Recent Reads: September '18
Hello, my loves — it’s been awhile! I finally got around to picking up a library card and, as a result, my reading has increased exponentially. I’m hoping to share these reviews with you on a much more frequent (monthly even?) basis. Check out my four September reads below!
Sour Heart by Jenny Zhang | 5/5
This was, hands down, my favorite read in the month of September. Sour Heart is a collection of vignettes all told narrated by the adolescent daughters of Chinese immigrants, who are the first-generation of their families to grow up in New York City. Zhang is an incredible story teller, and the eloquence and beauty with which she tells stories of the immigrant experience evokes aching pain, (sometimes biting) laughter and tears. I often put a hand to my heart while reading — devouring each story until the early hours of the morning. Zhang’s writing style is entirely unique, filled with run-on sentences, paragraph filled with stream of consciousness-like thoughts, and a sour honesty that refuses to sugarcoat the realities of life in America. Each story contains a hint of sweetness, enshrouded by tart frankness. But as the first story in this collection demonstrates, tartness doesn’t have to be a bad thing.
A Manual for Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin | 5/5
Upon reading the first short story in A Manual for Cleaning Women, my only thought was “How had I never heard of Lucia Berlin before?” A master of the form, this collection of forty two short stories, arguably Berlin’s finest work, left me nearly speechless. From the Bay Area to Chile, laundromats to rehab centers, Berlin’s stories are intimate, and reoccurring themes illuminate the most painful and tender moments of her life. She’s a writer who doesn’t shy away from incorporating her lived experiences into her work, which creates an authentic sense of intimacy and attachment between reader and writer. Some of my favorite short stories are A Manual for Cleaning Women, Todo Luna, Todo Año, and a series of stories following two sisters, Sally and Dolores, Grief, Fool to Cry, Panteón de Dolores, Mama, and Wait A Minute. I’m not sure how her work lived in obscurity for so long (at least in my limited view of the world), but I can’t wait to get my hands on more.
Foreign Gods, Inc. by Okey Ndibe | 2.5/5
Foreign Gods, Inc. tells the story of Ike Uzondu, a man who immigrates to America in order to attend Amherst College, secure a high-paying job and support his mother and sister back home. Yet thirteen years later, despite graduating cum laude from Amherst and being exceptionally qualified for a job in finance, he’s continuously rejected due to his heavy Nigerian accent. As a result, Ike descends into a depression and succumbs to an alcohol and gambling addiction. In an attempt to reverse his fortune, Ike decides to return to his hometown of Utonki, Nigeria to steal the statue of Ngene — an ancient war god — and sell it to a high-end Manhattan gallery.
As incredible as this plot sounds, its execution failed to keep me interested. Ndibe is long-winded, often launching into seemingly irrelevant side-plots. He often over-tells this tale, describing Ike’s pain or frustration through endless metaphor that slowed down the story and created a very slow and strange pacing. I often found myself scanning over entire paragraphs that didn’t seem to serve any great purpose. From the first chapter, I guessed the outcome of the story, though I naively hoped that Ndibe would throw his readers for a loop or surprise. Unfortunately, Ndibe does neither, and I finished this book frustrated that I had spent so much time on it.
Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think by Brian Wansink, Ph.D. || 4/5 Stars
In Mindless Eating, Brian Wansink, Ph.D. and the director of the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab, dives deep into the psychology of what we eat, why we eat it and how & why overeating is often a mindless, unnoticeable habit. When I initially picked this book up from the library, I assumed I had a basic understanding of overeating and the psychology behind it. Yet many of Wansink’s clever experiments and studies completely blew my mind and changed the way that I think about, eat and serve myself food. Seemingly simple changes, such as the “half-plate rule” — filling half the plate with vegetables and only going up for ‘seconds’ of vegetables — or only eating meals and snacks at the dining room table rather than in front of the t.v. (guilty!), got me excited about resuming my lifestyle change toward healthy eating. I’d definitely suggest this read to anyone who’s interested in reading pretty hilarious and creative food experiments/studies and gaining new takeaways about food and why we eat the way that we do.