I got my copy of Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer program, which has been treating me quite well recently. I started it on the honeymoon, but read it leisurely, finishing quite a few books in between. It was good, well written and engaging. It reads somewhat like a memoir, and tells the story of a girl who immigrants to the US from Hong Kong with her mother, and their struggles working in the clothing factory, and living in a condemned apartment, as well as Kim’s triumphs as a student. I enjoyed the book and would recommend it. The blurbs on the back compare it to A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, which happens to be the book for book club next month, so I’m interested to compare.
The Great Good Place: Cafes, Coffee Shops, Community Centers, Beauty Parlors, General Stores, Bars, Hangouts and How They Get You Through the Day by Ray Oldenburg has been on my to read list since grad school. Sadly it didn’t live up to that long hype – I hated it so much, that I actually had to force myself onto a chapter-a-day schedule to get it read. Mostly I think the book is super dated. It was written in 1989 and so much about society, and planning, and day-to-day life has changed since then that it seemed pretty irrelevant. (The book is now on its Third Edition, published in 1999, which might have annoyed me less – at the very least it would be aware of this thing call “The Internet”, but DCPL of course only had the oldest edition, so that’s what I read). Oldenburg’s main point is that “third places” (places that are not home or work/school, where you can met informally, without prior planning with folks around you) are important, which is true, but I think this is a thing that planners all recognize now – “third-place” and “mixed use development” are all buzz words nowadays. So perhaps Oldenburg is really a victim of his own success – I don’t like him because all of his ideas have been adopted. It’s a positive way to view the book, I suppose. Me, I’m mostly glad it’s over.
Ever since I’ve moved to DC (or at least ever since I learned of Nora), I’ve wanted to eat there. Nora is sort of like DC’s Chez Panisse – a restaurant focused on local, seasonal, organic food. Luckily my parents also have a penchant for local, seasonal, and organic food, so they decided to host a family dinner there on the Thursday before the wedding. In addition to amazing food (beet salad, risotto with rabbit confit – a dish I recently discovered I liked, and strawberry shortcake!) and really great service, it was a wonderful start to our wedding weekend. Jami and I, our parents, and our brothers and their significant others (my sister wasn’t able to come up until Saturday) all got to meet and eat and get to know each other before the (relatively small, relatively calm) madness began in earnest. What a lovely (pre)wedding present!
April’s round-up was somewhat delayed by getting married (Yay!), but here are the books I read in April (4 Non-fiction and 3 Fiction):
Talking Hands: What Sign Language Reveals about the Mind by Margalit Fox. This book was absolutely, completely fascinating and I highly recommend it (in fact, Jami is reading it now!). Fox follows a group of sign language linguists to a village in Israel with a high incidence of deafness (about 30% of the population), where an indigenous sign language has developed over the past few generations. Interspersed with that story are chapters explaining language, linguists, and the relatively new field of sign language linguistics. It was so neat to read about how our minds work and the ways in which we develop language. Really, really good book.
Espresso Tales by Alexander McCall Smith. This is the second book in the 44 Scotland Street Series, which I wrote about last month. Still engaging and amusing – my favorite new “light” read.
Marriage and Other Acts of Charity: A Memoir by Kate Braestrup. This is Braestrup’s second memoir (I haven’t read the first, Here if You Need Me) and it focuses on marriage – both her own and the marriages she performs as a minister. I didn’t read the first one, in part because it dealt with grief (not my favorite subject, I am definitely an escapist reader), and partly because overt religious discussion makes me uncomfortable, but I’m glad I read this one. When I read the title, I thought “acts of charity” referred to someone who married someone else out of some sense of pity, but the book was more about how we should be more charitable towards the people we marry – that as those closest to us, those that we spend the most time with, we can get frustrated or annoyed with our spouses in ways that don’t with those from whom we have more distance, but that we should be sure to apply that kindness that we often find easier to give to strangers to our spouses. I thought that was a great message to read on the eve of my wedding. It’s a quick read too. Recommended.
Jamie’s Food Revolution: Rediscover How to Cook Simple, Delicious, Affordable Meals by Jamie Oliver. This was a cookbook, so it’s doesn’t totally seem like it should count, but I did read it in April. I’m interested in food and in a shift back to “real” food and healthier food, so I like what Oliver is trying to do, getting folks to cook again. Nothing too earth-shattering in the book or recipes – but it was a reminder that the British do love their curries (I’ve never read a “general” cookbook with a full chapter of curry recipes before).
Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon. This was a book club pick, and a good one. It took me probably half the book to get into it (I was really worried for much of the book that something AWFUL was about to happen. This is part of the reason why I have a hard time reading “contemporary” fiction.) Once I got into though, I was hooked. Michael Chabon is one of those author’s that I have always meant to read, and I was glad to actually get the chance to do so.
Knives at Dawn: America’s Quest for Culinary Glory at the Legendary Bocuse d’Or Competition by Andrew Friedman. An interesting, but not brilliant read about the 2009 Bocuse d’Or cooking competition and the American teams preparation for it. One of those books that I grabbed from the “New Books” display at the library.
Love Over Scotland by Alexander McCall Smith. Another entry into the 44 Scotland Street series. How McCall Smith manages to publish so many book in such short order (He has 3 series going at the moment!) I will never know. It’s impressive.