What LC Read: Vol. 4

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Two nonfiction works this week, so we're chugging along nicely on my nonfiction challenge. I also realize introductions aren't necessary when we've known each other for four whole weeks, so let's dive right in. Five books in total. If you only have time for one, make it Genghis Khan or Plum Rains

Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World | Jack Weatherford
I've had an unexplained and unexplored fascination with Genghis Khan ever since I saw an exhibition recreating the Mongols' tents at the San Jose Tech Museum about a billion years ago. (In addition, my favorite pun of all time is this "Genghis Khan, not Genghis Khan't" strip.) But more importantly, Genghis Khan was interesting as fuck -- and not in the way we've been conditioned to expect. AP World textbooks described him as this ruthless barbarian -- how he conquered and established the largest land empire in history, then, is glossed over because he wasn't fancy like our golden-haired baby boy Alexander the Great.
Anybody who pretends to have read Sun Tzu's The Art of War will be blown away by Genghis' prowess and pragmatism. And finally, I know this means little to most, but Anthony would have really liked this book, and that is important to me.

Book synopsis: The name Genghis Khan often conjures the image of a relentless, bloodthirsty barbarian on horseback leading a ruthless band of nomadic warriors in the looting of the civilized world. But the surprising truth is that Genghis Khan was a visionary leader whose conquests joined backward Europe with the flourishing cultures of Asia to trigger a global awakening, an unprecedented explosion of technologies, trade, and ideas. In Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World, Jack Weatherford, the only Western scholar ever to be allowed into the Mongols’ “Great Taboo”—Genghis Khan’s homeland and forbidden burial site—tracks the astonishing story of Genghis Khan and his descendants, and their conquest and transformation of the world. 
But contrary to popular wisdom, Weatherford reveals that the Mongols were not just masters of conquest, but possessed a genius for progressive and benevolent rule. On every level and from any perspective, the scale and scope of Genghis Khan’s accomplishments challenge the limits of imagination. 

When Likes Aren't Enough | Tim Bono
Bonny-boy is a professor at my alma mater, which still doesn't really give me the right to call this esteemed psychologist Bonny-boy. But I've been thinking a lot about the exact science of happiness, especially given the many warnings that our postgraduate lives risk slipping into loneliness and anxiety. This is an easy, quick-ish read that helps you re-frame happiness (or, "happy-er-ness") as something to be pursued tactically and intentionally. Really timely and important.

Book synopsis: When a group of researchers asked young adults around the globe what their number one priority was in life, the top answer was "happiness." Not success, fame, money, looks, or love...but happiness. For a rising generation of young adults raised as digital natives in a fast-paced, ultra-connected world, authentic happiness still seems just out of reach. While social media often shows well-lit selfies and flawless digital personas, today's 16- to 25-year-olds are struggling to find real meaning, connection, and satisfaction right alongside their overburdened parents. 
When Likes Aren't Enough tackles the ever-popular subject of happiness and well-being, but reframes it for a younger reader struggling with Instagram envy and high-stakes testing, college rejections and helicopter parents. Professor of positive psychology Dr. Tim Bono distills his most popular college course on the science of happiness into creative, often counterintuitive, strategies for young adults to lead happier, more fulfilling lives. 
Filled with exciting research, practical exercises, honest advice, and quotes and stories from young adults themselves, WHEN LIKES AREN'T ENOUGH is a master class for a generation looking for science-based, real world ways to feel just a little bit happier every day.

When Life Gives You Lululemons | Lauren Weisberger
Weisberger's Devil Wears Prada and Chasing Harry Winston are my guilty pleasures on par with Vine compilations and Japanese cheesecake, second only to Sophie Kinsella's iconic Shopaholic series. They're decadent and frothy with such self-awareness that I'm tempted to classify them sin-free as anthropology textbooks. So when When Life Gives You Lululemons came across my radar, I was 100% ready. Her The Singles Game hadn't felt as monumental as her previous works (though perhaps they've inherited over time the pop culture ethos of Meryl Streep as Miranda Priestly), and When Life Gives You Lululemons felt equally underwhelming. I still enjoyed it, though. The way one enjoys Vine compilation, in a very short-term, "oh that was nice" sort of way.

Book synopsis: Welcome to Greenwich, Connecticut, where the lawns and the women are perfectly manicured, the Tito’s and sodas are extra strong, and everyone has something to say about the infamous new neighbor.
Let’s be clear: Emily Charlton does not do the suburbs. After leaving Miranda Priestly, she’s been working in Hollywood as an image consultant to the stars, but recently, Emily’s lost a few clients. She’s hopeless with social media. The new guard is nipping at her heels. She needs a big opportunity, and she needs it now.
When Karolina Hartwell, a gorgeous former supermodel, is arrested for a DUI, her fall from grace is merciless. Her senator-husband leaves her, her Beltway friends disappear, and the tabloids pounce.
In Karolina, Emily finds her comeback opportunity. But she quickly learns Greenwich is a world apart and that this comeback needs a team approach.
So it is that Emily, the scorned Karolina, and their mutual friend Miriam, a powerful attorney turned stay-at-home suburban mom, band together to not only navigate the social land mines of suburban Greenwich but win back the hearts of the American public. Along the way, an indispensable ally emerges in one Miranda Priestly.
With her signature wit, Lauren Weisberger offers an alluring look into a sexy, over-the-top world—and proves it’s style and substance together that gets the job done.

Plum Rains | Andromeda Romano-Lax
I once thought to myself in a half-lucid state, "if only there were a tremendous work of fiction pulling together everything I've ever taken an interest in: post-imperial migrant labor, Japanese colonization of indigenous Taiwanese tribes, artificial intelligence, environmental injustice, and the future of geriatric care in East Asia" and Romano-Lax must have heard me because here we have Plum Rains, the book I absolutely knew I needed but couldn't believe existed. What a beautiful tribute to Asia's storied relationships, humanity, and the infinity of science. I rated it five out of five stars, and I so rarely do that.

Book synopsis: 2029: In Japan, a historically mono-cultural nation, childbirth rates are at an all-time low and the elderly are living increasingly longer lives. This population crisis has precipitated the mass immigration of foreign medical workers from all over Asia, as well as the development of finely tuned artificial intelligence to step in where humans fall short.
In Tokyo, Angelica Navarro, a Filipina nurse who has been in Japan for the last five years, works as caretaker for Sayoko Itou, a moody, secretive woman about to turn 100 years old. One day, Sayoko receives a present: a cutting-edge robot “friend” that will teach itself to anticipate Sayoko’s every need. Angelica wonders if she is about to be forced out of her much-needed job by an inanimate object—one with a preternatural ability to uncover the most deeply buried secrets of the humans around it. Meanwhile, Sayoko becomes attached to the machine. The old woman has been hiding secrets of her own for almost a century—and she’s too old to want to keep them anymore. 
 What she reveals is a hundred-year saga of forbidden love, hidden identities, and the horrific legacy of WWII and Japanese colonialism—a confession that will tear apart her own life and Angelica’s. Is the helper robot the worst thing that could have happened to the two women—or is it forcing the changes they both desperately needed?

The Astonishing Color of After | Emily X.R. Pan
I don't ever read YA because I find it draining, but this one was wonderful. Will be interviewing Pan for TaiwaneseAmerican.org soon, so saying little about it for now. Stay tuned.

Book synopsis: Leigh Chen Sanders is absolutely certain about one thing: When her mother died by suicide, she turned into a bird.

Leigh, who is half Asian and half white, travels to Taiwan to meet her maternal grandparents for the first time. There, she is determined to find her mother, the bird. In her search, she winds up chasing after ghosts, uncovering family secrets, and forging a new relationship with her grandparents. And as she grieves, she must try to reconcile the fact that on the same day she kissed her best friend and longtime secret crush, Axel, her mother was taking her own life.
Alternating between real and magic, past and present, friendship and romance, hope and despair, The Astonishing Color of After is a novel about finding oneself through family history, art, grief, and love.

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