BOOK REVIEW: TWO TREES MAKE A FOREST by JESSICA J. LEE


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Jessica J. Lee is such a beautiful writer, and Two Trees Make a Forest is such a gentle book.

I’m not typically one for nature writing; I have a hard time visualizing descriptions of the natural world, partly because I don’t have the vocabulary to understand it and partly because I just find it hard to conceptualize vast landscapes in general. If you’re like me, then this book will be perfect for you. Because yes, Two Trees Make a Forest is a book about the natural world–of Taiwan, specifically–but it is also a book about family and memory and narrative, and that is what really undergirds Jessica J. Lee’s writing here.

I call this book “gentle” because it strikes me as the perfect word to describe the atmosphere that Jessica J. Lee creates through her writing. I listened to this on audiobook, which Lee narrates herself, and it felt like just that: gentle. Lee has the most calm, soothing voice–you can really hear the pathos behind her narration–and each section of the book is interspersed with these wind chime sounds that tie the book together in such a lovely way.

What I especially loved about this book is how deftly Jessica J. Lee weaves her family’s history along with her exploration of the natural landscape of Taiwan. This is not, strictly speaking, just a book about nature in Taiwan. It’s about Lee’s family history, particularly that of her grandparents’, and her own relationship to that history. In exploring that history, she touches on so many topics that resonated with me: the death of her grandfather and how she felt like she didn’t truly know him before he died, her discovery of a narrative of himself that he had started writing before he died, her attempt to find some remaining family ties in Taiwan. And through it all, Lee stresses the significance of language: how it shapes, how it obfuscates, how it transmutes. Like I said, I have a hard time visualizing descriptions of natural landscapes, but this was not at all the case with Lee’s book: her descriptions are resonant and fresh, as alive and dynamic as the natural world that she is describing.

Two Trees Make a Forest is a deeply personal and moving book, and definitely one of my favourite non-fiction reads of the year.

(Thank you so much to Hamish Hamilton for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!)



#NonFictionNovember: MEMOIR/ESSAY RECOMMENDATIONS


hello everyone!! it’s officially NON-FICTION NOVEMBER and im so excited to share some of my fav non-fiction books with you this month!! non-fiction november is a month-long readathon hosted by Olive from A Book Olive on YouTube as well as (this year) co-hosted by Sabrina from Steakuccino, Natalie from Curious Reader, Jill from The Book Bully, and Andreea from Infinite Text

this week im recommending some of memoirs and essay collections that ive really enjoyed!! as per usual, ive included samples of their audiobooks where i could so you can get a sense of how the authors narrate their books.


MEMOIRS:

Inventory by Darran Anderson

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(my review)

Inventory, Darran Anderson’s searing yet tender memoir, is an interwoven tale of political conflict, trauma, history, family, and resistance. With great rhythm, humor, and sometimes painful detail, Anderson tells the story of his city and family through the objects and memories that define them.

Growing up in Derry, Northern Ireland, amid the unspeakable violence of the Troubles, Anderson was accustomed to poverty and fracture. Avoiding British soldiers, IRA operatives, unexploded bombs, and stray bullets, he and his friends explored their hometown with boundless imagination and innocence despite their dire circumstances. But his parents and extended family, Catholics living in Protestant-controlled Northern Ireland, could not evade the persecution. His father joined the IRA, spent time in prison, and yearned to escape the hellish reality of the Troubles.

Throughout his inventive, evocative memoir, Anderson chronicles the history of Derry’s evolution from an island backwater to a crucial Allied naval base during World War II, and the diverging paths of his two grandfathers in the wake of the American military’s arrival: one, an alcoholic army deserter, drowns in the legendary River Foyle—the river that will take the life of the grandfather’s wife years later—while the other, a smuggler, lives off the river, retrieving the bodies of the drowned.

Fifteen years after leaving Derry, Anderson returns to confront the past and its legacy when yet another family member goes missing in the Foyle. In Inventory, his gripping attempt to see who, or what, he can salvage from history’s shadows, Anderson creates “a presence in the shape of an absence,” unearthing the buried fates of family, country, and self.


Good Talk by Mira Jacob

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Mira Jacob’s touching, often humorous, and utterly unique graphic memoir takes readers on her journey as a first-generation American. At an increasingly fraught time for immigrants and their families, Good Talk delves into the difficult conversations about race, sex, love, and family that seem to be unavoidable these days.

Inspired by her popular BuzzFeed piece “37 Difficult Questions from My Mixed-Raced Son,” here are Jacob’s responses to her six-year-old, Zakir, who asks if the new president hates brown boys like him; uncomfortable relationship advice from her parents, who came to the United States from India one month into their arranged marriage; and the imaginary therapy sessions she has with celebrities from Bill Murray to Madonna. Jacob also investigates her own past, from her memories of being the only non-white fifth grader to win a Daughters of the American Revolution essay contest to how it felt to be a brown-skinned New Yorker on 9/11. As earnest and moving as they are sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, these are the stories that have formed one American life. 


I Was Their American Dream by Malaka Gharib

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Malaka’s upbringing will look familiar to anyone who grew up in the pre-internet era, but her particular story is a heartfelt tribute to the American immigrants who have invested their future in the promise of the American dream.

The daughter of parents with unfulfilled dreams themselves, Malaka navigates her childhood chasing her parents’ ideals, learning to code-switch between her family’s Filipino and Egyptian customs, adapting to white culture to fit in, crushing on skater boys, and trying to understand the tension between holding onto cultural values and trying to be an all-American kid.

I Was Their American Dream is at once a journal of growing up and a reminder of the thousands of immigrants who come to America in search for a better life for themselves and their children. 


ESSAYS:

Of Color by Jaswinder Bolina

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In his debut essay collection, award-winning poet Jaswinder Bolina meditates on “how race,” as he puts it, “becomes metaphysical” the cumulative toll of the microaggressions and macro-pressures lurking in the academic market, on the literary circuit, in the dating pool, and on the sidewalks of any given U.S. city. Training a keenly thoughtful lens on questions that are never fully abstract—about immigration and assimilation and class, about the political utility of art, about what it means to belong to a language and a nation that brand you as other—Of Color is a bold, expansive, and finally optimistic diagnosis of present-day America.


How to Write an Autobiographical Novel by Alexander Chee

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How to Write an Autobiographical Novel is the author’s manifesto on the entangling of life, literature, and politics, and how the lessons learned from a life spent reading and writing fiction have changed him. In these essays, he grows from student to teacher, reader to writer, and reckons with his identities as a son, a gay man, a Korean American, an artist, an activist, a lover, and a friend. He examines some of the most formative experiences of his life and the nation’s history, including his father’s death, the AIDS crisis, 9/11, the jobs that supported his writing—Tarot-reading, bookselling, cater-waiting for William F. Buckley—the writing of his first novel, Edinburgh, and the election of Donald Trump.

By turns commanding, heartbreaking, and wry, How to Write an Autobiographical Novel asks questions about how we create ourselves in life and in art, and how to fight when our dearest truths are under attack.


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#NonFictionNovember: SOCIAL/HISTORICAL BOOKS I WANT TO READ


hello everyone!! it’s officially NON-FICTION NOVEMBER and im so excited to share some of my fav non-fiction books with you this month!! non-fiction november is a month-long readathon hosted by Olive from A Book Olive on YouTube as well as (this year) co-hosted by Sabrina from Steakuccino, Natalie from Curious Reader, Jill from The Book Bully, and Andreea from Infinite Text

this week im sharing some social/historical books that are on my TBR that i’d love to read soon!! ive also included samples of their audiobooks so you can get a sense of how the authors/narrators narrate the books.


RACE:

Black and British by David Olusoga

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Drawing on new genetic and genealogical research, original records, expert testimony and contemporary interviews, Black and British reaches back to Roman Britain, the medieval imagination and Shakespeare’s Othello. It reveals that behind the South Sea Bubble was Britain’s global slave-trading empire and that much of the great industrial boom of the 19th century was built on American slavery. It shows that Black Britons fought at Trafalgar and in the trenches of World War I. Black British history can be read in stately homes, street names, statues and memorials across Britain and is woven into the cultural and economic histories of the nation. Unflinching, confronting taboos and revealing hitherto unknown scandals, this book describes how black and white Britons have been intimately entwined for centuries.



Natives by Akala

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From the first time he was stopped and searched as a child, to the day he realised his mum was white, to his first encounters with racist teachers – race and class have shaped Akala’s life and outlook. In this unique book he takes his own experiences and widens them out to look at the social, historical and political factors that have left us where we are today.

Covering everything from the police, education and identity to politics, sexual objectification and the far right, Natives speaks directly to British denial and squeamishness when it comes to confronting issues of race and class that are at the heart of the legacy of Britain’s racialised empire.

Natives is the searing modern polemic and Sunday Times bestseller from the BAFTA and MOBO award-winning musician and political commentator, Akala. 



White Tears/Brown Scars by Ruby Hamad

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For readers of White Fragility, White Tears/Brown Scars is an explosive book of history and cultural criticism that argues that white feminism, from Australia to Zimbabwe to the United States, has been a weapon of white supremacy and patriarchy deployed against black and indigenous women, and women of color.

Taking us from the slave era, when white women fought in court to keep their slaves, through the centuries of colonialism, when they offered a soft face for brutal tactics, to the modern workplace, White Tears/Brown Scars tells a charged story of white women’s active participation in campaigns of oppression. It offers a long overdue validation of the experiences of women of color.

Discussing subjects as varied as The Hunger Games, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the viral “BBQ Becky” video, and 19th century lynchings of Mexicans in the American Southwest, Ruby Hamad undertakes a new investigation of gender and race. She shows how the division between innocent white women and racialized, sexualized women of color was created, and why this division is crucial to confront.

Along the way are revelatory responses to questions such as: Why are white men not troubled by sexual assault of women? With rigor and precision, Hamad builds a powerful argument about the legacy of white superiority we are socialized in, a reality we must apprehend in order to fight.



CITIZENSHIP & IMMIGRATION:

Conditional Citizens by Laila Lalami

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The acclaimed, award-winning novelist–author of The Moor’s Account and The Other Americans–now gives us a bracingly personal work of nonfiction that is concerned with the experiences of “conditional citizens.” What does it mean to be American? In this starkly illuminating and impassioned book, Pulitzer Prize Finalist Laila Lalami recounts her unlikely journey from Moroccan immigrant to U.S. citizen, using it as a starting point for her exploration of the rights, liberties, and protections that are traditionally associated with American citizenship. Tapping into history, politics, and literature, she elucidates how accidents of birth–such as national origin, race, or gender–that once determined the boundaries of Americanness still cast their shadows today. Throughout the book, she poignantly illustrates how white supremacy survives through adaptation and legislation, with the result that a caste system is maintained, keeping the modern equivalent of white male landowners at the top of the social hierarchy. Conditional citizens, she argues, are all the people whom America embraces with one arm, and pushes away with the other. Brilliantly argued and deeply personal, Conditional Citizens weaves together the author’s own experiences with explorations of the place of nonwhites in the broader American culture.



The Undocumented Americans by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio

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One of the first undocumented immigrants to graduate from Harvard reveals the hidden lives of her fellow undocumented Americans in this deeply personal and groundbreaking portrait of a nation.

Writer Karla Cornejo Villavicencio was on DACA when she decided to write about being undocumented for the first time using her own name. It was right after the election of 2016, the day she realized the story she’d tried to steer clear of was the only one she wanted to tell. So she wrote her immigration lawyer’s phone number on her hand in Sharpie and embarked on a trip across the country to tell the stories of her fellow undocumented immigrants–and to find the hidden key to her own.

In her incandescent, relentlessly probing voice, Cornejo Villavicencio combines sensitive reporting and powerful personal narratives to bring to light remarkable stories of resilience, madness, and death. Through these stories we come to understand what it truly means to be a stray. An expendable. A hero. An American.



Children of the Land by Marcelo Hernando Castillo

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With beauty, grace, and honesty, Castillo recounts his and his family’s encounters with a system that treats them as criminals for seeking safe, ordinary lives. He writes of the Sunday afternoon when he opened the door to an ICE officer who had one hand on his holster, of the hours he spent making a fake social security card so that he could work to support his family, of his father’s deportation and the decade that he spent waiting to return to his wife and children only to be denied reentry, and of his mother’s heartbreaking decision to leave her children and grandchildren so that she could be reunited with her estranged husband and retire from a life of hard labor.

Children of the Land distills the trauma of displacement, illuminates the human lives behind the headlines and serves as a stunning meditation on what it means to be a man and a citizen.


MISC:

Grass by Keum Suk Gendry-Kim

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This true story of a Korean comfort woman documents how the atrocity of war devastates women’s lives.

Grass is a powerful antiwar graphic novel, telling the life story of a Korean girl named Okseon Lee who was forced into sexual slavery for the Japanese Imperial Army during the Second World War—a disputed chapter in twentieth-century Asian history.

Beginning in Lee’s childhood, Grass shows the lead-up to the war from a child’s vulnerable perspective, detailing how one person experienced the Japanese occupation and the widespread suffering it entailed for ordinary Koreans. Keum Suk Gendry-Kim emphasizes Lee’s strength in overcoming the many forms of adversity she experienced. Grass is painted in a black ink that flows with lavish details of the beautiful fields and farmland of Korea and uses heavy brushwork on the somber interiors of Lee’s memories.

The cartoonist Gendry-Kim’s interviews with Lee become an integral part of Grass, forming the heart and architecture of this powerful nonfiction graphic novel and offering a holistic view of how Lee’s wartime suffering changed her. Grass is a landmark graphic novel that makes personal the desperate cost of war and the importance of peace.


The Inconvenient Indian by Thomas King

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Since its publication in 2012, The Inconvenient Indian has become an award-winning bestseller and a modern classic. In its pages, Thomas King tells the curiously circular tale of the relationship between non-Native and Indigenous people in the centuries since the two first encountered each other. This new, provocatively illustrated edition matches essential visuals to the book’s urgent words, and in so doing deepens and expands King’s message. With more than 150 images—from artwork, photographs, advertisements and archival documents to contemporary representations of Native peoples by Native peoples, including some by King himself—this unforgettable volume vividly shows how “Indians” have been seen, understood, propagandized, represented and reinvented in North America.

Here is a book both timeless and timely, burnished with anger and tempered by wit, and ultimately a hard-won offering of hope—an inconvenient but necessary account for all of us seeking to tell a new story, in both words and images, for the future.


No Visible Bruises by Rachel Louise Snyder

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In No Visible Bruises, journalist Rachel Louise Snyder frames this urgent and immersive account of the scale of domestic violence in our country around key stories that explode the common myths-that if things were bad enough, victims would just leave; that a violent person cannot become nonviolent; that shelter is an adequate response; that violence inside the home is separate from other forms of violence like mass shootings, gang violence, and sexual assault. Through the stories of victims, perpetrators, law enforcement, and reform movements from across the country, Snyder explores not only the dark corners of private violence, but also its far-reaching consequences for society, and what it will take to truly address it.


Mythos by Stephen Fry

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Rediscover the thrills, grandeur, and unabashed fun of the Greek myths—stylishly retold by Stephen Fry. This legendary writer, actor, and comedian breathes new life into beloved tales. From Persephone’s pomegranate seeds to Prometheus’s fire, from devious divine schemes to immortal love affairs, Fry draws out the humor and pathos in each story and reveals its relevance for our own time. Illustrated throughout with classical art inspired by the myths, this gorgeous volume invites you to explore a captivating world, with a brilliant storyteller as your guide.


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