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A Librarian Takes on the Read Harder Challenge: Crazy Rich Asians for Task 6, and Drama for Task 7

12 May

A week’s vacation and a seasonal-allergies-induced sinus infection have given me a lot of recent downtime to read. As a result I’ve made more progress on the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge! I have completed FOUR tasks since my last post. I will write about two tasks here, and the next two in another post.

(Click here to read more about my Read Harder journey.)

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Crazy Rich Asians, by Kevin Kwan

For my sixth task (Read a book wherein all point-of-view characters are people of color) I chose to read Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan, which was long on my to-read list. This novel starts with Nick Young inviting his girlfriend Rachel Chu to accompany him to Singapore for a wedding and to meet his family. What Nick fails to tell Rachel is that the wedding is the hottest social event in Asia, and that his family is crazy-super-mega-wealthy, making him the most eligible bachelor among Singapore’s elite. Poor Rachel is the lamb brought to the slaughter on what she thinks will be a fun vacation with her boyfriend.

Each chapter alternates between the points of view of Nick and Rachel, Nick’s cousin Astrid Leong (one of the few relatives in Rachel’s corner but experiencing her own struggle in the b-plot), and Nick’s tenacious mother Eleanor. Be prepared to armchair-travel when the novel moves between London, Paris, Singapore, Shanghai, Macau, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Sydney, and other exotic locations.

The story was super dishy–the characters like to gossip. The descriptions of the palatial homes and the luxe places the rich live and gather will make your jaw drop. What spoke to me was the food talk that may make you hungry. Singapore is known for its markets with street food stalls that I want to explore. In particular, I want to try goreng pisang (deep-fried banana fritters). I am by no means wealthy enough to hang with real crazy rich Asians, so the street markets are most likely within my budget.

Crazy Rich Asians will shock you, make you laugh, and make you hungry. If you don’t read the book, definitely see the film adaptation (shooting now) when it hits theaters. I look forward to reading China Rich Girlfriend and the upcoming Rich People Problems, all part of the Crazy Rich Asian series.

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Drama by Raina Telgemeier

In the seventh task I completed (A book that has been banned or frequently challenged in your country) I read Drama by Raina Telgemeier. Drama follows Callie, who is part of her middle school’s drama club stage crew, as she and the cast and crew prepare for an upcoming musical production. She has a couple romances, including one with a boy who realizes he is gay. The inclusion of gay characters resulted in challenges (which are formal, written complaints submitted to a library about a book’s content) and bans (removal of a challenged book from a library’s shelf) of this book. For more on the case of Drama, click here to read an analysis by the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. At this link is a roundtable discussion including librarians about challenges against Drama.

I was familiar with Telgemeier’s work, having read her graphic novel adaptations of The Baby-Sitters Club (my favorite books to read as a kid!) and Ghosts, which is set during a Dia de los Muertos festival (a celebration I am fond of) and is an emotionally devastating story.

As a musical theater geek, I enjoyed how the book was set up with an overture and acts like an actual musical. I love the diverse characters Telgemeier incorporates into her stories and the sensitive way she addresses tough topics in her work. Also, I got a kick out of Callie’s annoying little brother Richard, as an annoying little sister myself. I plan to read Smile and Sisters, also by Telgemeier.

Stay tuned for my next post, about Tasks 7 and 8!

-Written by Kerry Weinstein, Reference Librarian

Read AND Listen to Your Favorite Books: And, Task 5 in a Librarian’s Read Harder Challenge

3 May

Whenever I enjoy something, I want to do it again. This applies to experiences, travel, food, and most importantly books! If I really like reading a book, I seek out the audiobook to experience the story again. In this post I will share books that I have both read and listened to because I enjoyed them so much. This post also ties into the Read Harder Challenge I’ve been following this year (click here for more about that journey).

Back in 2011 Jane Pratt, the legendary editor of Sassy and Jane magazines, established a website called xoJane. I was a fan back then, mostly for the edgy and entertaining beauty articles written by Cat Marnell.

No offense to Vogue and Glamour and Marie Claire et al., but their beauty content doesn’t usually include references to hip-hop songs that hearken back to my childhood, or advise readers to get lip injections for a “sexy baby” look, or publish enthusiastic reviews for a drugstore brand lipstick where the dek (or subhead) repeats the word “OBSESSED” seven times in all caps.

These are all pieces by Cat Marnell.

She definitely influenced my beauty purchases when she wrote regularly for xoJane. Out of the previous articles I cited:

a) I purchased one of the BB creams mentioned in the article but gave it to a friend because it didn’t suit my skin tone.

b) As of now I am not interested in injecting fillers in my lips or anywhere else in my face, but Cat’s garter tights are awesome and I bought those.

c) Cat Marnell inspired to me to buy nearly all the Kate Moss for Rimmel lipsticks, and she’s totally right, they’re the real deal.

Cat was also known for being outspoken about her drug use on xoJane. This article she wrote after Whitney Houston died of a drug overdose in 2012 went viral. Her erratic behavior landed her on Page Six and was much discussed in the media gossip sphere. She eventually parted ways with xoJane (which folded in December 2016), but left with a book deal. Her memoir, How to Murder Your Life, was published this past January.

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How to Murder Your Life: A Memoir, by Cat Marnell

I requested the book as soon as it was available. After my copy arrived at the library, I received a very concerned phone call from a colleague who was worried that I borrowed the book for ideas on how to murder my own life. I assured my colleague that How to Murder Your Life is just a title and is someone else’s story, and all is well with me.

Cat is very honest about growing up in a dysfunctional family and how her drug abuse started with a Ritalin prescription she received as a teen. At times the book is hard to read. Cat encountered some awful men in the depths of her addiction and it was painful to read the parts where she recounted how the men took advantage of her and abused her.

If you’re like me and love magazines you will enjoy reading about Cat’s time working at Conde Nast. She dishes about sharing an elevator at 4 Times Square with Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour, and about the editors of Lucky magazine, which I loved reading in the 2000s when Kim France and Andrea Linett were at the helm. (I owned and loved the book The Lucky Guide to Mastering Any Style written by France and Linett, which includes an appearance by Cat.) But it was frustrating to see how Cat threw away an amazing career in which she excelled as a result of her addiction, despite having a supportive boss who forgave her after making many mistakes on the job.

Cat is a gifted writer–her writing in this book is light years beyond this xoJane piece where one paragraph includes the word “vanilla” repeated over and over. In the book she admitted to writing many xoJane pieces while high. She is self aware, and owns the messy parts of her life and how her actions impacted other people. Namely, her coworkers who had to pick up her slack, her sister who tolerated much bad behavior, and her roommates who also had to deal with Cat’s addict friends.

When I saw that she narrated the audiobook, I borrowed it from CloudLibrary and listened to it over a few days. (You can also borrow the audiobook on CD.) Hearing Cat tell her story made me enjoy it even more. And I was also able to fulfill my fifth task on the Read Harder Challenge: Read a book you’ve read before.

I look forward to reading more from Cat Marnell, be it longform narratives or beauty writing. I am always looking for amazing new lipsticks to try.

Following are some other books that I have both read and listened to on audio.

Amy Poehler, Yes Please  (I’ve written before about this book for the blog.)

Carrie Fisher, Wishful Drinking (What a broad! Carrie, you left this world too soon. RIP.)

Side bar: These were two picks from the Lady Memoir Book Club I lead at Little City Books. We’re meeting next on Wednesday May 17 at 7 PM to discuss Hope Jahren’s Lab Girl. Join us!

Lucy Sykes and Jo Piazza, The Knockoff (I read this with the Library’s Mile Square City Readers Book Club and enjoyed it. This author duo will be back this summer with Fitness Junkie, which I plan to read.)

Aziz Ansari, Modern Romance (Dating in these times: the struggle is real. Although Aziz is a comedian, he teamed up with a sociologist to write this book, which has well-researched data and thoughtful insights on dating in these modern times, where singles swipe left or right on their phones through what seems like endless potential love interests.)

For those who are concerned that listening to audiobooks isn’t reading: IT IS READING! Remember, book printing didn’t exist until the printing press was invented at the start of the Renaissance, and most stories were told orally. I believe that audiobooks are part of that oral tradition. So, if you like audiobooks, this librarian totally supports you in your enjoyment of them.

What’s your favorite audiobook?

-Written by Kerry Weinstein, Reference Librarian

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