Oh you know me, I only do things intensely. I’m either super into a book or throwing it away with disgust. \o/

The Best We Could Do - Thi Bui (2016)

genre  graphic memoir
tldr;  MOST EXCELLENT, READ ASAP

This is a deeply personal graphic novel memoir about the complicated thing that is motherhood/daughterhood, churned up with living under communism, fleeing as refugees, and the dynamics of an immigrant family in America. I walked into a Barnes & Noble on the way back from teaching one day (partly for the novelty of being inside a physical Barnes & Noble in 2017) and picked this up randomly (or due to excellent strategic storefront arrangement/curation), and this is how I ended up crying in a Barnes & Noble in the year 2017 of Luigi.

On one hand I feel like I can’t claim so much emotional reverb from this story because my own parents immigrated in a completely different way, but the ways in which we struggle to express our love and understanding for each other felt distressingly similar.

As with The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao which I read last month, I learned a lot of political history on the side of a thrilling/heart-rending story, this time about Vietnam. Also the art is REALLY GOOD. Thi Bui is amazing. Also I saw that she is living in the Bay Area (Berkeley!)

how to read this book: with emotional fortitude.

Strange Pilgrims - Gabriel García Márquez (1970-80)

genre  short stories
tldr;  enchanting, quick and satisfying vignettes, highly recommended!

García Márquez brings a sleepy dream of Latin American magic to stately Old World settings. Languid characters with jobs like singer and writer and magician living fantastic lives and feeling one thing at a time. The short story format is pretty righteous. The author has a certain way of describing people and circumstance that makes them feel tragically incidental yet fated with purpose.

I think my favourite was “I Only Came to Use the Phone”, but honestly they’re all so wonderful!

how to read this book: a lovely interlude between your other heavy world-weary and technical reads.

A Tree Grows In Brooklyn - Betty Smith (1943)

genre  historic fiction
tldr;  poverty and desperation + hope & the pre-WWI american dream. it’s….really good.

This was a nice read after living on Brooklyn. I imagined the Williamsburg streets I walked and biked past all winter, a hundred years ago, right before the first world war. I’m having trouble writing this review, I think it’s because I have too many feelings ahh!

This is another immigrant story of a family navigating the unwieldy projection of parents wishing their kids to do better than themselves. (If you’ve been following along my monthly book reviews, this is totally an accidental theme).

The Nolans are poor and hungry and struggle to make rent, but are rich in song and laughing and stories and imagination, which made their lives bearable.

A lot of the problems on the minds of their people are still relevant – why are we so cruel to each other when our hardships should bring us together? why do we work so much and have so little time for ourselves? Is there anything more to life than this work/struggle/raise-family/work/die cycle, and how can we break it? It talks about poverty, race, education, family, and life meaning, in a way that I found endearing because I picked this up on recommendation from Connie a lot of years ago rather than was forcibly made to read it in high school to extract the human condition. I think you may like it, too (:

I loved that the characters are really strong! Both in character, and in the way they are written. Also lots of good strong coffee in this book.

The writing style is simple, a clean transmission of emotions and feelings and musing and hope directly from the characters to your brain in a way that thoughtleaders/marriage counselors only wish they could communicate.

how to read this book: it’s an easy read, any time is a good time \o/

disclaimer: this book is heavily gender-roletastic, because it was written in the 40s about 1900-10s. I usually find gender-role stuff pretty unbearable, but reading this with the time context I felt completely ok and even kind of illuminated.

The Confidence Code - Katty Kay & Claire Shipman (2015)

genre  business/careers
tldr;  Awkward and not helpful. Did not finish.

This book is about women and confidence in the workplace. I picked it up from the library because the SheNomads book club was reading it, but I couldn’t get through it. I found it blandly and unnecessarily heteronormative for something published in 2015, repetitive (more suited as a longform blog post rather than a book), and the stories and cases and studies collected didn’t feel necessarily more useful than like, your average 3 hours of browsing specific subreddits/twitter circles. Or 5 minutes of talking to any woman who has worked a job.

Maybe it’s for the people who don’t live in those parts of the internet, or haven’t any older women in their lives? I can vaguely see the appeal.

Either way, it needs actionable items. The writing style is cringey and heavy-handed at times, and early chapters are windy and unfocused.

how to read this book: skim a summary.

And that’s it for March! I’m going without my laptop in April and most of May, but will hopefully have lots of time to read while on the road. chau o/