. But, she’s pretty good at taking care of herself it turns out, and I found her adventures much more interesting than Ah Liam’s struggles with his communist education and the beliefs of the rest of his family.

Bury What We Cannot Take is another book from the amazing list 46 Books By Women of Color To Read in 2018 – if you’re looking for what to read next, start here.

Currently reading: She Has Her Mother’s Laugh and still working through So You Want to Talk About Race

 

Okay, apologies for my rather long absence, I just took an amazing vacation to the Pacific Northwest and spent a week hiking the Columbia River Gorge, Crater Lake, and the Redwoods. Highly recommend it. I did read while I was gone, of course, but I let myself continue on the path of reading let’s say… less stressful books.

First up, because I think it was my favorite of the bunch, Girl Waits With Gun by Amy Stewart. This is actually the first book in a series, so I’m looking forward to maybe reading the next few over the holidays. This novel is based on the true story of Constance Kopp, a thirty-something unmarried woman living out in the county in New Jersey with her two also unmarried sisters. Her quiet country life is interrupted when a local thug drives his automobile into the buggy she and her sisters are ridding in. Kopp tries to exact payment to repair the buggy, which incites the thug into a rage that propels the rest of the story as he terrorizes the family and Kopp suddenly finds herself learning to shoot a gun and taking part in sting operations with the local sheriff (“I got a revolver to protect us, and I soon had use for it.”). This book is a great time, and I BOUGHT IT AT POWELL’S! Yep, before I took off into the wilderness, I stopped at THE Powell’s and bought a few books. It was amazing, every book lover must go. I actually found a bunch of great independent book stores on my travels — Dudley’s Bookshop Café in Bend, OR was great and made great chai.

I also read Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan and The Bookshop of Yesterdays by Amy Meyerson. Both were kind of, I know this book is going to be escapist-y, and I’m fine with it. I enjoyed Crazy Rich Asians a lot, and reading the book definitely made me want to see the movie. It is a silly book, but the characters are well-drawn and the book is pretty hard to put down.

The Bookshop of Yesterdays is about 28 year old Miranda who inherits a bookstore when her uncle dies. Somehow, this does not fill her with joy. Although, in her defense, the bookstore isn’t doing that well. But um, if anyone wants to leave me a bookstore, I will have NO angst about leaving my current job to go and run a bookstore. Much of the book involves Miranda figuring out a scavenger hunt left to her by her uncle, which turns out to be leading her towards understanding family secrets. Many of the clues are quotes from books (books which are in the bookstore and then have the next clue), I particularly liked the one from Fear of Flying by Erica Jong (so now I’m sort of debating reading that):

Whatever happened, I knew I would survive it. I knew above all, that I’d go on working. Surviving meant being born over and over. It wasn’t easy and it was always painful. But there wasn’t any other choice except death.

I’ve felt many things similar to this in the past year, so I’m pretty such the context is different in Fear of Flying, but I related. The good days are when I feel like I can survive anything. Anyway, this is not an amazing book, but it is a fun book if you like books and bookstores.

Currently reading: Circe and still working on a lot of other things…