Pachinko // Min Jin Lee

It’s been a while since I’ve truly been obsessed with a book.  Once I started reading Pachinko, I couldn’t stop- I even got up half an hour early every day so that I could fit in some reading time before my day began!  It’s just that good, and most readers seem to agree: beyond it’s 4.3 rating on Goodreads, it was named one of the ten best books of the year by the New York Times among being a National Book Award finalist.

In a nutshell, Pachinko follows four generations of a Korean family in Japan through the twentieth century as they face various dilemmas ranging from complicated romance to life-or-death situations.  Written in plain but elegant prose, Pachinko both entertains and educates the reader, heavily discussing the Japanese-Korean conflict with an emphasis on the Korean diaspora and identity crisis.  Personally, I learned a lot I didn’t know about the Korean culture as well as the underground world of pachinko parlors.


“Learn everything.  Fill your mind with knowledge- it’s the only kind of power no one can take away from you.”

-Min Jin Lee, Pachinko


From the back cover:

History is seldom kind.  In Min Jin Lee’s bestselling, magisterial epic, four generations of a poor, proud immigrant family fight to control their destinies, exiled from a homeland they never knew.

In the early 1900s, teenaged Sunja, the adored daughter of a crippled fisherman, falls for a wealthy stranger at the seashore near her home in Korea.  He promises her the world, but when she discovers she is pregnant- and that her lover is married- she refuses to be bought.  Instead, she accepts an offer of marriage from a gentle, sickly minister passing through on his way to Japan.  But her decision to abandon her home and to reject her son’s powerful father sets off a dramatic saga that will echo down through the generations.

Richly told and profoundly moving, Pachinko is a story of love, sacrifice, ambition, and loyalty.  From the bustling street markets to the halls of Japan’s finest universities to the pachinko parlors of the criminal underworld, Lee’s complex and passionate characters- strong, stubborn women, devoted sisters and sons, fathers shaken by moral crisis- survive and thrive against the indifferent arc of history.


“Living everyday in the presence of those who refuse to acknowledge your humanity takes great courage.”

-Min Jin Lee, Pachinko


Though Pachinko follows four generations, much of the plot relies heavily on Sunja’s initial plight, as she gets pregnant out of wedlock to a wealthy man with a wife and children in Japan.  Sunja ends up marrying a sickly minister in order to give her unborn son a proper name, and they begin a family of their own as she falls in love with him.  Sunja has two sons, one from each man, and from there the novel focuses on the boys and their relationships with their respective fathers.  In that regard, Pachinko focuses on fatherhood, the issue of nature versus nurture, and what it means to be a father.

Initially Pachinko took the time to explain everything in detail, but as the story moved along, the pacing steadily increased, and as time progressed faster, more and more characters were introduced.  Structurally and pacing-wise, Pachinko struggled, but I fell in love with the story and the characters.  Much like The Heart’s Invisible Furies, another well-loved, character-driven tome, Pachinko was a very emotional read.  I felt sucked into the story, so much so that I was undeniably sad when it ended.  Pachinko is a gem, so deserving of its recognition, and by far one of the best books I’ve read this year.

Find this book on Goodreads.

My Year of Rest and Relaxation // Ottessa Moshfegh

There was no escaping My Year of Rest and Relaxation this summer.  Visit any bookish website, and its iconic hot pink text and classic cover art was plastered on the front page.  Scroll through bookstagram, and Moshfegh’s name appeared in post after post.  Browse any bookshop, and it was prominently displayed on the front table.  I try to avoid over-hyped books at all costs, but I gave in for this one, and I’m glad I did.

I snatched up my copy at McNally Jackson a few weeks ago, while staying on the Upper East Side, weirdly enough just a few blocks away from where our unnamed narrator lives.  It was one of those instances where I read a book at the absolute perfect time.  Reading My Year of Rest and Relaxation in New York definitely heightened my reading experience; this book feels, in every sense, like a New York Novel, and I’m not convinced I could’ve accessed the full meaning had I not been in the very city where it takes place.


From the jacket:

Our narrator has many of the advantages in life, on the surface.  Young, thin, pretty, a recent Columbia graduate, she lives in an apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan paid for, like the rest of her needs, by her inheritance.  But there is a vacuum at the heart of things, and it isn’t just the loss of her parents while she was in college, or the miserable way her Wall Street sometimes-boyfriend treats her, or her sadomasochistic relationship with her alleged best friend.  It’s the year 2000 in a city aglitter with wealth and possibility; what could be so terribly wrong?

My Year of Rest and Relaxation is a powerful answer to that very question.  Through the story of a year spent by a young woman under the influence of a truly mad combination of drugs prescribed to heal people from alienation and existential ennui, Moshfegh shows us how reasonable, even necessary that alienation sometimes is.  Tender and blackly funny, merciless and compassionate, it is a showcase for the gifts and the rewards of one of our major writers working at the height of her powers.


“Sleep felt productive.  Something was getting sorted out.  I knew in my heart- this was, perhaps, the only thing my heart knew back then- that when I’d slept enough, I’d be okay.  I’d be renewed, reborn.  I would be a whole new person, every one of my cells regenerated enough times that the old cells were just distant, foggy memories.  My past life would be but a dream, and I could start over without regrets, bolstered by the bliss and serenity that I would have accumulated in my year of rest and relaxation.”

-Ottessa Moshfegh, My Year of Rest and Relaxation


My Year of Rest and Relaxation presents a very privileged yet very depressed narrator.  Unnamed, she is somewhat unlikeable in her trust-fund, Upper East Side ways, and yet she isn’t the biggest fan of herself either.  Drowning in the world after the death of her parents and the latest break-up with her on-again-off-again boyfriend Trevor, she takes self-care to the extreme by creating endless amounts of prescription drug cocktails, prescribed to her by an aloof psychologist, so that she may escape the world and sleep for a year.  This book, weird and wonderful in so many ways, touches on an abundance of topics, from mental health to inauthenticity, while focusing on the narrator’s relationships, healthy and unhealthy.  Moshfegh is a very polarizing writer but My Year of Rest and Relaxation reminded me very much of The Idiot in its tone and content, so it should come as no surprise that I loved this one as well.  Despite the cliché ending, the last page crushed my soul and left me hungry for more.

My Year of Rest and Relaxation is not an “enjoyable” book, it’s not a “feel-good” book.  It’s about the ugly, depressing parts of life, the parts that make you want to hole up in your apartment and literally sleep for a year, to hide from masochistic, pretentious boyfriends and irritating, nettlesome best friends.  If anything, this book made me feel awful.  Yet, I loved every minute of it.  Suddenly, I want to devour everything Moshfegh has every written (thank God I planned ahead and bought Eileen).  Sign me up for the Ottessa Moshfegh Fan Club.

Further reading: “Ottessa Moshfegh Plays to Win” by Kaitlin Phillips, The Cut; “Ottessa Moshfegh’s Otherworldly Fiction” by Ariel Levy, The New Yorker.

Find this book on Goodreads.

New York City Book Haul

I spent a total of eight days in New York, but somehow managed to acquire nine books, which may or may not be a new record for me…  I will say that four of these were given to me by publishers, and the three I purchased at the Strand were all $7-8 each, so my bank account is happy even though my bedroom has been taken over by books.  What else is new?  As you can see, this was quite the stack to fly home with!

From Harper Business

90s Bitch by Allison Yarrow
The Thank You Economy by Gary Vaynerchuk

From Strand Book Store

Less by Andrew Sean Greer
Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh
The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

From Catapult

Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor
All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung

From McNally Jackson

My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh

From Books Are Magic

New People by Danzy Senna

A little bit more about my adventures: On Monday, I visited the Harper Business imprint at HarperCollins and the Henry Holt & Co. imprint at Macmillan before making a trip to The Strand to get lost in the stacks.  Tuesday I met with some amazing people from St. Martin’s Press and Farrar, Straus & Giroux, both imprints at Macmillan, as well as the team at Catapult/Soft Skull Press, and attended a dinner the Asian American Writers’ Workshop.  I began Wednesday with a trip to Three Lives & Company, which was just three blocks away from my West Village apartment, and went to a work lunch at an amazing Thai restaurant.  Afterwards, I walked to SoHo’s McNally Jackson for some quality browsing time.  Thursday was very much a non-bookish day, in which I saw the Statue of Liberty and went shopping, but Friday I went down to Brooklyn for Emma Straub’s Books Are Magic, which ended up being my favorite bookshop of the trip.  The weekend was spent bopping around the city with my family before flying home Sunday night (only to begin classes the next day… yikes!).

I’ve already picked up My Year of Rest and Relaxation, because I just couldn’t wait, but what do you think I should read next?  I’d love to hear from you!

xx,
Hannah

Young Adult Shelf: We Are Okay + Turtles All The Way Down

Occasionally, when I’m trapped in a reading slump, I’ll make a trip to the library and peruse the young adult fiction shelves for an easy read or two.  Sometimes I’ll go for the authors I loved as a high schooler, but this time I chose two titles that were heavily talked about in the fall and winter of last year: Nina LaCour’s We Are Okay and John Green’s Turtles All the Way Down.

Generally, I’ve found that it’s difficult for me to write full-length reviews on teen novels, so I’ve decided to start a new feature, Young Adult Shelf, where I’ll discuss the YA books I’ve recently read through mini reviews.

We Are Okay by Nina LaCour

We Are Okay is young adult at its finest.  It’s no surprise that Nina LaCour’s latest won the 2018 Printz Award, a prize that I follow along with closely every year.  We Are Okay is a quiet reflection on grief, loss, and, perhaps most prominently, friendship.  It’s a slow-paced, character-driven novel, and it was refreshing to read about a character so much like myself.  Like me, Marin is a young undergrad and English major at a large upstate New York university, and, like me, she feels alone despite being constantly surrounded by family, friends, and familiar faces.  Her feelings of loneliness and isolation are only amplified by the novel’s setting, a desolate, snowy campus during winter break.  It’s truly astonishing how brilliant and beautiful LaCour’s writing is.  I wish I could make We Are Okay required reading for everyone, or at least every college freshman.

Turtles All The Way Down by John Green

I’ve read all four of Green’s previous novels, starting with the heartbreaking The Fault in Our Stars, and moving through the others rapidly: I loved the adventure and mystery of Paper Towns, I feared I didn’t “get” Looking for Alaska, and I fell in love the highly underrated An Abundance of Katherines, which seemed to be everyone’s least favorite but mine.  When Turtles All The Way Down was announced, I rolled my eyes.  I knew (or thought I knew) it would follow the same “recipe” as Green’s previous works: the manic pixie dream girl, the angsty teenage boy and his 2-3 equally awkward friends, and some kind of cross-country quest.  In the past, I’ve disagreed with Green’s over-conscious prose, his try-hard, too-quotable metaphors, but Turtles takes a step back from his usual style, and puts forth an honest, searing tale of a teen with anxiety disorder and OCD in a world that’s not all too understanding.

In short, Turtles All The Way Down is about mental illness.  It expertly captures the angst and anxiety that comes with being not only a teenager, but also a person in the world.  Turtles really illustrates how hard it is to be a teenager struggling with mental health, and how that can affect every area of life, from education to relationships.  The book also discusses the role of parents in a kid’s life, specifically the idea that not all parents are adequate, and sometimes the best role models aren’t related to a child by blood.  Overall, I enjoyed Turtles All The Way Down, and if I had to pick, I’d say it’s a new favorite John Green book.

What did you think of these two books?  Are there any young adult novels you’d recommend for me?  I’d love to hear from you!

xx,
Hannah

My Love-Hate Relationship with Literary Awards

I’ve enjoyed following along with literary awards and book prizes since I first ventured into young adult fiction and learned about the Printz Award.  I’d read a few books that had either won or been honored, like Looking for Alaska by John Green and Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, and I enjoyed those so I sought out more Printz-recognized reads.  I read I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson and Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz, which remain my two favorite young adult books to this day.  Even the few young adult books I’ve read as a college student have been Printz honorees, like We Are Okay by Nina LaCour and The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas.  That’s not to say I haven’t read my fair share of YA books unrelated to the Printz, but I always viewed the award as providing me a great list of novels to choose from.  Today, as a nineteen year old who doesn’t read much YA anymore, I view the Printz winner as the young adult book that I absolutely must read this year- if I’m only going to read one, it should be that one.

As I started to move into reading adult fiction, I noticed that almost all of the books recommended to me had been recognized by a different set of awards: the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, the Man Booker Prize, the Women’s Prize for Fiction, and the National Book Award for Fiction.  Naturally, I started to follow along with these awards, and the longer I followed them, the more I thought about them: their importance, their meaning, etc.  I generally love literary awards, because they’re fun and they’re a great way to discover new books, but, like anything else, they certainly have their con’s.

I love the excitement, the conversation, and the discovery.

It sounds cheesy, but awards are exciting!  Most awards release a longlist and a shortlist before announcing the winner, so it’s fun to follow along with the “countdown” and see if my favorite makes it to the “next round.”  Awards create a lot of buzz and get everyone talking about the books they feature.  I see a lot of bloggers and YouTubers reading the entire longlist/shortlist and sharing reviews on each one, and a lot of them like to share their predictions as well, either predictions for who will make it on the longlist, or their prediction for who will win.  In this sense, they are also a great way to discover books, especially through awards for specific categories like PEN America’s Hemingway Award for Debut Fiction.  I love to watch the National Book Foundation’s annual 5 Under 35, which showcases five exceptional debut novelists under the age of 35.  I’ve found a lot of my favorite books through awards.  There’s nothing better than a list!

I hate the subjectivity and the lack of diversity.

Though I only have two dislikes regarding book prizes, they’re big ones.  The first, that they are very subjective as there are different judges every year, so the winner could be different depending on that year’s judging panel.  Not only that, but the judges could have ulterior motives, like picking a winner that benefits a friend/publisher/agent other than picking the best book.  I think I would appreciate the validity of an award-winner more if I knew the same people were picking it year after year.  My second issue is that literary prizes, like most awards, lack diversity, in this case diversity between race, sex, and class.  Historically, wealthy white men have won or been longlisted for more awards than any other group, especially with the Man Booker, and though this has started to change in the past few years, it’s still a huge issue.  (This is part of the reason I’m such a huge fan of the Women’s Prize, which was founded in direct opposition of the sexist Man Booker, and only honors writers who identify as women.)

What do you think about literary awards?  What do you like/dislike about them?  What are your favorites to follow along with?  I’d love to hear your thoughts!

xx,
Hannah

Summer 2018 ARC List

I’ve been a slow reader lately, but I’m pretty excited about the ARCs I received to read this summer, so I thought I’d share them with you!  I’ve been trying to exhibit self control when it comes to requesting ARCs so, thankfully, I only have six to read.  I’m hoping to crank them out this month before my literary agency internship starts in July and reading becomes my actual job!

Number One Chinese Restaurant by Lillian Li

June 19, 2018 from Henry Holt & Co

I generally adore everything Henry Holt publishes, and Number One Chinese Restaurant sounds like it will not disappoint.  It takes place at the Beijing Duck Restaurant in Rockville, Maryland and follows a family of waiters and kitchen staff after “disaster strikes” at the restaurant.  I love multi-generational, multi-voiced stories, so I’m looking forward to this ensemble story, the debut novel from author Lillian Li.

A Terrible Country by Keith Gessen

July 10, 2018 from Penguin Viking

A Terrible Country is Gessen’s first novel in ten years, and it’s been praised by George Saunders and Elif Batuman, which I’ll admit swayed me into requesting it.  Russia has been popping up everywhere in literature lately, and this novel is no exception: it follows Andrei Kaplan, whose older brother Dima convinces him to leave New York and go to Moscow to take care of his elderly grandmother.

The Family Tabor by Cherise Wolas

July 17, 2018 from Flatiron Books

Wolas is the author of The Resurrection of Joan Ashby, which I haven’t read but heard great things about.  Her sophomore effort is about the Tabor family: Harry, Roma, and their three children, as the patriarch, Harry, is about to be named “Man of the Decade,” but is suddenly haunted by a secret from his past that will change everything.  My favorite kind of book explores a unique family dynamic, and The Family Tabor sounds like exactly that.

The Bucket List by Georgia Clark

August 7, 2018 from Atria Books

I love the idea of bucket lists (and I’ve even tried to make a few of my own through the years), and this novel by Georgia Clark, author of The Regulars, sounds like such a cute read!  It follows twenty-five year-old Lacey Whitman, a small-town girl juggling two careers in New York, who learns she has a high risk for developing breast cancer.  Before a possible double mastectomy, Lacey wants to fulfill what she calls her “boob bucket list.”  Despite the cancer background story, The Bucket List seems silly and fun, perfect for fans of Sophie Kinsella and the like.

A River of Stars by Vanessa Hua

August 14, 2018 from Ballantine Books

A River of Stars has been generating steady buzz since it made a few book lists back in January, and I’ve had my eye on it for a while.  Once I saw that Celeste Ng praised it (and Emma Cline too), I knew I needed to request it!  It’s a road-trip story about immigration and motherhood, following two expectant mothers from a secret maternity home in Los Angeles: Scarlet, fresh from China, where she got pregnant with her married boss’s child, and Daisy, an unwed American teenager.  Scarlet hijacks a van and flees to San Francisco’s Chinatown with Daisy as her unexpected passenger, each with their own competing motives.  Asian women have been slaying the lit game lately, so I’m excited to dive into this one by Vanessa Hua!

Ohio by Stephen Markley

August 21. 2018 from Simon and Schuster

Ohio is another majorly-buzzed-about debut, so much so that I was shocked to receive it.  I don’t know too much about it, just that it’s about four former high school classmates, now in their 30’s, who return to their hometown one night, each on their own mission.  It’s been called “a murder mystery and a social critique,” which in itself sounds entirely intriguing.  Though I don’t read many dark books, I’m curious about Ohio, which is already getting an overwhelming amount of rave reviews!

What books are you looking forward to this summer?  Are you excited about any of these?  I’d love to hear your thoughts!

xx,
Hannah

On My Nightstand: April 2018

March was pretty overwhelming in terms of coursework (thus the mini hiatus here on the blog), and getting back into the swing of things after spring break was tough, so I decided to boost my spirits by purchasing some new books!  I’m pretty excited about all of these, especially The Heart’s Invisible Furies and Pachinko, because it seems like everyone has been gushing nonstop about how amazing they are.

I’ve been in a bit of a reading slump lately, and, not only that, but it’s been hard to find time for pleasure-reading.  As an English major, I do so much required reading for class that it’s difficult to want to continue reading, even if it’s for fun, in my free time.  A gal can only read so much, right?  Hopefully these books will help me get back into the reading mood.

Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler

I’ve been meaning to read Sweetbitter since it came out, and watching the trailer for the brand new series adaptation rekindled my interest.  I’ve been dreaming about moving to New York lately, so it seems like Sweetbitter was reintroduced to me at a perfect time; not only that, but I just re-watched No Reservations and I forgot how much I love narratives from the restaurant world.

The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne

The Heart’s Invisible Furies was pretty much everyone’s favorite book last year!  I’m a wait-for-the-paperback kind of gal, so when the softcover edition was finally released at the beginning of March, I snatched it up immediately.  I’ll admit I don’t know much about the plot, but I’d like to keep it that way.  I can’t wait to see what all the hype is about.

The Idiot by Elif Batuman

I’ve been craving a vivid campus novel, and I’ve had my eye on The Idiot for a while.  (Could the simplistic millennial pink cover be any more gorgeous?)  When Batuman’s book made the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2018 longlist, it moved up a few slots on my TBR.  I’ve heard mixed reviews: some say it’s odd and poorly developed while others say it’s an incredible bildungsroman with a distinctive writing style.  Either way, I’m looking forward to finding out for myself.

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

It seems like Pachinko has been all over my Instagram feed these past few months.  Ever since it was nominated for the 2017 National Book Award for Fiction, I’ve heard nothing but good things.  I’ve read some of Lee’s shorter pieces, essays and whatnot, and I was absolutely captivated by her voice.  Plus, family sagas are my jam, so I’m pretty hopeful that Pachinko will be a new favorite.

Any ideas which book I should pick up first?  What books have you been excited about lately?  Let’s chat!

xx,
Hannah