Discussion · review · Review Copy

The Nonexistent Knight by Italo Calvino

Nonexistent Knight

Paperback, 144 pages
Published August 15th 2017 by Mariner Books
Source: Raincoast Books

I have been a fan of Calvino’s ever since I read his If On a Winter’s Night, A Traveler but I have never had the chance to actually give much time to his other titles. Mariner Books recently repackaged and released his older titles in this sparse minimalist style that I adore.

The Nonexistent Knight is about…well, a nonexistent knight. If you are Calvino, you can write about nonexistent knights and very well at that. The story is told from the viewpoint of an initiate nun in an obscure order. The nun is very much a character in this novella and brings her own experiences to the tale she is telling.

Calvino makes use of a dizzying array of techniques to tell the story of this nonexistent knight who is bound in the armor he wears and by his habits. Not gonna lie, I was uncomfortable by the fact that the villains in this book, the enemies of the Christians were the Muslims but Calvino didn’t focus on painting any group any shade of black. Calvino looks at war and the stiff, unyielding, set of rules is often made to seem ridiculous especially when juxtaposed by the reality of a thing. For example, the romance of the armor is depleted when the person inside the armor is only too dismally human with human failings and flaws. Or when the chivalry of a knight is for naught when the damsel he is rescuing would much rather not be rescued.

All in all, Calvino’s The Nonexistent Knight is not a book you can speed through but it is something you savour in sips and dips, appreciating his wordsmithery and the way he tells a tale.

Discussion · Roundups

August Wrap Up

Another month has zoomed on by and I am left befuddled at the speedy pace the year assumes during its latter months. I have zero expectations that September will go by any slower. But hey, at least we’ll be done with the heat so that’s a good thing, right? I do so love autumn.

Anyway, I read 23 books in August. A lot less than in July but these were all substantial and weightier than the pbs and graphic novels consumed in the previous month. Here’s a list:

  1. salt. – Nayyirah Waheed
  2. Rebel Seoul – Axie Oh
  3. One Hundred Shadows – Hwang Jungeun
  4. A Play of Shadow – Julie E. Czernada
  5. Words in the Deep Blue – Cath Crowley
  6. Maisie Dobbs – Jacqueline Winspear
  7. Shade, the Changing Girl – Cecil Castellucci
  8. Art of the Street: Rio de Janaeiro – Andy Cantillion
  9. Spellbook of the Lost and Found – Moira Fowley-Doyle
  10. The Princess Saves Herself in this One – Amanda Lovelace
  11. My Life with Bob – Pamela Paul
  12. An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors – Curtis Craddock
  13. Sarabella’s Thinking Cap – Judy Chachner
  14. Brother’s Ruin – Emma Newman
  15. Warcross – Marie Lu
  16. The Masked City – Genevieve Cogman
  17. Maya Lin – Susan Rubin
  18. The Burning Page – Genevieve Cogman
  19. Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls – Elena Favilli
  20. Gone – Min Kym
  21. How to Make Friends with a Ghost – Rebecca Green
  22. The House of Binding Thorns – Aliette de Bodard
  23. The Nonexistent Knight – Italo Calvino
Discussion · memoir · Nonfiction · review · Review Copy

My Life with Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues by Pamela Paul

My Life With Bob

Hardcover, 256 pages
Published June 13th 2017 by Henry Holt and Co.
Source: Raincoast Books

When I was ten years old, my mother handed me an empty notebook and told me to write down the titles of all the books I read. Twenty three years later, I have moved to tracking my reading on Goodreads but I have two or three notebooks filled with simply the titles of the books I read when I was younger.

Pamela Paul’s Bob, her Book of Books is a similar thing only she was much smarter than me and noted down not just the titles but the authors and perhaps what she felt about the books she read. Now as she looks at the titles she has recorded in her Bob and the notes accompanying it, she can construct for herself the time she spent reading this book, what she going through while reading this book, and what she got out of this book. For instance, she remembers her travels in Southeast Asia by remembering the books she read while there. Sometimes she constructed her entire experience of a place by the book she was reading at the time which is certainly problematic but at the same time, understandable.

Her memoir will appeal to all bibliophiles who are in constant search for their people. You know, people who look forward to book release days, who cannot pass a bookstore without going in and browsing, who talk about books they are currently reading and plan to read. Those kinds of people.

Paul’s writing is sympathetic and I could relate to her intense love for books.  However, I must point out that unlike Paul asserts in her book that “every girl who aspired to become a writer fancied herself as strong and independent Jo,” I never did. In fact, The Little Women rang a bit too saccharine for my tastes.

I was also amused by the almost sheepish way in which Paul confesses in one of the latter chapters that kidlit was a source of great pleasure for her. As someone who specializes in children’s lit, both academically and creatively, I am entertained when people who have spent their lives reading literary fiction discover the wonder of it and feel guilty for liking it.

Anyway, My Life with Bob was fun reading. Like any bibliophile worth her salt will know, going into other people’s houses is only wonderful for the peeks you can take at their bookshelves, reading Pamela Paul’s memoir was like taking an extended look at someone’s personal bookshelf. She should read more diverse kidlit though.

I do recommend the memoir, especially for other bibliophiles who will take pleasure in reading a book about books.

Discussion · Japanese Literature · review · Review Copy

Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami

Men Without Women

Hardcover, 224 pages
Published May 9th 2017 by Doubleday Canada
Source: Publisher

There’s something about the way Murakami tells a story. I know I have whined on occasion about his habit of detail, his fascination with cats and ears, and the way his characters always seem to be stir-frying vegetables or making pasta but there’s something about the way he tells a story that not many people do. I don’t know if it’s because they are emotionally resonant even when the protagonist is strange in a much stranger world or because there’s an honesty, a truth, inherent in his fiction but I am unable to resist his books.

By his own admission, Murakami prefers writing short stories to novels and my goodness, he is a master of them. His stories in Men Without Women are all excellent but I have my faves. The one about the guy who, after discovering his wife red-handed with a lover, opens up a bar and runs into supernatural stuff and the one about the actor whose wife has died and he has to adapt to a new female driver are two of the stories that linger with me.

Murakami knows how to build tension, keep the pace, and most importantly, how to end the story. Many writers either end a story too soon or too late. Murakami sometimes leaves the reader gasping for more and surprised there isn’t because he couldn’t leave the story there, could he? And he can and has.

I have read a lot of Murakami books (only two remain before I’ll be done with all that have been released in English) and I can say with the authority this has earned me that Men Without Women is one of his finest works. I recommend it.

Discussion

July Wrap Up

THE YEAR IS GOING BY TOO FAST! Make it stoooop. I’m kidding, don’t. You’ll break the universe trying. And Trump is doing that fine on his own. Sigh.

Anyway, July was a tough month for reasons I don’t get into so I read quite a bit. Like many other people, I use fiction to escape reality and it works darned well for me.

I read 42 books which feels like a lot but isn’t really when you consider the number of picturebooks and graphic novels I read.

The books I read in July are:

  1. A Conjuring of Light – V. E. Schwab
  2. The Library of Fates – Aditi Khorana
  3. There is a Bird on Your Head – Mo Willems
  4. Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late – Mo Willems
  5. The Duckling Gets a Cookie – Mo Willems
  6. The Pigeon Needs a Bath – Mo Willems
  7. Beautiful – Stacy McAnulty
  8. Want – Cindy Pon
  9. The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart – Stephanie Burgis
  10. Shadow Girl – Liana Lu
  11. I Believe in a Thing Called Love – Maurene Goo
  12. A Most Extraordinary Pursuit – Juliana Gray
  13. Otherworld Barbara – Moto Hagio
  14. Goldfish Ghost – Lemony Snicket
  15. Nothing Rhymes with Orange – Adam Rex
  16. A Place to Read – Leigh Hodgkinson
  17. The Curse of Einstein’s Pencil – Deborah Zemke
  18. Crash – Nancy E. Krulik
  19. Octo-Man and the Headless Monster – Jane Kelley
  20. Bronze Gods – A. A. Aguirre
  21. One Fell Sweep – Ilona Andrews
  22. Flora and the Ostrich – Molly Idle
  23. Nightlights – Lorena Alvarez Gomez
  24. The Trials of Morrigon Crow – Jessica Townsend
  25. Thornhill – Pam Smy
  26. Edwina, the Dinosaur Who Didn’t Know She Was Extinct – Mo Willems
  27. Leonardo the Terrible Monster – Mo Willems
  28. We Are in a Book – Mo Willems
  29. Climbing the Mango Trees – Madhur Jaffrey
  30. Waiting Is Not Easy – Mo Willems
  31. Where Are the Words – Jodi McMay
  32. The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There – Catherynne M. Valente
  33. Spymaster – Margaret Weis
  34. A Study of Scarlet Women – Sherry Thomas
  35. Sleep Tight, Charlie – Michael Escoffier
  36. A Pattern for Pepper – Julie Kraulis
  37. The Mother of All Questions – Rebecca Solnit
  38. Trust No Aunty – Maria Qamar
  39. The Beach At Night – Elena Ferrante
  40. Hello Goodbye Dog – Maria Gianferrari
  41. Moshi Moshi – Banana Yoshimoto
  42. The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two – Catherynne M. Valente
Discussion · Nonfiction · review · Review Copy

Trust No Aunty by Maria Qamar

Trust No Aunty

Hardcover, 176 pages
Expected publication: August 1st 2017 by Touchstone Books
Source: Publisher

This might possibly be one of those books that bring about a jolt of recognition in some people and utter bafflement in others. Luckily I belong to the former group which means the Aunties in this book are more than familiar to me.

I first got to know about Maria Qamar on Instagram where she is known as Hate Copy (@hatecopy). Her comics are out of this world funny especially if you are familiar with old Bollywood/current Bollywood style and the melodrama associated with it.

When I found out that she has a book coming out, I was quite excited because it meant owning these comics in physical form and I can never have enough of that (stay tuned for some sample images) but the book is more than a collection of comics. It is also a how to…hm, it is sort of an elaborated advice column with a lot of humour, art, and ghee in it.

Now an Aunty is not solely a desi phenomenon because I’m sure my Asian friends will find the one aunt/lady you might be related to but not always familiar in their own families. And don’t get this book wrong, it’s making fun of these aunties but there’s no malice in it. Aunties are a loved part of our culture.

Qamar shares her experiences and gives tips on how to avoid or handle the more insufferable aunts and shares recipes that have tided her over the more lean periods of her life. More importantly, Qamar talks about some more important things like cultural appropriation and forging out a less-walked path on your own.

And of course, there are the hilarious comics:

HC1

HC2

HC3

HC4

And my fave:

HC5

Discussion · review · Review Copy

Teng’s Review: Rich People Problems (Crazy Rich Asians #3) by Kevin Kwan

Teng is my very best friend and you can find more of her posts here.

Crazy

Hardcover, 384 pages
Published May 23rd 2017 by Doubleday
Source: Publisher

Soon after I heard that Kevin Kwan will be publishing his third book in the Crazy Rich Asian series, Rich People Problems, I have been diligently stalking my local library to see if I can get my hands on a copy. Fortunately, Nafiza, with her book magic, procured me a copy, so that I do not need to obsessively hit refresh to see if the waiting list at the library has been updated.

I have read all three books in the Crazy Rich Asian series, and Rich People Problems is a great finale that neatly ties up all the loose ends and brings the story to a very wholesome close. Granted, I would love for the book to be longer, or for Kwan to just keep writing. But I can say that I am happy with the way things ended.

Like the previous two books, Rich People Problems is outrageously funny, deliciously gossipy, and I have yet to read a book that name and label drop with such class and sass. Rich People Problems is worth reading just for the laughs.

As an Asian, Taiwanese to be exact, I adore this book and this series not just for the laughs but also for giving the world a glimpse at very typical Asian culture and family drama. Kwan seems to emphasize on this point as well, that he is, in a way, modernizing or making Asian culture more palatable for Western readers. For Asian readers, like me, I think it is safe to say that we relate to a lot of the issues and storylines used in the book. Ok, I do not have even 1/10000 of the wealth of some of the characters in the book, and honestly, the world Kwan has created is like reading about Narnia and knowing that it is real(Yes, people like the characters in the book are definitely real. The stories I can tell). But the dialogue between Nick Young and his mother, and the relatives conversation about grandmother’s health are very, very familiar.

This is slightly spoilerish, but in the book, Kwan includes a “ten-point social placement scanner,” where he explains how one Asian evaluates another in terms of social status and wealth. The ten points read very privileged, and very few people can probably make it through all ten stages and score a decent result at the end, but dear lord, I understand it. One part that really resonated with me is actually the first point of the ten-point plan that considers what kind of Asian is the individual being evaluated? I know that to others, all Asians look the same, if not similar. But to us Asians, we have clearly drawn lines in the sand between each group and sub-group of Asians, we are clearly aware of the boundaries, and damnit, we are not one of the other Asian that you think we are! On a slightly vain note, as a Canadian Asian from Vancouver, apparently I score about middle in Kwan’s order of importance of different kinds of Asians. I think Kwan’s ordering is quite accurate, and I am, dare I say, proud, that I scored higher than the other type of Asians listed behind my group on the list?  I know it is discriminatory to say one type of Asian is just better than the other, but this way of evaluating other Asians does feel very prevalent in Asian communities, and affects the way we interact with each other.

Speaking of discrimination, I really like that Kwan addresses some of the prejudicial views held by the older characters in his story. Some of the prejudicial views mentioned in the book about parents’ expectation of children, money, mental health and others do exist in Asian populations, and I have heard them. Kwan explains the prejudicial views as because the older characters have held these biases for so long and with their wealth and age, their biased views become the right view in their minds.  This does not necessarily excuse the biases, but I think Asian readers will relate to Kwan’s explanation. Respecting our elders is a core value in Asian culture and in my family too. Oh, it drives us, the younger generations, absolutely bonkers sometimes, but in the end, we respect our elders wishes. Even if it means we stress eat alarming amounts of sweets…and crispy, crunchy deep-fried food.

I highly recommend this book. It is highly entertaining and gossipy, a wonderful glimpse into Asian culture for some, and it is so comforting and relatable for others. Also, I would urge you to read this with some authentic Singaporean food close at hand. Reading this already drove me to visit a Malaysian restaurant, and the book just made me hunger for more Singaporean food.

Have you read Crazy Rich Asians? Are you excited to see the movie adaptation with an all-Asian cast? They just wrapped productions last month! @kevinkwanbooks