Categories
Fiction

Black and White and Yellow

“Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.” Debate continues about this line from the 1974 noir movie Chinatown. Interpretations include: You are in over your head. Things don’t make sense. You can’t win. In Chinatown.  How should Chinese people consider this comment? Are we different? Charles Yu explores the question of being Asian in America in his National Book Award-winning novel Interior […]

Categories
Fiction

Hillary and Louise’s Excellent Adventure – Or – Hillary Gets Even

State of Terror, the political thriller by Hillary Clinton and Louise Penny, is a satisfying romp.  Sticking close to her bailiwick, Clinton casts her heroine, Ellen Adams, as the US Secretary of State. Ellen’s girlhood friend, Betsy, functions as her Counselor. I googled whether Secretaries of State really had Counselors. Yes, they do.  Both women […]

Categories
Fiction

Over Seventy: Miles Per Hour and Years of Age

Highway driving used to be like playing Pac-Man. I’d catch up to a car and gobble it up, or at least put it in my rear view. When did I get so timid? Fearful, even? Bill had already packed the car. We left at St. Louis at 8:15, only fifteen minutes late. For once, we […]

Categories
Fiction

Good Grief

I’ve been thinking about death. Why?  Could it be because US Covid deaths are closing in on three quarters of a million lives? Could it be because I’m 74 years old, and I’ve already lived the bulk of my life? Could it be that, just this week, I’ve had to write condolence notes to two friends? […]

Categories
Fiction Picture Books

Believe Your Beloved

Relationships are hard, Covid or no Covid.  Many of us have squeezed into too-close quarters going on a year and a half. We assumed at the start of Covid that our enforced togetherness was make-shift, temporary. With the delta surge and vaccine-resistance, normality keeps retreating into the future.  But, it’s not too late – or […]

Categories
Fiction

Do We Really Know?

In 1960, we eighth-graders at St. Raphael’s Catholic school took a series of standardized tests. Solemnly, Sister Cyprian went desk to desk handing each student a multipage test booklet and a number two pencil. We were tested on language and math skills, and I don’t remember what else.  For inexplicable reasons, the results came to […]

Categories
Fiction

Remembrances of Just a Little While Ago

“Oh, it’s heavenly,” I said to Bill, as I bite into a piece of the piping hot lemon bread. The corners of the loaf were just this side of burnt, a bit of crust. The top had a sweet drizzle in contrast to the moist citrusy inside. (I associate this level of moistness with butter […]

Categories
Fiction

Social Misfits

Nothing fits!  I tossed and turned. I was losing sleep over … the elections? Corona? Hurricanes and wildfires? No, no and no. I had just finished reading John Banville’s Snow, ostensibly a murder mystery, and my mind was churning over why I felt so unsatisfied.   I started the book on election day because I needed distraction […]

Categories
Classics Fiction

Brilliant! Excellent! Amazing!

“We need to think about how to get you more readers.” Laurie says this like a dear aunt who might be concerned about a teenager’s grades or her social life.  “I know, I know.” I bleat.  We’ve had versions of this conversation for over a year. Why bother writing book reviews with a personal take […]

Categories
Being Chinese Fiction

Food! Glorious Food!

Magic happens when dough meets sizzling oil. Donuts! Funnel cake!  Churros! Indian fry bread! For us Chinese, it’s youtiao, or in English, OIL STICKS. What’s not to love? I’ve had a hankering for the foods of my Shanghai and Hong Kong childhood. Covid lockdown has made me nostalgic for, well, almost anything pre-Covid. Also, Incensed: A Taipei Night […]

Categories
Being Chinese Fiction

We❤️ Our Grandkids

She wore clothes that I had only seen on servants: light blue tunic, dark pants and cloth shoes. She was short, almost squat. The nape-length hair went straight across. She wore no make-up. Her appearance was a sharp contrast to that of my mom and her lady friends. They wore tailored, silk qipao. They dabbed on lipstick […]

Categories
Classics Fiction

COVID Anxiety

I can let my hair go gray! I haven’t seen my hair in its native state for two decades. I can catch up on my 23 episodes of This is Us and, coincidentally, my 23 episodes of Call the Midwife on my DVR. In what is the opposite of binge watching, I watch these shows […]

Categories
Fiction

Love and Nordic Noir

Human desires are fickle. Human needs are constant. I am not trying to sound philosophical or profound. It’s just the conclusion I came to after my two-week vacation in Florida. *** “Another f***ing day of sunshine.” I can’t believe those words popped out of my mouth as I squinted at the bar of glary light […]

Categories
Classics Fiction

Willa Cather, Greta Thunberg and Me

Willa Cather’s novel about pioneer life in Nebraska — My Antonia — was published a century ago in 1918.  This book casts a nostalgic look at the Midwestern prairie at the time it was being turned into farmlands and towns. Men and women from America and from Europe, primarily Eastern Europe, struggled to make a […]

Categories
Being Chinese Fiction

No Tickee, No Shirtee

I recently reread Robert van Gulik’s The Emperor’s Pearl: A Judge Dee Mystery to see if his depictions of Chinese culture still rang true. This book is one of a series of mysteries set in 7th century China about a crime-solving magistrate. When I first encountered these books as a teenager in St. Louis in […]

Categories
Fiction

Istanbul: Glimpses After Death

As a physician, I am skeptical that consciousness and memory can remain intact after the heart quits pumping. There may be reflexive movement or some random cellular metabolic activity after blood flow stops, but that’s all. As a human being, I find the idea of a period of awareness after death intriguing, yet I know […]

Categories
Classics Fiction

The Lord of the Rings: A Love Story

All stories live and die on their relationships. I have found the sweetest of relationships in, of all things, a three-volume fantasy novel — J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. This story about hobbits (pint-sized creatures noted for hairy feet), wizards, elves, dwarves, men and the One Gold Ring has stayed with me since I […]

Categories
Fiction

To Be Old and Useful Is a Happy Thing

Even though Texas in 1870 is very far in time and space from my life in 2019 St. Louis, Paulette Jiles’s 2016 novel News of the World, touches on subjects very close to my heart. The story is about an old man who transports ten-year Johanna four hundred miles through lawless Texas territory to her […]

Categories
Fiction

A Gentleman in Moscow?

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles spent over a year on the New York Times Best Sellers list. The novel is about a Russian nobleman who was forced to live within the confines of a Moscow hotel on orders of the new Bolshevik government. It is an elegant, charming jewel of a novel, a […]

Categories
Fiction

The Pleasure of Detecting

“You are reading my favorite author,” said the white-haired hospital volunteer leading me to my bone density x-ray. I was holding Louise Penny’s latest mystery: Kingdom of the Blind. Then we shared a knowing smile and spoke simultaneously: “You have to read them in order.” We both knew that Penny would incapacitate, even kill off, […]