What LC Read: Vol.14

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

An Excess Male: A Novel | Maggie Shen King 
Note:  I think An Excess Male's greatest strength is fantastic character development. There is a really shitty kid in it, and I think reading this was more effective birth control than sex education ever was. I've been really into "dystopic" Chinese sci-fi lately because they never feel like exaggerations of future possibilities. 

Under the One Child Policy, everyone plotted to have a son. 
Now 40 million of them can't find wives. China’s One Child Policy and its cultural preference for male heirs have created a society overrun by 40 million unmarriageable men. By the year 2030, more than twenty-five percent of men in their late thirties will not have a family of their own. An Excess Male is one such leftover man’s quest for love and family under a State that seeks to glorify its past mistakes and impose order through authoritatian measures, reinvigorated Communist ideals, and social engineering.Wei-guo holds fast to the belief that as long as he continues to improve himself, his small business, and in turn, his country, his chance at love will come. He finally saves up the dowry required to enter matchmaking talks at the lowest rung as a third husband—the maximum allowed by law. Only a single family—one harboring an illegal spouse—shows interest, yet with May-ling and her two husbands, Wei-guo feels seen, heard, and connected to like never before. But everyone and everything—walls, streetlights, garbage cans—are listening, and men, excess or not, are dispensable to the State. Wei-guo must reach a new understanding of patriotism and test the limits of his love and his resolve in order to save himself and this family he has come to hold dear.

The Three-Body Problem | Liu Cixin
Note: This was highly recommended by literally every Silicon Valley tech-bro I crossed paths with -- not to mention by Barack Obama himself --, and for good reason! It took me multiple tries to get properly into it because it's such an overwhelmingly vast novel, but if you stick with it, The Three-Body Problem is such a satisfying experience. 

The Three-Body Problem is the first chance for English-speaking readers to experience this multiple award winning phenomenon from China's most beloved science fiction author, Liu Cixin.
"Fans of hard SF will revel in this intricate and imaginative novel by one of China’s most celebrated genre writers. In 1967, physics professor Ye Zhetai is killed after he refuses to denounce the theory of relativity. His daughter, Ye Wenjie, witnesses his gruesome death.
"Shortly after, she’s falsely charged with sedition for promoting the works of environmentalist Rachel Carson, and told she can avoid punishment by working at a defense research facility involved with the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. More than 40 years later, Ye’s work becomes linked to a string of physicist suicides and a complex role-playing game involving the classic physics problem of the title.
"Liu impressively succeeds in integrating complex topics—such as the field of frontier science, which attempts to define the limits of science’s ability to know nature—without slowing down the action or sacrificing characterization. His smooth handling of the disparate plot elements cleverly sets up the second volume of the trilogy."

The Screwtape Letters | C.S. Lewis
A masterpiece of satire, this classic has entertained and enlightened readers the world over with its sly and ironic portrayal of human life from the vantage point of Screwtape, a senior tempter in the service of "Our Father Below." At once wildly comic, deadly serious, and strikingly original, C. S. Lewis gives us the correspondence of the worldly-wise old devil to his nephew Wormwood, a novice demon in charge of securing the damnation of an ordinary young man. The Screwtape Letters is the most engaging and humorous account of temptation—and triumph over it—ever written.

The Price of Admission: How America's Ruling Class Buys Its Way into Elite Colleges -- and Who Gets Left Outside the Gates | Daniel Golden
In this explosive book, the Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter Daniel Golden argues that America, the so-called land of opportunity, is rapidly becoming an aristocracy in which America’s richest families receive special access to elite higher education—enabling them to give their children even more of a head start. Based on two years of investigative reporting and hundreds of interviews with students, parents, school administrators, and admissions personnel—some of whom risked their jobs to speak to the author—The Price of Admission explodes the myth of an American meritocracy—the belief that no matter what your background, if you are smart and diligent enough, you will have access to the nation’s most elite universities. It is must reading not only for parents and students with a personal stake in college admissions, but also for those disturbed by the growing divide between ordinary and privileged Americans. 

The Expatriates | Janice Y.K. Lee
Note: If you've read or seen Big Little Lies, it has a similar vibe, except with Asian characters and set in Hong Kong. I feel pretty neutral about this one; I enjoyed reading The Expatriates, but don't feel particularly affected by it.

Mercy, a young Korean American and recent Columbia graduate, is adrift, undone by a terrible incident in her recent past. Hilary, a wealthy housewife, is haunted by her struggle to have a child, something she believes could save her foundering marriage. Meanwhile, Margaret, once a happily married mother of three, questions her maternal identity in the wake of a shattering loss. As each woman struggles with her own demons, their lives collide in ways that have irreversible consequences for them all.

Notes on the Assemblage | Juan Felipe Herrera
Note: My favorites from this collection were "And if the man with the choke-hold" (why/ does it/ blossom torches), "Borderbus" (we are everything hermana / because we come from everything), and "We Are Remarkably Loud Not Masked" (Eric garner we scribble your name sip your breath now / our breath cannot be choked off our / skin cannot be flamed totality / cannot be cut off / each wrist / each bone / cannot be chained to the abyss).

Juan Felipe Herrera, the first Latino Poet Laureate of the United States and son of Mexican immigrants, grew up in the migrant fields of California.
Exuberant and socially engaged, reflective and healing, this collection of new work from the nation's first Latino Poet Laureate is brimming with the wide-open vision and hard-won wisdom of a poet whose life and creative arc have spanned chasms of culture in an endless crossing, dreaming and back again.

Commons | Myung Mi Kim
Note: Okay, here's my ethical concern about the arts: that by abstracting awful things - like warfare, colonization, etc - in beautiful ways, we exploit their aesthetics. We poeticize trauma and oppression via empathy at best. Is it okay to write about rape via persona poetics if we are not rape victims. Are we insisting upon collective healing without personal hurt. I have a deep suspicion of third/fourth-generation Asian American poets from middle-class families who study at prestigious universities and have entire collections about ancestral trauma. MORE SOON. For now, this book is lovely.

Myung Mi Kim's Commons weighs on the most sensitive of scales the minute grains of daily life in both peace and war, registering as very few works of literature have done our common burden of being subject to history. Abstracting colonization, war, immigration, disease, and first-language loss until only sparse phrases remain, Kim takes on the anguish and displacement of those whose lives are embedded in history.

How To Be Drawn | Terrance Hayes
Note: Okay, so imagine a thunderstorm. That's Hayes' How To Be Drawn. My favorite pieces were "American Sonnet for Wanda C." (who I know knows why all those lush-boned worn-out girls are / whooping at where the moon should be) and "Elegy with Zombies for Life" (twenty years I would not have believed / my unborn child would still be here pushing a cry out of me).

In How to Be Drawn, his daring fifth collection, Terrance Hayes explores how we see and are seen. While many of these poems bear the clearest imprint yet of Hayes’s background as a visual artist, they do not strive to describe art so much as inhabit it. Thus, one poem contemplates the principle of blind contour drawing while others are inspired by maps, graphs, and assorted artists. The formal and emotional versatilities that distinguish Hayes’s award-winning poetry are unified by existential focus. Simultaneously complex and transparent, urgent and composed, How to Be Drawn is a mesmerizing achievement.

No Mud, No Lotus: The Art of Transforming Suffering | Thich Nhat Hanh
The secret to happiness is to acknowledge and transform suffering, not to run away from it. In No Mud, No Lotus, Thich Nhat Hanh offers practices and inspiration for transforming suffering and finding true joy. Thich Nhat Hanh acknowledges that because suffering can feel so bad, we try to run away from it or cover it up by consuming. We find something to eat or turn on the television. But unless we’re able to face our suffering, we can’t be present and available to life, and happiness will continue to elude us. Nhat Hanh shares how the practices of stopping, mindful breathing, and deep concentration can generate the energy of mindfulness within our daily lives. With that energy, we can embrace pain and calm it down, instantly bringing a measure of freedom and a clearer mind. No Mud, No Lotus introduces ways to be in touch with suffering without being overwhelmed by it. With his signature clarity and sense of joy, Thich Nhat Hanh helps us recognize the wonders inside us and around us that we tend to take for granted and teaches us the art of happiness.

Lighthead | Terrance Hayes
In his fourth collection, Terrance Hayes investigates how we construct experience. With one foot firmly grounded in the everyday and the other hovering in the air, his poems braid dream and reality into a poetry that is both dark and buoyant. Cultural icons as diverse as Fela Kuti, Harriet Tubman, and Wallace Stevens appear with meditations on desire and history. We see Hayes testing the line between story and song in a series of stunning poems inspired by the Pecha Kucha, a Japanese presenta­tion format. This innovative collection presents the light- headedness of a mind trying to pull against gravity and time. Fueled by an imagination that enlightens, delights, and ignites, Lighthead leaves us illuminated and scorched.

Afterland | Mai Der Vang
Afterland is a powerful, essential collection of poetry that recounts with devastating detail the Hmong exodus from Laos and the fate of thousands of refugees seeking asylum. Mai Der Vang is telling the story of her own family, and by doing so, she also provides an essential history of the Hmong culture’s ongoing resilience in exile. Many of these poems are written in the voices of those fleeing unbearable violence after U.S. forces recruited Hmong fighters in Laos in the Secret War against communism, only to abandon them after that war went awry. That history is little known or understood, but the three hundred thousand Hmong now living in the United States are living proof of its aftermath. With poems of extraordinary force and grace, Afterland holds an original place in American poetry and lands with a sense of humanity saved, of outrage, of a deep tradition broken by war and ocean but still intact, remembered, and lived.

Sông I Sing | Bao Phi
Note: Holy motherfucking shit, this book was explosively good. Bao Phi is one of the most iconic Asian American slam poets, so I feel his work is a little more accessible than lyric poetry. If you aren't really the type to enjoy poetry but have a little bit of curiosity and fire growing inside of you, I think you'll really, really enjoy this one. FUCK, it's so good. My favorite pieces were "The Nguyen Twins Find Adoration in the Poetry World," "Reverse Racism," "Called (An Open Letter to Myself)", and "Everyday People." 

“In this strong and angry work of what he calls refugeography, Bao Phi, who has been a performance poet since 1991, wrestles with immigration, class and race in America at sidewalk level. To hip-hop beats and the squeal and shriek of souped-up Celicas stalking the city streets, [Phi] rants and scowls at a culture in which Asians are invisible, but also scolds his peers ‘Bleached by color-blind lies/Buying DKNY and Calvin Klein/So our own bodies are gentrified.’ . . . In this song of his very American self, every poem Mr. Phi writes rhymes with the truth.” —New York Times 


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