Sunday, March 12, 2017

BOOKS! (The Vegetarian)

I read this book in two days. I finished it last week but it continues to trouble me. I haven't felt this compelled to sit with the implications of a book, carry all its meanings with me and turn them over in my mind, since The Round House. Devastated and yet mesmerized. Spellbound. That's where I am right now with this novel.

The Vegetarian by Han Kang

This is a novel, much like Herman Koch's The Dinner, that starts readers off in one place and leaves you somewhere else that seems disparate and extreme. You really have no idea what you're reading and why you're reading it until the end. The gist is that a woman named Yeong-hye, an ordinary housewife in Seoul, has a dream about acts of violence and human cruelty that disturbs her so intensely that she decides to quit eating meat the very next day. No one in her circle takes this well, and as a result her marriage and her family falls apart. But Yeong-hye's vegetarianism (technically veganism) is a symptom for something much more profound.

Her seemingly innocuous lifestyle choice has an unexpectedly disastrous domino effect. Yeong-hye's family tries to force her to eat meat again, which pushes her to the brink and leads her to attempt suicide. After recovering in a hospital, her husband divorces her but then her sister's husband's empathy toward Yeong-hye forces him to confront his long-standing attraction to her. He is then emboldened to create the video art piece that's been haunting his imagination, making Yeong-hye his muse. But after her sister In-hye catches them together, the brother-in-law skips town, the rest of the family severs ties, and Yeong-hye is institutionalized again, leaving only In-hye to take care of her.

The Vegetarian contains three parts, all of which concern Yeong-hye but none of which consult her: the first from her husband's perspective, the second from her brother-in-law's, and the last from her sister's. We only hear directly from Yeong-hye in her husband's section, where she occasionally recollects her dreams or wearily confronts her condition. Everything else we learn about Yeong-hye is essentially hearsay. And of course, each person views her differently based on their relationship with her. Her husband (Mr. Cheong, we never learn his first name), who views his wife as merely a caretaker and accessory, cares more about his reputation and how he's inconvenienced than for Yeong-hye's wellbeing. Her brother-in-law thinks he means well but his benevolence toward her is only a vehicle for his own sexual, emotional and artistic fulfillment. Her sister thinks that she's always been protecting Yeong-hye but keeps her sister conveniently distanced from her day-to-day life, as both her forgiveness and endurance have limits.

What we don't learn until later is that Yeong-hye's behavior is a response to the mistreatment that she's endured throughout her life, some of which is specific to her own experiences, some of which is common to many women who also happen to be daughters, wives, and little sisters. The bloody, animalistic nightmares cause her to reject all aspects of consumption and preying upon others that seem to be innately human; she's a hurt person who's had enough, and is desperate to avoid causing harm to any creatures. Eventually this transforms into her trying to un-become human, believing that if she denies herself enough things (eating meat, wearing clothes, talking, eating or drinking anything at all) she can transcend her human nature and eventually become a tree. Though she wastes away and treatment ceases to be effective, in her mind the death she's heading toward is not failure, but freedom. Yeong-hye has been victimized her whole life, but In-hye doesn't notice the toll it has taken on her sister until eventually Yeong-hye draws so far inside herself that no one can reach her.

Though Yeong-hye's gradual physical and psychological breakdown is the conduit for this story, her husband, her sister, and her sister's husband all feel something within themselves that's liable to break out or take control of them. Consequently, the themes of the three sections apply not just to Yeong-hye, but all of them. Part one deals with internal rage and the potential for violence, bubbling just under the service. Part one deals with the acting out and circumstances of breaking with convention, of indulging in unrestrained passion. And part three deals with the necessity to reckon with (perhaps even submit to) one's despair and pain, which brings a distorted sense of peace. Yeong-hye goes from a repressed beast, to a blooming flower, to a withering tree, and none of the people close to her are left untouched.

Favorite quotes:
"Can only trust my breasts now. I like my breasts, nothing can be killed by them. Hand, foot, tongue, gaze, all weapons from which nothing is safe. But not my breasts. With my round breasts, I'm okay. Still okay. So why do they keep shrinking? Not even round anymore. Why? Why am I changing like this? Why are my edges all sharpeningwhat am I going to gouge?" (41).

"Never before had he set eyes on such a body, a body that said so much and yet was no more than itself" (95).

Saturday, March 11, 2017

"You were one of my favorites" - GET OUT

Having previously decided that I would absolutely NOT go see this film (didn't want to go out of my way to feel more ill-at-ease then I generally do already), I read the Wikipedia summary so I could know what I was missing out on. Figured I'd catch it whenever it became available on cable. But then, within a week after the film opened, two of my favorite podcasts released episodes discussing about the film (see here and here). And after listening to both of those episodes over again, last week I had a last-minute change of heart and went to two different cinemas to find a showing that wasn't sold out. Jordan Peele has said on numerous occasions that this movie is meant to be enjoyed as part of a theatre audience, and now I totally get it.

Seen Friday, March 3rd: Get Out

Chris, a black man, goes with his white girlfriend Rose to meet her parents for the first time. Rose's parents and their friends practically trip over themselves to exhibit that they're "the good ones" so to speak: totally cultured, trustworthy, and definitely not racist. Little does Chris know, he's being set up for something more sinister and true to American life than he could've ever imagined.

"Just because you're invited, doesn't mean you're welcome."

What I really like about this film: That scene where Chris is at Rose's parents' annual party, and as he goes upstairs, all the guests immediately silence their chatter and stare at the ceiling, tracing his movement with their eyes. Gave me chills! Chris was almost never not under surveillance.

And Georgina! Betty Gabriel smashed that role to pieces with such control that you almost forget to be disappointed that she's one of only two black female characters who appear in the film! In that "No... No. Nononononono" scene she manages to play desperately composed and heartbreakingly unhinged at the exact same time, and I'm still trying to figure it out.

Listen, I went in knowing how it was going to end. None of the twists surprised me. And as a self-acknowledged cheapskate, I don't go to the movies often. But this one's seriously got me considering going to see it a second time just so I can see what other clues, hints, and references I missed!

What I don't like about this film: Absolutely nothing. I mentioned the black woman issue because I noticed it after viewing Get Out and thinking about it a bit. But to be honest, I'd listened to, read, and watched so much about Peele's process and what he was aiming to accomplish with this film that it doesn't bother me as much as it probably should.

Would I recommend it?: Is water wet? As with Zootopia (I'm serious! This is not a joke here!), Get Out needs to be required viewing for any sort of cultural literacy or "how to consider others and be a decent human being" training.

Friday, March 10, 2017

BOOKS! (The Joy Luck Club + The Shack)

Acquiring these two books reminded me how much my consumer decisions as a reader are influenced by people I've never met. I broke my "don't buy any books during the first half of 2017" rule for the first read, which I bought after listening to a podcast review of its 1990s movie adaptation. And the second one I bought after seeing headlines floating around that (white) people were mad that Octavia Spencer was cast to play God in its recently-released movie adaptation. I like to think that I'm picky and an independent thinker, but when it comes to books I don't need that much convincing, apparently.

 The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

Multiple generations of Chinese and Chinese-American women are connected in this novel about womanhood, Chinese identity, sacrifice and fellowship. At the center are eight of them: four friends who found each other in the San Francisco Chinese immigrant community in the late 1940s, and their four daughters.

An-mei was reunited with her estranged mother at a young age, and witnessed her struggle as a low-ranking concubine in a rich man's house. An-Mei's daughter, Rose, is an artist who habitually avoids making decisions, and whose marriage to her dermatologist husband is failing. Lindo was arranged to be married at the age of two, and as an adolescent she cleverly escaped the marriage without dishonoring her family. Lindo's daughter, Waverly, was a chess champion as a child, and as a single mom she's finding love again with a fellow tax attorney. Ying-ying was married to a family friend at age 16, and after that marriage ended she moved to Shanghai where she met her second husband, a white American man. Ying-ying's daughter, Lena, is a restaurant designer married to an insufferably stingy architect. Last but not least, Suyuan lost her first husband and children while fleeing Japanese forces. She started the tradition of gathering over dim sum, mah jong, and gossip (the titular Joy Luck Club) in China and continued it in the Bay. Though her copywriter daughter, Jing-mei or "June", has been a disappointment by certain Chinese standards, the other mothers give her the invaluable task of reuniting with her long-lost older sisters in China after Suyuan's passing.

I was already inclined to like this book after hearing such a comprehensive review of the film, and I love to read literature that focues on immigrant experiences. What endears me to The Joy Luck Club most is each woman's remarkable sense of self-preservation. Through familial expectations, commonplace disappointments and unspeakable tragedies, each woman possesses a certain determination to maintain or reclaim their sense of self, and recounting their personal histories is an integral part of this.

Favorite quotes:

"Even if I had expected it, even if I had known what I was going to do with my life, it still would have knocked the wind out of me. When something that violent hits you, you can't help but lose your balance and fall. And after you pick yourself up, you realize you can't trust anybody to save you―not your husband, not your mother, not God. So what can you do to stop yourself from titling and falling over again" (120-121).
"I will gather my past and look. I will see a thing that has already happened. The pain that cut my spirit loose, I will hold that pain in my hand until it becomes hard and shiny, more clear... I will use this sharp pain to penetrate my daughter's tough skin and cut her tiger spirit loose. She will fight me, because this is the nature of two tigers. But I will win and give her my spirit, because this is the way a mother loves her daughter" (252). 

The Shack by Wm. Paul Young

Four years after his youngest daughter is abducted by a serial murderer, Mack finds a note in his mailbox inviting him to the dilapidated shack where the last trace of his daughter was found. The note is mysteriously signed, "Papa". Despite his fears and suspicions, Mack goes to the shack in the dead of winter and falls asleep there. He awakes to find the shack restored and the area around it bright, warm, and verdant. He's welcomed by God, presenting as a Black woman ("Elousia"/ "Papa"); Jesus, presenting as a Middle Eastern Jewish man; and the Holy Spirit, presenting as an Asian woman ("Sarayu"). He spends a weekend with them, digging deep into in all of his past hurts, grievances against God, and misconceptions about the Christian faith and the Trinity.

I wasn't expecting to be impressed by this book, but it really challenged me, and challenges me still. At face value, The Shack could be a comforting resource to anyone who has suffered loss or harm at the hands of others. But it's also a necessarily uncomfortable opportunity for believers to reckon with the deity they claim to worship and the faith they claim to profess. A lot of hit dogs will be hollering, that's all I have to say. The novel contains some fluttery wording that's obviously trying to tap into readers' emotions, which is somewhat annoying. And Young's attempts at Ebonics or mammy-isms or whatever the heck Papa was supposed to be speaking were at best clunky, at worst horrendously contrived. HOWEVER. The Shack's writing is clear and gets the point across. And even with all the philosophical and theological content, it has more than a few lighthearted moments. Though the humor or significants of some moments is enhanced by prior knowledge of the Bible and common church sayings, I'd like to hope that it doesn't leave lapsed or non-believing people feeling too out of the loop. Judging by the 20 million copies sold, perhaps it hasn't. I never intended to watch the film and I still don't, but I am glad that I gave this book a try because it's given me much to reconsider.

Favorite quotes:
"I am neither male nor female, even though both genders are derived from my nature. If I choose to appear to you as a man or a woman, it's because I love you. For me to appear to you as a woman and suggest that you call me 'Papa' is simply to mix metaphors, to help you keep from falling so easily back into your religious conditioning" (95).

"Remember, Mackenzie, I don't wonder what you will do or what choices you will make. I already know... And let's say that I know it will take you forty-seven situations and events before you will actually hear me―that is, before you will hear clearly enough to agree with me and change. So when you don't hear me the first time, I'm not frustrated or disappointed, I'm thrilled. Only forty-six more times to go! And that first time will be a building block to construct a bridge of healing that one day―that today―you will walk across" (189).

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Losing Gracefully.

I went to a bowling alley with a friend yesterday. We bowled two games. We are both mediocre players, so we kept pace with each other's low scores at first. Then she got ahead of me, sure to win. To our mutual bewilderment, I got a spare on my 9th turn and two strikes on my 10th turn, beating her by 10 points in the end.

That was the first game.

The second game, despite my best efforts I went on a supreme losing streak. I bowled eight times (4 turns) and I got absolutely nothing. I lost that game by over 30 points.

I bowled my best ever game and my worst ever game back-to-back.

Sometimes the proverbial "L's" come swiftly after a major high, and you just have to take them gracefully.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

BOOKS! (The Martyred + The Book Borrower)

Historical fiction doesn't typically float my boat, but I recently finished two considerably mournful novels that fall into the category in their own way. First is a war novel that I found at a bargain bookstore. Second is a gift from the neighborhood Little Free Library.

The Martyred  by Richard E. Kim

This is another classic that I'd been oblivious to until now. Apparently this book was a bestselling hit when it was originally published in 1964, and its author is known as the trailblazer in Korean-American literature... and unfortunately for me, I'd never heard of either. 

The Martyred is set in Pyongyang in the early phases of the Korean War, at a time when the city has changed hands and is under South Korean control. Captain Lee, a professor who became an intelligence officer after joining the army, narrates the story. His commanding officer, Colonel Chang, orders Lee to investigate the recent abduction of 14 Christian ministers from Pyongyang: 12 of them were executed, and of the two survivors only one, Mr. Shin, is mentally sound enough to give a statement. But while Lee is in search of the truth, what Chang seeks is fodder for anti-Communist propaganda that will boost  morale and tarnish the North Korean cause. Through gaining Mr. Shin's confidence, Lee eventually learns that Mr. Shin has been lying about what really happened to the 12 "martyrs", supposedly guarding he truth for the good of Pyongyang's vulnerable civilians including the Christian community. Lee's best friend Park also has a stake in what happened, since his father was one of the 12. Though his father had previously disowned him for being an atheist, Park remains curious despite himself to know about his father's final moments.

The novel considers a number of deeply complex issues, and doesn't intend to solve any of them. You have the church co-opted by the state, as Colonel Chang ingratiates himself with local Christian leaders solely for their social capital (Christianity was an almost trendy phenomena among answer-starved Koreans at the time). And then you have the value of truth, whatever that happens to be. Are there occasions when people would be better off not knowing the truth about something, even if they demand it? When have people suffered enough, and who decides this? When faced with their human frailty, often people become desperate to have something to believe in, to have some assurance that there's meaning to their suffering. At the same time, others may conclude that there's no such meaning to be found. The Martyred offers no simple answers, but acknowledges that in times of peril, the appeal of belief systems can both sprout anew and wither away. In this way it's somewhat reminiscent of Floating Clouds (Ukigumo) by Fumiko Hayashi, which I would also recommend.

Favorite quotes: 
"Do you know I wished my father hadn't been a martyr? I wanted him to have failed at the last moment. I hoped he had been defeated, yes, crushed, so he would know what it was like to be weak in spirit. What it was like to doubtto doubt his god, his faith, everythingto taste the horrible injustice and suffering of this life... I can't weep for him. I could have if he had failed. I could have wept for him if he had experienced at least a moment of human weakness. That's why I sometimes weep for Christ" (97).
"Or, would you rather tell them this war is just like any other bloody war in the stinking history of idiotic mankind, that it is nothing but the sickening result of a blind struggle for power among the beastly states, among the rotten politicians and so on, that thousands of people have died and more will die in this stupid war, for nothing, for absolutely nothing, because they are just innocent victims, helpless pawns in the arena of cold-blooded, calculating international power politics? Well, now?" (107).

The Book Borrower by Alice Mattison

The ratings for this book aren't great. Look at Goodreads or any major online retailer that sell books, and you'll see that it averages 3 stars at most. But I quite enjoyed it! It's  about two decades of friendship between two women who meet at a park (presumably somewhere on the East Coast) in 1975. Deborah, the more social and laid-back of the two, was given a book titled Trolley Girl by her streetcar hobbyist husband but instead passes it off to Ruben, the more serious and strait-laced of the two. The borrowed book is a semi-biographical account of the involvement of a young Jewish anarchist woman in a 1920 labor strike that turned deadly.

The Book Borrower is nearly 280 pages long but only has five chapters. Each one ends with an event that would understandably end the pair's friendship or drastically alter their perceptions of each other (for example, Ruben gets Deborah fired twice). And yet time goes on, their respective families grow, and their friendship persists. We're not privy to how they patch things up in between each potential rupture, as each chapter picks up months or even years from where the previous one had left off. But somehow this adds to the intimacy of their friendship; their bond is something that even they can't fully comprehend or articulate. Perhaps it isn't so surprising, then, that when Trolley Girl's author enters Ruben's life and causes her to re-visit the book, Ruben can't help but question whether what she knew of Deborah was only a shadow of who her best friend really was.

From the first page, the novel repeatedly switches between Ruben and Deborah in the present and the text of Trolley Girl as Ruben reads it. So you have this book-within-a-book thing going on at first which isn't explained and isn't smoothly transitioned (Mattison probably chose not to make it easy for the reader), so I suspect that a lot of people were thrown off by the confusion. But if you can stick it out and enjoy reading about the more substantive aspects of female friendship, you might like The Book Borrower more than you'd expect.

Favorite quotes:
"Public transportation is a big womb. We are carried. We do not drive ourselves. The engineer takes care of us. That's why stories and songs about trolleys and trains are cute. But if something goes wrong on public transportation, it's much worse than anyplace else. Why is crime on subways so scary? Because trains are our mother. Somebody holds up the train, he's killing our mother. Think about it" (104).
"People had said to her, Now Deborah will always be with you: meaning, apparently, that Ruben could pretend to talk to Deborah and pretend to hear her answers. But when she did that, she had at her disposal only her memory of what Deborah had said in the past. If Deborah were alive, she would not say exactly what Ruben imagined she might say. She never had" (230).

Thursday, February 2, 2017

ドラマ (Dorama) Time! 16

The winter broadcast season has been underway in Japan for about two weeks now and I'm still scoping out my choices. While I'm still ruminating on what to watch this winter, for now let me briefly share what I watched in the fall. As usual, you can catch all of these dramas at DramaCool, but to my knowledge only the first and second ones are completely subbed at this point. In the order that I finished them: 

砂の塔~知りすぎた隣人 (Suna no Tou~Shirisugita Rinjin/Tower of Sand~The Neighbor Who Knew Too Much) - TBS/2016

Aki is a housewife whose blended family (her husband, their elementary-aged daughter, and her husband's teenage son from a prior marriage) at first thinks they are lucky to have snagged an apartment in a new 50-floor high-rise tower. But elitism is the rule amongst the other housewives in this building, and the hierarchy is based on which floor you live on. (The higher the level between floors 26-50, the higher social status you're afforded; floors 1-25 aren't even worth mentioning.) Aki just barely makes it into the elite moms club by moving to floor 26 and has a hard time fitting in. Her only "friend" is an elusive flower arrangment artist/teacher, also a member of the moms' group, who's used her creations to sneak surveillance cameras into all the other housewives' apartments. All the while, a serial kidnapping case has the whole neighborhood on edge, as an unknown pied piper casts judgment on local moms by sneaking their kids out from under their noses.

I'd originally been attracted to the moms-as-mean-girls aspect, as it reminded me of the backstabbing ensemble of housewives in 'Namae wo Nakushita Megami' (2011), which I thoroughly enjoyed. That show was more about the secret lives of each woman in the main cast, whereas 'Suna no Tou' focuses more on Aki and her family being out of their depth. Although, there are a number of key secrets that are eventually unearthed! The catty moms in Aki's building and the serial kidnappings are linked, but perhaps not in the way that you'll think they are.

逃げるは恥だが役に立つ (Nigeru wa Haji da ga Yaku ni Tatsu/Running Away Is Shameful But Useful/We married as a job!) - TBS/2016

Often abbreviated as "Nigehaji", this manga-based drama was THE primetime hit of the fall broadcast season. I'd tried to sit through the first episode but got bored, so I passed on this show originally. But then I kept seeing Japanese news headlines about it online and saw how huge its ratings were (it ended up averaging 14.5% of the viewership during its timeslot, with the final episode alone earning nearly 21%). Part of the show's popularity is due to its lead actors: Aragaki Yui has been leading dramas for years, and Hoshino Gen's career has been on a new wave since his uplifting hit single, "SUN" was released in 2015. Another part of the popularity is Hoshino Gen's latest hit song, "" (Koi/"Love"), which inspired a massive dance craze as the theme song for 'Nigehaji'. The cast is shown performing the choreography at the end of every episode, so you have at least 11 chances to practice along!

In short, the hype made me give the show another chance. Aragaki Yui plays Mikuri, a 20-something who's having trouble finding a full time job despite an advanced psychology degree and years of job-searching. Hoshino Gen plays Hiramasa, an awkward employee at a tech company who keeps to himself. Thanks to Mikuri's parents, she ends up working as Hiramasa's housekeeper, and in time they decide to make a special arrangement. Mikuri becomes Hiramasa's live-in housekeeper, and in exchange Hiramasa lets her live with him and puts her on his insurance. They basically enter into a common-law marriage on paper in which Mikuri gets paid for doing what housewives throughout Japan have to do for free, but she and Hiramasa maintain an employee-employer relationship. But as Mikuri endeavors to ease her loneliness and Hiramasa's shyness, the nature of their relationship shifts. It's not the most eventful drama, but it does take an introspective look at both conventional and non-conventional relationships. Plus it's lighthearted and utilizes pop culture parodies to make it more humorous. Other pluses include Hiramasa's nosy co-workers, Mikuri's aunt, and an out gay couple (not fully revealed until the end).

地味にスゴイ!~校閲ガール・河野悦子 (Jimi ni Sugoi~Kouetsu Girl Kouno Etsuko/Simply Great! Proofreader Kouno Etsuko) - NTV/2016

I suppose when it comes to dramas, I'll follow Ishihara Satomi wherever she goes. What can I say? I'm a fan! In this one she plays the titular Etsuko, an aspiring fashion writer who scores a job working for the company that publishes her favorite fashion magazine, Lassy. Only instead of being hired as a fashion writer, she's hired to work in the basement with a team of proofreaders who thoroughly (and manually) scan and edit all of the company's publications. It's the opposite of what she wants but it seems to be kismet. For starters, the first syllables of her last and first name match the name of the department (kouetsu). Not only that, but she's excellent at proofreading! She not only checks for grammar and spelling errors, but she goes on excursions outside the office to verify place names and plot points. Sometimes she even seeks the authors out directly to suggest changes. Don't let the cute outfits and over-the-top personality fool you! Kouno Etsuko is no airhead; she's actually quite thorough!

This workplace drama is also not extremely eventful but it is fun to watch. The show acknowledges each and everyone one of Etsuko's outfits between scenes, and she seems to charm every character who encounters her and her ideas. This especially includes Yukito (Suda Masaki), a best-selling novelist and an emerging model at Lassy (he initially hides his identity from the public in both respects). He's also Etsuko's boyfriend, but their relationship evolves slowly due to busy schedules and misunderstandings about each other's intentions. Also charmed is Etsuko's former schoolmate Morio (Honda Tsubasa from 'Koinaka') who has Etsuko's dream job but hasn't found her stride yet. If you like fashion, dramas set in the publishing industry, and/or Ishihara Satomi, then 'Jimi ni Sugoi' has just enough going on for you to keep watching. There's also an adorable gay couple in this show as well.

'Nigehaji' is too obvious of a choice, 'Jimi ni Sugoi' has something missing, and coming off of the high intensity of 'Suna no Tou', I was entertained but still slightly underwhelmed by both. So this season's favorite is 'Suna no Tou' for me. They're definitely all worth watching, though!

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

BOOKS! (Mo' Meta Blues + God Is Not Mad At You)

Rather than buying any new books during the first half of this year, I'm attempting to power through as many of my to-be-read books as possible so I can stop putting them off and feeling stressed about all the reads I have piling up. So let's cut to the chase!

Mo' Meta Blues: The World According to Questlove by Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson

This is one of the last books I bought when I worked at a bookstore after graduating from college. I'm not knowledgeable enough of The Roots' discography to call myself a proper fan, but I've always had  great respect for this hip-hop band and its highly-recognizable drummer, ?uestlove (Questlove). He's branched out to producing, music directing, DJ-ing and then some, but drumming is where it started for this artist from Philly.

 Obviously this is Questlove's memoir, but he is insistent that it not be a typical one, and that his voice not be the only one featured. Mainly you have him telling most of story with Rich Nichols (the Roots' longtime manager) adding his commentary in dialogue or footnotes. Intermittently and to a lesser extent, you then have cowriter Ben Greenman and editor Ben Greenberg exchanging emails about the strategies and process for the book as it's coming together. And then throughout the book you have all the people whom Questlove acknowledges and quotes along the way. His story is about phenomena much greater than him, including hip-hop, musical genres, artistic movements/communities, "the industry", The Roots' career trajectory, and what shapes an artist's character. So for him, making Mo Meta' Blues solely about himself would have been predictable and inaccurate.

Each chapter begins with a question which Questlove attempts to answer, and each chapter is also peppered with stellar music recommendations ranging from popular to obscure. I wrote down every song and album down as I read, and now have eight and half wide-ruled pages full of listening homework for the next few months. Early on he gives us a beautifully brilliant summary of music (especially black music) history from African drums to do-woop, and then most of the book offers an extended tour through the '70s/'80s/'90s music that formulated Questlove's world at those times. As a professional working musician he also interrogates the influences of art and commerce on each other, and shifts between storytelling and intellectual inquiry quite frequently. I approached this book looking to learn from one of the modern masters, and that I did. Take advantage of this opportunity to do the same, whether you're a music nerd or not into music at all!

Favorite quotes:
"In general, I don't like to blame the creators. They are making work that appeals to them and the people in the room with them. They are making something that is, at some level, genuine... The younger me may have sat up all night with bandmates raging against Puffy or DMX or whoever, but the fact is that they were never the problem. The problem was that someone in the corporate chain of command felt that there was a need to play those songs fourteen times a day and to eliminate alternatives" (152-153).

"They go back to the beginning of recorded music, where the first break was made between performer and performed. They go back to the thin that's at the root of both Dilla and the Roots and every other inspired composition in any and every genre: it's the music in your head. That's the seed at the beginning of every artwork. How do you take what you hear and translate it to something that can be heard?" (230).

God Is Not Mad At You by Joyce Meyer

Perhaps it's a sign of maturity or progress that I didn't find this book as interesting as I did when I originally attempted to read it four or five years ago? Perhaps I am not so needy now as I was as a college freshman or sophomore? I'd originally bought this book on the NOOK that my aunt gave me as a high school graduation present, but it turns out that my ability to focus wanes considerably when using e-readers! So I made a dent in the book but didn't get far. Two years ago I erased my library and stopped using the device, and wasn't concerned about reading this book anymore. But then a few months ago I happened upon the hardcover among the bargain items in the foyer of a Barnes & Noble, and I figured it was a sign that I should give it another try. Plus it was cheap, so why not? This time around, rather than seeking reassurance or answers I merely read it to see what Joyce Meyer had to say on the topic. And to be able to say that I'd FINALLY finished it.

She basically makes the case for God as ultimately loving and benevolent, and encourages people not to load themselves with unnecessary burdens (guilt for things that aren't your fault, absurdly high or stringent expectations, baggage from the past, etc). It's pretty standard self-help fare except for the last eight chapters where she delves more deeply into Scripture. In the final chapter she briefly discusses spiritual maturity when comparing the "milk" (all the positive stuff that people love to latch onto) to the "meat" (the personal sacrifices we have to make to actually grow and do things in line with our calling) of the Christian faith-walk. I would've liked to read more on that, but I guess that's in another book for another day. I wouldn't necessarily tell people not to read this book, but I probably wouldn't read it again. If you find yourself in a particularly low place at the moment, reading God Is Not Mad At You probably wouldn't hurt, but once is more than enough.

Favorite quotes:
"Never apologize for being the person you are. That would be like an apple tree apologizing for not being a banana tree. If you're an apple tree, then produce apples; if you're a banana tree, then produce bananas! It takes all kinds of fruit to make a fruit salad... When each of us becomes the best we can at being ourselves, then God's purpose can be fulfilled" (134).

"God will never love you any more than He does at this moment in time, because His love is perfect at all times and is not based on anything that we do or don't do... Can you stand to be that blessed for no reason at all except that God is good?" (163).