Knowledge is power

Educated was not an easy read. It’s the memoir of a woman who was raised in a strict Mormon household, the kind that is convinced the government is after them. Her mother was a midwife at first, and then a healer later. Suffice it to say, there was no going to see doctors. There was no school. She didn’t even have a birth certificate until she was 9. The home environment was not healthy, to say the least.

But she ends up at BYU as a 16 or 17 year old (it wasn’t exactly clear from her writing), where she starts learning both about the world and how to learn. She ends up at Cambridge and then Harvard and estranged from her family and parents.

Educated was a powerful read – you feel her emotions, the highs and the lows. The desire to run away, the need to fit in, and all the therapy in between.

Highly recommended.

Fairy tales are fun

Uprooted was a lovely fairy-tale-esque story about a wizard and his apprentice fighting to defeat a Wood that’s trying to take over a kingdom. It can be summed up so simply, but there is so much action and delight in constructing the world – which isn’t an easy task – but it’s over 400 pages long. I read it in a single day.

Uprooted was a delight and if you like fantasy or fairy tales, I would recommend it.

Wide but not deep

I didn’t realize when I picked this up that How Do We Look is a companion book to the Civilisations show on PBS. As a companion to a television series – or rather two episodes of a television series about art and creativity help civilization happen – it’s broader and less deep than I had expected. I should note that I haven’t watched the television show.

However, sometimes broad but not deep allows you to see similarities and to see contrasting patterns; like Christianity allows for images of God in a way Islam doesn’t, but Islam then beautifies language into art. Both allow you to focus on the religion and the stories it tells.

How do we look means how have we been taught to regard the world – for example how has the art we’ve seen taught us about the male gaze? Or how have religious icons taught us to view stories?

It was a lovely afternoon read, full of gorgeous pictures.

Lamenting what might have been

There There is the most literary fiction I’ve read in a good long time. It’s a book about Native Americans living in Oakland. Not a tribe, not even particularly related to each other or known to each other. Just a group of Native Americans, mostly in Oakland, all going to a powwow at the Coliseum for their various reasons. It’s not an especially happy book, but it is powerful and Native Americans in cities is not something you read about often.

As an aside the title is a reference to Gertrude Stein’s “There’s no there there,” quote about Oakland and how it had changed from her childhood – all the landmarks had disappeared and the city had changed completely. It’s a lament for what might have been, which is a metaphor, to my mind, about the lives of Native Americans in today’s United States.

Recommended if you want to read a local Bay Area author or if you’re a literary fiction fan.

Noir, but science fiction

The City & The City is for the Venn diagram of people who like Raymond Chandler and science fiction. It’s a mystery, a police procedural, that involves two cities that exist in the same space but in different dimensions. Sort of. The bureaucracy that governs the two cities is Kafka-esque.

The mystery could stand on its own, but would be way less intriguing without the  odd Eastern European dual-citied setting. It allows for twists and turns and part of the intrigue is figuring out how the two cities coexist. Allow for some mind-twistiness with this one.

I flipped to the end, and then found I didn’t care how they got there

Confession time. I often read the endings of books before I get too far into them. I like knowing what’s going to happen so I don’t have to stress about the plot; I also then get to focus on things like character and setting in a much more meaningful way. Plus, finding out how they get there is more than half the fun.

But with Legendary? I found I didn’t really care how they got there. I tried to keep reading, but just couldn’t. The first one, Caraval, was good, but it might have been enough.

A perfect Sunday afternoon read

Look, sometimes you’re just in the mood for a YA romance, ok? This one’s about a Korean-American overachieving teenager who’s a senior in high school and somehow never managed to have a boyfriend. A cute boy moves to town (all good stories start with either a stranger moving to town or someone leaving it) and he seems to like her. So Desi does the only thing she can – she formulates a plan to get together with him based on K-dramas. What could go wrong?

I Believe in a Thing Called Love was a great Sunday afternoon to chill read. Recommended if you’re into a sweet teen romance.

Why you may not want to re-watch Northern Exposure

With all the deserved love of To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, there is a certain amount of “remember John Corbett as Chris in the Morning in Northern Exposure? I should rewatch that,” in the air. But it’s not on any streaming service nor is it for sale on iTunes.

But, I happen to own the first season of Northern Exposure on DVD, so I watched the first four episodes recently. A few notes:

  1. Chris in the Morning is used sparingly in these first episodes. He comes off as a David Foster Wallace type in the few scenes he’s in, which I wasn’t aware was a thing in 1990? But apparently it was.
  2. Joel Fleischman is not a nice person. At all. As a teenager, I thought he was charmingly grumpy – after all, he is stuck in a situation he wasn’t expecting. As a grownup: the dude is an entitled jerk and needs to get over himself. Which leads me to….
  3. Maggie is awesome and opinionated and very much her own person. Her character deserves more than to be Fleischman’s love interest, which is sadly the trope she was unnecessarily shoehorned into.
  4. The 1980s greed-is-good Wall Street ethos was much more present than I was expecting.
  5. The whole Holling-Shelly-Maurice love triangle is ICKY AF. Props to the writers for presenting Shelly as being the one who makes the decision and is in control, but the whole 18-year-old girl being fought over by two 60-year-old men? IS DISGUSTING. It reads more as a male TV exec’s fantasy than anything that would actually happen in real life. I haven’t continued past the first four episodes largely because of this dynamic.
  6. It’s jarring every time anyone on the show says “Indian” instead of “Native American”.

Ed is a damn delight. Native Americans controlling their own destiny is a great theme in these episodes. But Northern Exposure is largely more problematic than I expected. The nostalgia value is nice, but I’ll not be showing it to my daughter.

No one’s a hero

What does it mean to believe in God? What does it mean to believe in another person?

Phoebe has gone missing, and her boyfriend (ex boyfriend? it’s unclear) is looking for her. They are both college students; he has recently lost his faith in God, she recently lost both her mother and her piano dreams. They’re both at a small New England college and they meet.

But then she gets involved with a group that’s a little intense. Phoebe is Korean-American and the group leader spent time in a North Korean gulag. The group (cult?) starts out being about helping the North Koreans but turns into something very different.

And then things happen. The Incendiaries is a slim little novel that felt much bigger. Definitely recommended.