Yi Shun Lai’s novel Not a Self-Help Book: The Misadventures of Marty Wu delves into friendships, relationships, career crises, and how to deal with your mother. Written in a diary style, Marty Wu guides us through the ups and downs of her life. Working at an ad company in New York to pay the bills, Marty dreams of owning a small boutique costume shop. The problem? Her mother doesn’t seem to get her, support her, and it seems like her best friend doesn’t either.
Following the advice of different advice books picked up at shops around New York City, Marty takes to writing down her feelings and day-to-day “misadventures.” So the novel is written in diary form, from Marty’s perspective, full of emotion, feeling, diatribes, and the kinds of things you probably wouldn’t tell other people. Or at least, wouldn’t tell other people in full–be it a big screw up at work or your inner real feelings about your mother, brother, aunt, etc. So Marty isn’t always likable because she’s not perfect, occasionally bemoaning her own fate in dramatic fashion. But she is recognizable in her trek to figure out who she is and who she wants to be–not always a pretty project.
At the heart of the novel is Marty’s complicated relationship with her mother. Thinking about how her mother will respond to her and her choices frames Marty’s decisions, both consciously and unconsciously. And it shapes their blow out during a trip to visit family in Taiwan and all that follows. Uncoupling herself from her mother proves personally trying, but there is heart in this journey and in Marty’s process of figuring out how to deal in a way that is true to herself and her way of coping. Though at times Marty feels melodramatic and, at least to me, a bit annoying, but beyond all that, the unfolding process of dealing with her mother and those emotional pull is an honest look at difficult and trying relationships and what it means to be family.
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Padma Lakshmi’s memoir, Love, Loss, and What We Ate is an intimate look at family, growing, grief, and eating through life’s ups and downs. Best known for her role as host on Top Chef, Lakshmi takes us from childhood to the present in vivid detail with humor, honesty, and self-reflection. She is fully willing to unveil her flaws, capitalizing on the gift of hindsight.
Lakshmi ably guides us through her triumphs and travails. She is unafraid to talk about her health issues (late diagnosis with endometritis), her sex life, her relationships, and her life between East and West. Inevitably, she returns to food–the foods of her childhood, those of heartache, what she makes for those she loves–interspersing occasional recipes throughout.
Despite getting flack from fans of the original movie, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson reportedly still intends to remake the cult classic “Big Trouble in Little China.” I really love that movie (no matter how politically incorrect), but I still can’t see the point of remaking it, or how Johnson could play the inept everyman role of Jack Burton played by Kurt Russell. When asked about the remake, Kurt Russell also wondered why the remake and what spin Johnson would put on his character.
While news of a remake of “Big Trouble in Little China” may be troubling to fans, they might be encouraged by the announcement of a coffee table book on the making of the movie. The 30th anniversary of the movie’s release is on July 2, 2016.
The National Science Foundation has decided to fund an extensive research survey on Asian Americans. The survey project, lead by Political Science Professor Karthick Ramakrishnan of UC Riverside, Law Professor Taeku Lee of UC Berkeley (shown here), Sociology Professor Jennifer Lee of UC Irvine, and American Studies Professor Janelle Wong of the University of Maryland, will expand on the National Asian American Survey. This study aims to differentiate its data from other surveys by getting statistically significant samples from each of the six largest Asian American ethnic groups, with at least 400 interviews from each group, conducted in at least 11 languages. Along with attitudes on various subjects, data on finance, health, and other areas will be collected.
I was curious as to how these professors got a grant from the National Science Foundation, an organization that I usually associate with technology and not political science. Their grant award summary argues that since Asian Americans make a disproportionately large number of skilled STEM (Science, Technology, Engineer, and Mathematics) workers, understanding them and the barriers facing them will be critical to ensuring the economic competitiveness of the United States. I think that is a valid argument, and it is gratifying to see the award as a recognition of the impact of Asian Americans.
The project will produce a dataset for public release in June 2017.
Karan Mahajan’s latest novel The Association of Small Bombs delves deep inside lives affected by a marketplace bomb in Delhi. It is a terror shocks some, then passes through the news cycle, while upending the lives of others in ways conscious and unconscious. Expertly written, Mahajan provides insightful commentary on the best and worst of humans in response to tragedy.
You could pigeonhole this book as being about terrorism, about “small” terrorism. But, in truth, it is much more. Mahajan shreds the terrorist victim dichotomy that permeates society (both ours and the world of the book). He provides surely one of the most sympathetic views of those involved in setting off these small bombs, those accused, and all those whose lives come to revolve around the bombing.
I was hooked on the first page (“A good bombing begins everywhere at once”) and it continued to be unexpected and innovative in direction.
Since beginning the year, my family has been dealing with a number of medical issues, from emergency operations to life style changes stemming from chronic conditions. When I saw that The Center for Disease Control has released a study looking at the Health of Asian Americans that declares that Asian Americans are more likely to be healthier than the average American, it really got my attention. To its credit, the report disaggregates the data between Asian ethnicities, making conclusions such as Vietnamese Americans are more likely to have poorer health than the general population. But what does it mean that Asian Americans are the healthiest Americans? How applicable is that to all Asian Americans? What does the study miss?
After seeing her play Kentucky Off-Broadway, I chatted with Leah Nanako Winkler about being biracial and young in the theater world, things on her reading list, and what’s next (heads up LA!)–and she was delightful even when I failed to properly articulate questions. Also, since both our initials are LW, my questions, words, and contextual notes are just in italics.
What was the inspiration for the play? To what extent is it autobiographical?
A lot of people have been asking about the autobiographical because you know, I’m half Asian—I actually don’t like that term, I’m biracial—my mom’s Japanese and my dad’s white. I think that’s part of the reason people automatically assume that it’s about me because you don’t really see that on stage a lot. You see the author is biracial, you think, oh, that must be about her. I don’t think that happens a lot to every other writer whose white. Not that all other writers are white.
Right, but it’s a different conversation.
Yes. The character of Hiro is actually not me at all. She is a marketing executive who makes a lot more money than me who has a very strong belief system that does not reflect my own. A lot of the people in the play were inspired by circumstances in my real life in the sense that I did grow up partially in Kentucky, in a town called Lexington. I actually was born in Japan though and moved to Indiana mid-childhood and then Kentucky. I lived in Kentucky for a total of about ten years and I was very, very, very active in the Japanese community that they have in Lexington which sounds a little bizarre, but there’s a lot of Japanese people there. I went to Japanese school on Thursdays and Saturdays. I definitely was brought up in both cultures. Hiro is very Americanized and I imagine that she was born and raised in Kentucky and she moves to New York, that’s probably the first place she lives aside from her hometown. Continue Reading »
I caught this NBC News feel good story about pursuing your dreams recently about Wellesley-educated, former lawyer and Washington, D.C. insider Victoria Lai who had worked for the Obama administration (as Counselor to the Director for U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services, DHS) to pursue her love of ice cream and open up her own ice cream shop – www.icecreamjubilee.com
Not sure why NBC is doing a story on Lai now, since she’s been doing this at least since 2013, according to this Bloomberg Law story when she was doing ice cream part-time and opened her first store in July 2014.
I’m impressed. I don’t think I’d have the guts for financial and professional reasons to give up my day job to pursue a personal passion, hobby where I feel I could actually make a living. I wonder what Lai’s parents think when she gave up her career in law and government? Probably not a traditional career that a Tiger Mom would approve of.