The Two Sides of Semple

3730554This One Is Mine
Maria Semple
© 2008
289 pages (hardcover)

Last week, Dr. Timothy Jay, “a psychologist and expert in swearing,” appeared on NPR’s All Things Considered, talking about how kids “suck up swear words” like vacuum cleaners. Here is the transcript.

Dr. Jay isn’t lobbying for parents to wash their kids’ mouths out with soap; he doesn’t think that parents should make certain words taboo. Instead, he suggests that it is a parent’s job to teach a kid the nuances of the language (for example, it’s appropriate to say certain things only in certain places, like “in the house or in the backyard”) and “to teach them how to manage their emotions, and the language is just part of that.” Viewing certain words as “bad language” or “dirty words” prevents acknowledgement of their beneficial uses (“their use in humor, their use in bonding, their use as relief from pain or venting frustration”). Continue reading

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All Our Names

UnknownAll Our Names
Dinaw Mengestu
© 2014
256 pages (hardcover)

A couple years ago, the Washington Post reported in this article that 15% of new marriages were interracial (check out this graphic that accompanied the article): “’Intermarriage in this country has evolved from being illegal to being a taboo to being merely unusual,’ said Paul Taylor, the Pew official who edited ‘The Rise of Intermarriage’ report. ‘With each passing year, it becomes less unusual.’”

For me, interracial relationships are not at all unusual. In fact, they’re my normal.

My parents (white dad, Asian mom) met at a small college in Iowa in the late ‘60s. They married in the early ‘70s, only a few years after the Supreme Court’s Loving v. Virginia decision holding that Virginia’s law prohibiting interracial marriages was unconstitutional. Continue reading

Service Included: Four-Star Secrets of an Eavesdropping Waiter

Service Included: Four-Star Secrets of an Eavesdropping Waiter
Phoebe Damrosch
© 2007
226 pages (hardcover)

I have said it before, and I’ll say it again: I love good food.  I love it so much that I have a special section on my bucket list reserved for restaurants.  I’ve been to some (Le Bernardin, Blue Hill at Stone Barns), but there are many left to visit (like Sukiyabashi Jiro and The French Laundry).

Last week, I got to cross another restaurant off that list.  My brother and I were lucky enough to get a reservation at Per Se.

Per Se is Chef Thomas Keller’s fancy-schmancy Manhattan restaurant.  Keller is also known for the highly-acclaimed French Laundry in Yountville, California (as well as Ad Hoc in Yountville, Bouchon in Vegas, and Bouchon Bakery in NYC).  And he is the author of some of my favorite cookbooks: Continue reading

And the Mountains Echoed

16115612And the Mountains Echoed
Khaled Hosseini
© 2013
402 pages (hardcover)

And the Mountains Echoed begins with a story told by a poor man to his children, three-year-old Pari and ten-year-old Abdullah: “Once upon a time, in the days when divs and jinns and giants roamed the land, there lived a farmer named Baba Ayub.”

Baba Ayub had five children, but his favorite was the youngest, a boy named Qais. One day, a div came to the village of Maidan Sabz, where Baba Ayub lived with his family. Every person in the village “trembled and held its breath,” for they all knew what the div would do:

Families prayed that the div would bypass their home for they knew that if the div tapped on their roof, they would have to give it one child. The div would then toss the child into a sack, sling the sack over its shoulder, and go back the way it had come. No one would ever see the poor child again. And if a household refused, the div would take all of its children.

Continue reading

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender

18166936The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender
Leslye Walton
© 2014
301 pages (hardcover)

I am a big fan of magic realism (aka magical realism). When done well, it is vivid and captivating and beautiful. Passages like this (from Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude) make me swoon:

As soon as José Arcadio closed the bedroom door the sound of a pistol shot echoed through the house. A trickle of blood came out under the door, crossed the living room, went out into the street, continued on in a straight line across the uneven terraces, went down steps and climbed over curbs, passed along the Street of the Turks, turned a corner to the right and another to the left, made a right angle at the Buendía house, went in under the closed door, crossed through the parlor, hugging the walls so as not to stain the rugs, went on to the other living room, made a wide curve to avoid the dining-room table, went along the porch with the begonias, and passed without being seen under Amaranta’s chair as she gave an arithmetic lesson to Aureliano José, and went through the pantry and came out in the kitchen, where Úrsula was getting ready to crack thirty-six eggs to make bread. Continue reading

The Complete Persepolis

CompletePersepolisThe Complete Persepolis
Marjane Satrapi
341 pages (paperback)

Before reading this book, I’d never read a graphic novel. I’m not snobby about them; I just never really had a particular hankering to read one.  So, I was excited when my book club chose to read The Complete Persepolis for its March selection.

To call this a graphic novel, however, is not entirely accurate.  “Graphic memoir” would be a more apt description . . . but, because “graphic memoir” sounds like a violent or sexual or otherwise obscene autobiographical tale, this book has adopted a more benign descriptor: “a memoir in comic strips.”

To get a feel for the art and style of the book, take a gander at the trailer for the movie adaptation (which won the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 2007), which author Marjane Satrapi co-wrote and co-directed: Continue reading