Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Dear Girls: Intimate Tales, Untold Secrets & Advice for Living Your Best Life by Ali Wong

Authenticity, bravery, and a willingness to just put it all out there. These are tips a comedian could really take to heart. Turns out, they're also what Ali Wong hopes her daughters will learn from reading the series of letters in this book. I have faith they'll get it, eventually.

I'm a fan of Ali Wong. Her stand-up specials (on Netflix) are great. Watching them during the pandemic gave me an opportunity to laugh when those moments were hard to find. A little too transparent for some, I personally think that discomfort is good to feel. She talks about what she wants to talk about. I believe it's her way of getting to the real truths of life. These letters are no different. I'm sure her daughters will one day yell, "TMI!!!!," as they read this book, but then, they'll nod, laugh, and feel thankful their mom had some sage wisdom waiting.

I also admire all that this book gets into. The letters embrace her Asian heritage rather than attempting to Americanize her life. She also doesn't shy away from showing "us" our shortcomings in how we talk to female comedians or celebrity moms. You don't refer to a male comedian as a "male comedian," and yet she came up having her gender constantly be a part of her professional title. You don't often ask fathers what it's like juggling parenthood and a career, but how quick are people to toss that question out to a mom? Ali has your number. Watch out if she turns you into fresh material.

This book observed so many things I didn't notice I'd seen too. It helped explain them with the kind of grave honestly and brutal detail that resonates. It was an enjoyable and personal read culminating in the most wonderful letter written by Ali's husband. To see her story from her perspective, and then his, deeply illustrated what a loving relationship can be. I hope that inspires Ali's girls (and the readers) most of all. 

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Oona Out of Order by Margarita Montimore

 This is a great book to end the summer. It's a common theme -- coming of age -- told in a completely different way. It's light and interesting at the same time. You need a book with a twist once in a while, one that's not an actual mystery, and Oona Out of Order delivers.

The book catalogues only a few years of Oona's life, which as of her 19th birthday, begins happening out of order. Her mind is aging chronologically, but she moves between years in a seemingly random pattern. Imagine waking up being 20 in your head, but 51 in your body. There's a lot to adjust to, not to the mention the fact that future Oona insists on not giving everything away, allowing current Oona to keep making the same bad choices she feels like she should avoid. It's an interesting question of changing your fate, and whether it's worth it.

What's so perfect about this story is that the first five years Oona lives out of order happen to give enough of her life away that, although she makes some grave mistakes and faces some heavy sadness and anger, she hits a state of enlightenment with so much of her life still to live. That's such an amazing gift when compared to those of us, living life in order, getting a much slower route to finally feeling like we've figured a little bit out.

I really liked the complexity of this story. On one hand, Oona is struggling with her time jumps through her life. On the other, she's going through all the common crap living a life brings about. She has a unique relationship with herself since she's constantly encountering momentos from future Oona, delivered in the past. Her random movement through time brings her a lot internal anger because of choices she's making, out of order, but it also gives her an opportunity to spend some years living her best life without worry. It's a gift and a curse that the author equally explores.

I think about what years I'd want to live in what order from the 41 I have under my belt. It's a tough question to answer. Aside from the stock tips I could give myself, I'd probably pick to live my life in order if given the option. Luckily, this isn't a common issue, and instead we get to explore the idea in a book. This was a great read, seeing what could happen if forced into this condition. Who would stand beside you? Who'd take advantage? How much time would you spend YOLO and how much would you hide away from the world? I enjoyed this book so much, and highly recommend it. 

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

Second book club book #11

This book's narrator is a dog named Enzo. Right away, that presented certain problems for me. I don't like animal narrators telling a person's story. Give me Watership Down rabbits or the crew in Animal Farm anyday. Those animals, living in their own animalistic world, can talk up a storm. In The Arts of Racing in the Rain, Enzo is in our world, and it's awkward.

First of all, the dog seems to already know everything. Secondly, he has humans so figured out that, in his head, he almost always acts like one without prompting. It comes off a big snobbish. Why would a dog -- or any single being -- have it all figured out from the start? It detracts, in my opinion, from the story of Enzo's family.

Denny, is a race car driver, gifted, and hopefully on the path to a successful career behind the wheel. Eve is his wife, a loving and practical woman. Eventually, Zoe comes along, an intuitive and patient child. Enzo is their dog. It's a family full of love. Then, tragedy strikes, and it all falls apart. Most of the struggle falls on Denny, with Enzo as his witness. It's such an unfair hand dealt to a single person, but Denny endures with an almost unnatural amount of stoicism. Enzo attributes it to his training as a racer. 

The family moves down the path of adversity, seemingly rewarded for their faith and patience. I didn't buy it.

The struggles are too extreme. The resolution comes too fast and all-at-once. The human element is uncomfortably absent, making certain moments feel too abrupt. Instead of walking beside the people in the story, you're running through tall grass with the dog.

While I get that Denny, having mastered racing in the rain, can now manage the rough waters of his life, I don't fully understand why I can't experience this revelation through Denny's eyes. Why must Enzo also have an 'aha' moment and somehow feel vindicated in his life choices?

This book bugs me, but it would be unfair to deny that it's a good, emotional story. I can see why it's so well-liked. I may be too much of a snob for it, but it's definitely a good, well-thought-out story, perfect for those looking for a heart-felt read. 

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins

So I don't want to accidentally give away too much, which limits what I can talk about. I'd love to get into whether or not Snow is inherently the Snow we meet later on, or if it's someone he becomes through trauma. I have a distinct opinion after finishing the book -- sharing it will spoil everything though. Suffice it to say, he's nothing if not complex and highly intelligent.

This prequel to The Hunger Games Series takes place during the 10th Hunger Games. The games are still coming into their own, so this event is missing all the showmanship and flash we see when Katniss enters the arena. High school students have been tasked to act as mentors for the tributes for the first time, Snow among the chosen.

The Capitol is a different place too. Still reeling from the war, the district is in a state of reconstruction. As a result, poverty appears in unlikely places, namely Snow's apartment. A once prominent family, their money troubles are about to get the best of them. Reputation is all they have, and it's also on the line when Snow is assigned the female tribute from District 12 to mentor. He needs a win, but the odds aren't good. Fortunately, there's more than meets the eye when it comes to his tribute, Lucy Gray. She's highly intuitive and resourceful both inside and outside the arena. You can't help but root for her.

The Hunger Games themselves are narrated through Snow's perspective. You don't know everything that goes on in the arena, or among the tributes. In fact, the actual event plays a small role in the story. What goes on outside the arena is more important. It's what makes this Hunger Games unique. Before, during, and after, events occur that allow Snow to really solidify how he feels about it all. How he feels about people, Panem, family, duty, and love. You could even say that this single year in Snow's life is his character-defining year, and he's still just a teenager.

This self-discovery does turn him into the terror we meet through Katniss, but how far off is he here from who he becomes later?

This prequel is an exciting story that felt very different from the original trilogy. You get insight into the vile character we'd already seen, but as his origin story. I wish I could say more, but I really enjoyed this book and recommend it. Just read the original trilogy first.