Friday, May 7, 2021

Book Review: Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu

I read this for bookclub, but at the last minute I wasn't able to attend, which makes me mad. Because this book really made me think! Which means it was PERFECT for a book club pick, and I couldn't discuss it.

Willis Wu is Generic Asian Man. He works on a TV show called Black and White, and he aspires to be Kung Fu Guy. During all of that, he meets and marries Karen, a beautiful and successful woman, and they have a child, Phoebe. He also finally learns about his parents' struggles when they were his age, and what they were each striving for and what sacrifices they made and what they each gave up on along the way. 

This is a farce, which isn't the easiest genre to write, and it's also in a very stylized form: mimicking a screenplay (down to the Courier-like font which normally I hate but which did work for me in this book.) which makes it even harder. At first it's quite confusing but my advice is, just go with it. Don't try to figure it out, as you'll only get frustrated. More will make sense and clarify as you go along. Just let the words flow over you like water until you get there.

This brought back to my mind dozens of episodes of Law & Order, as well as some cringy episodes of The Office and other movies and shows. Makes you think about representation and stereotypes and how to fight stereotypes when also sometimes you have to fight THROUGH stereotypes. Anyway, I wish I'd been able to talk about it. I liked it but I didn't love it, but it's a thinking book and is sticking with me. And those are good things.

I bought this book at Main Street Books in Davidson, NC. 

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Book Review: Pawcasso by Remy Lai

I loved Remy Lai's first two books, Pie in the Sky and Fly on the Wall, so I jumped on this one. At first, I didn't realize anything was different and it had to be pointed out to me that the first two books we're true graphic novels but did in fact have writing throughout (in my defense, those pages are handwritten, so it's like the words are "drawn," which is what basically fooled me.) But this one is a full-scale graphic novel! Like the others, it's centered around a kid who's having some trouble fitting in, both at school and at home. 

One day Jo sees a dog heading towards town, carrying a basket in its mouth. Jo followed and she sees the dog go to different stores, and come out with new things in the basket! It turns out the basket also contains money and a note, and the dog is "shopping" for its owner! How cool! Jo just loves this idea and also the friendly dog, and when kids notice the dog and assume the dog belongs to Jo, she doesn't correct them. After all, the kids are nicer and friendlier with her, with the dog. And since she doesn't really have friends, that's a big thing. The dog gets his name of "Pawcasso" when Jo and the dog stumble across an art class at the bookstore and the kids in the class fall in love with the dog, and the instructor asks Jo to join the class. 

Inevitably, Jo is going to get found out as not actually the dog's owner, and the kids will be upset that she lied (really, she lied by omission rather than outright, at least at first.) She's got to figure out another way to make friends, real friends based on real connections. But also--who does this amazing shopping dog belong to? This is an accessible, fun story about friendships and loneliness and honesty perfect for tweens. 

This book is published by Henry Holt BYR, a division of Macmillan, my employer.

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Book Review: Digital Body Language: How to Build Trust and Connection, No Matter the Distance by Erica Dhawan

Are you and/or your employees working from home? No? What crazy world are you living in and you really should join the rest of us. For the vast majority of us who are, this book could not be more pertinent. Although even before the pandemic, 90% of my communication with my accounts and colleagues was through email and the occasional text, so it's still pertinent, even after the world returns to "normal," whatever that is.

This book is filled with fantastic advice on how to better communicate using digital methods, whether in print (email/text/IM) or video call (Zoom/Google Meet/Skype). In these communications we lose a lot of body language we used to have in person. In email we lose tone of voice, in video calls we sometimes lose the very language itself as connections cut in and out. And if we want to communicate effectively and efficiently, we should learn better how these methods best work. 

According to Ms. Dhawan, there's not one that's better, and they work for different people and different situations. Sometimes a particular scenario will be better addressed through one method over another (if something is becoming convoluted and/or tense in email, it's often best just to pick up the phone and call) but she points out that these methods that not everyone likes, have advantages for others. Introverts are having better communication and are able to "speak up" more through chat and email than previously in in-person meetings, for example.

I really appreciated the tips that broke down generational differences. The day after I finished reading this, a colleague who is a Millennial apologized for not responding to a text for an hour ("I left you hanging!") I told her not to worry about it and I nearly said "It's okay, I'm Gen X. I grew up with answering machines." But it's true. Younger generations, or as Ms. Dhawan calls them--technology natives (the rest of us are technology adapters) interact with technology differently. I was shocked to learn (and have since confirmed with a few younger friends) that a text that reads, "Fine." or "Thanks." is considered rude or cold. It's that period after the single word. Now, as a former editor, I can't not do a period. And the more savvy of the tech-natives will give me a pass. But it's good to be aware on both sides. Also because of the tech-natives' sensitivity to wait times, I am now much more likely to respond to an email right away--just to tell the person I can't answer their question but I'm working on it--rather than waiting until I have the answer to respond (not always though--I already send emails over 100 every day.) The section at the end about running virtual meetings was something more for managers that I tended to skim, but it still had interesting anecdotes and things to think about. She also discusses differences in communication between countries and cultures that might not be obvious until digital amplifies them. 

I rad business books super-rarely (they're just not my cup of tea) but I read this one eagerly and quickly, and have implemented advice from it even before I was done reading.

This book is published by St. Martin's Press, a division of Macmillan, my employer.

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Book Review: Brat: An '80s Story by Andrew McCarthy

As a child of the 1980s, I grew up on all the typical '80s movies (although my mother didn't want me to watch Sixteen Candles because I wasn't 16 yet! Argh! So I watched them all a little late.) While Pretty in Pink isn't my favorite. I did find Andrew McCarthy VERY appealing and he truly won me over in Weekend at Bernies. Larry's relaxed, practical, devil-may-care attitude was something I needed more of in my life. (My all-time favorite of his roles though was in The Joy Luck Club which was in the 1990s and so isn't discussed here.) The whole time I lived in New York, I hoped I'd run into him. I'm not that into celebrities and kind of jaded, but he was the one I always hoped for (and alas, didn't get.) 

It's so refreshing to read his memoir of his childhood, his realization that he really wanted to act, and how he got there (some luck, some persistence, and some good timing.) He never really was in "The Brat Pack." (In fact, in the article where that phrase was coined, the other three male leads from St. Elmo's Fire were dissing Andrew who had not been invited to their party/interview.) And in fact, him staying in New York City instead of ever joining the California crowd aside from shooting, probably helped keep him sane. 

This was a lovely combo of thoughtful looking back, some nostalgia tinged with reality, and the nice realization that the guy I had a crush on for many years was actually a pretty decent guy (if too old for me but what did we know back then.) An excellent celebrity memoir. If only they all were this well-written.

I got this for free from a friend who works at the publishing house, Hachette.

Saturday, May 1, 2021

My Month in Review: April 2021

The Month in Review meme is hosted by Nicole at Feed Your Fiction Addiction.

I note the non-Macmillan books in this post with a star.

Books completed this month:
Brothers on Three by Abe Streep
Psycho by the Sea by Lynne Truss
Fallout: Spies, Superbombs, and the Ultimate Cold War Showdown by Steve Sheinkin
You'll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey: Crazy Stories about Racism by Amber Ruffin and Lacey Lamar* (audio)
Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney
Shit, Actually: The Definitive, 100% Objective Guide to Modern Cinema by Lindy West (audiobook)*
My Monticello by Jocelyn Nicole Johnson
Once More with Chutzpah by Haley Neil
Personal Effects: What Recovering the Dead Teaches Me About Caring for the Living by Robert A. Jensen 
Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu*
Her Honor: A Judge's Candid Look at Our Legal System by LaDoris Hazzard Cordell
Other Boys by Damian Alexander
The Beauty in Breaking: A Memoir by Michele Harper* (audio)
Birdie's Billions by Edith Cohn

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
What Matters Most: The Get Your Shit Together Guide to Wills, Money, Insurance, and Life’s “What-ifs” by Chanel Reynolds*
A Taste for Poison: Eleven Deadly Molecules and the Killers Who Used Them by Neil Bradbury
The Making of Jane Austen by Devoney Looser*

What I acquired this month (non-work books): 
Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu* for my bookclub! After I picked it up from the bookstore, I stopped next door to get a Ben & Jerry's as I had a 3.5 mile walk home. The woman there said with my novel, my headphones, and now my ice cream, I looked like I was set to have a perfect day. Couldn't agree more.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Book Review: Sloppy Firsts by Megan McCafferty

These books came out after I was an adult, but before I started reading YA again, so even though they were wildly popular, I missed them! But I might have anyway as they were about a teenager (at least the first couple) and yet were published as adult books. That's sometimes the appropriate way to go--when the subject matter is really adult--but that's not the case here. It's more just that YA market was so in the toilet when they first came out that the publisher probably thought that classification would doom the books.

But my publisher has now bought the whole series for reissue, and we're publishing them as young adult, which feels SO MUCH more appropriate. In this first book, Jessica Darling's best friend has just moved across the country, leaving her to deal with some very second-tier friends. But she both writes Hope letters and writes in her journal (that's basically what the novel is--those writings) to get through it. Her ditzy older sister is getting married. School has the usual drama. And Marcus Flutie, who she and Hope most definitely Do Not Like starts turning up everywhere Jessica is. Which is weird. And it would be so awkward to tell Hope about for Reasons. 

There have been minor updates to the books to make sure they're not offensive, but otherwise they keep their delightful super-late-'90s vibe. This was so true to what high school felt like that I couldn't read it in big chunks, as I couldn't take my anxiety ratcheting up to that level! Man, we should all be so grateful we're not dealing with the drama, trauma, and angst anymore. Actual teens will find the book so relatable and realistic, albeit without cell phones if they can imagine that. I'm eager to see Jessica go on with her life as the series tracks her through her mid-20s which is pretty unusual.

These books are being reissued by Wednesday Books, a division of Macmillan, my employer.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Book Review: The Secret Bridesmaid by Katy Birchall

Sophie Breeze has parlayed an extreme helpfulness with a love of weddings into a unique job: professional bridesmaid. These days brides want to do more of the planning themselves, and hiring a wedding planner has a whiff of laziness combined with lack of creativity that is out of vogue. However, a bridesmaid who knows a heck of a lot about wedding planning and has all the time to devote to a wedding, can make all the difference in the world. So now it's her full-time job!

A previous bride's mother calls one day to ask Sophie to meet with a potential client, with a candidate that Sophia might want to wait until after the meeting to thank her (or not). It turns out the new potential client is the Marchioness of Meade, mother of the bride. That's never ideal, as the bride needs to be on board, and this bride, Lady Cordelia, is notorious and difficult. But Sophie is optimistic and determined! She! Can! Do! It!

What I loved most about this book is even though it's about weddings and there is a love interest and it's billed as a rom-com, the primary relationship is Sophie and Cordelia possibly, maybe, reluctantly becoming friends. Yeah, Cordelia's older brother Tom is cute and nice, but he's definitely a B story. The fact that a friendship between two women is the A story I found refreshing and enlightened.

This story was a delight. It was fun and fast and had lots of ups and downs and twists and turns. There are funny little bits of stories of other weddings in between (the Star Wars themed wedding for which Sophie has to dress up as Chewbacca and learn how to do the Wookie roar, is especially funny.) I enjoyed the heck out of it. 

This book is published by St. Martin's Griffin, a division of Macmillan, my employer.