You Can’t Touch My Hair

Here’s where I admit I hadn’t heard of Phoebe Robinson before I saw this book..wherever it is that I saw this book..on one of your blogs, on Litsy, Instagram? I definitely saw it very many places before deciding to download it.

So who is Phoebe Robinson? She’s a comedian, a host of a podcast called 2 Dope Queens, and a series on YouTube. All of which I hadn’t heard of or seen. I’m obviously not current and modern and young and up to date enough to know all these things! Maybe you are!

But you know what, it didn’t matter.

It was such a fun, funny read that also made me sit up and learn a great variety of things.

Like just how difficult it is to be a woman of colour in the entertainment industry. In the aptly titled chapter ‘Casting Calls for People of Color That Were Not Written by People of Color’, made up but inspired by what she’s seen in real life such as the African-American Principal “nice-looking, personable, but not too dark”, which was explained because of the special effects and lighting. To which Robinson retorts

“If the BBC can light Idris Elba for Luther so he looks like a delectable blueberry tart from Giada de Laurentiis’s kitchen, then y’all can light a garbage ad that’s going to air during the Jane the Virgin commercial breaks.”

In a collection like this there will be essays that make you sit up and go, yessss finally someone wrote this. And there will be others that might not sit so well with you but I kinda reckon that’s still pretty ok as long as Phoebe Robinson is writing it. I mean I could do without all the abbreviations like J/K. That might just be me. But abbreviations aside, she’s just such a delight to read, in her very conversational tone. For instance when she’s ranking the members of U2, or talking about doing her laundry at her parents’ house or ordering for two (for one) from McDonald’s. I mean, she’s even making want to go and investigate her podcasts. Me, who has no time to myself to even finish listening to an audiobook.

But she is at her best when she talks about race and racism.

“But as a nation, we are far from the “everyone holding hands in racial harmony” that we assumed would happen once Obama was ushered into office. In fact, throughout the Obama years, there had been, at the very best, resistance to change, and at the very worst, a palpable regression in the way the country views and handles – or more accurately, refuses to handle – race.”

She is not one to mince her words or to call out people for their racist behaviour.

“First of all, people need to stop acting like racist behaviour only happens within a three-block radius of Paula Deen’s house. Ignorance exists everywhere, including liberal bastions like New York City.”

My favourite chapter is where she writes letters to her 2.5-year-old niece Olivia, who is biracial.

“…lean into your “girlness”. Throw it in people’s faces that you are fully embracing everything they think is a flaw. Eat, cuss, laugh, feel, dance, fight, dress, think, love, and tell your story like a girl, which means do everything you intend to do with no regard for how people want you or expect you to behave.”

Now that is an awesome aunt.

This was just such a delight to read.

(Also if Jessica Williams, Robinson’s work wife who also wrote the foreword to this book, has plans to write a book, I would definitely want to read it. Does she? Anyone?)

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Talking As Fast as I Can

First things first. If you haven’t watched the Gilmore Girls reboot – and especially if you’ve never seen Gilmore Girls at all – you really should just go carve out a good chunk of your time and go watch them all. Right now. Pop some popcorn, make lots of coffee, get in your pjs and settle down with Netflix. There are seven seasons and 4 90-minute episodes!

I’ve been watching and rewatching the original Gilmore Girls for years. And of course I watched the re-whatever it was when it came out. It was both exciting and comforting and also at times a bit disappointing (more Lane!! More Mrs Kim!! More Jess!! Why was Rory not even reading a book?? I love Matt Czuchry (Logan) but I did not like what he and Rory had going o). And that weird bit where they sit by the pool, I would just skip that entirely. Also while I love Sutton Foster, I won’t rewatch the Stars Hollow musical.)

An attempt at bookface for Litsy the other day only to realize later that my hair is horrendous!

I wasn’t at all disappointed with this book though. I mean sure you can’t go into it expecting writing that blows you away. But if you’re a GG fan then I think you would be happy with it. Lauren Graham writes in a friendly conversational way. Like you were sitting at Luke’s and eating burgers and fries and she was right opposite you, telling you all this. And pancakes and coffee. And tacos and coffee. It would be a really loonnng conversation.

Part of me wishes I listened to this as an audiobook but neither of the libraries I’m a member of had it in their Overdrive so eh. But I guess I could always sign up for Audible or something.

But back to the book. The best part of it is of course when Graham talks about the show she is most famous for. But she also talks about her childhood (she lived in Japan! Her mom was so glamorous!), she walks us through what it was like for her starting out as an actor and more. Interesting enough, but you know it’s kind of filler for what this book is really marketed to be – the book for the Gilmore Girls fan, published not long after the reboot appeared.

And it was a fun light-hearted read. It made me smile and gave me the warm fuzzies sometimes, as she reminisced about the show. You don’t go into a book like this expecting anything profound or insightful. It was a quick fun read and I just adored it for what it is, and pretty much what you expect from the subtitle From Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls, and Everything in Between.

#nonficnov: Immigration reads

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It’s week 4 of Nonfiction November! You can find all the details here

This week’s topic:

Be The Expert/Ask the Expert/Become the Expert: Three ways to join in this week! You can either share 3 or more books on a single topic that you have read and can recommend (be the expert), you can put the call out for good nonfiction on a specific topic that you have been dying to read (ask the expert), or you can create your own list of books on a topic that you’d like to read (become the expert).

Immigration and citizenship has been on my mind of late.

I read a lot of fiction about the immigration experience (like Americanah, The Namesake, The Book of Unknown Americans), but not much in terms of nonfiction. These are some of the books I have read that fit into this category.

 

cosmopolites

The Cosmopolites: The Coming of the Global Citizen by Atossa Araxia Abrahamian was a short read about ‘citizens of the world’ including the buying and selling of passports, and the Bidoon, who are the stateless people of countries like the United Arab Emirates.

devilshighway

I read The Devil’s Highway: A True Story by Luis Alberto Urrea a while ago (it was published in 2004) but I still remember the horror of reading this book about this group of men who attempt to cross from Mexico into Arizona.
snakehead
The Snakehead: An Epic Tale of the Chinatown Underworld and the American Dream by Patrick Radden Keefe was a fascinating tale about a $40 million smuggling business run by a middle-aged woman known as Sister Ping.

Some books I would like to read:
undergroundamerica
Underground America: Narratives of Undocumented Lives (Voice of Witness) compiled by Peter Orner

immigrants
Immigrants: Your Country Needs Them by Philippe Legrain

inthecountrywelove
In the Country We Love: My Family Divided by Diane Guerrero

littlemexico
The Boys from Little Mexico: A Season Chasing the American Dream by Steve Wilson

wetoosingamerica
We Too Sing America: South Asian, Arab, Muslim, and Sikh Immigrants Shape Our Multiracial Future by Deepa Iyer

makingasianamerica
The Making of Asian America: A History by Erika Lee

Do you have any recommendations?

#nonficnov – fiction-nonfiction pairing

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(All the details for Nonfiction Nov are here)

Book Pairing: This week, pair up a nonfiction book with a fiction title. It can be a “If you loved this book, read this!” or just two titles that you think would go well together. Maybe it’s a historical novel and you’d like to get the real history by reading a nonfiction version of the story.

I always love when bloggers and book sites do this, but when I sat down and thought about it, I realize that this isn’t an easy task. Maybe it’s because I don’t read much nonfiction? But here are some attempts!

If you liked: Seveneves by Neal Stephenson (a fantastic story set largely in space with strong female characters)

try: Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women Who Propelled Us, from Missiles to the Moon to Mars by Nathalia Holt

Seveneves is one of those the Earth is doomed kind of books but with women in the key roles. Hooray! That made me think of the Rocket Girls, women who worked at Jet Propulsion Labs (JPL) as “computers”. That was the term used for their jobs in the 1940s and 1950s – they did calculations (velocities, trajectories) and all the math behind getting these rockets into space. And it was pretty much an all-women team of human computers. 

If you liked: The Wangs vs the World by Jade Chang

try: The Chinese in America by Iris Chang

and The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by Michael Lewis

 I recently read Wangs and loved this smart and funny book about a family whose fortunes have fallen. I thought a good nonfiction pairing would be one about Chinese immigration to America as well as one that talks about the 2008 financial crisis. I haven’t read The Big Short yet but want to after reading the Wangs. 

If you liked: The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson

try: Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick  and In Order to Live by Yeonmi Park

Another two-fer. I picked Orphan-Master’s Son as that’s the only popular fiction I’ve read set in North Korea (if you’re interested, Hwang Sok-Yong’s The Guest is set in North Korea, but I’m guessing he’s not a familiar name to many). Barbara Demick has written an unforgettable book about life in North Korea and Yeonmi Park relates her own experiences growing up in North Korea in her book. 
And now for the most obvious pairing of all…

If you liked:
The Princess Bride by William Goldman

try: As You Like It: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of the Princess Bride by Cary Elwes. If you can get hold of the audiobook, even better!

 

#nonficnov: My year in nonfiction

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Almost forgot all about Nonfiction November! You can find all the details here

Take a look back at your year of nonfiction and reflect on the following questions –

What was your favorite nonfiction read of the year?

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I read more nonfiction than I thought I did – 24 books! And a good number of them were audiobooks, which is very unusual for me. It’s hard to pick just one!

I loved listening to As you wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of the Princess Bride that was just an absolute treat for the ears! Bluets by Maggie Nelson was, at 113 pages, so short but so beautiful. And The Song Poet

What nonfiction book have you recommended the most?

songpoet

The Song Poet by Kao Kalia Yang, a Hmong American writer, is a book that more people should read. First of all, the story of her father and his family struggling to survive, having to flee their village is moving, emotional. Their stay in a refugee camp in Thailand, where Yang was born, was painful. But it was even harder to read about their life in America, where they work day and night to make a new life for their family in this strange new land. 

What is one topic or type of nonfiction you haven’t read enough of yet?

Science-related nonfiction!

What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?

More recommendations please!

TLC Book Tours: Run the World by Becky Wade

Run the World cover

Let’s begin at the beginning. Here is where I tell you I don’t run.

(And there you go, with a horrified “what?” and go find a book blogger-runner whose review you’d rather read.)

Yes I don’t run but I sometimes read running-related things. So this is a review from a non-runner’s point of view. I hope you will bear with me!

So Becky Wade is an American. A young American runner. Who has never left the country. I always am fascinated by that. But that’s probably because the country I’m from is so tiny you can drive from one end to the other and still be in time for breakfast.

But Wade is a resourceful one. She gets hold of a yearlong fellowship (the Watson Fellowship) which gives its recipients money and then tells them to get lost. Really. As in they are not allowed to enter the US (or their home country if they’re not from the US) for a year. They don’t get a whole lot of money though so it’s not about living it up in fancy hotels but it’s enough to buy some plane tickets and do some traveling and pursue their interests. What a truly amazing thing to be able to do!

It is brave of her to do this. Not everyone would be willing to give up a year in which they could be starting a career for instance, which most college graduates are looking to do, or, in her case, putting her training on hold, to go out into the world for a year. When I first heard of this I had thought woah how fantastic, wish I could have done this! But as I thought about it more, traveling the world for a whole year isn’t easy. You have to be able to adapt to your always changing situation, to be ok with living out of hotels/motels/strangers’ homes. And be content living out of a backpack. I can imagine that being extroverted would really help too! (So not me).

Also here I should add that Wade was a very successful athlete already when she left on her yearlong adventure. She had multiple NCAA All-American Honours and two Olympic Trials qualifiers to her name. But she wasn’t contented with that. She wanted to learn how runners in other countries train.

So Wade wants to Run the World. She visits 22 countries including Nigeria, Ethiopia, New Zealand, Japan, Switzerland and more over 12 months.

Runners will definitely gain some insights from this book. When she runs with some Kenyans, they start off at a stroll, oh about 20 minutes or so, then a leisurely jog, not much faster than a walk, then all of a sudden, break into a run. That is, they run by feel and warm up naturally, something that Wade wasn’t used to at first. It is interesting to learn of how runners are so well-respected in Japan, how important races are broadcast on public TV, and some athletes and events can even bring Super Bowl-like ratings.

But non-runners like me will also find it a pretty good read as she delves into different cultures, learns about different cuisines around the world, and even provides some recipes from her new friends, like brown soda bread from Ireland, Rosti from Switzerland, and Anza biscuits.

I especially enjoyed reading about her stay in Ethiopia, where running is once again, by feel. Time, distances, speed is rarely predetermined. And the line leader uses snaps and finger points to warn of obstacles such as roots and cracks were in the way. And their coffee ceremonies, a wonderful tradition that revealed their communal culture.

I was a bit disappointed that her stay in Japan was mostly via Japanese expatriates. She did stay with a Japanese family in Kyoto  for a few nights but her experience in Japan was largely through the expat (i.e. white) scene. It sounds like it may have been hard for her to break into the Japanese running scene and that is a pity.

Five months after her year-long world adventure, Wade  won the California International Marathon in 2 hours, 30 minutes and 48 seconds, gaining her a qualifying time for the Olympic Trials and a sponsorship from Asics. So all that knowledge and insight she gained from her world tour may have helped in her success!

Run the World is a bit of a different read for me, and while I may not really fall into its target audience, it was an enjoyable read. It allowed me to marvel at the passion people have for running. And to realize that what had always seemed to me like a simple sport can differ in so many ways around the world. From the way warmups happen, to the food that fuels runners, to the different styles of running. It was definitely an eye-opener.

Go Becky!

tlc logo

I received this book for review from its publisher and TLC Book Tours.

Don’t forget to check out the rest of the tour stops

Becky Wade AP photo by Deborah Kellogg-1Becky Wade is a professional long-distance runner who competes for Asics. At Rice University she was a four-time All-American and the winner of the Joyce Pounds Hardy Award, Rice’s highest athletic honor, and the Conference USA honoree for the NCAA Woman of the Year award. After graduating Phi Beta Kappa from Rice with a triple major in history, psychology, and sociology, Becky traveled the world on a Thomas J. Watson Fellowship and visited 22 countries to explore long-distance running cultures.

In her 26.2-mile debut in December 2013, Becky won the California International Marathon, qualifying for the 2016 Olympic Trials. Currently, she is fulfilling her dream of running professionally and chasing Olympic aspirations, while coaching and working part-time at a shelter for homeless youth.

Connect with Becky on Instagram and Twitter.

 

The Song Poet – Kao Kalia Yang

 

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I have so much love for this book that I don’t know how to write about it. Will you just bypass it because, it’s a book that you haven’t heard of? Or maybe you don’t read memoirs? Or non-fiction? Why am I being so negative? Maybe instead you are excited because it is a book you’ve not heard much of! Maybe it’s interesting because it is memoir! Non-fiction! Hurrah!

Amazingly, I won The Song Poet from a Library Thing giveaway. (I seriously have the worst of luck when it comes to book giveaways). And what is perhaps more amazing is that I picked up the book and read it, within a few weeks of receiving it. I am a bit of a hoarder when it comes to physical books. I buy them and then, save them for the end of the world or something.

Anyway, the book must have called out to me. It was meant to be. And it was one of the most beautiful things I have ever read. A book that sings and cries, a book that laughs and shudders. A book I brought along on a Bart ride to the city to pick up my passport from the Singapore consulate. It sat with me on the crowded train, it rocketed up many storeys up to the consulate building, then it basked in the sunlight at Ferry Building where I sipped a tiny and expensive mocha and watched the traffic on the Bay Bridge.

This may sound silly but I first learnt of the Hmong on the TV series Grey’s Anatomy. Grey’s Anatomy may be overdramatic and too many ridiculous things happen to one doctor at one hospital (she puts her hand in a body with a bomb, she steps in front of a gunman etc). But it was also one of the very very few popular primetime TV series to have a lead Asian character, and it wasn’t about Christina Yang being Korean. Or Asian. She was just a doctor. A friend. A crazy, intense, very intelligent person. But still. She was a person. But this episode has nothing to do with Yang. An episode in Season Two featured a patient, a young woman, who needed surgery but because she is Hmong, her father refuses. They decide to call in a shaman before surgery. I hadn’t the faintest idea if this was a good portrayal of the Hmong culture or not (the blog Petite Hmong Mommy found it kinda ridiculous) but it made me wonder about the Hmong culture. I later learnt more by reading Anne Fadiman’s The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, published in 1997, a work of non-fiction about a young Hmong girl living in Merced, California, who suffers from epilepsy. It is a moving, tragic book, in case you haven’t yet read it. But it is not by a Hmong so it’s still from the point of view of an outsider looking in.

The Song Poet seemed to me like your typical refugee in America kind of memoir at first. But the prologue opens with ‘Album Notes’, in which Yang writes about calling her father, Bee, a poet.

“I grew up hearing my father digging into words for images that will stretch the limits of life for my siblings and me. In my father’s mouth, bitter, rigid words become sweet and elastic like taffy candy. His poetry shields us from the poverty of our lives.”

His song poetry is hard to explain, and Yang describes it as such:

“The only way I know how to describe it as a form in English is to say: my father raps, jazzes, and sings the blues when he dwells in the landscape of traditional Hmong song poetry.”

It sounds fascinating.

The Song Poet is a story of struggle, of hardship, of determination, and quite simply of back-breaking, hardworking parents trying to make enough money to put a roof over their family’s heads, to put food in their kids’ mouths. This is a story that moves from Laos, to Thailand, to Minneapolis. And it is so very very difficult, to read of all the pain that other people put this family through, because they are different, because they are Hmong. They were driven from the Laos because of war and communism. In Thailand they lived in refugee camps, where the author was born. Then wanting to be more than just refugees, the family traveled to America. But in America, their lives are still difficult – Bee takes on backbreaking, dangerous work at a factory in order to make ends meet. His wife works the morning shift, he works the night shift. Just so that there is a parent around for their children.

Yang’s voice is just beautiful. My favourite part of the book is ‘Side A, Track 4: Love Song’, where she writes from her father’s perspective of his love for his wife Chue Moua, and all the many things that they have gone through, many miscarriages, across countries. I read and reread that chapter, trying to find something to quote here, but it is a chapter to be read as a whole. A few sentences, a paragraph, wouldn’t do justice to this emotional chapter.

Instead, I will leave you here with a quote from another part of the book. Equally unforgettable.

 

“In America, my voice is only powerful within our home. The moment I exit our front door and enter the paved roads, my deep voice loses its volume and its strength. When I speak English, I become like a leaf in the wind. I cannot control the direction my words will fly in the ear of the other person. I try to soften my landing in the language by leaving pauses between each word. I wrestle my accent until it is a line of breath in the tightness of my throat. I greet people. I ask for directions. I say thank you. I say goodbye. I only speak English at work when it is necessary. I don’t like the weakness of my voice in English, but what I struggle with most is the weakness of my words.”

 

You can read an excerpt of The Song Poet over at Literary Hub

 

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I read this for Akilah’s Diversity on the Shelf challenge

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Read Diverse Books Year-Round