10 Books That Have Stayed with Me

Yes, this is a facebook meme. No, I haven’t done it on facebook.* I don’t really post on facebook. But I can’t resist talking about books I love (and I don’t do it enough on this blog), so I thought I’d make and share a list here.

If you’ve done this challenge, link me your answers in the comments so I can check them out!

My answers are in no specific order. This is just the order they came to me. You will also notice that there are only eight in my list of 10. And Harry Potter is missing.**

1. The Virgin Blue by Tracy Chevalier

This is my favorite book. For a while I read it every year. It has two interweaving timelines (a plot device I totally love), and Ella is a really flawed main character who I still love and relate to.

There’s something really comforting about this book. It’s been a lot of places with me (literally). I just love having it on hand so I can read it whenever the mood strikes.

2. The Hundred Secret Senses by Amy Tan

I love this book, but it took me a while to figure out why. It has a similar structure to The Virgin Blue (two intertwining timelines), but it means more to me than The Virgin Blue in a lot of ways.

Olivia, the protagonist, is biracial, and she’s one of the first biracial characters I can remember reading. Amy Tan receives a lot of criticism (rightly so), but she really captured what it is to be Asian American/biracial in America. It is probably the first time I ever saw those thoughts and feelings articulated in a book and it meant a lot to me, even if I didn’t fully realize how much it meant at the time.

The Hundred Secret Senses is one of those books that I worry will lose its magic (even though it never does). It’s not a book that I recommend to people anymore (unless you’re also a mixed Asian kid), but it’s really important to me.

3. Bloomability by Sharon Creech

I studied Italian because I read Bloomability. It’s a great coming if age story. Definitely Creech at her best. It’s been ages since I’ve reread it though.

4. Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

When I want to sound intellectual (which isn’t often, but it does happen… mostly when I’m talking to people trying to be elitist about literature), I will sometimes tell people that Mrs Dalloway is my favorite book. More often I tell people Mrs Dalloway is the book that made me an English major which is 50% true.*** The language, the story, the way it demands your attention. Ugh. So great. I’ve only read it once, but it’s definitely stayed with me.

5. His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman

Have you ever read a book so good you’re afraid to reread it because there’s no way it can be as good as you remember it? That’s HDM for me. If I hadn’t taken Children’s Lit sophomore year of college, these books would probably still be unreread. As it is, I had to reread it for that class, and they were even better the second time around.

6. When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

This is the only book on this list that I didn’t read as a child/teenager. I read it after I graduated from college, but it’s seriously fantastic. It’s a book I wish had existed when I was 12. It’s short and seems simple at the start, but holds up to rereading after rereading.

7. Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore

This book tricked me into thinking I like Christopher Moore, but what I really like is Lamb. I have never reread this book for fear it can’t be as good as I remember. I may never reread it because there is nothing to make me.

This book was so good (and the Scarlet Letter was so bad) that I took it to the gym and laughed my way through an entire workout because I couldn’t bear the thought of waiting to find out what was going to happen. It’s hilarious, irreverent and surprisingly touching at moments.

8. The Child of the Owl by Laurence Yep

This is another book that I haven’t reread (it’s at theme). I reread parts a lot as a kid, but I’ve never reread it in its entirety. That said, this book is also really important to me.  And again, a book where I didn’t realize its importance in my life until long after I’d read it.

The scene that stuck with me the most is when Casey buys dinner for Paw Paw. She ends up with a funny mix of Chinese food (breakfast, lunch and dinner). That just felt so real to me. My perfect metaphor for being Chinese American****

So there’s my list. There are some commonalities I never noticed before. Like, when I really like a book or a book had a big impact on me, my impulses are to either reread several times or never reread it. Every book I thought to include on this list was fiction (despite the fact that I’ve read some really good nonfiction).

I’m also a little surprised at the mix of adult fiction and kid fiction on the list, half and half. I expected more middle grade fiction to slip in there. There are definitely some favorite books that didn’t make the list that could have. And books I’ve read this year that might have made the list if they’d been written a decade ago.

There are more female authors on my list than male authors. And more female protagonists than males by far (I have always loved female characters more than male ones). The list is pretty white, but it’s about as white as I expected it to be. I wish that were different, but maybe in 10 years, after I’ve carried around the books I’m reading now, the list will look different.

The original meme says not to think too long when making your list, but I couldn’t stop thinking about my list after I made it. So there you have it. A list of eight books that mean something to me. Leave me a comment if you want to chat more about any of them. Or if you want to chat about your list!

*This time around. I did it the first time it went around when I was in college. And I can’t find my answers because apparently facebook got rid of notes.

**That’s not to say that Harry Potter hasn’t stayed with me or isn’t important to me. But I have so much to say about Harry Potter that I’m planning a Harry Potter week as soon as I can find time to reread the books.

***The other 50% of that story is that I had to declare a major so I sat down with my course catalog and highlighted every class that sounded interesting to me. Almost all of them were English classes so I became an English major.

****Actually, my metaphor for being Chinese American is sitting in a Chinese restaurant in America and not being able to understand the Chinese or the English “translations” on the menu. I don’t read hanzi, but I don’t understand what bean curd is either.

Tale of Genji: Update

Content warning: mentions of rape

I don’t find it that interesting to read about other people’s reading progress. Unless I’m reading the same thing, or I’ve read what they’re reading and want to see how they’re going to react to a certain part. But on the whole, I find posts like this pretty boring.

I think they’re useful as accountability tools though, which is why I’m making this post today.

There’s been a lot less rape in the story lately, but I find Genji and Murasaki’s relationship creepy no matter how often the author insists that it’s innocent. Despite the objectionable content, the story is pretty interesting. Lots of drama, death and festivals.

I don’t know that I’ll update my progress through The Tale of Genji every week, but this week was pretty noteworthy for my lack of progress. I’m not quite sure what the count is today, but I think I’m two and a half chapters behind where I want to be. I had a really busy work week which isn’t an excuse but is the reason I fell behind. I’m going to read today to make up some of that lost ground and just try and keep on track as much as I can next week.

Heroes of Olympus by Rick Riordan

HoO

This is the number of holds on the last Heroes of Olympus book at my library and the book doesn’t even come out until October. I’m hoping Barnes and Noble sends out a coupon around the publish date so I can just buy the box set.

I read Percy Jackson in 2011 but wanted to wait until all the Heroes of Olympus books were published before starting the series. I read each Percy Jackson book in a day (spaced out over a couple of months), worried the same thing might happen with the Heroes of Olympus and didn’t want to be left with any cliffhanger endings.

My mom is reading the Percy Jackson books now.* She keeps telling/asking me things about the story that I don’t remember at all. I think a reread is in order. *She’s on the third one and I want her to hurry up and get to the fourth (Battle of the Labyrinth, my favorite) so she can remind me all about it.

Flygirl by Sherri L Smith

Flygirl takes a long time to get going. I had to give the book over 100 pages before I was finally on board with it. But in the end, I think it’s worth the investment.

I read another of Smith’s books (Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet) and wasn’t that impressed with the Asian representation in the book. So knowing that Flygirl was set during WWII, I was cautious going in.

I had a few issues.* Hazel Ying Lee is referred to only as Hazel Ah Ying when almost every single source I can find that references her calls her Hazel Ying Lee (or Hazel Ah Ying Lee) and there’s no explanation for why Smith calls her Hazel Ah Ying. There are also several Japanese slurs used throughout the book. This is understandable, Smith also uses the terms colored, Negro and the N word throughout the book. There’s something to be said for historical accuracy, but I wish Smith had chosen to send Thomas to Europe rather than the South Pacific because that would have cut down the number of Japanese slurs in the text considerably (Thomas is the only character I can remember using a Japanese racial slur).

Smith uses the slur g***y and red as a skin descriptor (“red and brown”) both completely unnecessarily in the story. There are also several food words to describe black characters (and once to describe a white character’s hair).

But even with all that and the slow pace at the beginning, I enjoyed Flygirl. I have never read a book about a black person passing (well, I read a nonfiction book once that sort of touched on the topic, but it was nothing like Flygirl). Ida Mae’s story reminded me of biracial narratives. Mostly the feeling of not belonging anywhere.

I thought Smith did a good job handling both racism and sexism in the book and clearly showed the intersection between the two that Ida Mae faced (without beating you over the head with it). She also clearly conveyed the danger of what Ida Mae was doing, and the sacrifices that she has to make to pass.

I wish Jolene had feature more prominently in the story. I think that would have given her fight with Ida Mae more punch. As it is, it still works. All the pieces are there, but I thought Smith could have gone a little bit deeper.

The story meanders a little bit, and the ending was a little unsatisfying. But there were points where I couldn’t put Flygirl down which is always a good sign.

*This is a really small complaint, but I wish Smith had noted that both Asian WASPs were Chinese. She notes that Lee was Chinese, but doesn’t mention that Gee was also Chinese.

ETA: I also found it unbelievable that every single character used WASP correctly (always singular, never plural) throughout the entire book. The WASP themselves, I’ll believe. But the civilians outside? And even the other members of the Army? Not so much.

Reading The Tale of Genji

Subtitle: And My (Other) September Reading Goals

I started reading The Tale of Genji on September 1 (technically August 31 if you count the introduction). It’s very long and I anticipate that it will take me two months to finish. I’ve read six chapters so far. If I read a chapter a day (excluding Sundays) I’ll finish on November 1.

I’ve wanted to read The Tale of Genji for a while now. It’s generally considered the first novel, and it was written by a Japanese woman. I think that’s pretty cool.

I’m not that into the story so far, but I think I’ll stick it out. It will probably end up being one of those books I read just so I can say I did, but who knows? Maybe the story will end up being great (I doubt that, but there’s always hope until the book is done).

That’s my big reading goal for the next two months. Also in September, I’m loosely challenging myself to clear some space on my shelves (aka tackle all those Read It or Get Rid of It books). I bought far too many books last month. There is just physically no space for these books, so some have to go. To make sure the problem doesn’t get any worse, I’m going on a 30-day book buying ban. I’m doing well so far. The keys are to remove all buying temptation and to go to the library a lot.

Seconds by Bryan Lee O’Malley

After a lot of duds this week, let’s talk about something good: Seconds.

I really like Bryan Lee O’Malley. I was lukewarm about Lost at Sea, but it was his first work. He was young. I’ll forgive him. Because Scott Pilgrim is good (I’m obsessed with the film), and Seconds is great.

As much as I love Scott Pilgrim, it didn’t escape my notice (or anyone else’s) that it’s pretty white. Somehow (through the internet) O’Malley received word that people were unhappy with the whiteness. He responded in probably the best way ever. He acknowledged that Scott Pilgrim is really white and vowed to do better. Seconds is his follow through.

And it’s really good. The comic is in color, so there are actual skin tones (vs various shades of grey). By far my favorite character is Hazel. She’s a secondary (dark skinned) character who is so damn cute and has great style and I dare anyone to not fall in love with her weirdness.

The story is also good. I found Katie incredibly relatable. Even with all the magic realism weaving through the story, Katie is so rounded out that it works.

After reading Lost at Sea last month, I appreciate how far O’Malley’s come, and I look forward to seeing where he goes.

Let’s Get Lost by Adi Alsaid

I started this book with no expectations. I knew going in that it was about an MPDG (manic pixie dream girl) and a road trip and I fully expected the whole book to be a cliche. I wasn’t that wrong.

I’m going to start this review by giving my thoughts on the book as a whole and then moving into specifics of each section. Expect some light spoilers ahead.

Overall I think Alsaid is a good writer, but I didn’t like the story he was telling. Also, he could be a better writer. There were times where I wondered if I had missed something. Sometimes a detail was slipped in so quickly I didn’t notice it, other times parts were just missing (from things as small as ‘where did that soda come from?’ to as big as ‘when did Leila tell Sonia about the Norther Lights?’).

The story was also surprisingly white.* Not surprising for an MPDG story (those are almost exclusively white), but surprising for a book that shows up on so many Diversity in YA lists. There’s one character who is described as not white, but everyone else was white. There were also too many white people with dreadlocks for me (note: ANY white people with dreadlocks is too many). I was a little surprised. I hope the narrative would be more diverse. I wasn’t expecting anything, but it would have been nice to see.

Hudson

I found Hudson’s section the easiest to read. I knew what I was in for and the story played out just as I thought it would. I wasn’t bothered by the love at first sight because of course the SMWG (sad mopey white guy) falls in love with the MPDG the second he sees her.

This section has a slight twist at the end, but even that ended up playing into the whole MPDG narrative (MPDG showing SMWG how he should be living his life).

Bree

Bree’s section marked a strange shift in the story for me. Leila was no longer the most manic character. Bree’s personality seemed to take over and Leila became boring (not that she was super interesting when she was with Hudson). It felt like a misstep as I was reading, but I got through this section.

Elliot

Elliot’s story was so boring I skimmed about three chapters and then quit. I just skipped the rest.

If I want the plot of a teen movie, I watch a teen movie. I don’t need to read about two characters talking about teen movies.

Interestingly, I thought Elliot’s plotline was one of the more believable ones (skipping all the medical stuff at the beginning with by the way is pretty graphic and why I skimmed the part I did read) but there was nothing captivating about it.

Sonia

Sonia’s storyline was the most unbelievable.

BIG SPOILERS (because I need to get this out of my system)

Why didn’t she just call someone from the wedding to drive down to the border and pick up the wedding rings? Why? That would be a thousand times easier than what she ends up doing. And I didn’t get the sense that she was planning on going to the wedding. In fact, it felt ridiculous that Martha thought she’d only had a bad night’s sleep when she saw Sonia in the lobby (I mean, she had foliage in her hair for crying out loud).

END OF SPOILERS

Despite the unbelievability, Sonia’s story managed to suck me back into the book. It was interesting enough that I kept reading, even as I was shaking my head at how foolish Sonia was being.

Leila

This section also kept me reading. I was interested to see how Leila’s section would go. After finishing the book I really don’t understand why Alsaid didn’t start with Leila’s perspective (and why he didn’t tell the whole story from her perspective). If he had just made Leila the narrator, he might have avoided the whole MPDG thing. As it is, Leila’s section is too little too late. And I don’t buy for one second her romantic feelings for Hudson.

I excused Hudson’s love at first sight for Leila as being part of the MPDG storyline. But Leila’s love for Hudson makes no sense. If I had enjoyed the book up to that point, that would have ruined it for me.

Wrap Up

All in all, curiosity made me pick this book up. Let’s Get Lost is like a less offensive (better written) John Green novel. If that’s your thing, it might be worth a look. But if you never pick up Let’s Get Lost you’re not missing out on much.

*Also very heteronormative.

Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins

This book was a disappointment. A pretty big one. I don’t track too many release dates, but I was pretty excited for Isla, and it let me down in a big way. I’ve already ranted about it on booklikes. This will be a (hopefully) more coherent review with light spoilers.

Stephanie Perkins has only written two (now three) books. I really enjoyed Anna and the French Kiss but felt only lukewarm about Lola and the Boy Next Door. Still, when I heard Isla would involve characters from Anna, I got pretty excited.

After I read Anna I said I would read a book about any of the secondary characters. I was wrong. I really wanted to read a book about Rashmi (not Josh, ugh). Even after I learned Isla would center around Josh, I was still looking forward to it. I placed a hold and it’s the first book I started in September (after my self-imposed August challenge to read only books I own that I’ve never read before).

I quit after 100 pages.

Isla is incredibly unlikeable. I’m all for unlikeable characters, but Isla took it to the point that the book became unreadable. Her actions at the beginning come of as super stalker-ish. For me, there was nothing redeeming about her. I mean, she’s the YA cliche. You know the girl who’s just so different from her peers because she’s shy or something (and you only know she’s shy because she tells you once a chapter). At one point Isla says that she’s not a privileged as her classmates because she’s not popular. Someone needs to tell her that class (money, not high school grade) and popularity aren’t the same thing.*

On top of that, all the characters are flat. I was really surprised because the characters are definitely the best part of Anna (and possibly Lola). Perkins plots are nothing to write home about, but the characters carry the story, making it believable and enjoyable. Isla was neither of those things.

My last complaint (I seem to be alone in this) is about Kurt and his representation. First of all, Perkins uses an ableist slur against Kurt BEFORE the audience knows he has Asperger’s. This felt really not OK to me. If I were more sensitive to ableist slurs (she uses the r-word if you’re curious), I would have quit reading. There’s no context for it, so it feels gratuitous.

The slur makes more sense once the audience learns that Kurt is autistic, but how hard would it have been to reverse those two events? Not very. I think Perkins was trying for the whole, Kurt has autism but it doesn’t define him thing by withholding the information for so long, but she held out too long. The audience needs that information sooner to make sense of the ableist slur.

Also why does Isla take over explaining Kurt’s autism? I wish Perkins had let him explain it himself.** I didn’t like how Isla refers to Kurt as “high functioning” no matter what the DSM-V says. I haven’t found any autistic readers who have reviewed the book (if any one out there has reviewed the book, please let me know what you thought of the representation in it), so I’m not sure if I’m way off base here. But I’m pretty sure that 1. the DSM isn’t the end all be all in autism diagnosis/information (in fact, a lot of people are really unhappy with the way autism/Asperger’s has been reclassified in the newest revision) and 2. “high functioning” is considered an ableist term. So it was pretty disappointing to see all that information being thrown around in regards to Kurt.

Stephanie Perkins books have gotten steadily worse for me. I thought Lola might have been the sophomore slump, but it seems to be the beginning of the descent. Skip Isla, and read just Anna and the French Kiss if you have an overwhelming desire to read something by Stephanie Perkins.

*Isla’s refusal to use Rashmi’s name also annoyed me to no end. I’m almost 100% certain she would have known Josh’s girlfriend’s name, seeing how she knew Etienne when they met.

**It very much reminded me of Tides. All the racism is filtered through the (white) MC rather than through his sister (whom all the racism is directed towards). This is becoming a pet peeve of mine. Instead of having the privileged represent this issues, let the actual people being affected have these moments in the story.

Lost at Sea by Bryan Lee O’Malley: a mini review

Summary: Raleigh doesn’t have a soul. A cat stole it – or at least that’s what she tells people – or at least that’s what she would tell people if she told people anything. But that would mean talking to people, and the mere thought of social interaction is terrifying. How did such a shy teenage girl end up in a car with three of her hooligan classmates on a cross-country road trip? Being forced to interact with kids her own age is a new and alarming proposition for Raleigh, but maybe it’s just what she needs – or maybe it can help her find what she needs – or maybe it can help her to realize that what she needs has been with her all along.

I wish I had read this book as a teenager. I think if I had that emotional connection and some nostalgia associated with it, I would love it. But I read this as an adult.

I really enjoyed seeing how far O’Malley has come with his work though. I read Seconds earlier this month and thought it was fantastic. If he continues to grow like he has over the past decade I will read anything he writes.

Lost at Sea felt like it was trying too hard. A lot of the book is Raleigh reflecting on her life and her situation, and it might have resonated with me when I was a teenager (my most pretentious self). But I just found a lot of her thoughts too vague and insipid.

There are parts of the story that are interesting, and it’s very short, so if you like O’Malley’s work it’s not a complete waste of time to check it out.

About PoC

PoC (people of color) is a term I use a lot on my blog. It can be a confusing term, so I thought I’d share some information about it.

One of my biggest internet* pet peeves is when white people try to define or reject the term PoC. As a white person, no one cares what you think of the term. No one cares that you don’t like it. No one cares how you think it should be used. It’s not for you, and you have no business butting into the conversation.

Now that’s out of the way, there are specific ways PoC should and should not be used.

Mikael at Owning My Truth has written a good two step guide for how NOT to use PoC. Read it here.

If you don’t want to click through I’ll sum up his post: 1. PoC is a Western term so only use it when talking about Western civilization and 2. PoC is a term of solidarity so don’t use it when talking about specific marginalized groups (eg Ferguson is not a PoC issue. It’s a black issue).

I would also like to add that PoC is a political term that people of color are free to reject. For example, some American Indians reject the term and prefer to be identified as citizens of sovereign tribal nations.

Confused yet? Don’t worry, I get confused over the term sometimes, too. If you’re ever in doubt about when to use PoC, just specify who you’re talking about instead.

Bonus:

Here’s a video of Loretta Ross explaining how the term women of color was coined (it’s unclear whether people of color was in common use when this happened, or if this movement coined that term also):

*This happened to me once in real life also. I told a guy I was only reading books by authors of color or with characters of color and he said to me, “I’m a color.” Um, no, white dude, you aren’t.