Recent Reads

I have finished three books recently and haven’t even mentioned them… what am I doing??  What can I say except that I’ve been distracted by Marvel movies, summer daydreams and pondering what my dog is doing while I’m at work.

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Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

I’d been wanting to read this one, so imagine my delight when it turned out to be our April book club pick.  I even won a copy of the book in our raffle!  Not going to lie, it is LONG.  And about three-quarters of the way in, it started to feel long.  But up until that point, I enjoyed it.

It begins as the story of a Korean girl moving to Japan and though her life remains a constant thread throughout the story, it does expand past her and manages to find a balance between telling the personal stories of its characters and the larger picture of life as a Korean in Japan.  I was completely ignorant to that narrative so I found this book so informative and eye-opening.  The characters go through so much pain and keep pushing on in such an inspirational way.  However, towards the end, there was A LOT of jumping from character to character and generation to generation in a way that left me wishing I was hearing about the characters I had spent the previous 300ish pages with instead.

For what it’s worth, the rest of my book club loved it!

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Speak No Evil by Uzodinma Iweala

I love a good coming of age story but they can be very heartbreaking and this one certainly is.  I’m at a loss for how to describe the plot of this book because, honestly, I was caught off guard by how it ended.  I’ll tell you that much of it is about a high school senior named Niru, living in D.C. with his devoutly religious Nigerian parents and their discovery that he is gay.  I cringed through the following chapters, where his father hits him, his mother takes him to church and then both parents decide a trip to Nigeria is necessary.

The story twists toward the end and the last chapters are narrated by Niru’s best friend, Meredith.  While I sincerely felt for Niru and didn’t mind the writing, the plot of this book felt a little too complicated to fit into such a tight frame.  I don’t regret reading it though!

Between Meal: An Appetite for Paris by A.J. Liebling

Can I just start by saying this memoir was not what I thought it was going to be?  It’s just over 150 pages but the language is smart and complex in a way that had me re-reading passages quite a bit.  It also gave me the impression of a work in progress that someone had pieced together.  Each chapter read like an essay that may have mentioned things from other chapters but could have just as easily stood on its own.  The first chapter could just have easily been the last chapter and vice versa.  Also, there was a lot of talk of food (and wine), but I didn’t find any of it all that descriptive.  Maybe I’m not cultured enough, but Liebling lists a lot of French dishes that I had no familiarity with and he offered no explanation, so I sort of glossed over it.

All this being said, I got absolutely lost in writing that seemed from another time and a version of Paris that will only ever exist in memories and that was a pure delight.

What are you reading?

Book Review: Chemistry

I read a lot of books that are smart or interesting or creative and those can be fun and worthwhile but they don’t touch my heart.  They don’t present characters that, though fictional, feel real and relatable.  They aren’t moving in a way that puts a lump in your throat and leaves you uncertain of whether to laugh or cry.  For me, Chemistry by Weike Wang did all of those things.  I feel into it, got wrapped up in it and adored every minute of it.

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The main character is a grad student working on her PhD but her boyfriend Eric (who has just proposed) is a determined and well-adjusted graduate, her best friend is a successful doctor, her father has made it from China to America, learned English and made it through graduate school himself.  This all makes it increasingly impossible for her not compare herself or stand up to the pressure from her parents.  Her story is specific but her feelings of uncertainty and not knowing what to do or which path to take are so universal.  I felt heartbroken for the narrator but I also felt heartbroken for everyone who has felt lost, myself included.

Have you ever taken a class where you were told “show, don’t tell”?  This book felt like the epitome of showing.  The narrator doesn’t need to tell you her parents are hard on her because she relays moments from her childhood where her father drills her with mathematical equations or shares a heartbreaking phone call where she confesses she cannot finish her PhD only to have her mother say, “You are nothing to me without that degree.”  Snipets of interactions and conversation between she and Eric do more to paint a picture of their relationship than any description could.  The prose is concise yet says so much.  I loved this about the book.  And tonally, it is both amusing and gut-wrenching, striking the perfect balance between the two.

This book is so endearing and I hope, if you pick it up, that you’ll love it as much as I did ♥