Letter from the Editor:
May is always a hectic time of year for me, though I’m surprised to see it ending so quickly! This past month, I participated in Cindy’s Asian Readathon, and so for the month of May I primarily read books with Asian authors, including those with Chinese, Taiwanese, Indian, Iranian, and Vietnamese backgrounds. In this issue of Bookish Brains, I feature mini book reviews for Stargazing by Jen Wang, Mooncakes by Wendy Xu and Suzanne Walker, Bestiary by K-Ming Chang, and Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi.
In other news, I also made a bookish Tumblr (a booklr, if you will), so if you would like to follow Slanted Spines on Tumblr, you can check out my page! So far, I mostly use it to post quotes from the books I read, cross-promote my website and YouTube channel, and post photos. It’s been a lot of fun and quite the throwback, as I spent a good deal of my adolescence on Tumblr–and it hasn’t changed much since then, thankfully.
This month, I also made a personal goal of donating to a charity or organization every time I buy books. I spent about $45 on books in May, so I donated the same amount to a GoFundMe for rebuilding Samir Mansour’s bookstore in Gaza. Not only will this motivate me to be cautious about buying books if it’s not in the budget, but it will also help me keep up with charitable practices throughout the entire year.
Hope you also had a quality reading month!
Ace: What Asexuality Reveals About Desire, Society, and the Meaning of Sex by Angela Chen
At the beginning of May, I started off reading this on ebook through Libby, but after I got 40 pages in and was highlighting a lot of passages, I decided to splurge buy myself a copy. Once I got it in the mail, I reread the beginning and I’m currently on page 113. I think this book is highly important for not only aces and people questioning their sexuality, but I also think it’s important for non-aces to read as well.
In this book, Chen breaks down the difference between sexual attraction and sexual drive, which many people conflate with each other because in our society, sexuality is compulsory and we don’t often question these discrete areas. She deconstructs the notion that “asexuals just haven’t had the right kind of sex, otherwise they would love it too,” and illustrates how our identities are layered and other factors–like our race, class, and gender–can play into how aces understand their own sexuality.
I highly recommend this book so far! I have about 70 pages left, but the author’s voice is very comprehensible and it’s an incredibly relevant and nuanced work of nonfiction. Edit: Read my book report here.
Watch my book review on YouTube!
Stargazing by Jen Wang
- Middle grade graphic novel
- Published 2019
- 224 pages
Every now and then, I just need to read a middle grade novel to “reset” and connect with my inner child. This graphic novel was everything I needed.
When Christine’s parents find out that a local woman and her daughter Moon Lin need a place to stay, they clear out their guest house and offer the space. Christine is hesitant about befriending Moon, who has somewhat of a quick-to-anger reputation, and rumor has it that she was kicked out of her previous school for fighting. However, Moon is incredibly friendly and the two quickly become friends, bonding over K-pop, dancing, and art. But Moon is certainly unique, and the two friends must navigate their differences. Told through charming illustrations beautifully colored, this is a story about friendship, jealousy, compassion, creativity, and acceptance. I really adored the characters, and while the ending is a bit rushed, I felt safe and happy with how the story concluded.
While this is a fictional story, it was inspired by author Jen Wang’s own childhood, and following the graphic novel is a page explaining how Wang decided to bring this tale to fruition. I definitely recommend this book to young and old readers alike, as it really is just a sweet yet honest graphic novel.
Mooncakes by Wendy Xu and Suzanne Walker
- Fantasy graphic novel
- Published 2019
- 255 pages
After reading Stargazing, I was in the mood for another endearing graphic novel! Mooncakes takes place in a little town during autumn and tells the tale of Nova, a young witch, reuniting with her childhood friend Tam, who is a werewolf. Nova lives with her grandmothers and helps them run their bookshop cafe, which sells witchy literature and spellbooks. When Tam appears in the woods one night, Nova invites them to stay with her and her grandmothers, because Tam has recently encountered an evil force which seeks to feed off Tam’s wolf magic.
I loved this graphic novel because of its lovely illustrations, which are often colored with pink, orange, and yellow hues, and the loving environment the characters are rooted in. The representation was amazing, as Nova’s grandmothers are sapphic, Nova uses hearing aids, and Tam is non-binary. All of these characters feel vibrant and effortlessly accepted by the loved ones in their lives–and even Tam’s foil uses the correct pronouns for them.
My only issues were that the magic system seemed underdeveloped and there was some crucial information the reader had to gather through context and inference alone, but overall this was a fun reading experience and I definitely recommend it to others.
Mooncakes is a wholesome and enjoyable read, and I think fans of The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune or Kiki’s Delivery Service will also like this!
Check out my video review of Mooncakes on my YouTube channel!
Bestiary by K-Ming Chang
- Literary fiction
- Published 2020
- 272 pages
This book is without a doubt my favorite from May’s reading!
Narrated by Daughter, Mother, and Grandmother in alternating chapters, Bestiary centers on a Taiwanese lineage of women and their family myths, queer desires, and mystical transformations. As a young girl, Mother moves from Arkansas to California in the 1980’s, and as Daughter grows up, she discovers her family’s intriguing history. Lyrically written, this literary body of work blurs our understanding of reality and folklore, transcending the “possible” by embracing the natural. It truly demands the reader’s attention in a raw, creative, and imaginative tale.
Bestiary skews more towards magical realism and is a little bit “out there” for the average fiction reader. However, if you want something different and arresting, this novel will challenge your imagination and deliver a memorable generational saga.
Embroideries by Marjane Satrapi
- Graphic non-fiction
- Published 2005
- 144 pages
From creator of Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi brings us another graphic non-fiction which focuses on Iranian female love and sexuality. On an afternoon over tea, Marjane, her grandmother, and female family and friends discuss sex, heartbreak, marriage, gender expectations, and beauty standards.
As always, I loved Satrapi’s iconic black-and-white illustrations, and it was a pretty quick read. Even though she didn’t use any comic panels throughout it, the art was still sequential and each page was creatively structured. Having been published in 2005, it does seem a bit dated now, but still an essential relic of these women’s experiences.
Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi
- Literary fiction
- Published 2019
- 240 pages
Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2020, Burnt Sugar is narrated by a woman named Antara having to care for her mother who is experiencing Alzheimer’s. Throughout Antara’s life and especially during her childhood, her mother has been selfish and negligible, and their relationship has been strained. However, as Antara’s mother’s memory declines, their roles have now shifted and it is Antara who is now caretaker.
I enjoyed the narrative and I like how it explored the fallibility of memory and maternal lineage, how the dynamics between mother and daughter change with age and circumstance, how we can become exactly what we were determined not to become. While the writing was decent, I felt like there was always something just a bit deeper that the writing wasn’t quite getting at. And the ending culminated well but it was a very lukewarm conclusion.
It won’t be the most memorable book I’ve read in 2020, but it really was a solid reading experience.
Disability Visibility by Alice Wong
When I ordered Ace: What Asexuality Reveals About Desire, Society, and the Meaning of Sex, I also ordered this one. In Disability Visibility, Wong compiles a series of essays by disabled people from various backgrounds to discuss the ways in which society has misunderstood and fundamentally failed disabled individuals. I expect this to be significantly eye-opening about the ignorances I hold as an abled bodied person, and I expect it to contain a lot of intersectional voices, from individuals with varying backgrounds and identities. Having only flipped through it, so far the element that stands out to me is that each essay contains content warnings at the top of the title page if content warnings apply to it, which I highly appreciate in books. Very much looking forward to diving into this one.
Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
So, funny story about Song of Solomon… I had meant to read it in April, but then I checked out multiple books from the library and it got a bit pushed back. (I had written about wanting to read it in Bookish Brains Issue 5.) So, in June, I am determined to get to it!
The blurb for this classic reads, “Milkman Dead was born shortly after a neighborhood eccentric hurled himself off a rooftop in a vain attempt at flight. For the rest of his life he, too, will be trying to fly.”
I hate when I have to roll books over to the next month’s TBR several times, so now that this is the second time I’m claiming I’ll read this, I will prioritize this. I probably won’t check out many books from the library this month so that I can really focus on these and the ones I own.
Donate to help rebuild Samir Mansour’s bookstore, largest in Gaza
An Israeli airstrike on Gaza recently demolished Samir Mansour’s large and beloved bookshop.
Human rights lawyers Mahvish Rukhsana and Clive Stafford Smith set up a GoFundMe to rebuild his bookshop, all proceeds going directly to Samir Mansour. In the description, they wrote, “The two-story Samir Mansour book store was built 21 years ago and served as a community centre and book shop for the local Gaza community and Palestinian school children. Tens of thousands of books were destroyed. All of the heart, creativity and talent poured into this magical place is gone.” To donate, you can click here.
Read the latest here.
Children’s author Eric Carle passes away
At age 91, children’s writer and artist Eric Carle passed away a few days ago. Some of his iconic works include:
- The Very Hungry Caterpillar
- Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?
- Panda Bear, Panda Bear, What Do You See?
- Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear?
- From Head to Toe
- 1, 2, 3, to the Zoo
- The Grouchy Ladybug
- The Very Lonely Firefly
- Where Are You Going? To See My Friend!
- Does a Kangaroo Have a Mother Too?
- Dream Snow
Eric Carle’s books have always stood out for their unique art style. Each image is created from a process of painting tissue paper, cutting out shapes, and layering and pasting them together. In an interview with StoryToys near his 87th birthday, Carle said, “…My love of nature is always there because it is a part of me, a part of what I grew up learning about and appreciating. I hope we will take care of creatures and the oceans and the land. It is so important to expose children the beauty of art, literature, theatre, dance, music, poetry which all ennoble humankind. I think connecting to nature and to all of the arts are so important for all people, but especially to children.” Though he had always loved nature and art, Carle did not begin writing children’s book until he was 40.
To read more about Eric Carle’s life, check out his website or this article from NPR.
The difference between “graphic novel” and “comic”
Recently I saw the question “What’s the difference between a graphic novel and a comic?” posed online, and it got me wondering: Indeed, what is the difference? I quickly found a webpage which breaks it down and includes some example images.
Essentially, “comic book” refers to shorter, serialized issues, which typically have a running storyline. Thus, “graphic novel” refers to a piece typically a bit longer but overall a complete story.
To read more about this, you can check out this article from AMPKids.
7 Anticipated Summer Book Releases
I recently compiled a list of summer book releases I’m most excited about, which you can peruse on my blog here or watch on YouTube! About four of the books are to be released in June, so it’s promising to be an exciting month in the book world!
Dear Senthuran by Akwaeke Emezi
Of the seven books mentioned in my list, I am particularly excited for Akwaeke Emezi’s memoir, Dear Senthuran. I’ve already preordered it, so I can’t wait for it to show up on my doorstep at the beginning of June! I’m a huge admirer of Akwaeke Emezi’s work, including Freshwater and The Death of Vivek Oji, so I can only see myself being moved by this one as well.
Hillary Kelly from Vulture says: “Dear Senthuran is structured as a collection of letters to friends and family, about reading sex-advice columns as a child and the transformative power of gender-affirming surgery, the rampant jealousy inside their MFA cohort and the burnt bodies on the roadside in their hometown of Aba, Nigeria. Each letter is fiery and diamond-hard, written by a once-in-a-generation voice.”
- Genre: Memoir
- Release date: June 8, 2021
Bone House by K-Ming Chang
Summary from K-Ming Chang’s website: “BONE HOUSE is a 25-page queer Taiwanese-American retelling of Wuthering Heights, part love story and part ghost story – it revolves around an eccentric young woman named Millet, who is of unidentifiable lineage, and her destructive romance with Cathy Chiu, modeled after Cathy from the original novel. As our unnamed narrator moves into Bone House, a butcher’s mansion with a life of its own, she finds herself haunted by Cathy’s unrelenting ghost, while also becoming ensnared in her own attraction to Millet. All three women come to understand that their histories are inextricable and cyclical, and that they are bound together by desire and violence. This is a saddle-stitched micro-chapbook.”
After reading Bestiary, I was very excited to see that this was coming out soon! It should be a quick read, but I’m utterly entranced by K-Ming Chang as a writer and storyteller.
- Genre: Chapbook
- Release date: June 29, 2021
Watch my reading wrap-up on my YouTube channel!
Thank you for reading! To browse previous issues of Bookish Brains, check out this page.