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

Discussion · review · Review Copy

The Impossible Fairy Tale by Han Yujoo, 한유주, Janet Hong (Translator)

Impossible

Paperback, 214 pages
Published March 7th 2017 by Graywolf Press
Source: Raincoast Books

This was a strange strange book. But first, the official synopsis:

The Impossible Fairy Tale is the story of two unexceptional grade-school girls. Mia is “lucky”―she is spoiled by her mother and, as she explains, her two fathers. She gloats over her exotic imported color pencils and won’t be denied a coveted sweater. Then there is the Child who, by contrast, is neither lucky nor unlucky. She makes so little impression that she seems not even to merit a name.

At school, their fellow students, whether lucky or luckless or unlucky, seem consumed by an almost murderous rage. Adults are nearly invisible, and the society the children create on their own is marked by cruelty and soul-crushing hierarchies. Then, one day, the Child sneaks into the classroom after hours and adds ominous sentences to her classmates’ notebooks. This sinister but initially inconsequential act unlocks a series of events that end in horrible violence.

But that is not the end of this eerie, unpredictable novel. A teacher, who is also this book’s author, wakes from an intense dream. When she arrives at her next class, she recognizes a student: the Child, who knows about the events of the novel’s first half, which took place years earlier. Han Yujoo’s The Impossible Fairy Tale is a fresh and terrifying exploration of the ethics of art making and of the stinging consequences of neglect.

To talk about this book with any clarity, I’m going to have to give some inevitable spoilers. I will try to avoid them if I can but I might find that I simply cannot evaluate the book without mentioning them. But we’ll see.

You should also note that it’s 3 am and I am fasting just in case this effects the tone and content of my review.

I can read and understand Korean (mostly with the help of a dictionary) so before anything else, I will say that the writing style in translation drove me absolutely nuts. I was very annoyed by the fragmentary narrative which worked in parts but got old pretty quickly because you cannot sustain the style for an entire novel–in English. I reckon that the book in its original language is wildly poetic, the repetitions make beautiful use of the Korean language and the effect is lyrical. In English, this style is, I’m sorry to say, nothing less than annoying.

Still, the style creates remarkable atmosphere and works wonderfully with the sections detailing the lives of the children and in particular the brutally sad life of the unnamed Child. However, as a writer, I cannot help but speculate how different the book would have been (in English) had the author utilized different styles in each of the two parts of the novel. The difference in the narrative styles would have delineated the adult character from the Child and given the book a more solid feel. But that’s just me as a writer.

The story itself is a bit like On a Winter’s Night, A Traveler by Italo Calvino in the way it is somewhat metaphysical in that the story is aware of itself as being a story, as being fictional. And I feel the style in the second part drowns out this important fact which would otherwise have been fascinating.

As it is, there is an  unsettling ambiguity about the Child whose name we never do find out and the adult narrator. I can’t say anymore because to do so would be giving away the story and I think the book is crunchy enough, for all its flaws, to be worthy of a reading. The Impossible Fairy Tale is eerie and reminiscent of a horror movie except a lot more intellectual in the way it approaches its story.

Discussion · Nonfiction · review · Review Copy

I’m Judging You: The Do Better Manual by Luvvie Ajayi

Judging

Paperback, 241 pages
Published November 17th 2016 by Henry Holt & Company Inc
Source: Raincoast Books

I’m thankful to Janani who is quickly becoming my source for interesting book titles. She reads wonderful books and leads me to fantastic ones. Aah, okay.

This book though, you guys. It says everything that’s in my heart and more. I hadn’t heard of Luvvie before I read this book and now I’m following her everywhere because she speaks the truth.

Talking about looks:

“Society has failed people to the point where they feel they cannot like themselves in the skin they were born in.”

SO TRUE.

And you know those people who claim they are blind to colour? Huh. For them:

“I want people to see my colour and my culture written all over me, because I’m proud of the skin I’m in. It is an important of my identity. What I don’t want them to do is mistreat me because of it.”

There’s a poignant piece where she talks about how she ended up using Luvvie as a name because people mispronounced (deliberately lazy?) her beautiful name. This is particularly relatable to me as during my first class in Canada, the teacher looked at my name and said “Napizza” like “Nafiza” is somehow difficult to pronounce or he cannot read like wtf even?

I’m STILL SALTY about this, kay? I’m Judging You has no problem calling out the people in Luvvie’s own community for their problematic ways even as it calls out the white people for their problematic ways.

I particularly loved this sharp clear observation on rape culture:

“Rape culture is the prevailing attitude that women exist primarily to please men, and therefore are not equal human beings with agency of their own bodies.”

Heck, I could quote the entire essay because that’s how much it spoke to me. I adored this book. I return to it every time I am angry and annoyed by people because chances are, Luvvie has judged them already and I can share in the not-so-silent side-eyeing. If you want to read something sharply funny, keen and piercing observations on culture and the faulty way we have constructed our societies, you should read this book.

It is brilliant. I don’t say that lightly.

Discussion · Feminism · Nonfiction · review · Review Copy

You Can’t Touch My Hair and Other Things I Still Have to Explain by Phoebe Robinson

hair

Paperback, 320 pages
Published October 4th 2016 by Plume Books
Source: Publisher

I wasn’t familiar with Phoebe Robinson until after I read this book so I went into it without any idea of who she is and what she does.

You Can’t Touch My Hair provides a fascinating insight into a black woman’s life and the obstacles she has to navigate daily. The meaning of hair and how hair culture is very much a thing that one cannot understand unless one is part of the community.

Robinson talks about the politics of race and gender which informs every person’s daily experiences whether positively or negatively. I most remember her anecdote of being on a reality TV show as a female comedian and the disparate and discriminatory ways in which she was treated–she is not just a woman but she is a black woman which changes things quite substantially.

What also struck me was Robinson’s experience with her previous agent who treated her badly but Robinson, due to the conditioning she has received all her life as a black woman, was unable to speak out until the person went too far.

I enjoyed this book and yes, sometimes the humour read a bit too American for my tastes but on the whole, the book gives an interesting and valuable narrative on gender and race in contemporary America.

Discussion · Nonfiction · review · Review Copy

The Geek Feminist Revolution by Kameron Hurley: Thoughts

I have a cold and am medicated. God, it feels like I’ve been saying this all the time recently but I have become really susceptible to colds and the like this winter. Uninteresting introduction done with, let’s get on with the, well, I wouldn’t say review. Let’s say thoughts.

줄발!

geek

Hardcover, 272 pages
Published May 31st 2016 by Tor Books
Source: Raincoast Books

Before I begin this, let me just say that I am not really familiar with  Kameron Hurley’s fiction so I waded into this book with very little knowledge about the author and her style. As an aspiring author, I was interested in what Ms. Hurley has to say about the craft and the business and let me tell you guys, it’s ALL SO BLEAK.

In the first part of the book, “Level Up,” Hurley talks about the business of writing, about the struggles of being a fledgling writer, of failing and succeeding and how even the successes are relative. You always know that the publishing business is difficult but the truth of it comes across most when relayed by someone who has been navigating the business for a while.

Hurley talks about her own life and how her experiences have shaped her and her writing. I like that she’s so upfront and accepting of the fact that she has privilege. She is very aware that her privilege has afforded her a life that may be impossible for a POC.

I most appreciated Hurley’s thoughts on being a woman in a virtual space. She has experienced a lot of abuse online and has persevered so her thoughts resonate.

“There are many ways to silence a woman and not all of them involve getting her to stop speaking. Sometimes it’s enough to simply ensure all she speaks about is you.”

I enjoyed this collection of essays that offered an insight into the SFF world and in esoteric spaces that most people wouldn’t know about. The writing is accessible and though there were times when I wished Hurley would engage with a topic in far more depth, ultimately I appreciated the brevity of the essays as it allowed me read at a faster pace than I usually would.

I recommend this!

Nonfiction · review · Review Copy

Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady’s Guide to Sex, Marriage, and Manners by Therese Oneill

unmentionable

Hardcover, 307 pages
Published October 25th 2016 by Little, Brown and Company
Source: Publisher

Have you ever wished you could live in an earlier, more romantic era?

Ladies, welcome to the 19th century, where there’s arsenic in your face cream, a pot of cold pee sits under your bed, and all of your underwear is crotchless. (Why? Shush, dear. A lady doesn’t question.)

UNMENTIONABLE is your hilarious, illustrated, scandalously honest (yet never crass) guide to the secrets of Victorian womanhood, giving you detailed advice on:

~ What to wear
~ Where to relieve yourself
~ How to conceal your loathsome addiction to menstruating
~ What to expect on your wedding night
~ How to be the perfect Victorian wife
~ Why masturbating will kill you
~ And more

Irresistibly charming, laugh-out-loud funny, and featuring nearly 200 images from Victorian publications, UNMENTIONABLE will inspire a whole new level of respect for Elizabeth Bennett, Scarlet O’Hara, Jane Eyre, and all of our great, great grandmothers.

(And it just might leave you feeling ecstatically grateful to live in an age of pants, super absorbency tampons, epidurals, anti-depressants, and not-dying-of-the-syphilis-your-husband-brought-home.)

Unmentionable brings to light all the things you may have wanted to know about the Victorian age but didn’t know who to ask or where to find your information from. I mean, Google is helpful but only to a certain extent.

As the back copy so explicitly points out, Unmentionable is a fount of information about things like keeping clean in a time when cleanliness is not really prized. A time when everyone stinks so you may as well too. I mean, I ‘m saying.

Frankly, it’s all horrifying and I am supremely happy I was born in the this time especially because imagine the discrimination I’d face in Victorian England….maybe a little more than I’d face now? Heh. Anyway, the book as wit and charm. The author obviously did her work and researched the heck out of the period as the works cited page will reveal.

One thing I do have to mention though is the use of the word “squaw” on page 132 of the ARC version of the book. I should think that all the research done for this novel would reveal that the term is derogatory and should not be used. I don’t know if the finished copy contains the word–I hope not.

As reference material, this book should be helpful–especially to those who are writing Victorian settings focusing on women.

Nonfiction · review · Review Copy · writing

The Art of Perspective by Christopher Castellani

25664557

Paperback, 160 pages
Published January 5th 2016 by Graywolf Press
Source: Raincoast Books

I am so extremely glad that I chose to read The Art of Perspective by Christopher Castellani as my introduction to The Art of series. Since then I have read 1.5 more and I am afraid any other book would have either intimidated me or turned me off for its snobbery.

In The Art of Perspective, Castellani asks who it is that tells a particular story. That is, whose perspective is the audience following, whose glasses colour our vision, and what biases does the audience knowingly or unknowingly have or through which view the events unfolding the narrative.

Castellani does close readings of many texts and teases out active (and sometimes distanced) narrators to show how and why it matters who tells the story. He talks about how some of the story is evident simply from what the narrator chooses to say and how he says it.

Another observation of his I found fascinating is the way modern writers take pains to ensure there is no overt narrator in the stories they write. The story and perspective always rests with one of the characters in the book and not some omniscient narrator who is everywhere and sees everything. I rather think modern writers are wary about the big brother aspect of such omniscient narrators but this is an interesting observation anyway.

Castellani writes in an extremely accessible way and while volumes of critical work on literature is not everyone’s cup of tea, Castellani’s tone is often not one of a superior talking down to the ignorant masses but as someone who is talking, maybe over a cup of tea, on the vagaries of literature and the way we tell stories. It was an extremely interesting read and made me want to read every single book in The Art of Series because I figured if they all read even a little like this one, I was going to love them.

But of course that is another story. If you like literature and would like to read more critical work (not exactly theory) on it, you should definitely start with this one.