I read this book cover to cover in one day. It kept me hooked throughout but left me with many questions. Mishna Wolff's harrowing childhood was defin...moreI read this book cover to cover in one day. It kept me hooked throughout but left me with many questions. Mishna Wolff's harrowing childhood was defined by her struggle to fit in--first, as the lone white kid in her predominantly African-American neighborhood and later, as the lone poor kid in the predominantly white, upper class school she tested into. Wolff does a beautiful job capturing the vulnerability of being a kid; she makes the reader feel keenly the moments of painful embarrassment she had to navigate. Although she depicts her childhood self somewhat deprecatingly, it's hard not to admire this young girl's inventiveness and grit. (When a classmate asks why her lunch ticket is a different color than everyone else's, she says that it's because she's allergic to raisins.)
I wish, though, that Wolff had delved deeper into her father's psychology. Her father, a charismatic man who seemed to fit utterly smoothly into the African-American community, still remains a mystery to me. Wolff speculates little on where his intense need to be black came from or why he had so much trouble holding down a job. She alludes vaguely to her father's threatening physical presence (both she and her mom seemed to live in constant fear of him), but she never shines a clear light on this aspect of their relationship. In fact, she seems determined to "find the good" in all of her family members, even though her father and her stepmom Yvonne treated her, on many occasions, horribly. Wolff can't seem to let go of her need to be daddy's girl, and the book's warm and fuzzy final scene struck me as, at best, overly optimistic.
Jennifer 8 Lee tracks down the answers to many questions you have likely mused over with Chinese-American friends. Her book is filled with interesting...moreJennifer 8 Lee tracks down the answers to many questions you have likely mused over with Chinese-American friends. Her book is filled with interesting tidbits about the true originators of the fortune cookie, the entrepreneurs behind P.F. Chang's, the woman who pioneered Chinese delivery service in Manhattan, the makers of the Chinese takeout container, etc. Although the book's sprawling chapters defy neat closure, Lee makes a nice point at the end about the cultural convergence that's happening in the U.S. today. Rather than bemoaning the blurring of authentic ethnic cuisines, she celebrates the "mix[ing] and match[ing] across different traditions absorbed from the people and influences you've been exposed to." In her quest to learn more about Chinese-American food, Lee learns to celebrate her own amalgam of an identity, as a Chinese-American who has been heavily influenced by a rich diversity of friends.
If that sounds a bit schmaltzy, not to worry. Not all of the book is so upbeat and affirming. Indeed, some of the most interesting reporting in the book focuses on the plight of the Fukianese immigrants who overwhelmingly populate the work force of American Chinese restaurants today. My favorite chapter, "Waizhou, USA," follows the story of one Fukianese family who bought a Chinese restaurant in middle of nowhere, Georgia, and the weird suffering that ensued. Mostly, The Fortune Cookie Chronicles is just a light, entertaining read, but the quirky bleakness of this one tale suggests that Lee has the potential for meatier reporting and whets my appetite for more nuanced insights into the Chinese-American experience. (less)
This excellent book explores the series of developments that lead to a dramatic appreciation in value of the left tackle position on professional and...moreThis excellent book explores the series of developments that lead to a dramatic appreciation in value of the left tackle position on professional and college football teams. This change happened to occur at just the right time to benefit Michael Oher, a young black football player from Memphis, Tennessee, who was born to play left tackle.
The story of Michael Oher is a marvel. One of 13 kids of a crack addict, Michael grew up fending for himself in the gang-plagued projects of Memphis. Through an amazing confluence of events, he ended up at an upper crust white Christian school where he attracted the attention of a wealthy white family. Within a short time, the family fell in love with Michael and adopted him. Little did they know that they had adopted a future football sensation. Though Michael had barely even played football before coming to this new school, his rare combination of quick speed and gargantuan physique made him one of the top recruits in the country; coaches whipped themselves into a frenzy trying to woo him. Provided with love and nurturing he had never experienced in his life, as well as the intense tutoring and hand-holding he needed to navigate academic waters, Michael succeeded where so many young black athletes have failed. He made it to college. In a few years, he stands the chance of becoming one of the most highly paid players in NFL history.
Michael's success is all the more gratifying because his early life story is so heartbreaking (I cried, Steven cried; I heard even Malcolm Gladwell cried). Though ostensibly about football, what makes this book fascinating is that it offers a rare look at what happens when a child deprived of everything--responsible caretakers, love, education, even the basic necessities--is suddenly given the privileges of a well-connected, wealthy white family. It also reminds us that there are still countless Michaels out there whose life stories are equally devastating.
One more comment about this book: it is seriously funny. Despite the obviously sad elements of the story, I found myself bellylaughing over and over at three in the morning. This one is definitely a good read.
I loved this book. I leave it awed and humbled by the trees, by the explorers, and by the writer who wove together the many strands of this story with...moreI loved this book. I leave it awed and humbled by the trees, by the explorers, and by the writer who wove together the many strands of this story with precision and grace. The men and women whose lives unfold in these pages are truly pioneers discovering the tallest trees on earth and exploring uncharted worlds in the canopies of the giant redwoods. I was fascinated by the vast and intricate ecosystems, not to mention all the alcoves of beauty, that exist atop these ancient trees. Most of all, though, I was fascinated by the shockingly intense relationship these people have with the trees and the way this relationship makes them face their limitations and potential as human beings. It made me contemplate my own relationship with the natural world and the sliver I occupy in the lifespan of the universe, thoughts that usually get edged out in the course of everyday life. I am left marveling, wickedly jealous of these tree climbers and their ability to confront their mortality so tangibly every time they ascend a tree...Getting to pet a flying squirrel isn't bad either. (less)
I loved this book. It made me laugh out loud over and over again, annoying the people next to me on the plane.
Dan Savage paints a funny, tender portr...moreI loved this book. It made me laugh out loud over and over again, annoying the people next to me on the plane.
Dan Savage paints a funny, tender portrait of life with his boyfriend Terry and their son D.J. as they wrestle with the question of whether Dan and Terry should marry. In doing so, he explores the institution of marriage, gay and straight, in all of its messy complexity.