Once in a while, I come across a book that I simply cannot put down. Reading today’s featured book was one of those instances. I was visiting the lovely library in Woodbury, TN, when I saw this book prominently displayed at the end of a bookshelf. I grabbed it off its little pedestal and read the synopsis on the back cover. I was intrigued enough to check it out, and boy am I grateful that I did!
Where’d You Go Bernadette? by Maria Semple was an absolute joy to read! To be clear, this is not a new book, but it is new to me. Originally published back in 2012, it caused enough of a sensation to warrant a film adaption of its story starring the luminous Cate Blanchette in the lead role. I have not seen the movie yet, but you can bet your Asian dollar, bottom dollar, and Asian bottom dollar that I will do so very soon.
Because I am a fan of bullet polka dot points, let’s start with the pros:
Steady, even pacing. This story never lags in its telling.
No one-dimensional characters. This is one element that makes this book truly special.
An endearing lead character. The main character Bernadette is a messy, sarcastic, misanthrope who I absolutely adored.
Antarctica. I’ll just leave it at that.
It’s funny—as in a quirky, catch-you-off-guard kind of funny.
What are the cons? Well, honestly, none that I can think of. This book offers up a robust plot line whose foundation is built on a mother-daughter relationship. What is there not to love about that? The city of Seattle, where the story is set, is given a hilarious treatment that probably many Seattle folks would not appreciate, but it is funny nonetheless.
Is this book a piece of classic literature? Probably not, but that should not be the objective of every book.
I opened this book and started reading. I laughed and road along its light-hearted (but quite beautiful, actually) roller-coaster ride of a story. And I felt better for it.
If there’s any objective a book should accomplish, that is certainly it.
As I noted in last week’s post, we are all stuck in quarantine one way or another in this age of the Coronavirus. Maybe you’re looking to be entertained, comforted, or inspired to help you cope with this new normal? Well, I have some suggestions for you. When I am not making short films for my YouTube channel every week, I seek out various forms of entertainment and inspiration. I generally stay away from television and episodic-style shows because of all the time they take up, but beyond that, everything else is fair game.
The following recommendations align with my tastes and sensibilities. Have a look at some of them and try them out if you are intrigued.
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong
I loved this book. It was recommended to me by a friend, and I understood within the first few pages why it became an instant New York Times bestseller. Particularly if you are a poetry enthusiast, you will truly appreciate what author Ocean Vuong has written. This book is a poetic memoir about Vuong’s upbringing as a Vietnamese immigrant who migrated to America with his mom to live with his grandmother and auntie in Connecticut. His entire family lives with the trauma sustained from the Vietnam War, and this book chronicles the healing (or lack thereof) from such a devastating set of circumstances in the war-torn villages of their homeland. Family struggles and an immersive first love between two boys fill this book’s pages with many tense and tender moments. If you’re looking for something fun and lighthearted, this is not the book for you, but if you are looking for a masterful work of nonfiction that is as transcendant as it is honest and brutal, give this book your full attention in a quiet space.
The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo
Twists and turns, whimsy, and intrigue infuse this novel that is set in 1930’s colonial Malaysia. There is a mysterious and terrifying beast roaming through small villages at night and slaughtering the bodies of villagers beyond recognition. If this sounds a bit too gruesome, rest assured that it’s only one component of this beautifully written story that intertwines the lives of two separate characters who you will find yourself cheering for and worrying about until the end. I’m not going to give anything away, but I enjoyed reading this book for all of the exotic adventure and rich mystery that it brings.
Seven by Taylor Swift
I’ll be the first to admit that I have never been a big Taylor Swift fan. I can appreciate her talent as a singer and songwriter, but outside of a couple of lovely ballads and catchy pop songs that I liked from previous albums, there has not been anything in her output that has fully gripped my attention. Fast forward to this summer with the surprise release of her new album “Folklore”, and I found myself listening to many of its songs and buying a vinyl copy of the album. One song in this collection has been on repeat for me, and if the summer of 2020 had a personal soundtrack, this song would be its centerpiece.
Swift’s vocals subtly shift between lilting resignation and plaintive vulnerability in a delivery that finds a tonal sweet spot that is perfect for this song. It is a quiet and pensive marriage between melancholy and hopefulness. Personally, everything about this song is reminiscent of something Tori Amos would manifest down to its engaging piano riff. The lyrics convey a conflicted longing for a childhood past and a desire to recapture the spirit of those times. The song crescendoes at the end with piano and strings taking center stage in a gorgeous melodic outro. This song is a gentle work about innocence lost and the promise of possibility. It is a piece of art from an artist finding new heights in her craft. I was not expecting to find such an unassuming little masterpiece as this, but I am quite happy to have it now.
This Beautiful Fantastic
I have a thing for movies that are sweet and whimsical. Recently, I fell down a YouTube rabbit hole that led me to this film, and thank goodness for occasional rabbit holes. This film has a lot of elements that I generally enjoy such as beautiful gardens, intelligent British people, striking and rich set designs, and obsessively neurotic characters. Its story embodies a personal journey that a woman experiences in order to find her own footing in the world . Central to the plot is an elderly and certifiably grumpy misanthrope who becomes a mentor and friend to his neighbor. He teaches her how to become a gardener. An unlikely cast of characters forms a family around this relationship. So much about this film—from its script to its colorful aesthetic, performances, and cinematography—is incredibly well done. If you share my sensibilities, watch this movie. You’re welcome.
There you have it. These are some of my recommendations for you to enjoy. Whatever you choose to do, be safe and kind to yourself.
Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you next week.
My newest film release is a preview of “The Preservation of Self”, which is a short film I created that comes out on my birthday on 08/28 and expresses some more of my thoughts about colonialism. Have a look right here: