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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Gangster We Are All Looking For

Okay you know how certain cities have a "let's everyone read the same book together so we can feel united" thing going on? I'm kind of into that but have never participated. Mainly because I don't tend to stay in cities long enough for the book club to start and be over. It's an interesting idea though, that you could go around a city and see thousands (millions?) of people flipping through the same book.

The first One City One Book was started in 1998, by Seattle, which is annually ranked as one of America's "most literate of big cities." Other top cities are Minneapolis, Washington DC, and Pittsburgh. Placing near the bottom of the list are El Paso, Texas; Corpus Christi, Texas; Bakersfield, California; and Stockton, California. Read about the methodology of the study here if you're so inclined. Basically if you have cold winters, chances are there's a lot of reading going on. If you live in the hot weather, you're more likely to zone out in front of the television watching Jersey Shore 2.

So what about my hometown of San Diego, dubbed "America's Finest City?" Over at Slant Eye for the Round Eye I saw that One Book One San Diego has chosen lê thi diem thúy's The Gangster We Are All Looking For. For those not in the know, lê thị diễm thúy is pronounced "lay tee yim twee" and she is a poet, an author, and a performer.

I actually read this book when it came out because the cover and title were so catchy. I quite enjoyed it even if I don't recall anything about the book in particular. I'm just bad with reading memory, but that means I get to experience the joy of fresh rereads quite frequently. And since I'm in San Diego now, I'm going to pull out my copy and read along. Feel free to move to SD for the summer and join me.

The Publishers Weekly blurb is below:
"Le's first novel is a bracing, unvarnished, elliptical account of a Vietnamese refugee family, in America but not yet of it, hobbled by an unfamiliar environment and their own troubled relationships. It's narrated by the family's young daughter, newly arrived in San Diego with her father after being sponsored by a well-meaning but condescending American family. Her mother soon joins them, and the family endures an itinerant existence of low-wage jobs and cheap rental apartments. Other Vietnamese wander namelessly through the book, sharing space with the family but providing little of the warmth of community. Nearly plotless, the novel is organized into vignettes that each feature one piercing image: a drunken parent, a shattered display cabinet, a drowned boy.

As the narrator makes her halting adjustment to America, she also tries to discover what the family has left behind in Vietnam. Her father's mysterious past caused him to be rejected by his in-laws; these grandparents are now known to the girl only through a worn photograph. Then there is her brother, whose fate is mentioned only in whispers. Le allows no sentimentality to creep into this work-indeed, she hints only subtly at the narrator's emotional state ("there is no trace of blood anywhere except here, in my throat, where I am telling you all of this"), as though any explicit show of feeling were too frivolous for the subject at hand. This is a stark and significant work that will challenge readers."

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Mirror: Motion Picture Commentary

This isn't about books exactly but a new website I somehow stumbled onto called Mirrorfilm.org. Kartina Richardson, writer, filmmaker, and playwright, offers a mix of video and text posts focusing on some of her favorite films. Each post has a clip of the film and Richardson gives us an audio commentary over the video which is often a related memory, a well measured thought, or some historical context.

The posts that initially caught my eye were Kartina's series about Race in Film. So far she's covered some really interesting ground, all the way from Meet Me in St. Louis, to The Joy Luck Club, and most recently, Freaky Friday.

Kartina's introduction to her series is below:
"This series looks at representations of people of color (POC) in films that do not explicitly deal with race. This means that although I love Mr. Tibbs, In the Heat of the Night will not be featured. Instead, we will look at images of POC, references to race, racism, and race relations (positive and negative) that pop up in unexpected places. Such un-race related films like Hold That Ghost, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Paisan and even Meet Me in St. Louis.

...Because (rather than despite) these films are dear to me, these moments of racial ignorance and insensitivity caused uneasiness. This not only interrupted my movie watching experience, but excluded me from the club. The one that loved the movie unquestionably and did not get offended. These moments made me feel that not only was the movie was no longer mine, but it had never been intended for me in the first place. That is a painful feeling."
-Special Series I : Race in Film
I don't know why you haven't stopped to RSS the whole thing already. It's quality all around and I can't wait to see what the next film in the series will be. I also have to point out the little illustration on the right side of Mirror's page. I don't know what it is or what the significance behind it might be but it seems perfect.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Asia in the Heart, World on the Mind

While looking around to see if there were already blogs out there about Asian American writers, I happened upon Asia in the Heart, World on the Mind a few months ago. Started in November 2009, Asia in the Heart covers children's and young adult books set in Asia, children's and young adult books with Asian characters, and also children's and young adult books with characters of Asian descent.

Tarie Sabido, a grad student in Anglo-American literature, blogs from Quezon City (Trivia: QC used to be the capital of the Philippines) and her site does a really nice job of highlighting books from Asia as well as showing us Americans that work from here really does travel worldwide. The site reflects Tarie's passion for children's literature as she features reviews, interviews, and coverage of book award ceremonies and conferences.

There are quite a few other book blogs I've been reading and I'm excited show the rest of them off. I thought I'd start with Asia in the Heart because it stands out from the crowd for the unique overseas perspective it brings. I'm sure you'll agree.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Lists are so subjective

Here's a list of Top Ten Indian Writers in English. I can't figure out when this list was dated from, but it's via Chilli Breeze, which has the tagline "Indian Talent, Global Talent." While lists are really just a ploy to get you to look and debate -- and that's exactly why I love them -- you'll recognize most of the names on this particular top ten. Salman Rushdie, Arundhati Roy, Rohinton Mistry, Amitav Ghosh, Jumpha Lahiri...

Since these writers are familiar to many readers, it was interesting to see a more recent version of the list filled with names I didn't really recognize. Well, except for Ghosh, Rushdie, and Vikram Seth, who appear on both lists. Everyone on the two lists are most likely worthy of checking out. Or if you're ahead of me, you've already read them and can't believe I don't know who Chetan Bhagat, Kirin Desai, and Aravind Adiga are. One of them apparently is dating a Nobel laureate and another was one of Time Magazine's World's Most Influential People 2010. Intriguing.
"Indian writing in English has been acclaimed around the world for its innovation, radical new approaches to the art of story telling and reworking of language. While the older generation continues to produce literary masterworks, a newer generation of writing talent has emerged, ensuring that the fount of imagination in the country has not run dry."
-Chilli Breeze

Here's a few other links to South Asian writers' sites as I was skimming around:

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Y.S. Lee

Y.S. Lee's second book is out, The Agency 2: The Body at the Tower, seemingly right on the heels of her debut, The Agency: A Spy in the House. The Agency series follows Mary Quinn, former pickpocket and now member of a secret all-female detective unit operating out of Miss Scrimshaw's Academy for Girls.

Lee's books are steeped in a fantastic and realistic setting because hey, she's got her PhD in Victorian literature so please be respectful and call her "doctor." Here's an interview with Lee over at Wondrous Reads where she reveals the kinds of research she has to do for her books.
"Researching a PhD leaves you with incredibly specific knowledge about a particular subject, but also with amazing blind spots, especially about the practical aspects of nineteenth century life. I started the novel with a strong general knowledge about the Victorian era – about women’s rights and their political limitations, for example. But I had to do quite a bit of research to fill in the gaps – for example, about marine insurance, the early days of engineering, and when specific bridges were built. This wasn’t a problem – I love research, and will seize any excuse to dive into a box of dusty papers!"
-Wondrous Reads-
Since detective novels are right up my alley, I need to get this one right away. You should too right?

Monday, August 2, 2010

Vote for Hyphen's Lisa Lee & Melissa Hung to win 7x7's Hot 20 Under 40 Contest

Everyone's making their own "20 Under 40" lists aren't they? Leading off their Summer Fiction issue, The New Yorker released their top twenty to much buzz (and some jealousy) a few months ago. Then The Millions released an alternate list. Not to be left out, Granta Magazine put out their list of the twenty best young British novelists. And I'm sure somewhere along the way US Magazine probably did one too.

Well now San Francisco's 7x7 recently announced their "Hot 20 Under 40 Reader's Choice" and they've already gotten into the top twenty tier. Which begs the question why there are more rounds of voting to get to ten, five, and eventually one "winner." I'd probably say the motivation is for more web hits but that would be completely cynical.

Regardless, Hyphen Magazine's publisher and founding editor are on the list and if you know what's great in the world, you should jump over to 7x7's site and vote for them. Lisa Lee and Melissa Hung are competing versus winemakers, non-profit startups, career coaches, fashion bloggers, a drag queen legend, yoga teachers, and photographers. While these are all worthy pursuits and hot in their own right, there's something about running an entirely volunteer staff and producing the premier Asian American magazine that just strikes me as win worthy. I'm sure you agree.

The winner will be announced next Wednesday, August 11th, and there are three round of voting till then. I know I'll be waking up each morning (or more likely afternoon) and immediately casting my vote. Won't you join me?
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