Charting life's circuitous path

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2013 – a bundle of reads

Being already Christmas Eve, I always wonder who exactly believes, I mean really believes that this is the “most wonderful time of the year”. 😐 Between all of the cookie baking, blitz cleaning and gift wrapping I remember why I don’t really like Christmas.  Of course, once the BIG day arrives it’s like giving birth to your first born. There’s excitement and happiness as you eat all of that yummy food you spent the last week prepping, and all of the pain and suffering of the previous 30 days are magically wiped clean away.

Until the next December when you wonder why it was that you thought you could take on multiple parties and organize too many gift exchanges. 😯

Ah, Christmas! Thanksgiving doesn’t even compare.

Once the new year arrives all fresh and sparkling with promise, hopefully we can all kick back and relax a bit.  I know I plan to indulge in a bit of me time.  Like go through my old school work boxes and finally toss the lot in the recycling bin (so I like to organize a bit for fun!). Or play some computer games that I’ve been woefully ignoring (Playstation, here’s looking at you).  I may even just sit back on the couch with a blanket tucked around my feet and a good book in hand.  Quiet coziness with a touch of adventure sounds heavenly right about now!

Not that I haven’t been reading.  In fact, according to Shelfari, I’ve read nearly 100 books!  (96, in fact – so close yet so far!)

Admittedly I’m lucky that I work in a place that lets me listen to audiobooks so I get through books like they were cookies.  If I had to rely on actually sitting down with a real paper and glue book, well, let’s just say that the ghost of English degrees past would come and haunt me.

With Christmas tomorrow and New Year peeking out from beneath the tree skirt, my present to you is a list of my top reads from this year.  These are books that surprised me with their lovability and made me want to give out copies to all of my friends.  They’re series that just keep getting better and they’re classics that made me remember why it was that I fell in love with books in the first place. 🙂

So, with little ado, here are my top reads for 2013! A brief summary and opinion is presented for you so as to avoid spoilers but whet the appetite.  You can always follow my reads on Goodreads (see the widget in my right sidebar).

Best in Series: The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher.

StormFront_Hardcover_1-120 (I just finished book 7, Dead Beat.)

Meet Harry Dresden – a wizard trying to make a living in modern-day Chicago with a batch of quirky friends and a whole lot of evil enemies.  Mainstream Chicago doesn’t know about the magical underbelly of the city and it’s only the gruesome side that they see.  This is paranormal without the glitz.  There’s real pain and real nastiness in this series that doesn’t waffle in the romantic side like a lot of other paranormal books. I like how wise-cracking Dresden can be and it’s that lightness mixed with grit that keeps me reading this series.  It’s also one of those rare series that keeps getting better and not weaker (like some other series *Evanovich*) and Butcher actually develops the lives of his characters (*Evanovich*).  The sheer number of books is a bit daunting, but I don’t let it get to me.  I savor each book and I let a bit of time pass before I indulge again.  These are books with weight, and I find a bit of time in-between can make each read that much better.

Best in Fiction: A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozekiozeki

This novel plays with time and distance that can make your head hurt a bit if you think too hard.  If you just accept it and focus more on the teenage girl trying to live in modern day Japan after living in the US, the 30-something writer who is trying to exist in the way-beyond on the West coast, and the diary that connects the two and their existences, then you’re good to go.  It’s a complicated and sometimes brutal novel that I found difficult to put down.  I connected with both characters and their dual ethnicities and with a lot of the day-to-day identity issues they face.  It’s a wonderfully told tale that carries you along like the wave that carries the girl’s diary to the woman across the world and the pasts that bind them together.

Best in Comedy: Where’d you go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple

booksI laughed out loud more with this novel than with any other this year (and that included Sedaris’ very funny Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls)  It’s crazy and snappy and just spot on in its ridiculousness to draw light to the reality of the characters’ situations.  Bernadette is a mother whose architectural career has been put on hold after the birth of her daughter, Bee.  Her marriage, her relationship with her daughter and the people of Seattle are all tested when her daughter announces that she wants to go to the Antarctic if she gets all As.  It’s told from Bee’s perspective for the majority of the book but it becomes more of a “portfolio” once Bernadette goes missing and Bee sets out to discover everything that might have led to her mother’s disappearance.  I loved the freshness of this book and how it tells a typical story of a woman who’s lost her way in a completely different and hilarious way.


Best in YA: Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy

Skulduggery isn’t your normal PI –he’s a skeleton for one and a wizard to boot.  And he’s just acquired a new partner in sleuthing, twelve year old Stephanie Edgley.  Except something wants Stephanie dead and it’s up to the two of them to stop the evil from manifesting.  This is a paranormal world that feels more Dresden for kids and the interplay between the two characters had me smiling.  I liked how quick and witty it was and how it was a kid’s book that felt intelligent and fun.  Skulduggery’s life is still mysterious by the end, but what we do learn left me wanting the next book in the series.  This is the sort of novel I’d have devoured as a child and I loved it more for giving me the chance to feel 12 again.

10600242Best in Non-Fiction: How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran

Not really a how-to guide at all but more of a “this is what I learned” kind of book.  Moran is part crude, part intense but all woman as she lays out what it means to her to be a woman.  I agree on most of her points (and not quite agree on others) and while I can’t say we share any life stories, the essence of the experiences are definitely relatable.  I found her bluntness refreshing in a way because it burst the topic out of its confines.  True, sometimes she seems to do it for the sake of shock and awe, but the very fact that it didn’t bother me after a bit means that our own hang-ups are just that – they aren’t intrinsic to the words themselves but to the ideas wrapped up in the surrounding mess.  I only wish I had this book to read as a young feminist growing up in an anti-feminist culture.

Best cookbook: Vegan Holiday Kitchen by Nava Atlas


There were so many good cookbooks this year that it was hard to narrow it down.  I picked this one, though, because it has a bit of everything and it’s all veg.  I’m not a vegan since I eat a bit of dairy, but I appreciated the vegan recipes in this book because Atlas takes the time to break it down by holidays and each is packed with flavor.  I am always tasked with bringing a vegan dish to potlucks (my grandmother can’t have cheese so most casseroles are out) and this book gives me so many different ideas and all of them are do-able (no uber-gourmet dishes here).  The color photographs are beautiful and the recipes are easy to read and follow – double win!

 Best classic: The Double by Fyodor Dostoevsky Golyadkin doesn’t know what’s happening to him and by the end, you won’t either.  It’s a brilliant telling of psychological collapse as Golyadkin meets his “double” who steals his life away bit by bit until ultimately you’re left with only one.  Dostoevsky weaves the story so intricately around the collapse that the reader can only hope to understand it by joining Golyadkin in his downfall.  I have a soft spot for all of Dostoevsky’s work, but this one truly made my mind melt by the end – but in a good way!  It’s a story that doesn’t give it to you straight and because of that, it’s hated by many.  If you’re open to a bit of mind-play then I definitely recommend this book with a strong cup of coffee.

Happy Holidays and may all of your reads be bright!

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For the Time Being

I am Japanese American.

There’s no disputing that.  My Japanese mother and white American father places me smack dab into that category even if my second grade teacher couldn’t answer my race question when I asked her as a small student filling out her standardized test form.

But I don’t always feel so identifiable.  Sometimes I feel more American than Japanese, like when I buy my groceries at my local Japanese store and the most I can understand is the welcome and leaving greetings. Other times I don’t even think about it and just feel like, well, me.

For most of my life, though, it hasn’t been something I could ignore.  The relentless taunting in elementary school, and later the odd comments about blood purity percentages and the selective deafness from strangers never left me doubting just where I stood.

ozekiI read a lot of books, but rarely do I read books that strike so close to who I am.  Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being, however, struck hard and quick.

It’s a very complicated story, in that I would be doing it a great disservice to try to condense it here.  Trust me when I say that this is truly a tale that crosses boundaries – with time, ethics and age.  It weaves a tale that forces you to question existence, self-identity, and perception.  It questions what it means to be “noticed” and to “not notice” or be forgotten.  It taps into how we view our own agency and what gives our lives value.

I was moved many times during this book and it was the first time when a novel touched something so deep within me that I rarely want to face.

Race has always been up front and center for me.  When your father is American and you’re living in Japan, you get noticed.  When you’re back in America but you’re still the only Asian kid in the school, you don’t forget it. Every time you go to visit someone’s house and realize just how different their home is compared to yours, you don’t invite them over.  It wasn’t shame, exactly.  It was more playacting – trying to separate who I was at home from what I was beyond my front porch.

It was, for the longest time, my way of dealing with being different.

It wasn’t fulfilling.

In fact, it made life even more difficult.  Nao, the teenage girl in the book, lives a double life.  She keeps what’s happening to her at school separate from her home.  The one time it does cross, it brings the reality of her situation into the light and she’s forced to face it.

While I was verbally bullied at school growing up, I was never bullied to the extent that Nao experiences.  However, I can relate to her wanting something that made her special and strong – she developed her “super power” while I did my best to be a “super American”.  I focused heavily on studying and being smarter than everyone else, I never brought up my background in a social setting and pretended that my home life was identical to theirs.  I did whatever I could to make myself be “normal”.

And while it did give me the strength to get through it all, it didn’t help my self-esteem.  I found myself hating what I looked like even more because it wasn’t something I could change.  A new pair of the hottest pants and the latest top might make me fit in, but I couldn’t change my eyes or the shape of my face.

After a few unsuccessful life “resets,” I slowly came to realize that the only way to truly love myself wasn’t to deny who I was or to create a new me, but to be me.  happiness

The girl with the curly blond haired, hazel eyed hubby.

The girl with the house where you automatically take off your shoes at the door and eat mochi at New Year’s.

The girl with the slanted eyes, quirky skirts, and dark brown hair with natural red tints that’s a bit dad and a bit mom.

The girl that’s part Japanese and part American.

I still haven’t fully come to terms with my dichotomy.  Even as I type this, I remember everything and it’s difficult to contain it all.  I want to talk about everything all at once.  There are days when those evil words come and haunt me right back in the mirror.  There are even days when I still encounter people who feel as if they need to remind me of what I am.  I still struggle.

But I have discovered that it’s also okay to be me.  In fact, without the other, I’m not me.

It’s that realization that helps me get through the tough moments.

(Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being is a bit graphic and a whole lot of sad, but it’s a wonderful book about learning to build your life on your own set of rules.  I highly recommend it and would love to hear from those that have read it.)


It’s the story of a girl

Stories have to start somewhere, but what we call the beginning isn’t always accurate.cinderella

Cinderella may be the story of a young woman neglected by family, saved by a fairy godmother, and ultimately running off with her prince, but even she had to get to the starting line.

(And who’s to say that it’s the story she would have told.)

Nine years ago, my tax status changed from filing single to filing jointly married.  Our belongings meshed together in a heap of corrugated boxes and bubble wrap.  Names were changed and not because we had to protect the innocent.

Many consider their wedding day as the “start” of a new life.  For us, there’s no denying that the wedding was a big event, but it was located somewhere in chapter 3.

In 2001, the hubby and I were a solid 3000 miles away, and the only things keeping us apart were tricky time zones, sketchy modems, and family wanting to use the phone (I mean, is that really important?).  Many bleary eyed college mornings were spent trying to jolt life back into an all-nighter body, not because of a party but long internet chat sessions.

 bookWe were young (hence being able to stay up all night), naïve (not worrying at all about the whole immigration twilight zone we would soon discover) and completely devoted (our phone bills attested to that – yikes!).

Loving my hubby didn’t take any effort at all.  We shared the same interest after all (you pretty much know what kind of person they are if they show up in a Dr Who chat room), and he was just too cute (words are definitely more expressive than most people think).

Our pre-married life consisted of endless IM spiels, chat room sessions and emails.  Being the neurotic type, I kept every scrap of conversation.  I wanted to preserve all of the fun and late night drivel even if I wouldn’t be able to remember the obscure references later.  There are times when you want to preserve a moment so you take a picture.  Having no person to take a picture of, I took “snapshots” of our pictorial conversations.book2

For our ninth anniversary, we’ll be kicking back with a slice of homemade Black Forest cake (hubby’s been wanting one for ages and I’ve had this secretly in the works for just as long), and flipping through a little book I put together using Blurb.

I wanted to give him a physical copy of the more ephemeral part of our beginning.  I couldn’t possibly bind all of the conversations I’ve saved (converting them alone would take me much longer than the four hour window I had when the hubby wasn’t home), so I picked out a selection of emails and IM conversations that meant a lot to me and showed the progression of our relationship.  I sprinkled in pictures that demonstrated our quirky, lovable and fun partnership.  The Blurb program was easy enough to use, but I wasn’t sure what the physical copy would look like – would all of our low-res pics come out horribly distorted?  Would the conversations even read right in print form?  I had bundled everything into a semblance of a book, but it was all still digital.

A week later, I held in my hands a slim white book filled with us.  It isn’t a masterpiece, but the smile he gave me and the hour we sat on the couch going over each page meant that it achieved what I had hoped.

Our story may have taken us by surprise when we finally grasped the plot, but from the very beginning it was a story that promised a whole lot of smiles.  And delivered.  😀

It’s the story of a girl who fell in love and never looked back.