Archive for August, 2008

Vacation Reads

August 28, 2008

With no internet at home its been hard for me to keep up this book blog.  I’ve been reading faster than I’ve been posting.  Here’s what I read on my vacation last week:

Desperate from some fiction novels to take with me on my vacation, I picked up While I Was Gone by Sue Miller at the Strand because it was 99 cents.  Once I started reading it I was afraid it was going to be like a middle age crisis chick lit book, but I was pleasantly surprised.  It was much more than that.  Jo, the main character, has an unconventional, tragic past that she tries to forget while she leads a normal life as a minister’s wife and mother to three daughters in her idyllic Massachusetts farm town.  But when someone from her past shows up in her town, she is forced to revisit the feelings and emotions she thought she ran away from and left far behind her.  I didn’t think Jo was all that likeable, and I think that’s why I liked this story.  She is not the perfect chick lit heroine, she’s not the perfect wife or mother.  She has flaws and she has some major issues.  I really enjoyed this story, it was not what I expected.

I finished While I Was Gone in about two days.  Up in the mountains, there’s not much else to do but read.  It’s a big crisis when I don’t have anything to read.  I get panicky.  So next up was Free Food For Millionaires by Min Jin Lee.   My Mom actually brought the book with her to read, but since she was reading something else at the time, I snagged it from her.  I found it interesting that my Mom chose to buy this book.  It is about a Korean immigrant girl from Queens named Casey who’s American ways are conflicting with her more traditional-minded parents.  She doesn’t get a finance job right after she graduations from Princeton, and this is a problem because she’s wasting away her education.  She is also dating a white guy, and this is a bigger problem. 

When I was living at home, my Mom would drop me off at the train station on her way to work.  I listened to NPR in the morning and would always have it on the car.  My mom got hooked on it, and kept the radio station on while she drove to work and back.  When she saw me reading this book, she was excited.  She told me, “Let me know how it is, it was recommend by NPR!”.  My Mom, buying books recommended by NPR!  It surprised me.  I always thought of my Mom as one of those people like that likes to appear normal, she doesn’t like politicians who are too conservative or too liberal, she has to keep up with the neighbors and doesn’t want herself or her children looking “different.”  Naturally, this led to many disagreements between us.  But now she is reading books about poor immigrants recommend by NPR.  When I realized that Casey dates a white guy in this book, I thought that maybe she brought this book because I am a white girl who is dating a Mexican.  Maybe she is taking more of an interest in cross cultural, bi-racial relationships because of me?  I don’t know, maybe.  Or maybe not.  I gave the book back to her when I was finished.  I hope she reads it.

Anyway, the first half of this book was really good.  Really insightful, great dialogue, interesting characters in complex relationships, thought provoking and truthful.  But the second half wasn’t that great.  The story was dragged on for too long, and second half of the 600+ page novel seemed forced and then ended rather abruptly.  It felt like too different stories.  But overall, a very good, satisfying novel. 

Reading these two novels made me realize how there’s probably so much more to my Mom than she what she portrays to me and siblings.  I think she’s normal and obsessed with the status quo, but maybe she just appears that way.  Jo, of While I was Gone, seems to be two different people; she has her life as wife and mother, but she has a whole other side to her – a rebellious past that she chooses not to share with her family.  They think she is normal, but actually she is anything but normal.  So its probably not fair of me to judge my Mom like that.  I’m sure being a mom is hard and who knows how her past experiences shaped who she is today.  There’s probably a lot more to her than what she chooses to show her children.

Not About Books

August 21, 2008

I have been away in the mountains in upstate New York with the family.  My aunt and uncle built a house on the lake for themselves and now the entire family spends their vacations there.  We are a bunch of shameless free loaders.   But I love when all my extended family are together under one roof.  But this vacation I felt sad, I kept wondering how many more years we have together in this way.  Since I’ve moved out I’ve been feeling more like an adult, and this forces me to realize that my parents and my aunts and uncles are getting old.  Like, they look like old people.  And me, my siblings and cousins, we’re adults.  We are getting married and having babies and buying houses.  I had a total “oh my god I’m an adult now time is flying make it stop” moment. 

My dad is one of five boys.  When my dad and my uncles get together and talk, it’s the best thing in the world.  Between these men, they know absolutely everything.  They know how to build houses, fix plumbing, install electrical wiring, install heating and cooling systems, fix and replace boilers, how to build subways, how to drive trains and boats, how to put out fires, how to fix and rebuild cars.  They know everything about the city; can tell you the entire history of the public transportation system in Brooklyn, from trolley cars to electric buses to elevated subways.  My dad and uncles talk like no one else in the family.  Their Brooklyn accents, their language and skilled use of profanity, the way they tell stories (oh the stories, they have the best stories) and the way they laugh – I never get tired of listening to them talk.

My dad and my uncles grew up and left Brooklyn to raise their family in the suburbs to give their children what they never had, big houses with big backyards and all that, and I know they did this with the best intentions in mind.  But I wonder sometimes if they realize what was lost in moving the family away from the city.  I can’t quite put my finger on it, but something was lost.  Growing up in the city gives a person a sense of openness and honestly that comes through in the way they talk and interact with people.  And once my dad and my uncles are gone that city culture that I love is gone with them.  My siblings and my cousins and I, we are suburban kids.  We are careful and selective in what we say and how we act.  I know we are supposed to represent our family’s progress and success, but at the same time I realize that something was lost in the process.  One day I’m going sneak a voice recorder in the house to get my dad and my uncle’s voices on tape.  I cannot even imagine there will be a day when they won’t be around, when I won’t hear their big booming voices echoing through every room in the house.

Maybe this is why I wanted to move to Brooklyn.  I feel like I’m returning to the motherland.  My grandmother died in November, she lived in Brooklyn her entire life.  She was born in the same house that she lived in as adult and where she raised my dad and my uncles.  I miss her all the time.  She also represented what I love about the city, that openness and acceptance of all kinds of people. She was loving but she was honest and could crack jokes along with my uncles.  I love my little corner of Brooklyn.  It is not far from my dad’s old neighborhood.  It is not chic or gentrified or whatever you call those neighborhoods nowadays.  But everything I love about Brooklyn is here. 


A Short History of Nearly Everything

August 8, 2008

So I have finally finished A Short History of Nearly Everything.  It took me over a month to finish this book, not because it wasn’t good, but because a week and a half ago, I moved out of my parents house into my own apartment in Brooklyn.  I have been wanting to move out for a long time, and of course it happened when I was not even looking for apartments.  It is true what they say that once you stop looking, you find what you need.  Anyway, it was a crazy time.  A saw an apartment and 2 days later I signed a lease and now here I am, all grown up and living by myself.  Aside from going away to college, I have never moved before.  I have learned that moving is stressful and hard and I hope I don’t have to do it often.  I’ve also never lived by myself, without another person or any pets.  I am very aware that I’m the only soul in my apartment and that freaks me out sometimes.  My coworker rescued some newborn kittens outside the prison where she works part time, so she’s raising them and in a few more weeks they will be old enough to be adopted and I might just take one.  So things are crazy and there’s a lot of emotions going through me all at once, but overall I am happy, except for the fact that I miss my dog like crazy.  I think I’ll be happier when I get a kitten.  But only if it doesn’t turn out evil like all the cats I had when I was growing up.

So through all this turmoil I’ve been chugging through Bryson’s book.  It is a really enjoyable read but I’m happy that its finally over.  Bryson is not the most thorough science writer, this book is definitely not supposed to be scholarly or academic, but its really freaking funny and it taught me a lot.  I don’t know what I’m going to read next but it is definitely going to be fiction.  I want to post some of my favorite quotes but I don’t have the internet at my apartment yet.

Speaking of things I don’t have, I don’t have cable.  This would be fine except for the fact that I will be missing my most favorite TV program in the entire world, the Olympics.  I cannot even begin to express how much I love the Olympics and all of the wonderful melodrama that comes with it.  All of those personal stories of triumph and tragedy, the world record breakers, the photo finishes, the upset victories, I am a total sucker for all of it.  But cable TV is expensive in the city, and because there’s only one cable provider in my neighborhood, they are apparently free to jack up the prices as much as they want because we consumers don’t have a choice.  Sounds fair, right?  So because I had buy furniture and food and other necessities, cable won’t be arriving at my house for a few months.  The Olympics start today I’m totally crying on the inside.