Second Quarter Bookishness

Early in the year I zipped through a couple of books a week. By March I was way ahead of my overall goal for the year (75) and thought I might even get to 100. Then I discovered a jigsaw puzzle app which was quite relaxing but cut in to reading time unless I was listening to an audiobook. Then I found out I got a new job and we started the moving process. Rather than read in the evening I was looking for a place to live, packing and all that fun stuff.

That’s all to say I’m really slowing down, but still making decent progress toward my goal.

Anyway, on to the mini reviews.

FIVE STAR BOOKS

The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham

I was a huge fan of the Veronica Mars TV series. I’m bummed we only got a few seasons before the series was cancelled. You can imagine my excitement when I saw someone mention the Veronica Mars book as one they were reading to fulfill a challenge (book basked on or turned in to a TV show). I downloaded the audiobook narrated by Kristen Bell and loved it. It picks up where the movie leaves off and takes us back to solve the case of some young women who go missing in Neptune during spring break.
Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

I listened to the audiobook for this outlandish story of a Singaporean family and the wealth that I can’t even begin to imagine. The plot centers around Rachel Chu and her boyfriend, Nick Young, two professors living in New York. Rachel knows little about Nick’s family and doesn’t come to find out that he’s part of a secretive old money family in Singapore.

The story is fun even if it’s tough trying to remember who is who in the Young-T’Sien-Cheng family trees. I listened to the audiobook so I didn’t see the family tree until much later.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

It’s easy to see why Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming has earned her so much praise and earned her the 2014 National Book Award. The book is written in autobiographical short poems that all can stand on their own but go well together. It reminded me of The House on Mango Street in that sense. We follow young Jacqueline as her family moves from the South Carolina in a segregated part of town to Brooklyn. The poems are about things like her little brother getting lead poisoning, enjoying summer days in South Carolina and going to Jehova’s Witnesses church services. My only complaint is that I feel the book ended too soon, when Jacqueline is entering her teen years and both the South and North are feeling the affect of the Civil Rights Movement.

FOUR STAR BOOKS

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain

Billy Lynn is an excellent satirical novel following some heroes from the early days of the war in Iraq. Bravo Squad is home for a “Victory Tour”. Most of the action occurs in one day as the men attend a Thanksgiving Day game at Cowboy Stadium in Dallas. While they’re simultaneously treated like heroes, they also know that soon they’ll be sent back to Iraq. It’s billed as the Catch 22 of the Iraq War, but I think it’s much funnier. Granted, I don’t think I finished reading Catch 22.

Dad Is Fat by Jim Gaffigan

I’ve heard parts of Jim Gaffigan’s stand up about being a father. Thus, some sections were repetitive. However, I overall really enjoyed it as someone who currently has a small child. I listened to the audiobook, narrated by Gaffigan.

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
I’m ashamed to admit that Roxane Gay wasn’t really on my social media radar before I started seeing her 2014 books, An Untamed State and Bad Feminist on my radar. Nevertheless, I’m glad I’ve read both her recent fiction and nonfiction. My favorite essays tended to be about pop culture (Sweet Valley High series) and the intersection with issues of race and class. Gay also made me think twice about unlikable main characters and why likability shouldn’t really matter in literature.

The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro

Kazuo Ishiguro tackles loss in a new way through The Buried Giant set in the England of King Arthur’s time. While I enjoyed the book overall, it was a little bit of a slog. I actually liked it more after hearing the Ishiguro on the Bookworm podcast where he discussed his motivations for writing the novel. I had that “aha, now I see what you were doing there” moment I was too dense to figure out earlier.

The First Bad Man by Miranda July

I didn’t anything about The First Bad Man before reading it, I just expected it to be odd and a bit funny like other Miranda July stories. I liked where the novel went and how it made me think about my own identity shifting in recent years as I became a mother.

A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’Engle

I never read A Wrinkle In Time as a kid and it was on the list of must reads for 9-14 year-olds. I liked it, but it overall felt too short. Not sure I want to read the whole series.

Big Little Lies by Lianne Moriarty

I’m glad I gave Lianne Moriarty another try after What Alice Forgot which I complained was too long and trying to do too much, even if the premise was interesting. Big Little Lies takes us back to the suburbs of Sydney and focuses on the lives of three women whose children attend the same school. Madeline is aggressive and likes to start fights. She’s fiercely loyal to her best friend, Celeste, and takes Jane, a new, young single mom, under her wing. Everything gets pretty dramatic rather quickly. Considering that it’s about murder and domestic violence, the book is actually rather entertaining.

THREE STAR BOOKS (and one 2)

2 A.M. at the Cat’s Pajamas Marie-Helene Bertino

All the action in 2 A.M. at the Cat’s Pajamas occurs on December 23rd, Christmas Eve Eve. I liked it, but should have probably read the book. There are a number of characters and plots to follow that all come together without feeling forced. Madeleine is a little girl who recently lost her mother to cancer. The neighbors and local business owners look out for her as her father seems too grief stricken to really parent. She has trouble at her Catholic school where her teacher, Sarina Greene, takes pity on her. Then there’s the owner of the club, Lorca, and his group of musicians and family. Overall, it’s an enjoyable story but I was thrown off by the magical realism elements.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

It’s easy to see why The Girl on the Train is on bestseller lists. Read it if you really liked Gone Girl and psychological thrillers with unreliable narrators and characters you find it tough to cheer for.

Mr. Kiss and Tell by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham

Mr. Kiss and Tell is the second book in the Veronica Mars series. Veronica is hired once again by the owner of the Neptune Grand to find out if the woman who said she was raped by an employee of the hotel is actually telling the truth. Veronica quickly finds that this isn’t just about the rape of one young woman and uncovers a bigger crime. I think I would’ve liked this more if Kristen Bell narrated the audiobook once again.

Patron Saint of Liars by Ann Patchett

I really liked the other recent books I’ve read by Ann Patchett, but didn’t love The Patron Saint of Liars. I’ve a read a few books recently about reluctant and absent mothers. Rose Clinton isn’t absent, but she’s definitely got a complicated relationship. The novels begins when she simply drives away from San Diego where she lived with her husband. All she leaves is a note. She goes to St. Elizabeth’s, a home for unwed mothers run by nuns, in a small Kentucky town. While the other women leave St. Elizabeth’s after having their children and giving them up for adoption, Rose stays and continues to work as the cook.

Destiny’s Embrace by Beverly Jenkins [2 stars]

I needed to read a romance novel for the Book Riot Read Harder challenge. I picked a book that featured protagonists of color. As a plus, it’s set in 1800s California. Mariah Cooper is a young seamstress living with her mom in an east coast city (Philadelphia? I can’t remember). She answers and add asking for a housekeeper placed by the widowed mistress of a ranch in northern California. She quickly gets to work and clashes with Logan Yates, her new boss who also happens to be a very handsome and eligible bachelor. It was okay, but I’m not intrigued enough to read the rest of the books in the series.

Share:

On Muerto Mouse, Coco and Haters

Sunday morning political cartoonist Lalo Alcaraz joyfully announced via Facebook that he was working on the new Disney Pixar Day of the Dead-themed animated film, Coco.

ESPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT: I have been sitting on this news, but it’s finally time to let you know that I am on the team creating the new Pixar Day of the Dead movie titled “Coco”. [link]

I responded “Firme,” which is Mexican slang that loosely translates to “cool.”

What I didn’t write was that I was kinda surprised and may have raised an eyebrow or two. I’ve been following Lalo’s art since the ’90s and when I met him him years ago at the Pocho Hour of Power event  I asked him to sign the calendar I bought and took a picture with him. I don’t want to say I’m a fangirl, but I’ve cut out and saved my share of La Cucaracha cartoons over the years.

Lalo’s political cartoons first made me laugh when I saw them in the LA Weekly. He critiqued mainstream Hollywood and racist/xenophobic practices alike.

While some people brought up Muerto Mouse, — more on that — I thought way earlier to Migra Mouse. From Migra Mouse: Political Cartoons on Immigration, a collection of Lalo’s political cartoons:

“Migra Mouse represents the corporate interest of the Walt Disney company, which donated money to then California Governor Pete Wilson’s re-election campaign. Wilson was exploiting the illegal immigration issue in the most divisive way, so I felt it was necessary to point out that wholesome Disney was affiliating itself with Wislon and Proposition 187, a xenophobic state ballot.”

A lot changes in 20 years… or even two years.

In May 2013, Disney made the epic blunder of trying to trademark “Día de los Muertos” in anticipation of the movie. Rightfully, this pissed off Chicanos and Latinos everywhere who were tired of seeing the appropriation of DDLM without respect for its roots. Lalo made Muerto Mouse, a mock poster for the movie, that was quite popular.

With this history, there were some people who were understandably scratching their heads. Like, what gives, man? Lalo explained himself when questioned. The patent attempts were dropped because of the pressure, Disney listened. Isn’t this what we want, greater representation and diversity in mainstream Hollywood? With him as part of the creative team he could to his best to ensure the culture was respected. And, I thought, he’s an artist who has the right to make the best decisions for his career and his family. I’d be a hypocrite if criticized Lalo for making a move to advance his career after just doing that myself by going from a public university of an elite private university. I can’t deny that compensation and career advancement were not part of my decision. Bills don’t pay themselves.

Later that day I saw this come up in my feed.

On Monday morning, Lalo posted this:

Something bothered me about Lalo and others’, namely Gustavo Arellano, response to the critics. It was the abject dismissal of the haters and tying it to an ethnic trait, even if jokingly. Being critical is hardly exclusive to Mexicans. Furthermore, it begs the question. If I share the same background as you, do I have to always approve or like the work you’re doing be it in politics or art? Do white people get accused of crab mentality if they say anything other than “Awesome! Congratulations!”? Perhaps “You are not expected to support culture produced by someone of same race” should be added to Peggy McIntosh’s invisible backpack of white privilege.

And were people really that critical? No!

I went back to Lalo’s initial announcement to see if there was a backlash I missed. The first thing I noticed was that the news got a ton of likes and shares. There’s no way to know if these are all positive, so my rudimentary research focused on the comments. Of 450 comments, most were congratulatory. In fact, since I like making charts and playing with Excel, I looked up some common words to see their frequency.

There are 323 total mentions of the words I searched; some of these were surely mentioned by the same commenter (“Congratulations! This is awesome news! Good luck!!!!”). I also searched for Muerto Mouse (<10 mentions; some by Lalo himself) and Migra Mouse (1 mention). The comment that garnered Lalo’s “so it begins screenshot” wasn’t representative by any means. And no one called him a tío Taco (sell out or Uncle Tom) except one lady. When he posted about his critics or haters, the vast majority of people responding to the critics sided with Lalo and lauded him with more praise. I doubt he deleted comments.

I favor constructive criticism and debate. In a medium like social media, everyone can share their opinion. Chicanos and Latinos do not, nor should they, all agree that Day of the Dead traditions need to be shared in mainstream entertainment. We are not a monolith. I have mixed feelings on DDLM going mainstream but have also purchased sugar skull patterned bags, clothing at the mall and stamps at the craft store. I’ve enjoyed Lalo’s art for many years and hope his humor will come through in inside jokes or Easter Eggs as is common with Pixar films. As for Disney/Pixar, I usually love Pixar movies and grew up watching lots of Disney movies in the ’90s. Toy Story is one of my favorites and the Lee Unkrich/Darla Anderson producer/director team made me cry last time I watched one of their animated movies, Toy Story 3. I go to Disneyland occasionally, wear Minnie Mouse ears, and sing Disney songs to my son. I like that Coco, which features a little boy named Miguel, may be one of his first moviegoing experiences.

What I’m not down with is exaggeration and blanket statements, but I’ll do one of my own. Maybe Jerezanos* like Lalo and Gustavo just attract more hate than others. And if that’s the case, then I’m wondering when I’ll get a share of that hate.

[*Jerezanos are people from Jerez a city in the Mexican state of Zacatecas. Lalo, Gustavo and I all have roots there.]

Share:

Xavi is two

TMNT

Xavi is two years old*. That feels weird yet natural to write. It’s not the time that’s passed, but the way we measure it. We’re no longer saying his age in months when people ask.

My son has changed a lot since we first met him that sunny Thursday afternoon. He’s no longer the tiny newborn who nurses frequently and is swaddled to sleep. He’s a bright and silly toddler who says a lot without using many words. He’s obsessed with trains and freaks out when the train rolls by a block away.

And while he is bigger and more active, there is so much that doesn’t change. I still want to cuddle him even if he can wriggle free in two seconds flat. I stare at him while he sleeps amazed that Sean and I made such a beautiful creature. I still send poop emoji because dirty diapers are still an event. His hair still gets him lots of attention and comments and his smile and giggle are the best sounds ever. And he still loves my singing and listening to stories.

***

Ride On

We spent Xavi’s birthday at my in-laws’ house in Long Island. From a two-year-old’s standpoint, it might’ve been the best day ever as it was filled with his favorites and he was spoiled by 1.5 sets of grandparents (my mom was in town).

The word has spread that he’s a bit obsessed with Thomas and Friends and trains in general. My mother-in-law bought him a train he can ride on as well as an iPad. Xavi now officially has the newest iPad in the family. The big train and smaller trains joined Xavi’s collection of Thomases (Thomi?) that my mom helped grow by bringing some of the magnetic trains he left behind in LA and buying him new trains.

2nd birthday

After exploring the stairs at grandma’s we walked down the street for a block party. It was the perfect weather a neighborhood block party. Xavi had a good time trying to stay upright in the bouncy house and playing with water, two more favorites. I was a little squeamish about seeing him play with a water gun, but he’d rather just pour out water from a cup and splash water.

He also had a small birthday party. It was a low key affair compared to his first birthday bash. Eula invited over some friends from the neighborhood and church. She cooked up a bunch of delicious food and we played in the backyard and tried not to get eaten alive by mosquitoes. Xavi played bubbles and soccer with his grandpa. I don’t think he’s ready either for El Tri or the Reggae Boyz squads, but if there was a selección nacional team for chasing and popping bubbles Xavi would surely make the team.

And last there was cake! Who doesn’t love cake.

The perks of being a small toddler.

We returned to Ithaca on Sunday. Xavi had one last awesome experience. He got to sit on a Harley-Davidson motorcycle during a rest stop. The very kind bikers kept calling him a little girl — he gets that a lot thanks to the long hair — but the only thing that bothered him was when I took him away.

Oops. Sorry little guy.

*And a couple of weeks. I’m a little late in posting this.

Share: