What LC Read: Vol. 9

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Still playing with formatting and content for this series, stay tuned! I've also read many, many books in sequence that have dealt with (or been informed by) infidelity, and this makes me nervous.

1. Charlotte Walsh Likes To Win | Jo Piazza
I really like Jo Piazza books (The Knockoff, Fitness Junkie, How to Be Married)!
They're lighthearted and easy to read, while making incisive commentary about the weirdness of contemporary human behavior and relationships. Every character stands for a motif/trope recognizable in our own lives, and Piazza's writing manages to feel familiar without being stale or overdone. Charlotte Walsh Likes To Win is the political response to fashion's The Knockoff and fitness's Fitness Junkie. Some delicious side-eye at the idealism and arrogance of Silicon Valley, which I always like. You'll like the set if you like Refinery29 (I do!)
From Jo Piazza, the bestselling author of The Knock Off, How to Be Married, and Fitness Junkie, comes an exciting, insightful novel about what happens when a woman wants it all—political power, a happy marriage, and happiness—but isn’t sure just how much she’s willing to sacrifice to get it.
Charlotte Walsh is running for Senate in the most important race in the country during a midterm election that will decide the balance of power in Congress. Still reeling from a presidential election that shocked and divided the country and inspired by the chance to make a difference, she’s left behind her high-powered job in Silicon Valley and returned, with her husband Max and their three young daughters, to her downtrodden Pennsylvania hometown to run in the Rust Belt state.
A searing, suspenseful story of political ambition, marriage, class, sexual politics, and infidelity, Charlotte Walsh Likes to Win is an insightful portrait of what it takes for a woman to run for national office in America today. In a dramatic political moment like no other with more women running for office than ever before, Jo Piazza’s novel is timely, engrossing, and perfect for readers on both sides of the aisle. 

2. What We Were Promised | Lucy Tan
Very Chinese. I feel like I've read this story a dozen times: the dissonance arising from rapid industrialization and wealth. Guilt. Obligation. Disgust. Duty. I liked it, but felt zero urgency to get through it. I usually abandon books that aren't interesting after the first few chapters, but I felt compelled to push through this one, and I'm ambivalent that I did. As an aside, if you're fluent in Mandarin/any foreign language and read a book that once in a while phoneticizes that language, it can really slow you down.
After years of chasing the American dream, the Zhen family has moved back to China. Settling into a luxurious serviced apartment in Shanghai, Wei, Lina, and their daughter, Karen, join an elite community of Chinese-born, Western-educated professionals who have returned to a radically transformed city.
One morning, in the eighth tower of Lanson Suites, Lina discovers that a treasured ivory bracelet has gone missing. This incident sets off a wave of unease that ripples throughout the Zhen household. Wei, a marketing strategist, bows under the guilt of not having engaged in nobler work. Meanwhile, Lina, lonely in her new life of leisure, assumes the modern moniker taitai-a housewife who does no housework at all. She is haunted by the circumstances surrounding her arranged marriage to Wei and her lingering feelings for his brother, Qiang. Sunny, the family's housekeeper, is a keen but silent observer of these tensions. An unmarried woman trying to carve a place for herself in society, she understands the power of well-kept secrets. When Qiang reappears in Shanghai after decades on the run with a local gang, the family must finally come to terms with the past and its indelible mark on their futures.
From a silk-producing village in rural China, up the corporate ladder in suburban America, and back again to the post-Maoist nouveaux riches of modern Shanghai, What We Were Promised explores the question of what we owe to our country, our families, and ourselves.

3. The BreakBeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip Hop | edited by Coval et al.
While Rilke was THE poetic genesis for me, I lost interest in poetry for a while until an 8th grade poetry project in which I profiled a bunch of rappers and slam poets to impress the dumb ass boy I liked then. While that boy and his misguided insistence that "only underground rappers are real rappers" (ok, white boy) are inconsequential, I did find artists who are rarely visible in the traditional middle-school canon: Kanye West, Lauryn Hill, Saul Williams. I credit Def Jam poetry for reminding me that I liked poetry at all. Anthologies very rarely disappoint. This one did not.
Hip-Hop is the largest youth culture in the history of the planet rock. This is the first poetry anthology by and for the Hip-Hop generation.
It has produced generations of artists who have revolutionized their genre(s) by applying the aesthetic innovations of the culture. The BreakBeat Poets features 78 poets, born somewhere between 1961-1999, All-City and Coast-to-Coast, who are creating the next and now movement(s) in American letters.
The BreakBeat Poets is for people who love Hip-Hop, for fans of the culture, for people who've never read a poem, for people who thought poems were only something done by dead white dudes who got lost in a forest, and for poetry heads. This anthology is meant to expand the idea of who a poet is and what a poem is for.
The BreakBeat Poets are the scribes recording and remixing a fuller spectrum of experience of what it means to be alive in this moment. The BreakBeat Poets are a break with the past and an honoring of the tradition(s), an undeniable body expanding the canon for the fresher.

4. Tell the Machine Goodnight | Katie Williams
This one was promising by all accounts (dystopic/speculative fiction! artificial intelligence! positive psychology!) but I forget that I generally dislike books split into various perspectives. Multiple narrators can be exhausting when they exist in the same time and space. I really, really liked the premise -- just wish it were done differently. (Don't let that deter you though! A lot of people have been thrilled with this and it's a fascinating concept.)
Pearl's job is to make people happy. Every day, she provides customers with personalized recommendations for greater contentment. She's good at her job, her office manager tells her, successful. But how does one measure an emotion?
Meanwhile, there's Pearl's teenage son, Rhett. A sensitive kid who has forged an unconventional path through adolescence, Rhett seems to find greater satisfaction in being unhappy. The very rejection of joy is his own kind of "pursuit of happiness." As his mother, Pearl wants nothing more than to help Rhett--but is it for his sake or for hers? Certainly it would make Pearl happier. Regardless, her son is one person whose emotional life does not fall under the parameters of her job--not as happiness technician, and not as mother, either.
Told from an alternating cast of endearing characters from within Pearl and Rhett's world, Tell the Machine Goodnight delivers a smartly moving and entertaining story about relationships and the ways that they can most surprise and define us. Along the way, Katie Williams playfully illuminates our national obsession with positive psychology, our reliance on quick fixes and technology. What happens when these obsessions begin to overlap? With warmth, humor, and a clever touch, Williams taps into our collective unease about the modern world and allows us see it a little more clearly.

5. The Heirs | Susan Rieger
My favorite type of fiction! Full of complex, interesting characters who say witty things that I could never ideate on the spot. I think I'm also just in love with Ivy League-educated mama's boys on principle. And there are five of them in this. A really delicious story about a dysfunctional WASP family, so basically my imagination of the Fantasy genre for obvious reasons. I really, really liked this one -- finished it overnight!
Brilliantly wrought, incisive, and stirring, The Heirs tells the story of an upper-crust Manhattan family coming undone after the death of their patriarch. Six months after Rupert Falkes dies, leaving a grieving widow and five adult sons, an unknown woman sues his estate, claiming she had two sons by him. The Falkes brothers are pitched into turmoil, at once missing their father and feeling betrayed by him.
In disconcerting contrast, their mother, Eleanor, is cool and calm, showing preternatural composure. Eleanor and Rupert had made an admirable life together -- Eleanor with her sly wit and generosity, Rupert with his ambition and English charm -- and they were proud of their handsome, talented sons: Harry, a brash law professor; Will, a savvy Hollywood agent; Sam, an astute doctor and scientific researcher; Jack, a jazz trumpet prodigy; Tom, a public-spirited federal prosecutor.
The brothers see their identity and success as inextricably tied to family loyalty - a loyalty they always believed their father shared. Struggling to reclaim their identity, the brothers find Eleanor's sympathy toward the woman and her sons confounding. Widowhood has let her cast off the rigid propriety of her stifling upbringing, and the brothers begin to question whether they knew either of their parents at all.
A riveting portrait of a family, told with compassion, insight, and wit, The Heirs wrestles with the tangled nature of inheritance and legacy for one unforgettable, patrician New York family. Moving seamlessly through a constellation of rich, arresting voices, The Heirs is a tale out Edith Wharton for the 21st century. 

6. The Vegetarian | Han Kang
I am told Han Kang is brilliant, and I believe it even if I'm too pedestrian to bear witness to this. I've read her Human Acts, described as "extraordinary poetry of humanity" (what a description to carry!), and felt underwhelmed, though I'm tempted to credit this to personal failures. I felt similarly unconvinced by The Vegetarian, which is supposed to be an allegory for South Korea -- if so, it went completely over my head. It was dark in ways that weren't quite disturbing enough (maybe I'm just fucked up), and its weirdness barely fascinating. Kang's books probably deserve a second read when I am a little wiser. I also think part of why I wasn't shocked by it is that I'm generally unfazed by how steadfastly we (Asians) clutch to social order.
Before the nightmare, Yeong-hye and her husband lived an ordinary life. But when splintering, blood-soaked images start haunting her thoughts, Yeong-hye decides to purge her mind and renounce eating meat. In a country where societal mores are strictly obeyed, Yeong-hye's decision to embrace a more “plant-like” existence is a shocking act of subversion. And as her passive rebellion manifests in ever more extreme and frightening forms, scandal, abuse, and estrangement begin to send Yeong-hye spiraling deep into the spaces of her fantasy. In a complete metamorphosis of both mind and body, her now dangerous endeavor will take Yeong-hye—impossibly, ecstatically, tragically—far from her once-known self altogether.
A disturbing, yet beautifully composed narrative told in three parts, The Vegetarian is an allegorical novel about modern day South Korea, but also a story of obsession, choice, and our faltering attempts to understand others, from one imprisoned body to another.

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