Vacation Reads

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.

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