I often find it tricky to review memoirs and personal essay collections. It’s embarrassing, almost, to judge what you know is someone else’s personal experience and not feel like you’re either being too cruel or too soft. I didn’t know Michelle Zauner or her music — she records under the name Japanese Breakfast — before I read this memoir. My friend was a fan, and told me about theThe New Yorker essay that inspired the book and served as its first chapter, but I went in woefully ignorant, half assuming this would be a companion piece to an album that I wouldn’t fully grasp. What I came away with was one of my favourite reads of the year, and a vivid example of what a great memoir looks like, how it works, how it feels.Continue reading “Review: ‘Crying in H Mart’ by Michelle Zauner”
In Conversation with R.F. Kuang
This interview first appeared in The Teeming Mass in Spring 2020
My Zoom call with the award-winning fantasy writer R.F. Kuang starts not with discussions of her formidable list of writing credentials but on much more common ground — exams. “At this point, I really just need to pass like, I’m into Yale,” says Kuang wryly, clad in a hoodie, “I’m very much feeling like a second semester senior. But I also feel pathologically unable to turn in bad work.” But despite her academic footing, she laughs when I ask her why she chose fantasy as her genre when her trilogy is so preoccupied with Chinese politics and history.
“I could give a cool academic answer, like, ‘fantasy and fabulism is a refracting prism for reality; and the metaphor of opium, something that was such a symbol of weakness in Chinese history, turned into a device of power for Chinese resistance, to me speaks of the potential of fantasy as a genre’. But that’s not true […] I think all I thought was fantasy is really cool. And I enjoyed reading it a lot. I was also influenced by like Chinese Wuxia novels, TV shows and manga […] So when I sat down to start writing it just seemed like the obvious format for the story wanted to tell.”Continue reading “In Conversation with R.F. Kuang”
Review: ‘People We Meet on Vacation’ by Emily Henry
As soon as I read the synopsis for Emily Henry’s follow up to her wonderful adult romance bestseller Beach Read, I had the certain premonition I would fall in love with it. And call me psychic, because I was absolutely right.
The beauty of Beach Read lay in large part with Henry’s writing voice. There was a real warmth undercut with bittersweetness that made the characters and their central love story come to life in a deeply intimate and immersive way. People We Meet on Vacation takes that narrative voice and applies it to a story that I felt so deeply connected to, it was the bookish equivalent of love at first sight.Continue reading “Review: ‘People We Meet on Vacation’ by Emily Henry”
The 2020 Reading Wrap-Up
Well, well, well. We’ve screamed, we’ve cried, we’ve languished aimlessly around our homes in existential misery. But at long last, we’re here, merely hours away from the end of this decade of a year that has been 2020.
Since it’s been something of a transformative year for my reading, and also because this is my blog and I do what I want, this won’t be a straightforward “Best and Worst Reads.” Instead, I want to reflect not just on what I read, but on how I read. So grab a cup of tea or something stronger, and join me as I look back on a very unusual year in books.Continue reading “The 2020 Reading Wrap-Up”
Tales As Old As Time: Book Recommendations for Fairytale Lovers (That Aren’t Retellings)
As those of you who follow me on Twitter or Instagram may know, there’s nothing I love so much as fairytales. Folklore, legends, myths, fairy stories — all of these are my bread and butter. I did a special paper and a dissertation on them in my final year of University because I couldn’t get enough of them. I find them so magical and entrancing, and exploring storytelling is one of my favourite ways to learn about and engage with different cultures.
To that end, I love reading books whose inspiration are rooted in fairytales and myths. Bringing the atmosphere and aesthetic of fairytales to life with engaging stories and fleshed out characters are the recipe for books that intoxicate me from the start, and I’m completely enraptured by them. There are countless fairytale retellings out there, many of them wonderful and among my favourite books. But there are so many many of them out there that I could dedicate a hundred other posts to recommending those (and knowing me, I probably will). Also, I talk about retellings a lot, because like I said — I love them! But these recommendations are books that I adore which I don’t talk about as much. They’re gorgeously atmospheric and utterly spellbinding, and must-reads for any fellow fairy tale lovers out there.Continue reading “Tales As Old As Time: Book Recommendations for Fairytale Lovers (That Aren’t Retellings)”
Review: ‘All Stirred Up’ by Brianne Moore
The thing with marketing a novel as a retelling is that you’re inviting comparisons to the source material. In the case of successful retellings, this is a great thing — books that can get to the heart of their inspiration and reinvent them are bound to delight readers who are fans of the original work and of the retelling alike. One of the most popular sources for retellings is Jane Austen, whose oeuvre has been mined for everything from zombie movies to Bollywood to Twilight. When done well. Austen retellings become classics in their own right — think Bridget Jones’ Diary or Clueless — but when done poorly, they suffer all the more for having such a beloved source material to pale before.
I was excited going into All Stirred Up because it’s marketed as a retelling of Persuasion, one of my favourite of Austen’s novels. Persuasion, perhaps the original “exes to lovers” angst fest, is fully of enough yearning, pining, and repression to provide excellent fodder to any love story and my friends and I have always searched obsessively for retellings that capitalise on this.Continue reading “Review: ‘All Stirred Up’ by Brianne Moore”
Quaranteed Great Reads: Book Recommendations for Self-Isolation
I won’t be the first to tell you that with the COVID-19 pandemic we’re living in unprecedented times with many of us living under the kind of massive lifestyle haul we may never have seen before. There’s a lot of pressure going round now about how to #hustle and stay on the #grind while we’re all staying at home, and I’m here to tell you to ignore that. Sure, it’s great to maintain a regular schedule when all the world’s gone to hell. Keeping on top of work and staying organised can be great if it makes you feel more in control and like this whole situation is more manageable. But if all you’re doing is surviving right now, that’s more than okay too! This is a global pandemic, not a few bad sick days — it’s important to remember that, strange as it may seem, staying at home is the big achievement and if you don’t do anything more than that, you’re still doing enough. It’s more than okay to while away the time curled up with a good book and your beverage of choice! To that end, here’s my non-exhaustive list of recommendations for books to get you through social distancing.Continue reading “Quaranteed Great Reads: Book Recommendations for Self-Isolation”
Changing the course of history
This article was originally published in Cherwell
In his novel The Go-Between, L.P. Hartley wrote that “the past is a different country; they do things differently there.” It’s a statement reflective of the allure and strangeness that comes with a retrospective gaze, reflecting the metamorphic power of time, whether in changing a person from childhood to adulthood, a city from decade to decade, or an ancient civilisation from rise to ruin.
However, obsessed our society may be with the promise of progress, of moving forward and improving, there remains in most of us an unshakeable fascination with the past.Whether in the enduring popularity of historical fiction, or in the constant appeal of nostalgia and re-watching our favourite childhood films, the cultural zeitgeist is constantly affected by a creative fixation with history.Continue reading “Changing the course of history”