Lately read

By “lately,” I mean in the last half year or so.

My Brilliant Friend | Elena Ferrante: In a word, brilliant.  The first in a four part series unfolding in Naples.  The protagonist, Lila, is a wonder.  Headstrong, volatile, multi-talented, beautiful … brilliant.  You can’t help but think this must be autobiographical and that these characters have real life counterparts.

The Story of a New Name | Elena Ferrante: The second in the four part series. Although wildly different in tone and style, this series reminded me of Little House on the Prairie or Anne of Green Gables in its charting of the characters’ lives, from childhood to adulthood.  And like those classics, these will stay with you.

Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay | Elena Ferrante: The third in the four part series. It is impossible not to be moved by these books.

The Story of the Lost Child | Elena Ferrante: Like the ones before it, this fourth in the series will move you.  Raw and real.

Dept. of Speculation | Jenny Offill: Unfolding almost like one long poem (it isn’t – it’s a novel), this is one you might easily finish in one sitting.  The prose is clever and the word play will make you want to read the lines over and over.

The Goldfinch | Donna Tartt: This book is so many things, but it is at heart a story about friendship.  It will move you and at times, you will cry.  The characters are living, breathing … Boris, Popchyk … you will fall in love with them.  The character sketches are cleverly and vividly spun – Kitsey like a sugar spun fairy mouse and her brother Andy like an anemic white lab rat.

The Vegetarian | Han Kang: I picked this one up in London at my mom’s recommendation. The Man Booker 2016 winner. My initial thoughts were: Kafka-esque – staccato writing and surreal.  Three narrators with wildly differing perspectives – one for each chapter.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane | Neil Gaiman: Gaiman blurs the line between fantasy and reality in a way that gets you thinking about how that line was so much fainter and easily crossable in childhood, growing more defined as you grew up. Even though at times downright scary and horrifying, this book is worth reading.

Half Broke Horses | Jeannette Walls: Walls tells the story of her plucky maternal grandmother (in her grandmother’s voice), from girlhood through adulthood to motherhood.  One part I found particularly endearing – the narrator recalls how she had looked at the names of people who had checked out library books before her because she had a hankering to discuss the particular book.  Also left me wanting to visit the emerald green Havasupai Falls.

The Glass Castle | Jeannette Walls: Autobiographical. Engrossing. You’ll find yourself wondering how she and her siblings overcame all.

The Marriage of Opposites | Alice Hoffman: Hoffman is an excellent storyteller and she’ll transport you to lush St. Thomas and wintry Paris. The protagonist was a bit stereotypical and predictable, but I loved that the focus was on her (mother of the famous painter Camille Pissarro) instead of on the painter himself.

Olive Kitteridge | Elizabeth Strout: I understand that this won a Pulitzer, but I just didn’t love it. Yes, it is insightful, but it just didn’t move me.

The Interpreter of Maladies | Jhumpa Lahiri: This one was a book club read. Her writing is graceful and effortless. Overall though, her stories and prose lack daring and wild heartedness.  My favorite story was the one where the Jesus figurines kept appearing all over the Hindu couple’s house.

The Nightingale | Kristin Hannah: This read much too like a YA (young adult) novel for me. Simplistic, almost superficial writing.  Although the characters lacked depth, I did find one especially charming (can you guess which one?).  Worth a read though, for the historical significance and plot.

The Nest | Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney: This one was another book club read.  Easy to dismiss as a summer read, but the character sketches are sharp and memorable.  I found myself much more moved by the blue collar characters than the so-called protagonists lamenting their first world problems.

Ride on

D and I returned from a blissful stretch of days horseback riding through wooded trails and fields in a small town in Georgia. We cantered and trotted through endless trails.

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I first fell in love with horses and horseback riding on a trip to Cheju Island in Korea. I was in the third grade. I remember riding a grayish white horse. I remember feeling that it was the closest thing to soaring.

How do you explain what you’re drawn to, what attracts you?

When we returned to California after our Cheju trip, I asked my parents if I could go horseback riding again. They enrolled me in Western riding classes at a nearby stable. Followed by horse camp in the summers.

I remember the first time I cantered. I was in the fourth grade. You don’t forget these things.

It wasn’t until law school that I was able to return to horseback riding. Several times a month, I’d drive off campus towards the stables for English riding lessons. Harder to master than Western riding, but exhilarating. Like soaring.

It is one of the things I’ve missed the most these past nine or so years in the city.

I was overjoyed to see D loving horseback riding on our recent trip. To be doing one of the things you love with the person you love.

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We savored the sunsets, got up close to the horses even when we weren’t riding, and even saw ducks in a row (literally).

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we become our mothers

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that’s my mom. and that’s me.

she’s clutching a chicken. and i’m clutching a bear.

in korean, there’s a saying of sorts — daughters really do become their mothers. even ones who were nothing like their mothers as children.

friends i’ve known since high school, college, and beyond … over these past many years, i’ve witnessed them too being swept into this inevitable trajectory. their facial expressions, the shoes they choose, the jewelry, the hair. and ultimately, their life choices. i’ve found myself too often surprised by the similarities — to see their mothers reflected in them so clearly.

i would be so lucky to resemble my mother.

every card, every letter

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i’ve kept every card and every letter i’ve ever gotten through the years. i’m a minimalist when it comes to most things, deploring clutter and saying “pack rat” as if it has nothing to do with me. when it has come to letters and cards from family and friends though, they’ve staked out a slice of real estate wherever i’ve lived and have stuck with me through every move. the boxes of letters as time capsules of sorts, i suppose.

i love their tangible quality in much the way i will always love paperback books. you can feel the weight of them in your hands, the glittery or sparkly texture of some, and smile at a dear friend’s round handwriting that you’ve grown to love over the years. i love the handmade cards of one friend especially. when i was about to graduate from stanford law years ago, a handmade card arrived from her in the mail. it was one of the best graduation gifts to open up the envelope and find her card. she had procured a miniature cap and gown, a tiny diploma, and glossy paper with the stanford “S” logo and had assembled all those pieces into a card that made me smile. in it, she had written, “i want to remain life long friends with you and of course, someday, i would like you to be in my wedding! well, when i find the one that is … I love you so much and you are the only person i can laugh like crazy with.” reading those words and seeing her card will always make me smile.

there are also ones from my grandma. i opened one up recently, to read the year “2003” written in her beautiful hangul (korean). she, who also loved to read and write as much as i did, always sent me a handwritten card for at least one occasion every year.

i also love sending cards and letters. in the midst of frenetic work weeks (though happily shortened as of late), weekend goings on, and chores … it’s a happy respite to be able to sit down with a card chosen especially for a dear family member or friend and scrawl a few lines or more.

storytelling, live music, and joe’s pub … a few of my favorite things

d and i recently went to one of the most moving performances at joe’s pub. martha redbone (singer, songwriter, performer, and all around talent) brought to life her family tree on a brightly lit stage. the story unfolds with her thirteen year old great grandmother liza of the choctaw indian tribe being sent to work at a british home in kentucky. martha redbone rightly defines what the forty five year old british man of that household did to her great grandmother — child rape. her great grandmother liza bore ten children. only four survived. when the british man died, the british mrs. threw liza and liza’s four children out onto the streets. redbone guides the audience along her family tree, tracing her roots down to the present day. through redbone’s mesmerizing performance, we learn of her mixed heritage and the day to day struggles (not to mention layers of prejudice) her family faced deep in the mining town of harlan county, kentucky. redbone artfully injects humor and surprise throughout for one of the best performances i’ve seen in a long time.

bridesmaid-ing through the years

closet space in this city is a precious commodity. and yet, i’ve chosen to hold onto the bridesmaids dresses i’ve donned over the years. along with framed pictures of the festivities, they are reminders of having stood beside some of my favorite people as they exchanged vows.

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the summer of ’03. i had just graduated from stanford undergrad, and was about to embark on yet another journey – stanford law school. and my dear friend theresa was about to become someone’s wife. we were only 22. i was thrilled to be her maid of honor, but also a little wistful — a little sad that she was about to embark on a journey that i had a feeling would remain uncharted territory for me for awhile yet (little did i know it would be a SUPER LONG WHILE for me). it didn’t seem too long ago that we had bonded in high school over our love of the same books (“i can’t believe you’ve also read ‘girl of the limberlost’ – i LOVE that book”). in the days leading up to her wedding, she threw us a bridesmaids’ tea party at a cozy little tea parlor in wheaton — tea served in chubby teapots, a tiered cake stand of scones and cookies, and little trinkets hidden amongst the scones with flowy ribbons attached for each of us. she wanted each of us, her bridesmaids, to pluck a flowy ribbon from the bunch. attached to each flowy ribbon was a mystery trinket and message scrawled in theresa’s handwriting. attached to the ribbon i plucked was a charm in the shape of a sailboat and a note that read: “you’ll be sailing away on great adventures that await you.” it couldn’t have been more right. i couldn’t have fathomed all the changes and adventures that would unfold in the years ahead — the people who would become fixtures in my life, the different landscapes i’d inhabit …

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the year: 2008. i was two years into living in new york city and working as an attorney at a large firm. nyc was still novel to me –the first two winters had been deceptively mild, the bags of trash adorning its streets had yet to grate my nerves, and i was still starry eyed about all the city held and offered. and my dear friend sarah was about to marry sam. and i was thrilled to stand beside her as her maid of honor. she wasn’t one to make choices lightly or impulsively, and i was happy knowing that this choice of hers would be a lasting one.

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the year: 2013. mb, as i had dubbed her at some point early on in law school, was about to drop the “b” in her name and become mrs. R. in mb fashion, she had asked us to choose each of our bridesmaid dresses. not surprisingly, i chose one for myself in a shade very much like the one i’ve chosen for my own bridesmaids to wear in a few months time. as for me, i had, by this time, hurtled through three dramatic years in the courtrooms of brooklyn as a prosecutor, becoming enmeshed in lives i’d otherwise not have encountered. mb looked radiant as she walked down the aisle in her mom’s wedding gown. as for bee, she’ll always be “mb” to me.

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the year: 2014. my dear college friend sheenie, surrounded by sparkles, antique china, accents of her navajo culture, and rosewater PINK, is a stunning bride. having known since college that we’d be in each other’s weddings, it was all the more memorable to stand beside her as she became mrs. cooper. here’s more on this wedding.

bridesmaids are unique to american culture (they don’t have them in korea) and though some may have horror stories when it comes to bridesmaid-ing, i have loved standing beside my dearest friends on their biggest of days.

land of spam musubis and tanned hello kitties

our hawaii trip seems like a distant memory already, but it was only last month that D and i were cruising through oahu’s micro-climate in our little convertible, marveling at how we blended in with all the other asians and looking forward to our next meal, which would invariably include rice a plenty. oahu was filled with just as many asians as i remembered from my trip years ago in college (and correspondingly delicious food).

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one of our first stops was the little town of hale-iwa on the north shore. there, we consumed fresh fruit smoothies that tasted like the fruit had fallen off of trees straight into the blender, buttery shrimp from the ubiquitous shrimp trucks, and oh — i almost got attacked by a chicken (much to D’s delight).

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the dole plantation beckoned with promises of “the world’s largest maze” and its pineapple express. once there, we opted out of the flat and soggy looking maze and hopped onto the pineapple express train, where i couldn’t stop humming along to the train’s theme song. when i refused to cradle the requisite pineapple for a photo opp, the plantation theme park lady thrust the pineapple in D’s direction like a trophy, apologizing to D. apologizing for what? for being with someone who refuses to hold a prickly pineapple? i glared at the ugly pineapple.

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we also explored little beaches along the east shore, from lanikai to waimanalo.

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D found a farmer’s market for us to explore.

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blending into swarms of asian locals and tourists at the diamond head farmer’s market, we consumed poke bowls of fresh, meaty poke (raw fish) atop rice, mason jars of juice (yes, mason jars have made their way from brooklyn to oahu), and other asian-influenced bites.

D pointed out that the hello kitty dolls sold in hawaii were tanned (yes, literally tanned). i looked closer. they were indeed tanned.

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one of our favorite stops was the whole foods along the east shore. bento boxes adorned the shelves, a huge smoothie bar lined one of its walls, and there was, behold, a poke bar serving up poke of your choice with yes, rice.

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on one of our last days, we went to see the honolulu christmas lights. we had seen people running around on the beaches with santa hats and were amused. we weren’t disappointed.

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we saw trotting past us cinderella’s pumpkin carriage, lit up in all its glory. note: we did NOT take a spin in this pumpkin carriage, thank god.

some of the most breathtaking moments though, couldn’t be captured on camera. like the feeling of seeing someone you adore basking as happily as you in the warmth of a sun so unlike the sun you left behind. or the feeling of awe and wonder as we cruised along pali highway, its majestic and somewhat frightening landscape threatening to swallow us whole as the wind whipped our hair. the mountains, pure emerald green, rose up into giant formations of pinnacles. we could only throw our heads back and be consumed by it all, knowing we would soon be returning to a gray landscape of skyscrapers.

dumbo festival of lights (a.k.a. riot/war has broken out)

i would not do well in a war zone. or riot. as in, if a war or riot were to break out and i were to have to get from point a to point b, i would fail (miserably).

i was to meet D in dumbo to see the brooklyn festival of lights. meet, we did. see, we saw. but survive? barely. (D survived just fine, by the way. by barely, i’m referring to yours truly).

i don’t have a pic to post alongside this entry. if ever i were to get stuck in a war or riot, there would be no pictures of the experience. you see where this is going.

the “war/riot” starts at the york street F train. as i step off the train and onto the platform, throngs of tourists approach out of nowhere. they’re apparently here to see the same lights. police buzz about, announcing that this train stop has reached maximum capacity. undeterred, the tourists keep pushing ahead.

finally emerging from the subway tunnel and into the night, i dash towards our meeting place. i run smack into what must be the center of this light festival. it is surreal. instead of pretty colored lights or lanterns draped around this part of town, i see crazy flashing lights and people screaming for more (of what, i don’t know). this is what a war or riot must feel like.

somehow, i make it to D.

“how in the world were you able to get here?” i ask. “oh, i didn’t have much trouble at all. it was quiet the way i came.” he says.