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Tag Archives: book recommendation

Book Roundup #9

8 Aug

“Half of a Yellow Sun” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Adichie seems to get more famous by the day. First for her amazing novel “Americanah” , then because Beyonce quoted one of her speeches on feminism in her song “Flawless.” The woman is a feminist leader, an icon, but above all, she’s an incredible writer. This is one of her earlier books, set during Nigeria’s civil war in the 1960’s. Her characters are vivid and complex, and every word is strung with beauty.

“This was love: a string of coincidences that gathered significance and became miracles.”

“Slouching Towards Bethlehem” by Joan Didion Another book about the 1960’s. This is a collection of Joan Didion’s essays from that time. Didion spent the 60’s living in California and writing about the hippie movement in San Francisco and about the younger generation. It’s interesting to think that these are the people that are now the older generation and to read a lot of the criticisms about them are similar criticisms about my generation. Lazy and too idealistic. Too caught up in a movement to think about the greater realities of the world. Spoiled American children. How quickly some seem to forget history and their own experiences.

“Dear Leader: Poet, Spy, Escapee-A Look Inside North Korea” by Jang Jin-sung Another memoir of a survivor from North Korea. I can’t get enough of the hermit kingdom. Jang Jin-sung was a high official in the North Korean government under Kim Jong-Il, writing propaganda poems. He was commissioned to write an epic poem and asked to return to his hometown to do some research. When he arrived, he saw how his family and neighbors were starving and suffering. Upon returning to Pyongyang, he lends a ultra-classified book to a friend. His friend loses the book on the subway, and the two decide they have to escape North Korea or else they will be sentenced to life in prison for sharing the book. This memoir differs from the other ones I’ve read in that it takes place mostly in China as Jang Jin-sung and his friend hide from the authorities and depend on other North Korean defectors to help them. Obviously, they make it out and escape to South Korea. But it seems that it was mostly luck, and it’s sad to think about how many don’t have that same luck.

“Hour of the Bees” by Lindsay Eager My librarian sister also studied Children’s Literature while earning her Master’s in Library Science. She has always been a fan of young adult and children’s literature and passes her favorites onto me. I wouldn’t say this is one of her favorites, but we were on vacation together and she lent this to me to read on the plane home. Most readers have the habit of thinking of young adult and children’s literature as dull and puerile. But there is a lot of good, introspective work being produced, and I’m glad my sister can open my eyes to that on a regular basis. This book was about a young girl in New Mexico whose family spends a summer on a ranch with her ailing grandfather. She learns about her past, about her family, and about the value of home. It was a quick read but entertaining nonetheless.

“Marie Antoinette: The Portrait of an Average Woman” by Stefan Zweig I became fascinated with Marie Antoinette a couple of years ago when I was visiting Versailles with a friend, and we both realized that we didn’t actually know the details of her life besides the sensational. “Let them eat cake.” She was beheaded. She wore huge wigs. But what else was there? This is a great biography of her, because (as it suggests in the title), she was an average person. She had nothing inherently special about her, good or bad. She was born into wealth and royalty and was married off for political reasons. She was spoiled as some wealthy people are and had no sympathy for the poor, because it was a part of society she never saw and never understood. This book paints her as a person who was caught up in history, in the changing fortunes of empires, and came to represent what was wrong in a greater political system. It was a great read that delved into the history of the French revolution which never ceases to be interesting.

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Book Roundup #8

13 Jun

The last month has been ROUGH, friends. A lot of difficulties and frustrations seemed to be coming out of every nook and cranny of my life. And I definitely had my share of meltdowns and crying jags. But through it all, friends, family, and co-workers all rallied to my side, offering comfort, support, and help. And knowing I have that, made all the troubles in the world seem much smaller.

It’s also been a rough go of reading the last couple of weeks. A couple of amazing books that I rushed through, and a couple that I couldn’t even finish.

FOUR BOOKS I DIDN’T FINISH

I hate not finishing a book. It’s quitting at its worst. But when I’m stuck in a book that I’m not enjoying, I end up thinking of the millions of amazing books that exist in the world. It’s a tragedy that I can’t possibly find time to read them all in my lifetime, so why waste time on something I’m not enjoying. Sometimes it’s necessary to cut the losses and move on. Otherwise reading becomes a chore instead of the pure pleasure that it can be. So these are the books I abandoned.

  1. “The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage: The (Mostly) True Story of the First Computer” by Sydney Padua– For starters, this was a graphic novel, which I don’t tend to enjoy anyways. But it was about the 19th century friendship between Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage, and how they came up with some of the earliest concepts of a computing machine. It sounded interesting enough. But the structure was odd, and I couldn’t fully tell what was true and what was fantasy, although most of it was fantasy. A lot of the narrative was grounded in footnotes which were lengthy and often about mathematical theories. I was in over my head.
  2. “Awakenings” by Oliver Sacks- I was excited to read my first Oliver Sacks book. He was a neurologist who also wrote a lot of books that have great reviews. This one was about patients of his that suffered from a paralyzing form of Parkinson’s. In the 1970’s, Sacks and his team put the patients on a new drug, L-Dopa, that pulled them out of their paralyzation. Some of the patients had amazing results, others struggled with bizarre side effects. I’ve seen the Robert DeNiro/Robin Williams movie they made from this book and loved it. But the book was dry and just had patient histories and outcomes. Also the book was loaded with footnotes, drunk with them. I’ve learned I can’t stand footnotes. They ruin the flow of reading. Too distracting.
  3. “This Old Man: All in Pieces” by Roger Angell- Dr. G lent me this book to read. Mr. Angell is a client of ours, and Dr. G was given a copy of this book, signed and dedicated. Roger Angell is famous for writing pieces about baseball (particularly about the Mets) for the New Yorker. Dr. G and I share a profound love for baseball, so he assumed I’d enjoy the book. It was hard to get through because so many of the pieces were about people he worked with at the New Yorker, whom I had never heard of. There wasn’t even a whole lot about baseball. At one point, Dr. G asked me how I was enjoying the book. I was honest about my struggles, and he confessed to me that he never finished it for the same reasons. If Dr. G doesn’t deem a book worth finishing, I’m sure as hell not going to spend any more time reading it.
  4. “News Whore: The Prequel” by Mandy Stadtmiller– I like Stadtmiller as a writer. I’ve mainly read her pieces on XOJane where she works as an editor-at-large. She writes about love and relationships in a neo-Carrie-Bradshaw way. This book is a collection of her essays about her twenties. The problem was that they weren’t really essays as much as they were one page snippets of her life, interspersed with selfies and random pictures of her apartment that had nothing to do with anything. It felt like reading a boring person’s diary. I didn’t feel like there was a narrative or anything to be gained, so I gave up. She can do better. I know she can.

FOUR BOOKS I FINISHED AND LOVED

  1. “The Stand” by Stephen King- My Stephen King obsession continues as I read one of  his most famous books, “The Stand.” It’s a giant, epic novel about a super-virus (Captain Trips) that wipes out more than 99% of the human population. The scant survivors band together in two tribes, one good, one evil, and they try to rebuild society while worrying about the looming other tribe. It’s long, but engrossing. Like most other Stephen King novels, below the entertaining reading experience, there are deeper themes of religion and destiny. Do we choose our fate? Or are we preordained to be good or bad?
  2. “White Teeth” by Zadie Smith- I was reading this book on my lunch break, and one of my co-workers commented that it was a book that everyone was reading on the subway “like 10 years ago.” Only in New York could reading a book be “so last season.” But there’s a reason everyone was reading it. It’s beautiful and hilarious, and that doesn’t diminish in 10 years. Her writing is fluid and quirky as we follow characters through the streets of London. It also touches on the idea of immigration, and how immigrants lives are affected by the melding of their past with their present.
  3. “How We Die: Reflections on Life’s Final Chapter” by Sherwin Nuland- In one of the first scenes of the show, “The Knick,” Dr. Thackery gives a speech about medical advances in surgery in the early 1900’s. “We humans can get in a few good licks in battle before we surrender,” he said. And the truth in medicine is that we can fight battles but never win the war. Our bodies are not designed to last forever, and this is a blessing and a curse. This seemingly morbid book breaks down the ways in which our bodies are most likely to die: heart disease, cancer, trauma, including others. The human body is an incredible piece of engineering, and the death of the machine is just as interesting. The book was hardly morbid though, it was introspective.
  4. “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life” by Barbara Kingsolver- Kingsolver is known as a novelist, but this book follows a year in which her family moved to a farm in Virginia and pledged to only eat food they could grow themselves or find locally. Most of the book is a treatise on the food industry in America, which is always a terrifying topic. Our meat is gross. Our fruits and veggies are gross. Our breads are probably killing us. Although I try to buy organic and almost never eat at fast food chains, I didn’t realize how much farther I still have to go. I’m absolutely guilty of not knowing when certain fruits or vegetables are in season. And I have no idea about how far the foods at my grocery store have had to travel to get to me. If anything, this book made me more committed to trying to buy foods from farmer’s markets and avoid processed foods even more than I already do.

Notorious RBG: the Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik

17 May

I had written before about how I had read a book filled with essays about Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s legal legacy and how it was boring. This book was not. This book was a more biographical survey of Ginsburg’s life coupled with her legal legacy. I loved this book so much, I bought a t-shirt.

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The book comes from a popular Tumblr account put together by a law student, Knizhnik, along with a reporter from MSNBC, Carmon. Together they created a narrative about the amazing work Justice Ginsburg has done in her lifetime, especially in the realm of civil rights. I found myself getting choked up during various sections by how much the world has changed for women as a result of this tiny powerhouse. The fact that I am allowed, as a woman, to pursue a career and an education that interests me, is a relatively new development in American culture.

The authors also paint the picture of a complete human being that lost her mother at a young age, that faced gender discrimination, that bonded with her ideological opposite (Scalia) and sang opera with him in DC, that enjoyed a deep love with a man who was more than willing to subsume his own ambitions to help her pursue her own. She has lived a life so meaningful and robust that an autobiography of her is naturally fascinating.

The book itself is a joy to read. Full of annotated dissents to help the reader understand the legal jargon, a description of her workout routine (this octogenarian still does 20 push-ups a day!), and numerous artistic tributes to her over the years. The last couple of pages of the book talk about how to be more like the RBG, and I soaked in every word. I’m so grateful to this woman for the work she has done and hope to live a life as full as she has. I think every American with even a slice of inclination toward equality should read this book. We truly do stand on the shoulders of this tiny legal giant. An absolute hero. An absolute legend.

“The decision whether or not to bear a child is central to a woman’s life, to her wellbeing and dignity. It is a decision she must make for herself. When government controls that decision for her, she is treated as less than a fully adult human responsible for her own choices.”

-RBG during her confirmation hearing for the position on the Supreme Court

The Shining by Stephen King

24 Mar

Other than Goosebumps books from my childhood, this was my first horror book. It was also my first Stephen King book. I try not to be a book snob, but I sometimes become one, and for that I suffer. I’ve always considered Stephen King to be a “grocery-store novelist.” The kind of author that churns out a couple of books a year that are big type, poorly written and can often be found in the check-out lane at the grocery store. Not good books. Trashy in some sense. But that’s not fair. I’m turning my nose up at something I’ve never taken the time to try. Surely some of those books must have some merit.

So I read “The Shining,” and from the first couple of chapters, I couldn’t put it down. No, it wasn’t beautiful and elevated literature, but it was interesting, it had levels of humanity and supernatural interwoven. And I didn’t want to stop reading it. I’d spend my days at work, thinking about the book, counting down the hours until I could get home and return myself to the Overlook Hotel. I fell asleep with the book clutched in my hands and haunted with some twisted nightmares.

I had seen the movie years ago, but it was almost nothing like the book, which I wasn’t expecting. And here, the golden rule for books rings true. The book was better than the movie. And, more to the point of Stephen King adaptations, the book was far scarier than the movie. (Stephen King agrees.) What I remembered about the movie was the haunting cinematography and the psychotic nature of Jack Nicholson playing Jack Torrence. The book doesn’t focus on Jack that way. It’s more about the little boy Danny and about the hotel itself coming alive. I left the movie afraid of Jack Torrence. I put down the book terrified of hotels. Some of my favorite parts of the book weren’t even in the movie. The hedge animals?! Wendy being a badass and not a whimpering mess?! The fire extinguisher hose?! Tony?! There’s hardly any Tony in it.

I’m officially a big Stephen King fan now. I’m officially a horror book/grocery store book fan now. I might have a lot of sleepless nights ahead of me, but my favorite part about reading is getting absorbed in a book to the point where I don’t want to put it down. On that count, Stephen King delivers.

“Monsters are real. Ghosts are too. They live inside of us, and sometimes, they win.”

Don’t Hate on Nonfiction

28 Dec
nonfiction-wordle

Originally found here.

When friends ask me for a book recommendation, I’m really really good at it. I love reading and have a wide range of types of books that I read, and I have a knack for picking books for people that they will like. I take into account what I know about them as a person, as a reader, what their interests are, and I pick books that they end up loving, devouring. I wish there was a career there. A Reading Consultant. Much like a therapist, my clients could come in and describe their lives and their reading hangups to me, and I would guide them to a world of books that they never knew existed, a reading utopia. I wonder how much I could charge for that?

I was at work the other day talking with two of the veterinarians. Dr. L was about to take a week off from work to relax and spend time with her family on Long Island. She lamented to me about how she doesn’t take pleasure in reading anymore. In her undergrad, she was a dual major in Biology and English. The English major part of her feels guilty that she never reads anymore. She asked me for some book recommendations.

“What aren’t you liking about the books you’ve tried reading?” I asked her (see what a good Reading Consultant I am!)
“I get bored with the plots and find myself not caring. I end up skimming through huge chunks of the books trying to find the point. Med school ruined the way I read. I’m always trying to find the facts.”
“Then maybe you need to be reading Nonfiction.”
Both Dr. L and Dr. N gave me ick faces.
“Nonfiction is so horrible and boring,” Dr N said.
“Not the right kind of nonfiction! I love reading nonfiction. You just have to know where to find the non-textbooky nonfiction. Didn’t you love ‘Brain on Fire‘?” I asked Dr. L.
“I couldn’t put it down. It’s one of the best books I’ve ever read.”
“There you go. That’s nonfiction. And with all the fucked-up tv and movies you watch, I bet you’d love true crime books. Have you ever read ‘Helter Skelter’ or ‘The Stranger Beside Me.'”
“I feel guilty. The English major in me feels like I should be reading works of literature.”

“You’re not in school anymore,” I told her. “No one gives a shit if you are reading Madame Bovary or Anna Karenina. If you miss reading, just read whatever book you enjoy. You don’t have to force yourself to read classics.”

I believe that the majority of people who don’t read regularly or who say they don’t like reading are suffering from a form of PTSD from being forced to read boring, shitty books while in school and college. Some people suffer more than others. I understand that there are important classics that society wants the younger generations to be familiar with, but our school systems seem to be doing more harm than good in forcing literature on children. Not everyone is going to love Shakespeare or Milton or Emily Dickinson. And I think forced encounters with writers make people want to never read again once they are done with school. And I think the genres that suffer most are Short Stories, Poetry, and Nonfiction.

Nonfiction can be dull and full of research and works cited, or it can be exciting and strange. The old adage, stranger than fiction, is talking about nonfiction. When strange things happen in fiction, it’s easy to criticize them as a reader and say, “That would never happen.” In nonfiction, it’s all real and you find yourself saying “I can’t believe that happened!”

So I honestly believe that anyone who isn’t enjoying reading should start off my giving nonfiction a shot. I recommended “A Kim Jong Il Production” to Dr. L and when she came back from her vacation she gushed about how much she loved it and couldn’t put it down. See! Highly-acclaimed Reading Consultant Chrissy Wilson, at your service.

Some of my most-loved nonfiction titles:

  • The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown. A book that doubles as a narrative of poor depression-era men at the University of Washington and describing the evolution of 1930’s Nazi Germany propaganda. The back and forth of the narrative works, and the characters are rich and endearing.
  • A Little Book of Language by David Crystal. For the word nerd, this book is a quick read about the nature of language and linguistics, how we learn language and how we use it.
  • Zeitoon by Dave Eggers. The story of a man from New Orleans who remained in the city during Hurricane Katrina. It documents the hurricane, the aftermath, and the way he was treated by government officials. It’s unbelievable that this sort of thing happened in America, and it shows how out-of-control American xenophobia (especially toward Muslims in the post 9/11 era) can be. Dave Eggers also wrote “What is the What,” another great nonfiction book documenting the immigrant experience.
  • The Peaceable Kingdom: A Year in the Life of America’s Oldest Zoo by John Sedgewick. A must-read for animal lovers. This is a perfect example of a nonfiction book that isn’t out to teach anything, just to tell the true story (more like stories) of people who work in an unconventional field.
  • Bird by Bird: Instructions on Writing and Life by Ann Lamott. If you’ve ever wanted to write, if you have ever felt trapped in a creative dead-end, this is the book that most every writer alive today has read and continues to turn to. It’s an inspiration about how to write and about how to live, which to writers is often the same thing.
  • Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife by Mary Roach. I love books by Mary Roach because they are informative and digestible. She takes a big subject (in this case death) and writes quick chapters that describe the scientific approaches over the years to understand these topics. She talks about seances, the attempt to measure the soul (21 grams), angels.
  • Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith by Jon Krakauer. Another master of nonfiction, this book is about the history of the Mormon church. A classic example of a book where fact is stranger than fiction. It culminates in descriptions of fundamentalist Mormons. Important proof that all religions are prone to extremists and bad interpretation.

 

30 Before 30: Read “The Year of Magical Thinking” by Joan Didion

23 Dec

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In my 30th year of life, I’m attempting to do 29 new things. Full List Here. All Bucket List Adventures Here.

I read this book in the span of a day. It’s not a long book, and the prose is quick and simple. It’s also a story that pulls the reader in. It documents the year of her life after her husband John died. He had a heart attack in front of her, and, as she puts it, in an ordinary moment her life changed.

I’m still processing how I feel about the book. It’s different from most anything I’ve ever read. Death and loss are not new topics. I think the difference with Didion is that she doesn’t try to pull at your heartstrings. She doesn’t conjure up lost memories of her husband and her at their happiest. Their first kiss. Sweet things he did for her. None of that is there. It is simply the story of her mind coping with the grief.

Reading her analyze her mind and notice her thought patterns in the year after she lost her husband pulls the reader closer to understanding how it feels to lose a life partner. At one point, I took a break from reading it and looked at the simple layout of the cover. Only four letters in a different color than the rest. My eyes scanned from the J to the O to the H to the N. John. Her ex-husband. I give that cover designer enormous credit for putting together such an understated cover that describes the essence of the book. The shadow Didion’s husband cast over her life, especially in the year after he died, was unavoidable and seeped into her mind in curious ways.

Her writing is so straight-forward and without embellishment that I was surprised by how much her love for him resonated. In interviews, she has said that she thought the book turned into a love story instead of a story about grief. And I agree. This is not a book for the faint of heart. Your heart will break alongside hers. But it is beautiful, and it is important, and I learned so much from it.

“We are not idealized wild things.

We are imperfect mortal beings, aware of that mortality even as we push it away, failed by our complication, so wired that when we mourn our losses we also mourn, for better or for worse, ourselves. As we were. As we are no longer. And as we will one day not be at all.”

 

Reading Short Stories

13 Dec

This has been my autumn of short story collections. Not for any particular reason other than I had a number of unread ones sitting on my shelf, and I wanted to clear them out. I know a lot of people who buy books at a much greater rate than they read them, and I too used to be one of those people. But I find it satisfying to go through these books and winnow down my collection. I have limited space, and I try to only hold onto the books that mean the world to me. The rest I give away to friends or donate. I do, however, one day want to own a house where all the walls are made of books shelves, but even in that scenario, I want them to be the great books, the ones I wouldn’t hesitate recommending to someone. That requires making sure that the books I own have been read and to commit to not buying new ones until the unread ones have been dealt with accordingly.

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Remember when the Beast gave Beauty this library, and it was the most romantic thing ever, and it set your standards of romance at an unreasonable height when you were still only 8-years-old?

I wholeheartedly believe in the short story as a medium, although it is still one of the most looked over. When I tell people that I’m reading a short story collection, they tend to dismiss the genre either because they think it’s pointless to read something so brief or they’ve never even tried reading short stories, because it holds no interest for them. What draws me to it is the intensity of the story and the language. Short stories, by their nature, have a limited amount of space in which to make the reader feel, grow attached to the characters, and watch them change. Time cannot be wasted in a short story. Novels can be short, long, or painfully long. They can go on wild tangents that have almost nothing to do with the plot and more to do with the author’s political views. I’m looking at you, all 19th century Russian writers. ESPECIALLY YOU, TOLSTOY.

We live in a fast-paced, ADHD society, and short stories are a great option. A brilliant tale with intense images that can be read in 15-20 minutes? It’s the Twitter of Literature. It’s also a great way to get a sampler of the literary scene at the moment. Most mainstream novelists also write short stories and publish them on the side, sometimes expanding them into full-length novels. I do most of my reading on the subway, and I love that I can read about a story per journey. So time-efficient!

 

BEST AMERICAN

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I’m a fan of all the “Best American” collections. They offer about any genre and do a great job of pulling together a snapshot of the best of what has been published in the previous year. Best American Poetry. Best American Sports Writing. Best American Essays. Best American Mystery Writing. I like it, because it is conscious of literary trends that come and go and offers a good glimpse at what is being put out there.

O. HENRY PRIZE

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My aunt gave me a couple of these collections years ago for the bus ride back to New York, but I only just got around to reading them. I don’t know why I stayed away so long, honestly. The stories were excellent and tend to come with the most well known authors on the literary scene. Alice Munro, Joyce Carol Oates, George Saunders. I found one or two stories by new writers, but they tend to collect stories from authors at the height of their powers.

PUSHCART PRIZE

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The Pushcart Prize is a collection of short story, poetry, and essay that have been published by a small press. One of my first jobs was at a small press in Seattle. Three people in an office space, talking about poetry and living on a tight budget. The collection is known for being ahead of the curve as far as trends and publishers go. They pull together from more well-known literary magazines/publishers like McSweeney’s and Tin House and smaller ones that I would probably not come into contact with other wise, like the Alaska Quarterly or the New Ohio Review.

AUTHOR COLLECTION

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Of course, authors also have their own collections which are fantastic and some of my favorite books. I recently read Lorrie Moore’s “Bark.” Her writing is so cutting and something I aspire to. They’re easy books to buy with confidence, too. Just invest the ten minutes or so at the bookstore to read one of the stories, if you like it, chances are you’ll like the rest too.

A Kim Jong-Il Production by Paul Fischer

10 Aug

Happy National Book Lover’s Day everyone!

This is the second book I have read about North Korea. The first had my jaw on the ground. This threw me into a full-blown obsession with the hermit kingdom.

This book is nonfiction which sounds impossible when you hear the premise. The book is about two South Koreans, one a film actress, the other her estranged film director husband. In the 1980’s, Kim Jong-Il had them kidnapped and brought to North Korea where they were forced to make propaganda films, including a Godzilla-knockoff. They escaped years later and this is the tale of their saga. They were put through brainwashing prisons, isolated in strange houses with North Korean guards and minders to stop them from escaping. They were forced to watch movies with Kim Jong-Il and to thank him for kidnapping them.

The best part about Fischer’s writing (and all good nonfiction writing in my opinion) is that he intersperses the drama of this true story with relevant politics and history of the region. While the other North Korean book I read was incredible and painted the daily lives of North Koreans from different songbuns (social classes) with heartbreaking detail, I came away from this book with a good basic understanding of the history of how North Korea came to be, the official state biography of Kim Jong-Il, and the finances and politics behind supporting this rigidly nationalistic dictatorship. The book has a comic-book-like dust jacket, but the research is meticulous and fascinating.

I’m obsessed. I’m OBSESSED with North Korea. All my nearest and dearest have had to listen to non-stop rambling about the craziness in the country. I see mirror images of the empire around me everywhere. I went to a Yankee game on Friday night, and as I looked at the giant sign with George Steinbrenner’s face and the words “The Boss” on it, I could only think of the propaganda of Kim Il-Sung “The Supreme Leader.” Remember how Donald Trump called Mexicans rapists and thieves? That’s almost verbatim the rhetoric that Kim Jong-Il uses to describe Americans!

I think my obsession stems from the fact that North Korea is a mystery. We can’t really know what life is like there, and the world is at a loss as to what to do with this strange pocket of comic-book-level villainy. What we know of North Korea are just glimpses. Here are some of the better things I’ve found in my obsessive research.

  • This three-part documentary from Vice does a good job of getting inside the country and sneaking a bit past the carefully orchestrated face North Korea shows the world. The main documentary guy made me nervous. He karaoked “Anarchy in the UK” in front of his minders! I was nervous he was going to end up in a concentration camp. People have been sent there for much less. Lisa Ling also has a good documentary available on Netflix called “Inside North Korea.” That documentary delves more into the brainwashing of the citizens.
  • This photo gallery is beautiful and disturbing. I like this one even more.
  • Ever heard of the mass games? It’s organized insanity. Once a year to celebrate the founding of their country, thousands of North Koreans put on this bizarre performance for their leaders. People practice all year for it, and the giant moving pictures in the back are made up of thousands of children holding giant books over their heard and flipping the pages in tandem. IT’S WEIRD. It was thought up by none other than Kim Jong-Il.
  • In recent news, North Korea announced they are creating their own time zone which will be 30 minutes off from everyone else. Of course the are. Of course they are.
  • All mockery aside, though, it’s quite tragic what goes on beyond our reach. The people of North Korea are enslaved to the strongest cult of personality the world has ever seen. My heart breaks to think of the starvation, the brainwashing, the labor camps, and the violence North Koreans have to live through. It’s important to remember that while the leadership in the country is deplorable and terrifying with their constant talk of nuclear war, millions of people are suffering within the country’s borders, and it is to them that we owe a bit of compassion and concern.

I leave you with an apt quote from this book that I highly recommend anyone and everyone to read.

“The people are still required, under pain of imprisonment, to thank Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il every morning for their food, even though Kim Il-Sung is dead and they have no food”

Book Roundup #3

13 Jul

I was amazed today to realize how peripatetic my 2015 has been so far. New Mexico, London, Spain, Tangier, California, Maine, and later this week Canada. I’ve had so many amazing opportunities that I haven’t been able to turn down. One of the side-effects of my jet-set life is a lot of reading to fill those plane and/or train rides. I like being stuck on these journeys with a stack of books or gigabytes of books as the case may be. It’s one of my favorite things about traveling, having an excuse to sit and read or write and let my nerd-self simmer in the English language. These are some of my favorites of late.

Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari


Buy here.

I bought an Aziz Ansari comedy special years ago and somehow ended up on his mailing list. In preparation for his debut book, I got a mass email that announced a lottery for his book release party open to those that pre-order the book. It doesn’t take much to convince me to buy a book, so I pre-ordered a copy in hopes that I’d get to hobnob with Aziz in New York. I didn’t win, but I was surprised to find the book on my kindle one morning. I was even more surprised to find out that I loved the book. I’m not a huge fan of comedy books. I just don’t find them funny without seeing the delivery. But, although, Aziz Ansari’s brand of humor is present throughout, the book is more of a sociological study about dating in the modern world. He conducted experiments with a sociologist and combed through OKcupid’s data to find out how people are dating and what they are doing right and/or wrong. He even discusses modern dating in other cultures like Japan, France, and Argentina. I read the book in about a day as it was fascinating and easy to get through.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Spoilers in that video, although I like the analysis.

I watched the movie before I read the book. A sin, I know. But I had accidentally found out the twist in this book when reading an essay about unlikeable female characters. I was so disappointed to have it spoiled for me that I didn’t want to read it. But after seeing the movie and reading Flynn’s other book “Dark Places,” I had to. It was amazing. I couldn’t put it down. I loved every ounce of the character of Amy and the dark tones of the book. Gillian Flynn has quickly joined my fantasy Boss Ass Bitch Booze Brunch club along with Cheryl Strayed, Amy Poehler, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi. I daydream about hanging out with these intelligent women and discussing writing, creativity and just being awesome. I guess they would discuss, and I would refill their cocktails/bring out more hash browns, but I’d be honored to be there and to possibly soak up some of their glory.

Anyways, “Gone Girl” takes a commonplace narrative of a murder and twists it around to something new. I know I’m late on the bandwagon, but I just can’t stop thinking about the book. It raises so many questions about love, marriage, feminism and identity.

“Travels with Charley: In Search of America” by John Steinbeck

I’ve been meaning to read this book for years, and it went above and beyond my expectations. John Steinbeck has always been one of my favorite authors. This is a departure from his usual fiction writing and is a memoir of a road trip he took with his standard poodle Charley through the country to try and get back in touch with what real America is like. I loved this book for all the reasons to love any Steinbeck book. Funny, beautiful, and revelatory. My mother bought me my copy when we were in Monterey as a souvenir of our California trip, and I’ve marked this copy up with all my favorite quotes and parts I want to go back to and re-read.

“I was born lost and take no pleasure in being found, nor much identification from shapes which symbolize continents and states.”

Conversations with Maya Angelou Edited by Jeffrey M. Elliot

8 Jun

mayaWhat an incredible woman. My associations with Maya Angelou where formulated in high school when, like so many others of my generation, I read “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.” I remember liking it, but like so many books forced upon me in high school, I don’t remember too much about it, or her, other than the basics. She was raised in the South during segregation, she was raped by her mother’s boyfriend, and she had her son at the age of 16. She went on to become a symbol of Black female strength and was even named Poet Laureate during the Clinton Administration, becoming the first poet since Robert Frost to read at the presidential inauguration.

A+ for that book report. But reading these interviews about Maya Angelou made me want to re-read “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” and perhaps to go back and read all those other books I rushed through in high school so I could finish my Calculus homework.

I knew she was a poet and an author. I did not know that she was a playwright, a screenwriter, a director, an actress, and a dancer. That she had been nominated for Tonys and was the first black woman to write and direct her own film. She worked along Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X during the Civil Rights Movement. Fluent in seven languages, she also was a master at cooking regional African cuisines that she learned while teaching in Ghana. All this from a woman who never went to college, who worked as a madam and a stripper. She seemed to always push forward, pick herself up and accept any challenge presented to her.

These interviews with her felt like How to Live Life 101. So much zest for living, always striving to write better, and looking for ways to influence and improve the world around her. So many gems to quote, like…

“What do you mean, do I consider myself a feminist? I am a feminist. I’ve been a female for a long time now. I’d be stupid not to be on my own side.”

or

“I want to know more- not intellectually- to know more so I can be a better human being, to be an honest, courageous, funny and loving human being. That’s what I want to be – and I blow it 86 times a day. My hope is to cut it down to 70.”

This book spans her thoughts on racism in America, the plight of white women vs. the plight of black women, motherhood, creativity, how to write, travel, and how to be happy. From page 1 to page 240, I was gripped by her unwavering love of life.

“Living life fully, fiercely, devotedly, makes you much more able to accept other people who are doing the same. All we’re trying to do is to get from birth to death. And you can’t fail. Even if you only live five minutes, you have succeeded…But it seems to me that life loves the liver.”

Phenomenal woman, indeed.