(Psst, this book review is my Massachusetts pick for my Make America Read Again challenge. to read the full list of books this year, click here.)
For those of you who don’t know, my husband is a legit super genius patent lawyer extraordinaire. Not that I am biased or anything.
He and I have gone to school together since we were in middle school, and he has always aced every test, paper, quiz, and presentation. He was one of two people in our graduating college class to have a perfect 4.0, and the only one in his major (Chemistry) to accomplish this GPA, considered one of the most difficult programs in the country. He broke the record for the highest Organic Chemistry test scores from our school and won the adoration of our professor (who would write notes on his test like, “You have an incredible future in Chemistry”, smiley face included), and he had only taken that class FOR FUN with me, while I was forced to take it for my pre-med curriculum.
PS: I impressed exactly no one with my Orgo grade, but I got really good at doodling the chemical structure for TNT over and over.
So when he got accepted into Harvard for the Organic Chemistry PhD programs, no one was surprised. What we were surprised to discover, however, was the incredibly toxic and manipulative environment of the department. That’s why this book, Chemistry, by Weike Wang, resonated so deeply with me.
Y’all ever get a case of the Sunday Scaries? This week it hit me like a Mack Truck; I’m not sure if it was because of my extra-fun Saturday spent in South Carolina, the fact that work has been extra-stressful lately, that I’ve been reading too many “dark” books lately (Charles made me promise that my next read would be “happy” after I spent several days tearing up at virtually everything, and then gave him a summary of the past five books I’ve read, all of which were about less-than-sunny subjects), or that I’m simply in summer mode, but I definitely felt some kind of way when I woke up this Sunday morning…and it wasn’t my normal chipper self but instead, moody and whiny.
SOOO I’m going to make this post short and sweet so I can bury my head in a good (CHEERFUL) book and pretend like I don’t have to spend all day tomorrow staring at teeth ;).
So remember how last week’s book review was light and frothy? Well. This week’s book for Michigan is the exact opposite. Instead, it’s a story of an intense high school friendship, the lure of addiction, and the spiraling effect of small events in life. This book swept me back to my own high school years, the (mostly) pre-Facebook and smart phone and economic collapse era, the years of locker room rumors and AP testing and field parties that, despite your best intentions, shape a part of your adulthood in ways you don’t always realize until much later.
This week was not exactly a stellar start to the summer, now was it? Between the withdrawal from the Paris Agreement and yesterday’s London attacks, the world isn’t looking so sunny. I’m currently bed-ridden with a bout of a lovely strep throat/cold combo, and although usually I enjoy any excuse to read all day in bed, it’s been more difficult to concentrate on any book of depth while nursing a fever, aching limbs, and grieving and angry for a city I was lucky enough to call (for a short time) my home. Why does this keep happening? What can we do to put a stop to this violence? I’m way too hazy from my cough medicine to answer these questions with any semblance of wisdom, though no one else seems to be able to answer these questions either. The scariest part to me is how each attack becomes less and less shocking – we are becoming desensitized and grow jaded with the well-meaning Facebook flag pictures and the “Praying for London” tweets. I think I’m undergoing a short term version of a funk.
“Rich People Problem” books are my go-to for whenever I’m having a rough week, when I just finished a rough semester in school, or whenever I need a palate-cleanser after reading an intense or depressing story. So this weekend I needed something light and frothy, perhaps even downright superficial, to give me a temporary reprieve from the real world. Fortunately, the novel Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan (published in 2013) fit at least two of these three characteristics, and took me to a completely different part of the world without having to leave my couch.
What’s it All About?
The international bestselling novel is the first in a trilogy (the sequel, China Rich Girlfriend, was published in 2015, and the finale Rich People Problems was just released this past month) and centers around 29-year-old Economy professor and ABC (American Born Chinese) Rachel Chu and her dashingly charming boyfriend, Nick Young. Nick is heading back to his home country of Singapore for his best friend’s upcoming nuptials, and he invites Rachel along as part of a summer-long tour of Asia. What Rachel doesn’t know is that her low-key PhD lover is actually a favorite grandson of one of the richest Singapore families…in other words, she’s about to be immersed in the world of some Crazy Rich Asians.
As she is interrogated and judged by various friends and family of the Singapore elite, Rachel begins to question her relationship with Nick and her place in his life. Will they survive the pressure?
At first, I honestly thought I was going to loathe this book. The opening chapters that are narrated by Nick’s more sartorial-focused family members include an endless number of designer brand name-dropping and Michelin-star restaurant references that made me cringe and roll my eyes. There’s a reason why I’ve never been tempted to watch the Kardashian’s or Real Housewives shows; even for me there are limits to how basic I’m willing to go (though I’ll never say no to a SoulCycle class or a glass of bubbly, so I’m still pretty far gone on the Yuppy spectrum).
…eventually though, I realized that the whole point of the book was to gently satirize this culture (although the author himself seems to genuinely love a good Gucci loafer, as much as he talks about them in the book). I blame the cough-medicine-induced haze on my delayed reading comprehension. Then I started really enjoying myself and got immersed in the world of Asian elite society, the clash between Mainland Chinese and Overseas Chinese, as well as the New Money versus Old Money tensions that are scarily similar to American society except on a grander scale – in Kwan’s depiction of Singapore, those that make a mere four million a year are absolute paupers.
I also surprisingly found myself gleaning little tiny peeks into Singapore and Chinese culture – the rituals and traditions, the mouth-watering cuisine that sounds like a mix of Indian, Asian, and European cuisine (I have been craving satay and coconut rice and laksa and chili crab for several days now, as well as many other dishes that I don’t even fully understand). Also, did you know that Singapore actually gives dividends to its citizens when the economy is doing well? This island, and really this area of the world, holds so many secrets I was completely unaware of until this book. Unsurprisingly, I am now desperate to plan a trip to this part of the world.
Read this book if…
At its heart, this novel is a rom-com, albeit one sprinkled with designer dress names and private-jet trips to Indonesia and Australia. I do think Mr. Kwan brings a perceptive eye to this genre, so if you’re looking for a fun summer read with hints of character development and sly humor, while understanding that this book is definitely NOT going to change your life, this is a good pick. It will definitely make you smile on those rough days, if also feel a bit gross about how materialistic we all are.
(P.S. For those of you in the London area, you can offer to help victims in the London attacks via the Facebook Safety Check app, which has volunteer resources. If anyone knows how those of us in the United States or other countries can help, please comment below.)
Y’all, this upcoming holiday weekend marks the official start to BEACH SEASON!!! Summer is seriously my favorite time of year, and now that I’m finally living in the South again I am fully basking in the sweltering hot afternoons and blazing sun (with my liberal application of sunscreen, of course). Atlanta has been experiencing summer weather for over a month now, and I’ve got no complaints with keeping my car windows and sunroof open. Though my fellow commuters might, as they’ve had to hear my off-key rendition of the Hamilton songs as we all sit in gridlocked traffic.
Though perhaps not everyone is hitting the sand this upcoming long weekend, we can all benefit from some R and R – and by that I mean Reading and more Reading.
Psst, this year I am attempting to read one book set in each state of America. To see the full list and what I’ve read so far, click here! Joy Luck Club is also a part of my list for Classics Club, click HERE for that list).
Happy Mother’s Day to all my motherly friends, family, and of course, my own beautiful mother and grandmother! Because of my mama, I know (among many other things) how to cook the most scrumptious cornbread and Red Velvet Cake in existence, the necessity of daily sunscreen for our porcelain (ok, pasty pale) skin, the understanding that a weekend spent on the beach can cure virtually any ailment, and – my personal favorite – the ability to make everyone in a social event feel included and comfortable. I could continue on with so many more reasons why my mom is the best, but in order to avoid sounding trite, I’ll simply say this: I am beyond blessed to call her my mama.
Although I tend to choose my Kindle over my remote control, I still appreciate the fact that I am living during the Golden Age of Television. I am always looking out for the latest books-turned-movies or television series, and this year an entire treasure trove of stories are being released on HBO, Netflix, and, as always, at the movie theater. Here are my thoughts on the shows and movies that have recently been released or are about to come out: