What LC Read: Vol. 17 (Christianity, Immigration, Love, & More)

Wednesday, July 24, 2019 San Francisco, CA, USA



Volume 17 features snippets of an eclectic few weeks: from the last vestiges of a Chinese American fiction binge to tentative, hopeful explorations of Christianity to a side research project on love to one very, very terrible memoir. Happy reading!

The Book of Essie by Meghan MacLean Weir
The Book of Essie | Meghan MacLean Weir
Notes: This was pitched as a searing critique of our obsession with drama/reality TV - or, from a more evangelical perspective, our tendency to project judgment, to throw stones. If that were the premise though, I wish the book had been sharper, more cleverly written, more abrasive. There were of course dark elements (abuse, sexual assault), but the book overall felt a bit shallow and timid. Not a difficult read though, so worth trying if the synopsis sounds interesting!
Synopsis: A debut novel of family, fame, and religion that tells the emotionally stirring, wildly captivating story of the seventeen-year-old daughter of an evangelical preacher, star of the family's hit reality show, and the secret pregnancy that threatens to blow their entire world apart.
Esther Ann Hicks--Essie--is the youngest child on Six for Hicks, a reality television phenomenon. She's grown up in the spotlight, both idolized and despised for her family's fire-and-brimstone brand of faith. When Essie's mother, Celia, discovers that Essie is pregnant, she arranges an emergency meeting with the show's producers: Do they sneak Essie out of the country for an abortion? Do they pass the child off as Celia's? Or do they try to arrange a marriage--and a ratings-blockbuster wedding? Meanwhile, Essie is quietly pairing herself up with Roarke Richards, a senior at her school with a secret of his own to protect. As the newly formed couple attempt to sell their fabricated love story to the media--through exclusive interviews with an infamously conservative reporter named Liberty Bell--Essie finds she has questions of her own: What was the real reason for her older sister leaving home? Who can she trust with the truth about her family? And how much is she willing to sacrifice to win her own freedom?



The Year She Left Us by Kathryn Ma
The Year She Left Us | Kathryn Ma
Note: I loved her short stories collection (from What LC Read: Vol. 16), but this book felt so flat and frumpy. Was barely motivated to finish it.
Synopsis: From the winner of the 2009 Iowa Short Fiction Prize—comes the extraordinary, unexpected debut tale of three generations of Chinese-American women in a San Francisco family who must confront their past and carve out a future.
The Kong women are in crisis. A disastrous trip to visit her "home" orphanage in China has plunged eighteen-year-old Ari into a self-destructive spiral. Her adoptive mother, Charlie, a lawyer with a great heart, is desperate to keep her daughter safe. Meanwhile, Charlie must endure the prickly scrutiny of her beautiful, Bryn Mawr educated mother, Gran—who, as the daughter of a cultured Chinese doctor, came to America to survive Mao's Revolution—and her sister, Les, a brilliant judge with a penchant to rule over everyone's lives.
As they cope with Ari's journey of discovery and its aftermath, the Kong women will come face to face with the truths of their lives—four powerful intertwining stories of accomplishment, tenacity, secrets, loneliness, and love. Beautifully illuminating the bonds of family and blood, The Year She Left Usexplores the promise and pain of adoption, the price of assimilation and achievement, the debt we owe to others, and what we owe ourselves.




Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis


Mere Christianity | C.S. Lewis
Note: I read this as part of my faith journey and it's so good. I've struggled a lot with Christianity my entire life, and though I'm not nearly qualified or ready to testify about this yet, I felt like this book was such an intellectual, convincing response to my doubt. Below, a passage that is much more revealing than the synopsis:
We may, indeed, be sure that perfect chastity - like perfect charity - will not be attained by any merely human efforts. You must ask for God's help. Even when you have done so, it may seem to you for a long time that no help, or less help than you need, is being given. Never mind. After each failure, ask forgiveness, pick yourself up, and try again. Very often what God first helps us towards is not the virtue itself but just this power of always trying again. For however important chastity (or courage, or truthfulness, or any other virtue) maybe, this process trains us in habits of the soul which are far more important still. It cures our illusions about ourselves and teaches us to depend on God. We learn, on the one hand, that we cannot trust ourselves even in our best moments, and, on the other, that we need not despair even in our worst, for our failures are forgiven. The only fatal thing is to sit down content with anything less than perfection. 




The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis
The Four Loves | C.S. Lewis
Notes: Part of something I'm researching/working on about love (that literally nobody asked for), so will share thoughts/notes later.
Synopsis: C.S. Lewis—the great British writer, scholar, lay theologian, broadcaster, Christian apologist, and bestselling author of Mere Christianity, The Screwtape Letters, The Great Divorce, The Chronicles of Narnia, and many other beloved classics—contemplates the essence of love and how it works in our daily lives in one of his most famous works of nonfiction. Lewis examines four varieties of human love: affection, the most basic form; friendship, the rarest and perhaps most insightful; Eros, passionate love; charity, the greatest and least selfish. Throughout this compassionate and reasoned study, he encourages readers to open themselves to all forms of love—the key to understanding that brings us closer to God.




The Unpassing by Chia-Chia Lin

The Unpassing | Chia-Chia Lin
Note: One of my most anticipated books all year because FINALLY, a book about working-class Taiwanese Americans! To be honest, I don't think this is the sort of book that I would pick up were it not for the Taiwanese-ness of it; I think my biggest disappointment then was that, of no fault of the author, it didn't feel Tai enough, which is an unreasonable expectation I have of any novel with "Taiwanese" in the synopsis.
Synopsis: In Chia-Chia Lin’s debut novel, The Unpassing, we meet a Taiwanese immigrant family of six struggling to make ends meet on the outskirts of Anchorage, Alaska. The father, hardworking but beaten down, is employed as a plumber and repairman, while the mother, a loving, strong-willed, and unpredictably emotional matriarch, holds the house together. When ten-year-old Gavin contracts meningitis at school, he falls into a deep, nearly fatal coma. He wakes up a week later to learn that his little sister Ruby was infected, too. She did not survive.
Routine takes over for the grieving family: the siblings care for each other as they befriend a neighboring family and explore the woods; distance grows between the parents as they deal with their loss separately. But things spiral when the father, increasingly guilt ridden after Ruby’s death, is sued for not properly installing a septic tank, which results in grave harm to a little boy. In the ensuing chaos, what really happened to Ruby finally emerges.
With flowing prose that evokes the terrifying beauty of the Alaskan wilderness, Lin explores the fallout after the loss of a child and the way in which a family is forced to grieve in a place that doesn’t yet feel like home. Emotionally raw and subtly suspenseful, The Unpassing is a deeply felt family saga that dismisses the American dream for a harsher, but ultimately more profound, reality.




Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer by Novella Carpenter

Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer | Novella Carpenter
Note: Listen to me. Run away from this book. If you see it at the library/book store, hide it so that nobody else has to suffer through the conceit and savior complex of this terrible memoir.
Synopsis: Novella Carpenter loves cities-the culture, the crowds, the energy. At the same time, she can't shake the fact that she is the daughter of two back-to-the-land hippies who taught her to love nature and eat vegetables. Ambivalent about repeating her parents' disastrous mistakes, yet drawn to the idea of backyard self-sufficiency, Carpenter decided that it might be possible to have it both ways: a homegrown vegetable plot as well as museums, bars, concerts, and a twenty-four-hour convenience mart mere minutes away. Especially when she moved to a ramshackle house in inner city Oakland and discovered a weed-choked, garbage-strewn abandoned lot next door. She closed her eyes and pictured heirloom tomatoes, a beehive, and a chicken coop. Farm City is an unforgettably charming memoir, full of hilarious moments, fascinating farmers' tips, and a great deal of heart. It is also a moving meditation on urban life versus the natural world and what we have given up to live the way we do.




The Symposium by Plato

The Symposium | Plato
Synopsis: In the course of a lively drinking party, a group of Athenian intellectuals exchange views on eros, or desire. From their conversation emerges a series of subtle reflections on gender roles, sex in society, and the sublimation of basic human instincts. The discussion culminates in a radical challenge to conventional views by Plato's mentor, Socrates, who advocates transcendence through spiritual love. The Symposium is a deft interweaving of different viewpoints and ideas about the nature of love - as a response to beauty, a cosmic force, a motive for social action, and as a means of ethical education.




The Tenth Muse: A Novel by Catherine Chung
The Tenth Muse: A Novel | Catherine Chung
Synopsis: From childhood, Katherine knows she is different, and that her parents are not who they seem to be. But in becoming a mathematician, she must face the most human of problems—who is she? What is the cost of love, and what is the cost of ambition?
On her quest to conquer the Riemann Hypothesis, the greatest unsolved mathematical problem of her time, she turns to a theorem with a mysterious history that holds both the lock and key to her identity, and to secrets long buried during World War II in Germany. Forced to confront some of the most consequential events of the twentieth century and rethink everything she knows of herself, she strives to take her place in the world of higher mathematics and finds kinship in the stories of the women who came before her—their love of the language of numbers connecting them across generations.
In The Tenth Muse, Catherine Chung offers a gorgeous, sweeping tale about legacy, identity, and the beautiful ways the mind can make us free.





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