Mini Book Reviews: Week 11

Saturday, October 27, 2018


Holy shit, this book was so good. It is so refreshing to read Asian American literature that doesn't tether itself to generational sacrifice or duty. This book transcends ancestral suffering and instead allows Asian American characters to pursue self-actualization -- like what?! When did we get to this place? How can we stay here? Such a necessary, articulate book about race, art, and the awful pressure put upon creators who engage with both (voluntarily or not). That being said, this book broke me a little - as great books should - and I am still sad thinking about it. 
In 1988, Eric Cho, an aspiring writer, arrives at Macalester College. On his first day he meets a beautiful fledgling painter, Jessica Tsai, and another would-be novelist, the larger-than-life Joshua Yoon. Brilliant, bawdy, generous, and manipulative, Joshua alters the course of their lives, rallying them together when they face an adolescent act of racism. As adults in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the three friends reunite as the 3AC, the Asian American Artists Collective - together negotiating the demands of art, love, commerce, and idealism until another racially tinged controversy hits the headlines, this time with far greater consequences. Long after the 3AC has disbanded, Eric reflects on these events as he tries to make sense of Joshua's recent suicide.
With wit, humor, and compassion, The Collective explores the dream of becoming an artist, and questions whether the reality is worth the sacrifice.


Process: The Writing Lives of Great Authors | Sarah Stodola
I didn't enjoy this one much, but I guess I also didn't pick it up for the correct reasons. I thought it would be quick, juicy biographies of great writers (like an adult version of my favorite children's series by Kathleen Krull) but it was, as promised, literally about their writing processes. Likely because I am a mediocre and unimportant writer who has no real creative process herself, I find this obsession with "processes" strange and unproductive. Like how some people are obsessed with the routines of powerful C-suite executives, as if also checking your e-mail while doing push-ups were realistic or key to any sort of success.
Ernest Hemingway, Zadie Smith, Joan Didion, Franz Kafka, David Foster Wallace, and more. In Process, acclaimed journalist Sarah Stodola examines the creative methods of literature’s most transformative figures. Each chapter contains a mini biography of one of the world’s most lauded authors, focused solely on his or her writing process. Unlike how-to books that preach writing techniques or rules, Process puts the true methods of writers on display in their most captivating incarnation: within the context of the lives from which they sprang. Drawn from both existing material and original research and interviews, Stodola brings to light the fascinating, unique, and illuminating techniques behind these literary behemoths. 


Past Lives, Future Bodies | Kristin Chang
I am literally obsessed with Kristin Chang and have a Q&A for TaiwaneseAmerican.org with her forthcoming. But as a spoiler, her poetry is stunning, explosive, "holy shit, wow."
PAST LIVES, FUTURE BODIES is a knife-sharp and nimble examination of migration, motherhood, and the malignant legacies of racism. In this collection, family forms both a unit of survival and a framework for history, agency, and recovery. Chang undertakes a visceral exploration of the historical and unfolding paths of lineage and what it means to haunt body and country. These poems traverse not only the circularity of trauma but the promise of regeneration—what grows from violence and hatches from healing—as Chang embodies each of her ghosts and invites the specter to speak. 





The Visibles | Sara Shepard
I read this before looking it up on goodreads, and I'm so glad I did because it does not deserve its poor ratings! Sara Shepard, better-known for authoring "Pretty Little Liars," has such unexpectedly lyrical intuition. Readers expecting the straightforward plot of PLL will be disappointed because nothing terribly exciting happens for the bulk of the book. But if you've ever had to make a choice between personhood and filial duty, this is the book that will linger with you and maybe help you feel less alone. 
In a novel consumed by the uncertainties of science, the flaws of our parents, and enough loss and longing to line a highway, Sara Shepard is a penetrating chronicler of the adolescence we all carry into adulthood: how what happens to you as a kid never leaves you, how the fallibility of your parents can make you stronger, and how being right isn't as important as being wise. From the backwoods of Pennsylvania to the brownstones of Brooklyn Heights, "The Visibles" investigates the secrets of the past, and the hidden corners of our own hearts, to find out whether real happiness is a gift or a choice.


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