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.