Bad Blood

November 17, 2006

I’m fond of the sentence ‘truth is stranger than fiction’, but this time the truth is so recognisable that the fictional version of it would have been waved away for being too boring. Ignorant people sticking to ignorance because it can possibly make them money? Sounds familiar.

This time there’s health involved though, which makes the schadenfreude slightly less because you know people might suffer more than a hurt ego and an empty savings account. Main villain is a young woman that decides she wants to be the next Steve Jobs, and as soon as possible. This leads to material that never works, a very tense work atmosphere and so much lies and threats towards both supporters and criticisers that you wonder if anyone involved has energy for daily life left.

So while you can laugh about all the dumb rich people that keep throwing more money at this company which is basically just a collection of shams, you’re confronted with the reality that this isn’t new. That companies work like this, that people out there will work harder for fame then for bettering society.

Yes, it’s a wild ride, but not an uplifting one. Just another argument for knowing that it’s truth: no clear cut happy ending in which everyone deserving of it get their comeuppance.

Bad Blood, John Carreyrou, Borzoi

The library book

Even in Los Angeles, where is no shortage of remarkable hairdos, Harry Peak attracted attention.

You had me at libraries, you from time to time lost me about the focus on not just the Los Angeles Public Library (so okay, it’s one of the main plots), but especially the background of the possible culprit and fluffy descriptions of ever person involved in any way. I would rather have seen book covers, if Susan Orlean felt like she needed to add some visuals.

But still: there is so much love for books and libraries and librarians that you almost feel yourself slip into that world that is more than only centered on books. Libraries are miniature societies, and Orlean shows it well.

So, if you’re about books, architecture, and American history through librarians – this is the book of your dreams. If just any of these categories do it for you: consider it as a bit of an encyclopedia; read a few chapters from time to time. That way, you’ll always have some time left to visit your own library.

The library book, Susan Orlean, Simon & Schuster 2018

Number One Chinese Restaurant

The waiters were singing “Happy Birthday” in Chinese.

One main disappointment about this story: not enough descriptions of food. In some ways, this one felt like an international version of De zoetzure smaak van dromen; also the (immigrant) family in and around a Chinese restaurant. Except this one has a lot more infighting and drama. And as I said before – less descriptions of food.

So, what does happen in this novel? No-one seems to be very happy with their place in society. All are connected to a Chinese restaurant, but some (feel like it’s) in the wrong way, and some want to cut all ties. There’s the son of the owner, employees that have been there for decades, and those at the fringes of their lives. A fire doesn’t make things easier, even though it was slightly expected to.

It’s not the most accessible of novels; there are very few people to like and sometimes side plot lines take a bit too much space. On the other hand: it’s mostly the male characters that are the annoying ones, and all of it shows humanity. With a title and subject like this, it could have easily become a collection of stereotypes about Asian Americans: instead you’re shown that family and finances issues work the same in every (sub)culture.

Number One Chinese Restaurant, Lilian Li, Macmillan Publishing 2018

Before We Were Yours

My story begins on a sweltering August night, in a place I will never set eyes upon.

Adoption isn’t an easy subject, but the historical story line of Before We Were Yours shows at the very least how it definitely shouldn’t be handled.

There are two story tellers in this novel about an “orphanage” that basically stole children from poor people and sold them to rich families. One is the girl and her siblings that go through it, the other connected to her through different generations. This element sometimes makes it a little bit Lifetime-ish, although her motivations for discovering more are at first more political than personal. ie the sob story starts later into the story.

Weaved in between these two is a romance that isn’t quite necessary, but not horribly done either. I feel like the subject is what elevates this novel from being just another one of the paperbacks your gran reads and pushes upon you because it’s “so exciting”. It’s an easy, accessible read, but the horror of the “orphanage” and the reality on which its based, is what gives the story its pull.

Before We Were Yours, Lisa Wingate, Penguin Random House LLC 2017

Dietland

It was late in the spring when I noticed that a girl was following me, nearly the end of May, a month that means perhaps or might be.

Gods, I wish that this would be mandatory reading for male teenagers. Okay, any teenager. Why? Because it hits home with several hammers the fact of diet culture and how women are viewed in society. I know, but so many still don’t, and it’s best to get them as young as possible.

Is this is an activist story? Is showing reality activist? Protagonist Plum is fat, and have been working almost her entire year to not be it. She’s not living, she’s functioning until she can live as a skinny person, a normal person. Things are changed around when someone reaches out to her.

Simultaneously, violence acts against male rapists and abusers happens. People are confused, shocked, motivated, because whenever do men get what’s coming for them? Maybe a few trigger warnings are at place here: Sarai Walker doesn’t avoid descriptions of said acts.

The comedy tag is mostly for the laughing in disbelief you might do. Because yes, they’re right, and yes, it’s really this stupid. Or maybe you just have to laugh to prevent from getting angry for the entire time of reading it. You wouldn’t want to be considered unfuckable, after all.

Dietland, Sarai Walker, Houghton Mifflin Company 2015

The dangerous art of blending in

I should have guessed something was up when I was walking home.

Somehow I expected a softer story: the title, the subject (teenager doesn’t dare to come out), the surroundings (a small American town). But the author doesn’t hold his punches, like the mother of the protagonist doesn’t. I know that’s considered a spoiler, but I feel like that subject should come with a warning.

Evan’s life isn’t an easy one. His mother views him as lazy and evil, and his father almost never steps in when she gets aggressive. He doesn’t dare to come out to anyone, and all his energy goes to keeping all his different worlds (home, church, school, friends) apart.

Things change when his good friend starts to change, and when someone from Bible-camp shows up. Collision happens, and Evan can’t stop it.

The language used is clean and honest. Sometimes the tone feels a little bit too much like that from an after school program, but one has to remember that first of all these are a teenager’s feelings, and second of all, this is all too often someone’s reality. Besides that, you just want better. And possibly push his mother into the Grand Canyon.

The dangerous art of blending in, Angelo Surmelis, HarperCollins 2018

There There

There was an Indian head, the head of an Indian, the drawing of the head of a headdressed, long-haired Indian depicted, drawn by an unknown artist in 1939, broadcast until the late 1970s to American TVs everywhere after all the shows ran out.

Disclaimer: even more () than usual; I don’t want my ignorance about other’s people culture to show too badly.

I feel like I can share how I’m discerning a certain kind of mood, element in books written by different contemporary Native (north) American authors. It’s not just in the style they use (non-chronological without clear pointers of time, multiple character points of view), also the subject. Life as a native in North America doesn’t seem to be very good a lot of the time.

After doing a bit of research on this story, it turns out that the conscious stream of thoughts around the same things, connecting every character in passing, was on purpose. There’s a focus on oral tradition with (some) Native people and this book should feel like that. Which changes things a bit.

With that, you get not just a people’s history, but the huge amount of weariness, pain and discomfort that comes with it. Plenty of minorities stories are slowly shared and heard more often, but what about the people that were first on the North American continent? So yes, maybe there’s a recurring element, but maybe that’s because that’s just something essential that has to be shared before anything else can.

There There, Tommy Orange, Penguin Random House 2018