Monthly Archives: March 2009

The Love Wife – Gish Jen

This is the one of the 5 books that I brought with me on my cruise. It ended up being the only book I managed to read. I wanted something that had some meat to it (as in, no “chick lit”) but that wouldn’t make me think too much. I am a simple girl. This book fit the bill. I read Jen’s first book “Mona in the Promised Land” years ago, and barely remember the plot, but remember liking it.

Carnegie Wong, only son of successful immigrant Mama Wong, much to his mother’s horror, marries big, blonde, Caucasian Jane, known ever after, pejoratively, as Blondie. Carnegie has already adopted an Asian child of unknown origin–a factor in the story–when he meets Blondie and they adopt a Chinese girl. Lizzy and Wendy are eventually joined by a bio-baby boy, Bailey, who is “half-half” and disconcertingly blonde. The family is complete, Mama Wong dies, and along with her go all her prescriptive, preemptive, insulting remarks. Not quite. Her domineering hand reaches from the grave back to China and then to Carnegie and Blondie’s home, delivering Lan, an erstwhile “cousin” Mama has bequeathed to her son and his family. She is supposed to be a nanny, but Blondie believes that she has been sent to be a “love-wife” or concubine.

The entire family dynamic is changed almost instantly. Lan, a model of passive-aggression, immediately ingratiates herself to the girls. Blondie, a model of forebearance as she is berated by her eldest daughter, misunderstood by her husband and detested by Lan, tries to befriend Lan; a lesser person would have driven her from the house. Lan is so obvious that she becomes a self-parody. Blondie quits her job to spend more time with her family; Carnegie loses his, and the family is headed for implosion.

I liked it, but of course – I had a few nitpicks. It was told in that multiple-narrator style, which I keep claiming I don’t like, but apparently I do, if done well. This was. What I didn’t like is that some of the characters felt very real, and others? Totally flat. Carnegie’s voice just didn’t ring true to me, and I didn’t understand why “Blondie” fell in love or stayed in love with him in the first place. Which is a problem, since it’s essentially a book about a marriage. And “Lan” who is a central character just remained unlikable to me.  And the ending, while intentionally ambiguous, was annoyingly so. And sudden.

While I certainly don’t think you need to be Asian, Chinese or even have the immigrant experience as part of your family, I wonder if I would have enjoyed the book more if I could personally relate a little better.

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Hero – Perry Moore

I don’t remember where I heard about this, but I remember thinking “I don’t read enough books about boy teenagers or gay kids. I should do read this.” And so I did.

The description that reeled me in:

Thom Creed is used to being on his own. Even as a high school basketball star, he has to keep his distance because of his father. Hal Creed had once been one of the greatest and most beloved superheroes of The League-until the Wilson Towers incident. After that Thom’s mother disappeared and his proud father became an outcast.

The last thing in the world Thom would ever want is to disappoint his father. So Thom keeps two secrets from him: First is that he’s gay. The second is that he has the power to heal people. Initially, Thom had trouble controlling his powers. But with trail and error he improves, until he gets so good that he catches the attention of the League and is asked to join. Even though he knows it would kill his dad, Thom can’t resist. When he joins the League, he meets a motley crew of other heroes, including tough-talking Scarlett, who has the power of fire from growing up near a nuclear power plant; Typhoid Larry, who makes everyone sick by touching them, but is actually a really sweet guy; and wise Ruth, who has the power to see the future. Together these unlikely heroes become friends and begin to uncover a plot to kill the superheroes. Along the way, Thom falls in love, and discovers the difficult truth about his parents’ past.

I started out digging the book. And then – it lost me. The plot and timeline was a little weird at the beginning,  but I was willing to go with it. And since I just saw “Watchmen”, I was into this idea of costumed superheroes and disgraced non-superpowery heroes and (spoiler!) twists where the good guy is the bad guy. I was digging it. But then there were too many names. Ultra boy? Golden boy? It was too much. And the invisible mom, and  … it lost me. And I couldn’t wrap my head around the idea that this town was cool with random superheroes, and was big enough that they could lose 17k people in a freak supervillian incident, and still thrive –  but one gay kid threw them into a tizzy of homophobic rage? The world just wasn’t developed enough for me, I guess.

I did enjoy reading most of it, and would like to see more – but this one just didn’t do it for me.

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I think WordPress just insulted me

WordPress.com has offered a helpful “suggestion” for my website. Instead of Pale Nerd, they suggested I become “Ashen Loser.”

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The 19th Wife – David Ebershoff

I think I promised I was done with polygamy books, but – it was a lie. I couldn’t resist picking this one up at the library. The premise is that it’s an intertwined story of the real life Ann Eliza – divorced wife of Brigham Young that caused quite a stir and may have contributed to the outlawing of polygamy and the fictional story of a “lost boy” of the Firsts (polygamist sect still living in Utah) and the story of his own mom who is suspected of killing her husband (of course, in a plural marriage).

I normally don’t love books with intertwined stories, but the twist of this book was that in addition to the two stories, there were (mainly fictional) articles from crusaders against polygamy and newspaper articles, etc.  It also used letters from Ann Eliza’s son, her father and the Master’s thesis from a modern BYU student. And that’s what I think I really enjoyed about the book – it gave more than just the point of view of the plural wife – but that of a husband, and of displaced boys.

I don’t think I am done with this subject yet. I still have to read “Under the Banner of Heaven”, but I would like to find some books about polygamy as told by men thrown out of the sect and of polygamous men. Anyone know of any? Fiction or non-fiction?

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American Gods – Neil Gaiman

The entire time I was reading this book, I was thinking about what an awesome blog entry this was going to be. I was thinking that, because I was enjoying the book so much. Then I finished, and it came time to blog – and I am at a loss for something really interesting to say.

People have been bugging me to read Gaiman for awhile now, and I am not a big sci-fi/fantasy fan. I read “Good Omens” and wasn’t blown away, but this finally crept up to the top of the list. I am really glad I did.

The basic premise of the book is that the gods exist, and when people move, they take their gods with them. So, incarnations of gods and all other manner of mythological  being follow people to the countries they move. And apparently, America isn’t too hospitable to the deities of the Old Country – no matter what the old country is. And now the gods of myth and legend are dying, and being usurped by American gods of technology and media, etc. They get this guy Shadow wrapped into their drama. There is of  course more to it, but I barely have the space or energy.

The characters of legend appear from all sorts of countries and pantheons, with a specific focus on the old Norse. Which, while I am not super familiar with – I really love. The whole Viking archaeology thing and all. I also got to learn a little bit about the mythical folks from other traditions. Never even heard of some of them!

As a kid, I loved the Greek myths – I knew them all by heart. And now, I love how they all help me finish a crossword puzzle. I really wish I read this book when I was a teen and in my pagan phase. I loved it now,  but I would have gone over the moon, then. Looking forward to reading a little more Gaiman.

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Saving the World at Work – Tim Sanders

What Companies and Individuals Can Do to Go Beyond Making a Profit to Making a Difference

I keep trying to read these kinds of books, and often they just aren’t very good. This one was definitely better than the rest. The idea of course is that there is lots of stuff you can do to make the world a better place, and some of it is at your place of business. This is all true and good, but what irritated me was his main point was that you don’t have to be a CEO to affect change, and yet his main case study in proof of this was of an intern getting her mom to give her boss some sort of book about how bad the carpet industry is. The boss left it on the CEO’s desk (with no comment) and it wasn’t until the CEO faced some sort of external pressure for change from shareholders did he see the book on his desk. This seemed more like serendipity then a how-to on getting CEO’s to change direction.

I was a little disappointed that there weren’t more tips for non-CEOs.  As employees it’s harder to get high-level change, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t things we can’t do on our own. For example, I am unsubscribing us from junk mail. You can also put CFL bulbs in your desk lamps, and if you have a kitchen, bring some old silverware and place settings for people to use, instead of disposable products. You may be able to convince who ever orders supplies to make some more eco-friendly choices, especially if you can prove that the company will be saving money.

One thing that I really enjoyed about the book, was something I felt was a little misguided, but I liked the spirit of. The author believes that this newest generation of employees cares about their impact on the world as a whole, and wants to work for a company that not only treats them well, but also tries for a better impact on the world as a whole. Whether it’s a mission based business, or just a responsible company. It’s something I certainly feel strongly about, but I am not convinced enough that my peers are. But, I liked it anway.  It seemed an appeal to CEOs and HR to make sure they are offering benefits that reflect a more progressive world view as they only way to attract great employees (benefits for domestic partners, paid time off for volunteer/community work). I really love the concept, and it’s something I hope to accomplish in my future career goals. There was one interaction Sanders described, which I am paraphrasing here:

Recruit: Do you offer benefits for domestic partners?

Interviewer: Why? Are you gay?

Recruit: No, but but I am evolved, and I want to work for a company that is as well.

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