Just Read: Everything I Never Told You

If anything, do read Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng. While narrative and perspective are often times jumbled between time, drifting precariously from the 1950s to the turbulent 70s, you can’t but help feel drawn to the conflicted nature of this debut novel.

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Ng’s debut centers around the death of middle sibling Lydia Lee and the black hole she leaves within the mixed race family. I found Lydia’s parents’ back story more compelling than the mystery surrounding Lydia’s death and in the end, when we are finally given the precise circumstances surrounding the unexpected tragedy, I found myself wanting more and slightly unsatisfied with the answers given…

Everything I Never Told You isn’t the best summer read I’ve devoured thus far, but it is an intriguing and oddly enjoyable one.

Recommend? Yes.

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An Ode to Libraries

One of the aspects that I love and hate about living in New York is the constant challenge of space. Whereas when living in the midwest, I could buy books on a whim and add to my growing collection, here, in the city, I have to be super-selective when it comes to what tomes of literature may occupy my room. That’s where the library comes in.

I love the library.

After reading a review of a new book or snapping photos of book covers as I roam the aisles of independent bookstores, I can log online and put “holds” on all the books I wish to read. As my younger cousin once said, “It’s like Netflix for books.” He doesn’t get to the library very often ;D

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That being said, I just picked up four new adventures. One is for a book club (Quesadillas), the other my roommate recommended (Beautiful Ruins), the third is the last novel I need to read by Oyeyemi (Mr. Fox), and the fourth is on my summer reading list (Everything I Never Told You).

Here’s to the library!

Rereading Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

One of my 2014 goals is to reread the Harry Potter series and it has become an unexpected challenge. Not only is my adult perspective clouding the childlike awe I once held for these characters (albeit not completely gone), but I’m also finding myself siding with the Hogwarts adults as well. Every other page I’m rolling my eyes at Harry and his foolhardy ways. “Do you want do die?!” I kept yelling in my head. It seems, reading it as an adult, he has a penchant for breaking the rules and as I child I just saw him as a kid wanting to have a little fun. Oh retrospect!

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Also to note, shit got dark in the third book. Between the beheadings, the graphic description of how Sirius Black supposedly murdered 12 people in London and betrayed his best friend to Professor Trelawney’s all-capped-out prophecy and the sucking out of souls, I can start to see why parents are bit hesitant to allow their 10-year-olds to read this series. However, I encourage the reading of Harry Potter to all children that fall under my preview. After all, Harry Potter was my childhood! I only hope children of today experience the same magical adventure of love, justice and acceptance that I was privy to.

But after reading Prisoner of Azkaban, another issue arose.

Harry Potter and Prisoner of Azkaban is my favorite film out of the entire series. Beautifully directed by Alfonso Cuarón and bringing in such heavy weights like Gary Oldman (Sirius Black) and Remus Lupin (David Thewlis), the third installment of the Harry Potter movies is just so damn good. Because of my love for Cuarón and his take on the world of Harry Potter, it was very difficult to dig back into Rowling’s sole vision. Anything that contradicted the film I had trouble with and while I enjoyed the details that were left out of the film (I forgot the Whomping Willow was planted for Lupin to hide during his transformations and that it was he who made the Shrieking Shack shriek!) I couldn’t help but love the film more.

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BookCon

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BookCon, was in a word, interesting. I went into the experience not knowing really what to expect but super excited for the opportunity to see Amy Poehler talk about her upcoming book, Yes Please, due out in October.

The first observation I noted was, during my 8AM standing in line escapade with only four hours of sleep, my age and normalcy. I was surrounded by gushing teenagers donning The Fault in Our Stars T-Shirts, black banded goths who needed a healthy dose of vitamin D, and grey haired 40-somethings who never seemed to have matured into adulthood.

I did my best to keep to myself, ear buds in, trying to act too cool for school, but one young woman in line (I had a hard time guessing her age) just had to tell me about how awesome Veronica Roth is and her unrelenting excitedness to finally meet her.

Once inside, with a handful of hours to kill before Amy Poehler’s event, I attended the “We Need Diverse Books,” panel. The long and slightly narrow room filled to capacity quickly, and even an NPR reporter made an appearance. WNDB, it turns out, is a grass roots campaign aiming to bring forth change in a white-washed industry. Multiple authors of varying and diverse backgrounds came to speak and I was left inspired.

Finally, it was time for Amy Poehler. While we weren’t allowed to stand in line more than an hour prior to an event, no one really followed that rule. The security guards became upset at our non-line-line and out of spite caused chaos when the official line was allowed to form. In the end, I was adopted by two sisters, the trio of us linking arms to make our way into the new line and we stayed connected until we found our seats.

Amy Poehler’s event was what I hoped it to be. Equal parts hilarious and heartfelt, it seemed that she gave an honest interview – Martin Short moderated – and got the crowd even more anxious over the realese of Yes Please.

After Amy, I headed up to the exhibit floor to check out the Chronicle Books booth but found it roped off. Apparently Grumpy Cat was making an appearance and no one was allowed into the booth. I waited nearly an hour for Grump Cat to leave, and when he did, us non-Grumpy Cat fans were only allowed minutes inside the booth. After perhaps three minutes of Chronicle Books time, the employees herded us, telling us that they were shutting down. By this point I was quite frustrated and became belligerent because, in my eyes, an internet meme cat took precedence over the books. This was, after all, BookCon not CatCon.

On my way out, I ran into one of the WNDB authors and she gave me an advance copy of her forthcoming novel. I can’t wait to read Aisha Saeed’s Written in the Stars and if anything, I can do my part to foster change as well.

In the end, I’m not sure I’d attend BookCon again. Perhaps next year I’ll buy a BEA pass instead.

Nella Larsen & Me

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine lent me her worn and weathered copy of The Complete Fiction of Nella Larsen. This book loaning was a long time coming. Seeing that Carol and I both seem to straddle this ambiguous line of culture and race and find it frustrating to put into words our thoughts and frustrations on the matter, she suggested that I give Nella Larsen another go.

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In college, I read her novella “Passing” as part of a post 1800 American Literature course. The moment I finished it, I realized on an emotional level that my family’s experience isn’t a singular one when it comes to our light skinned-ness. Of course I knew the history of passing, of the African-American diaspora, of the Harlem Renaissance, of Langston Hughes, Morrison, Walker and Angelou, but it wasn’t until reading Larsen did this “experience” punch me in the gut and leave me breathless.

In The Complete Fiction of Nella Larsen, the character of Helga Crane in “Quicksand” really troubled me. She was, is, me. While the ending, which I won’t spoil, is a troubling one, I can’t help but believe that I and others in this day in age can “rise above” the social, cultural and racial trappings our American heritage holds so steadfastly to.

However, on that note, reading Larsen’s work opened my eyes to the fact that there aren’t a lot of stories about “us.” About those who are told they are one thing but look into the mirror and see something else. One small relief from this present reality comes in the form of Heidi Durrow’s “The Girl Who Fell From the Sky.” In TGWFFTS, we find a present-day confused and frustrated Rachel who, after surviving a murder-suicide attempt at the hands of her Danish mother, must live with her African-American grandmother on the other side of the country. When reading Durrow’s novel, like when reading “Passing,” I felt this urgent sense of identity and that finally, I could wholly identify with this young woman who must constantly defend her looks and background.

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Perhaps one day I too can write about this experience, of rolling my eyes and coming up with witty come backs when even grown folks would ask, “What are you?” “I’m human,” I’d like to say more often than not, “What are you?” I’d counter.

No matter what your race, culture, politics or religion is, I do recommend you reading some or all of Larsen’s work. It is a truth and chapter so often lost in the telling of our American history.