Letter from the Editor:
Lo and behold, it is nearly August! Hoping you fared well this July and enjoyed at least one quality book.
July brought many changes to my life, most notably my recent employment at a local library! After a year of time off and re-evaluating my career direction, I became a part-time circulation clerk at a gorgeous community library. Spending my time there has been lovely, and consequently I have taken home quite a number of stray books with me! Because of this tremendous resource, I’ve been able to indulge in more new release books and “sample” books I may be interested in.
Though I’ve been fostering a decent stack of books, I’ve only had time enough to read five books so far this month, including two short story collections and one brief manga. Compared to my ravenous reading habits of June, this is a decrease in quantity for me, though I’m perfectly satisfied with the literature I have managed to read. I’ve gotten in the habit of reading for an hour or two every morning during my cup of tea, which has helped me keep up with the books on my TBR despite the changes to my schedule. Plus, it’s the most pleasant way to start the day!
In this month’s issue of Bookish Brains, I share my reviews of Filthy Animals by Brandon Taylor, Of Women and Salt by Gabriela Garcia, Are You Enjoying? by Mira Sethi, Butter Honey Pig Bread by Francesca Ekwuyasi, and Junji Ito’s Cat Diary. Plus, what I’m currently reading, what I’d like to read next, and some new releases to keep an eye out for! Hope you enjoy!
Ghost Forest by Pik-Shuen Fung
After featuring this book in last month’s Bookish Brain’s New Releases section, I put this on hold from my library. I was particularly drawn to the cover and its unique yellowish green hue, and after virtually “taking a peek” at the inside, I was also intrigued by its form, which is brief vignettes of prose. I expect that because of the beautiful space between paragraphs and chapters, it will be a quick yet thoughtful and touching read.
Ghost Forest begins with the line, “Twenty-one days after my dad died, a bird perched on the railing of my balcony.” The narrator discusses how her family immigrated from Hong Kong to Vancouver, Canada, and includes sections from her mother and grandmother’s voices. Thus far, I am on page 45 and allowing the words and the anecdotes to wash over me much like poetry, as the writing is delicate and pensive, utilizing empty space and silence as much as it utilizes the words themselves. Though the narrator adores her father, both physically and emotionally a gap existed between them, and now after his passing, she can only reflect on their relationship for what it was, unable to change their past despite the new perspective she has now gained.
I expect to finish this book in the next couple days, either the last day of July or first of August.
[Note: Read my full written review of Ghost Forest here.]
Filthy Animals by Brandon Taylor
- Fiction / Short stories
- Published 2021
- 288 pages
Though I loved Brandon Taylor’s debut novel Real Life last year, I believe short fiction is where his writing truly shines. In these stories, a cast of new characters explore animalistic impulses in subtle, nuanced ways, as they grapple with relating to their peers and lovers and struggle to live in alignment with their soul’s desires. Certain characters, such as Lionel, Charles, and Sophie, are featured throughout the entire collection in progressing vignettes, while others’ stories come and go. Their range of interests vary, as some characters are scientists, dancers, babysitters, students, or recluses, and Taylor’s writing succeeds at fleshing out their lives.
I was pleasantly engaged in these stories, and I think that this is a very strong collection. This was the book I took with me on my vacation and so most of it I read on the plane; I believe that short stories are a great form of literature to read on-the-go. I did struggle to connect with many of the characters–they are often mean or passive–but that didn’t necessarily detract from my appreciation. In a short story anthology, I prefer a clear central theme and a sliver of overlap between characters’ narrations, which Filthy Animals delivered. I think that this book will speak most to readers in their 20’s and 30’s, which is whom I would recommend this to.
Of Women and Salt by Gabriela Garcia
- Fiction / Generational tale
- Published 2021
- 207 pages
To read my full review of Of Women and Salt, check out this post!
You can also listen to my thoughts on this book via this vlog!
Are You Enjoying? by Mira Sethi
- Fiction / Short stories
- Published 2021
- 192 pages
Are You Enjoying? is an aggregate of short stories that deal with love, affairs, marriage, heartbreak, politics, radicalism, and queer identity. Set in modern-day Pakistan, these tales offer glimpses into the personal lives of a wide array of people. In the first story, a news anchor develops a relationship with an ambassador; in the second story, a young actor negotiates her values in order to “make it” in the show business. Other stories consider childhood best friends who marry to conceal their queer sexuality, a young man absorbed in the extreme beliefs of his college religious group, and an esteemed matriarch contemplating a leadership position in local government.
I did enjoy Are You Enjoying?, though at the end of each piece, I often felt like I was left with very little. I did connect with a handful of characters, and I frequently felt invested in their lives, though the framework of the story tended to be weak in its conclusions, in my opinion. Short stories can be challenging, because the author must not only grasp the reader’s heart and mind in such a short form, but leave them with just enough “story” to feel satisfied and impacted. Too much story feels boring or corny; not enough story feels disappointing and like a waste of reading. Short fiction requires a delicate balance of nuance yet straightforwardness, and while Sethi is by no means a bad writer, I felt that while some sections were overly heavy on description, other sections contained too much dialogue and not enough description. Moreover, I wanted just a bit “more” from almost every story.
This isn’t to say I wouldn’t recommend this collection, because I still read the entire piece and was entertained and transported. However, it was my least favorite read of the month, and may not stick with me for very long.
Butter Honey Pig Bread by Francesca Ekwuyasi
- Published 2020
- 320 pages
Like divine intervention, one day at work I saw Butter Honey Pig Bread sitting on a sorting cart and I remembered Nthabi (from Nthabi and her Books on YouTube) mentioning this book in a book haul video. Attracted to the cover and curious about the title, I checked it out, thankful for its coincidental and easy delivery into my life.
The week I spent reading this book was absolutely amazing. Butter Honey Pig Bread is a story of twin sisters Taiye and Kehinde and their mother Kambirinachi, who is an ọgbanje, meaning her physical manifestation contains the spirits of plural ethereal entities. Separated into four sections, each an ingredient lent from the title, the book narrates the estrangement of these three women and their subsequent reunion in Lagos, their arcs complemented by a lengthy roster of supporting and lovably human characters–and a few not-so-lovable characters.
Written with a delicious care for food, Ekwuyasi skillfully weaves the past with the present, fixating alternating chapters on each of the women, Taiye and Kambirinachi in third-person, while Kehinde shares her own experiences first-person. Butter Honey Pig Bread meditates on grief, trauma, forgiveness, and family, while centering queer experiences, personal growth, and complicated love.
If it’s not apparent, I was entirely enthralled by this book and savored every moment of my time with it. I highly recommend this book, with the caveat that if you’re sensitive to topics of sexual assault, attempted suicide, or miscarriages, please be mindful that this book contains these events. Butter Honey Pig Bread is now one of my favorite books of 2021 and I can’t wait to tell more people about this book.
Junji Ito’s Cat Diary: Yon & Mu
- Non-fiction / Manga
- Originally published in 2009, translated to English 2015
- 121 pages
Well-known for his horror manga such as Uzumaki and Tomie, Junji Ito shares anecdotes of life with cats in his Cat Diary! Though at the beginning of this piece, Junji Ito claims his allegiance to dogs as opposed to cats, thanks to his wife he finds himself the owner of not one but two furry felines. Over the course of the pages and time itself, Junji Ito learns to bond with this animal species in unexpected ways and find a soft spot for Yon and Mu, their adopted cats.
It was a delight to read this and I often found myself chuckling or giggling at the author’s dramatic reactions or the uncanny likeness of cats, which he acutely captured in his drawings. His portrayal of their expressions and movement was satisfying as an avid lover of cats and cat mother myself, and Mu’s appearance reminded me of my own cat, Karma. Though, this is not just a charming, light-hearted manga, as Junji Ito is the horror artist extraordinaire; in his stylistic fashion, the piece still contained his strange imagination and debatably disturbing images as they fit within the tales.
I appreciated its brevity, though some of the chapters I would have liked to have been even longer, perhaps fleshing out the tale even more. Regardless though, I enjoyed this piece and I think because of its sweet subject matter and short form, it could potentially be a great introductory piece to transition someone into reading manga or Junji Ito’s collections.
Watch me discuss these books on my YouTube channel too!
Brother, Sister, Mother, Explorer by Jamie Figueroa
Currently I have this checked out from the library and am interested to read it. It came upon my radar earlier this year when it was released by Catapult and I’d like to crack it open in the next few weeks.
Summary from Goodreads:
In the tourist town of Ciudad de Tres Hermanas, in the aftermath of their mother’s passing, two siblings spend a final weekend together in their childhood home. Seeing her brother, Rafa, careening toward a place of no return, Rufina devises a bet: if they can make enough money performing for privileged tourists in the plaza over the course of the weekend to afford a plane ticket out, Rafa must commit to living. If not, Rufina will make her peace with Rafa’s own plan for the future, however terrifying it may be.
As the siblings reckon with generational and ancestral trauma, set against the indignities of present-day prejudice, other strange hauntings begin to stalk these pages: their mother’s ghost kicks her heels against the walls; Rufina’s vanished child creeps into her arms at night; and above all this, watching over the siblings, a genderless, flea-bitten angel remains hell-bent on saving what can be saved.
The Natural Mother of the Child: A Memoir of Nonbinary Parenthood by Krys Malcolm Belc
This is another book I’ve had checked out from the library a few weeks and would like to read soon. I love memoir, and I would like to read more books by non-binary and trans authors. I’ve flipped through this one and previewed the form, and I’m intrigued by the use of pictures and documents throughout, including sonogram images and scanned papers. I think it’ll be an insightful piece.
Summary from Counterpoint:
Krys Malcolm Belc has thought a lot about the interplay between parenthood and gender. As a nonbinary, transmasculine parent, giving birth to his son Samson clarified his gender identity. And yet, when his partner Anna adopted Samson, the legal documents listed Belc as “the natural mother of the child.
By considering how the experiences contained under the umbrella of “motherhood” don’t fully align with Belc’s own experience, The Natural Mother of the Child journeys both toward and through common perceptions of what it means to have a body and how that body can influence the perception of a family. With this visual memoir-in-essays, Belc has created a new kind of life record, one that engages directly with the documentation often thought to constitute a record of one’s life–childhood photos, birth certificates–and addresses his deep ambivalence about the “before” and “after” so prevalent in trans stories, which feels apart from his own experience.
The Natural Mother of the Child is the story of a person moving past societal expectations to take control of his own narrative, with prose that delights in the intimate dailiness of family life and explores how much we can ever really know when we enter into parenting.
The Last Nomad: Coming of Age in the Somali Desert by Shugri Said Salh
Summary from Bookshop:
When Shugri Said Salh was six years old, she was sent to live with her nomadic grandmother in the desert, away from the city of Galkayo. Leaving behind her house, her parents, her father’s multiple wives, and her many siblings, she would become the last of her family to learn a once-common way of life. The desert held many risks, from drought and hunger to the threat of predators, but it also held beauty, innovation, and centuries of tradition. Shugri grew to love the freedom of roaming with her goats and the feeling of community in learning the courtship rituals, cooking songs, and poems of her people. She was even proud to face the rite of passage that all “respectable” girls undergo in Somalia, a brutal female circumcision.
In time, Shugri would return to live with her siblings in the city. Ultimately, the family was forced to flee as refugees in the face of a civil war–first to Kenya, then to Canada, and finally to the United States. There, Shugri would again find herself a nomad in a strange land, learning to navigate everything from escalators to homeless shelters to, ultimately, marriage, parenthood, and nursing school. And she would approach each step of her journey with resilience and a liveliness that is all her own.
At once dramatic and witty, The Last Nomad tells a story of tradition, change, and hope.
- Genre: Memoir
- Release date: August 3, 2021
Velvet Was the Night by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Summary from Bookshop:
1970s, Mexico City. Maite is a secretary who lives for one thing: the latest issue of Secret Romance. While student protests and political unrest consume the city, Maite escapes into stories of passion and danger.
Her next-door neighbor, Leonora, a beautiful art student, seems to live a life of intrigue and romance that Maite envies. When Leonora disappears under suspicious circumstances, Maite finds herself searching for the missing woman–and journeying deeper into Leonora’s secret life of student radicals and dissidents.
Meanwhile, someone else is also looking for Leonora at the behest of his boss, a shadowy figure who commands goon squads dedicated to squashing political activists. Elvis is an eccentric criminal who longs to escape his own life: He loathes violence and loves old movies and rock ‘n’ roll. But as Elvis searches for the missing woman, he watches Maite from a distance–and comes to regard her as a kindred spirit who shares his love of music and the unspoken loneliness of his heart.
Now as Maite and Elvis come closer to discovering the truth behind Leonora’s disappearance, they can no longer escape the danger that threatens to consume their lives, with hitmen, government agents, and Russian spies all aiming to protect Leonora’s secrets–at gunpoint.
- Genre: Historical Noir
- Release date: August 17, 2021
Seeing Ghosts by Kat Chow
Summary from Kat Chow’s website:
Kat Chow has always been unusually fixated on death. She worried constantly about her parents dying—especially her mother. A vivacious and mischievous woman, Kat’s mother made a morbid joke that would haunt her for years to come: when she died, she’d like to be stuffed and displayed in Kat’s future apartment in order to always watch over her.
After her mother dies unexpectedly from cancer, Kat, her sisters, and their father are plunged into a debilitating, lonely grief. With a distinct voice that is wry and heartfelt, Kat weaves together a story of the fallout of grief that follows her extended family as they emigrate from China and Hong Kong to Cuba and America. Seeing Ghosts asks what it means to reclaim and tell your family’s story: Is writing an exorcism or is it its own form of preservation? The result is an extraordinary new contribution to the literature of the American family, and a provocative and transformative meditation on who we become facing loss.
- Genre: Memoir
- Release date: August 24, 2021
The Heart Principle by Helen Hoang
Summary from Penguin Random House:
When violinist Anna Sun accidentally achieves career success with a viral YouTube video, she finds herself incapacitated and burned out from her attempts to replicate that moment. And when her longtime boyfriend announces he wants an open relationship before making a final commitment, a hurt and angry Anna decides that if he wants an open relationship, then she does, too. Translation: She’s going to embark on a string of one-night stands. The more unacceptable the men, the better.
That’s where tattooed, motorcycle-riding Quan Diep comes in. Their first attempt at a one-night stand fails, as does their second, and their third, because being with Quan is more than sex—he accepts Anna on an unconditional level that she herself has just started to understand. However, when tragedy strikes Anna’s family she takes on a role that she is ill-suited for, until the burden of expectations threatens to destroy her. Anna and Quan have to fight for their chance at love, but to do that, they also have to fight for themselves.SEE LESS
- Genre: Adult romance
- Release date: August 31, 2021
Thanks for reading! To browse previous editions of Bookish Brains, check out this page.