summer reading: hits, misses and some in between

Although this summer has been nothing short of busy, I have been carving out time to read again and I couldn’t be happier. After years of being swamped by schoolwork and pushing reading aside for more “productive” things, it feels like a breath of fresh air to return to books that I actually want to look at. It has been five years (at least) since I’ve cried reading a book. And it finally happened again!

Now, not every book I’ve read thus far has been life-altering, breath-taking or perspective-shattering. Some were on my reading list for years and ended up being duds. Some I picked up at random and resulted in me recommending it to everyone I spoke to. Some I read for the second time and remembered why I loved them so much.

Here goes:

HITA Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza
I have waited quite a long time to find a novel that represents the Indian American Muslim experience in way that is relevant to me. A Place for Us surpassed any of my expectations. The novel chronicles the dynamics of an Indian immigrant family in California as they come together for eldest daughter Hadia’s wedding. The return of the estranged younger brother Aman triggers family memories to come tumbling out and emotions run high. Ignoring linear time and moving from memory to memory, Mirza creates a narrative that reads like a train of thought. Every section is written from the perspective of a different family member, highlighting how both the immigrant parents and their children have complex identities and are constantly adapting and growing. The cognitive and cultural dissonance between the parents and their children was, for me, the standout theme. The misunderstanding, the warmth, the disconnect, the honesty—every inch of this book is so raw and real. As corny as it sounds, I cried and I laughed and I gasped when I read this book. I have never been more emotionally drawn into a novel nor have I felt represented in this way. Thank you, Fatima Farheen Mirza, for inspiring this brown girl to take her story into her own hands.

MISSThe Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides
I don’t know how this book appeared on my reading list, nor do I know who recommended it to me (believe me, I’ve asked around), but The Marriage Plot was my first full book of the summer. It’s shittiness spurred me to find better books. The novel chronicles the coming of age of three Brown University graduates in the 80s, navigating their personal and professional lives. Another novel written through the perspectives of each character, The Marriage Plot fails to provide a balanced voice. Madeleine falls for dark and handsome Leonard in their senior year, ignoring Mitchell, a friend who has fawned over her for years. Through the many epiphanies and conflicts each character encounters, Madeleine remains self-centered, Mitchell travels the world to “find himself” and Leonard struggles with mental illness. The former two share the majority of the narration whilst Leonard is relegated to maybe one or two limited chapters—out of over 800 pages. Especially as the character who went through the most internal conflict, I felt that Leonard deserved more than just being the basket case he was presented as. The novel may resonate with many people in its ability to illustrate conflicted emotions and show the openness of the era, but it was just too dry and grating (and white) for me to enjoy.

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HITA Cook’s Tour by Anthony Bourdain
Anthony Bourdain has been one of my culinary and literary admirations for as long as I can remember. I watched episode after episode of No Reservations throughout middle and high school, in awe of the sheer honesty, grit and compassion Bourdain exuded in every one of his experiences. I devoured Kitchen Confidential and A Cook’s Tour, learning about the American culinary world from someone whose life was so vastly different than mine, but had the same intense love for food. This summer’s news struck me quite heavily and I, like many others, revisited much of his work. A Cook’s Tour is Bourdain’s written companion to his first Food Network travel show, a journal as he traveled the world and essentially revolutionized the genre of food television. Bourdain writes in the same voice he speaks with—biting candor, empathy and wit spill across every page. The imagery is beyond vivid as he describes being beaten by leaves in a Russian sauna or demanding to eat sheep’s testicles in the middle of the Sahara Desert in Morocco. There’s nothing quite like a reading experience where it feels as if the narrator is speaking directly to you, and Bourdain does just that.

MIXEDCrazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan
With the movie coming out this summer to high expectations of some long-awaited representation of Asian characters in film, I of course had to read Crazy Rich Asians. This novel may not have been the most academic or literary, but it was definitely a riot. Kwan makes the glitzy, glamorous life of Singaporean elites the guiding force as protagonist Rachel navigates her relationship with wealthy Nick Young. Rife with family drama, deception, indulgent shopping sprees and long-lost fathers, Crazy Rich Asians is nothing short of a fun beach read. This novel contained so, so many characters. Many of them were underdeveloped, so when they became a part of the plot, I just wasn’t fully engaged. Then came the onslaught of plot twists. They definitely added to the fun but I felt like the final one—where Rachel’s long-lost father wasn’t actually her long-lost father and her boyfriend’s mother was just out to get her and cause all sorts of drama and then everyone broke down and Rachel’s mother came from California and then there was more drama—could have been avoided and the novel should have ended a couple chapters earlier. (See what I mean?) However, I know that this movie is going to be hilarious and a joy to watch.

Sidenote: I know this novel (and it’s film counterpart) has received a lot of flak because of its disregard for non-Chinese Singaporeans and the many immigrants who uphold the lives of the Singaporean elite. There are definitely social and political issues with this content but I still believe it has value as a piece of representation in a media landscape that ignores Asians/Asian-Americans.

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HITSong of Solomon by Toni Morrison
I read my first Toni Morrison novel in high school. Sula portrayed the relationship between two women as undeniably strong even through betrayal, heartbreak and distance. Song of Solomon is written from a male perspective but still keeps the strength and sacrifices of women at the center of the narrative. Protagonist Milkman Dead Jr. spends the novel deciphering his family’s past in attempts to make sense of his community and identity as a Black man. It’s to hard to succinctly describe this coming-of-age story filled to brim with magical realism and history. Morrison so sharply writes of intergenerational trauma (specifically slavery) and its manifestations in future youth. Love, and lack thereof, plays an incredibly profound role in pushing certain characters to brink of instability as well as encouraging others to find their identity. The novel is set at the precipice of the Civil Rights movement and while that isn’t the focus, the intolerance and brutality of the era is absolutely the backdrop of Milkman’s journey. Just read it—I promise it’ll stir you in one way or another.

Have you read any good books these past few months? What’s been your favorite? Your least favorite? Let me know!

devour

| dəˈvou(ə)r |

verb [with object] 

eat (food or prey) hungrily or quickly

1 (of fire, disease, or other forces) consume (someone or something) destructively

read (something) quickly and eagerly

(be devoured) (of a person) be totally absorbed by an unpleasant feeling

5 Comments

  1. Rachel Taubman

    Love the book reviews! I definitely want to check these out now. Last week I read “Bel Canto” by Ann Patchett and it is now one of my favorite books–I would definitely recommend it if you’re looking for more books to read this summer!

  2. Sydney!!!!

    Hi Safa it’s Sydney! I just finished Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. You need to read it bc I KNOW you will love it. Love you. Miss you. Send pix of the kids when you get the chance 😉 xoxo Syd

    1. safa

      Hi Sydney it’s Safa! I’ve heard so many wonderful things about Homegoing, I will definitely put it on the list to read ASAP. I can’t believe I haven’t sent pics yet, you’ll get ’em real soon! lova ya miss ya ❤

  3. Sydney!!!!

    OH also so glad to see that you’ve read Song of Solomon – that was my first Toni Morrison book 😉 How fitting that I am now moving on to Sula! K bye for real now – call me, beep me, text me, snap me!

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