Sunday Lowdown #66

THIS WEEK’S BLOG POSTS

While The Wangs vs. The World by Jade Chang appears to have been on many of your TBR lists, my review convinced many of you to try something else. I haven’t read a lot of fiction from Chinese or Chinese-Americans, and I feel lazy recommending Amy Tan because she’s already well known, but it’s true that I’ve enjoyed her short stories.

For all of you who like self-help books, or wonder what kind of person would read one, How to Be Fine: What We Learned by Living by the Rules of 50 Self-Help Books by Jolenta Greenberg and Kristen Meinzer is sure to be a favorite. You don’t have to listen to their podcast to follow along; in fact, this collection seems to be a final assessment and reflection on the authors’ experiences with self-help works.

NEXT WEEK’S BLOG POSTS

Tuesday covers the first seven days of May in the Flannery O’Connor read along of The Complete Stories. My post will share a bit of context on O’Connor, point out larger themes, and share thoughts on each story. I end with questions to encourage your to express your reactions to these short stories, but please feel free to make any comments you like.

Thursday brings another pair of reviews: Brightly Burning by Mercedes Lackey, part of #ReadingValdemar for those following along, and Love Literary Style by Karin Gillespie, which I’ve been nattering on about lately because everyone is reading, or wanting to grab a copy of, Beach Read, whose premise sounds similar. Read whichever of my reviews appeals to you!

BOOK I’M READING ALOUD TO MY SPOUSE:

Slowly, I think Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson is wearing on me. Is it because I’m reading it aloud? Because she thinks everything has to involve the word “stabbing,” be it a cut on her hand, a car ride alone with her husband, a cat paw under the door? This lady is either terrified of really being stabbed, or she’s hyperbolic for the sake of humor in a way that’s making my eyes roll — very slowly.

Hamlet von Schnitzel, actual taxidermy mouse the author owns.

BOOKS ADDED TO THE TBR PILE:

Thanks to Nick for his recommendation. Are any of these titles on your TBR pile?

38 comments

  1. I may have started a small boom in Love Literary Style. I hope so! It’s both fun and intelligent. I wonder how many Chinese Americans I’ve read, a couple of Amy Tan anyway. And I reviewed a young Chinese Australian recently, which was a bit experimental and quite well done (in a young MFA first novel type of way). Pink Mountain something but I can’t look it up on my phone without losing my comment.

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  2. I’ve read Amy Tan’s The Kitchen God’s Wife – good in part but I wasn’t excited enough to read any more by her. Lisa See is the other big Chinese-American author – again I read one and that was sufficient. There is a Canadian author of Chinese descent who was much more interesting – Madeleine Thien. Check her out if you are interested.

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    • I looked up Lisa See and found a new book about Korean women. I Googled further and found that although See’s books are all about Chinese culture, the only member of her family who is Chinese is her great-grandfather. Lisa See grew up near Chinatown in L.A. I find that interesting how the setting of her childhood affected her so greatly even though she was a bit removed from it. And my library does have a Madeleine Thein book. Thanks, Karen!

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  3. I look forward to your post on O’Connor and Love Literary Style. Re: Chinese-American lit, I liked Amy Tan’s Joy Luck Club back in high school, though I DNF’ed Hundred Secret Senses and haven’t picked anything up after that. I also like Weike Wang’s Chemistry and her short stories, and Yiyun Li’s short stories, though most are set in China. Admittedly I haven’t read much Chinese American lit so… that’s mostly my experience of it. 😅I find that there’s often a detached quality to the writing and makes it difficult to become emotionally invested in their stories, but I also admire the spareness of the prose.

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    • Wow, Yiyun Li’s books sound intense. My library has her memoir and a fictional novel about a mother having conversations with her son who died by suicide (and Li’s son did die by suicide).

      A lot of Chinese-American fiction is about second generation children and how they get by with “weird” parents. I like those stories because they make me think about how the people around me are different because they weren’t raised all apple pie and yeehaw.

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      • Oh, that’s devastating—I haven’t read that last novel. Her memoir is about her struggle with depression, I think, and understandably her works tend to be very solemn and melancholic.

        Is apple pie and yeehaw an idiom? Ahaha I feel I get the gist of the phrase. My parents were second generation and even their upbringing sounds so different from our generation.

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        • One idiom is “As American as apple pie,” which means to say something is VERY American, but the sort of family/community part of America. Very Midwest. “Yeehaw” is a word associated with cowboys and the south, so it’s often associated with ruggedness and occasionally ignorance.

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              • Oooh, we have a lot of ‘Filipinized’ English idioms, which are basically English idioms that we get wrong a lot. One example is “the more the manyer”. Another is “Let’s burn the bridge when we get there”, lol! If you think about it, the latter one COULD make some sense. In Filipino, one of the more common idioms I hear is “Kung maikli ang kumot, matutong mamaluktot”, which translates to, “If the blanket is short, learn to curl up.” It’s basically about living within your means. Are there any sayings unique to your state? 🙂

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                • OMG, I LOVE THOSE!!! In the U.S. we say, “Let’s cross that bridge when we get there” and “don’t burn your bridges.” My husband, much to the amusement of his staff, likes to combine them and say “we’ll burn that bridge when we get there” and now my head is spinning because he’s never been to the Philippines!

                  I think a whole lot of Americans need that blanket idiom, because our desire to have more, bigger, and better has absolutely ruined some people and negatively affected our perception of what is normal.

                  I’m not sure if there are idioms particular to the state in which I live, but perhaps the Midwest of the U.S.? Some of my favorites:

                  “Drive it like you stole it.”
                  “Jesus, take the wheel.”
                  “Where at?” (instead of just “where”)
                  “Blew my wig back.”
                  “Tickle my fancy.”
                  My husband and I like to say that we “got something caught in the intake” when we’re choking on food or drink.

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                  • REALLY??? What a coincidence! He’ll fit right in here. No one will try to “correct” him here lol!

                    That’s very interesting—we have a lot of saving money idioms, and idioms on trusting God and on working hard. If there is a desire for more, it’s usually because we want more for our families.

                    Oooh, we also have “Jesus, take the wheel”, at least in my college! I love “Blew my wig back”—does that mean something like ‘blown away’? I like how you two have your own idioms, too. Whenever my close friends and I get a lot of airtime on an online meeting, we tend to end our monologue with “Thanks for listening to my TED talk” to signal that we’re done with our part, lol.

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  4. I recently read How To Pronounce Knife and thought it was excellent! Review coming on Monday. I loved Lisa See’s The Island of Sea Women, but not all her books are the same quality.

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    • I was confused as to why The Island of Sea Women is about Korea and her other novels are about China, but then I discovered Lisa See is an American writer whose great-grandfather was Chinese. I look forward to your review of How to Pronounce Knife. Other than Flannery O’Connor, I haven’t read too many short story collections lately.

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  5. How to Pronounce Knife is currently on my bookshelf, and I just finished reading an essay of hers included in an essay anthology that I recorded a video book review of-you have that to look forward to! haha

    So I’m almost done Samantha Irby’s book and enjoying it, and her writing (and life) reminds me alot of Jenny Lawsons, but I think Irby’s is way better…do you see any comparisons between the two of them?

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    • Alright! I always love your video reviews.

      I think that while Irby and Lawson both grew up in poverty and and have anxiety, Irby is more honest about what she’s thinking. Yes, there is humor, but it never comes from a place that isn’t deeply real. Jenny Lawson tends to imagine drama, such as the entire chapter in which she thinks someone is in her house and going to rape her while she’s on the toilet, but it’s just a cat paw pushing old receipts under the door. Or the time Lawson says she’s paralyzed because the dog stabbed her when really she fell and cut her hand a bit on a dog treat. Furiously Happy definitely trends toward more honest, but it’s still not quite there. Possibly because Irby is married to a white woman and moves to the suburbs, plus her anxiety, Crohn’s disease, and love of rich people, gossip, and reality TV, Irby has more fodder for her writing.

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  6. I went through a phase of reading a lot of Chinese memoirs as a teenager after I read Wild Swans by Jung Chang (also, my godmother is Chinese so some of what she recommended to me had that background), but I don’t think I’ve read very much Chinese fiction. I’ve read a little bit of Amy Tan and I did like Shanghai Girls by Lisa See, but I haven’t rushed out to pick up the sequel.

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    • A few people have mentioned Lisa See, but now I’m confused. According to the internet, Lisa See is an American author whose great-grandfather was the only Chinese person in her family. She’s in that weird territory where it feels like she’s appropriating another culture, but maybe not? Maybe the internet has misled me. It would not be the first time.

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  7. I’m not sure about Chinese-Americans but a Chinese-Canadian I can recommend is Madeleine Thien. Kevin Chong is a Vancouver-based Chinese-Canadian writer and his books are a bit lighter than Thien’s. Jung Chang is British-Canadian and writes both fiction and non-fiction. Oh, and Wayson Choy is another Vancouver historical writer. Actually a lot of the authors I can think of write historical fiction. I can’t really think of an equivalent to the sort of novel The Wangs vs the World seems to be.

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  8. You’re publishing two book reviews on the same day? This intrigues me. What inspires this? GASP! Has Valdemar lost your love?!~ 😉 I kid, I kid. But I am curious.

    I love N.K. Jemisin. Have you read her work before? I think you’d love it. Though, I haven’t read The City We Became yet. New releases are just not my style. Which is a weird thing to say, but it’s so true.

    As far as Chinese-American authors, I like to recommend Lisa See. She writes beautiful historical fiction featuring Chinese women. I love her writing. And if people are more into comics and graphic novels, I recommend Gene Luen Yang. Boxers & Saints really grabbed me this year.

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    • Hahahaha. I think readers with no background on Valdemar are falling back from the reviews about the series, but I still want them to get some content thrice per week. People can read both reviews or just one, and either way I’m happy! Besides, I had a few mini audio reviews piling up with no where to go, so this is a good way to post them. I’m really, really sticking to Sunday Lowdown and then Tue/Thur posts, no more.

      I ended up quitting The City We Became. The production quality was AMAZING, and had I finished the story, I would have recommended it over text. However, the kind of weird it was in hour one was my jam. Hour two was all over the place in a way that felt like experimental poetry.

      Many people have recommended Lisa See to me. She’s an interesting choice because her writing sounds good, but I also know that her great-great grandfather was Chinese, which is waaay down the line in terms of her writing about Chinese people. In my opinion. And I realize I’m gatekeeping. But it’s also an observation. *runs away*

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      • So, instead of posting on an additional day, you’re just doubling down on Thursdays. I mean, you do you, bugaboo. 😉 I’ll just add other days of posts. But I get it. I have so few reviews written, I never have this problem. XD

        Was this your first expsoure to Jemisin’s work? She tosses you directly into the world she built ruthlessly. You have to figure you the rules as you go. I’ve found that Jemisin is easier to understand in written format when you read her texts the first time. Do you plan on revisiting in the future or are you done with this book?

        You’re allowed to gatekeep your own reading! I love her writing, but I often don’t research much about the authors who are writing these texts. That’s to my own detriment often, but I don’t feel like I need to judge the author’s work based on their experiences as long as it’s well researched. And you can tell quite easily if something is well researched…. I encourage you to check it out sometime. In a world of #OwnVoices, I wonder if we put barriers up against great literature because authors are not speaking of their own experiences. I love reading #OwnVoices works, but I refuse to shut down other authors who write well and speak truths. Once it get problematic, well, that’s different.

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        • Yes, I post twice on the same day. Some readers enjoy the Valdemar posts, but others are lost because we’re into it so far. You, the Captain, Bill, Nick, now Gil, and sometimes Kim all keep up on the Valdemar posts. But others don’t, so I want to give them some alternate content on my post day.

          I don’t know if I plan to revisit Jemisin right now. I have a lot of other books piling up. I think I went a little wild with my stimulus check. We didn’t actually need them, so I tried to stimulate everything from the local book store to a soap lady I saw on TV to the guy who brews special walnut coffee two cities over.

          When people brought up Lisa See, of whom I had never heard, I was reminded instantly of the woman who wrote American Dirt. While I truly believe See grew up in Chinese-American culture (she talks about it on her website), which allows her to write authentically about Chinese people (but now she’s writing about Korean women?), I want to head for the writers whose voices aren’t heard as much, especially writers from China.

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          • I’m glad you put your stimulus check back into the local economy. We put all our money into electric fencing and compost. #FarmLife And, honestly, we could use more money. It’ll be a rough farm year. But, I digress.

            I’m with you about reaching for less well known writers. That’s part of your blog mission, after all! If you find some awesome Asian authors, let us know — we definitely want to help boost their signal if they are amazing.

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            • I’m so glad you were able to put in your fence! I read another Catherine Friend memoir (she’s the farm lady who wrote Sheepish), and there was this whole section about putting in their own fence. It sounded awful. TBH, I felt weird about getting a stimulus check because I hadn’t planned on it. I thought only people who had applied for unemployment were getting a check, so when it was suddenly there, my brain was like, “Ah, spend it! Get rid of it! STIMULATE!!!” I wish there were a way I could buy your chickens without them defrosting and coming back to life en route to Indiana. I’m listening to a philosophy audiobook called The Way We Eat, and hoo-boy, we’re eating tortured animals. David is nice to the chickens. I’ve seen it. I have photographic evidence.

              Here are some Asian authors I’ve found recently:
              Severance by Ma Ling
              Number One Chinese Restaurant by Lillian Li
              Dear Friend by Yiyun Li
              How to Pronounce Knife by Souvankham Thammavongsa
              The Hole by Hye-Young Pyun
              Breast and Eggs by Mieko Kawakami

              These are ones I’ve added recently, but most are not Chinese. However, they all sound like great reads!

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              • This is a portable electric fence. It’s nothing like a permanent fence! David has a few of those to both tear down and put up in the near future, I don’t envy him…

                Hahaha. I mean, we could ship them with dry ice. People ship meat all the time. But, I’m just hoping things calm down enough we can come visit for a long weekend or something in the Fall.

                Yikes. Note to self: Don’t read The Way We Eat during quarantine. XD

                Thanks for recommending the Asian authors you’ve found recently! I’ve also found a few Asian authors I’m trying to dig into — I’ve noticed lately that 99% of this year’s reads are by white, American women. I feel like I need to change that!

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    • I hadn’t engaged with any of her work before myself. However, I struggled with the audio book. The first hour was bangin’, but then things got experimental and I couldn’t follow along. Maybe that’s a part that can be skipped easily in the text version?

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  9. Ooh, looking forward to that review of Love Literary Style! I remember you mentioning it a couple of times in comparison with Beach Read, which I’m reading/enjoying now. I could potentially be interested in both because LLS’s commentary between genres appeals, though Beach Read is so far doing exactly what I want it to as a sort of heavy bookish romance. I should be done by Thursday, or close at least- it’ll be interesting to compare notes!

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