Before the Book Launch: (The First) Announcement

Don’t let this fool you. This photo was taken on the day I wrote this post.

Dear Readers,

I have an announcement. No, I am not pregnant.

I signed a contract. To write. A book. All by myself but not truly alone because we know writing is both a solitary and simultaneously communal act, with the prayers, support, and stories of my family and all of you!!!

This has been a 10-year journey – 10 years since “More Than Serving Tea” was published and the awkward beginnings of blogging. It also has been a decades-long journey as a former journalist who has journals dating back to 2nd grade. (“Dear Diary, I had a hot dog for lunch. It was a good day.”)

The book is about finding your voice and stewarding your influence well in a world that competes for our attention and energy. It’s about speaking up and speaking out honestly, truthfully, boldly. It’s not about building a platform. It’s about God’s invitation to all of us to discover how we are uniquely created in God’s image – imago Dei – and to live into that fully, which for me today has meant two video conference calls dressed professionally from waist up while sitting cross-legged in yoga pants and Minion socks with a sick teenager a room away texting me about nausea and the need for club soda.

Thank you for reading, for cheering me on, for commenting, and for sharing my words, my Dear Readers. I hope you will stick around for this part of the ride!!

15 Authors in 15 Minutes (or as fast as you can…hurry!)

This is slowly making its rounds through Facebook, and I enjoyed thinking about the list of authors and about the folks I wanted to “tag”. I love to read, and there have been seasons in life when reading was limited to the directions on the powdered formula can or prescription bottle for yet another antibiotic for one of the kids.

While I was putting this book together it dawned on me that though the value of and space for reading was encouraged by my parents (my first paid job where a social security number was required was as a library page – I could alphabetize a cart of books like no other), it was through teachers and friends I met some of these authors. I don’t recall my parents ever suggesting a specific book or author, which now makes me wonder what their favorite books and authors are…

So much of my book shelf real estate is taken up by books from my college years that I cannot part with – James Joyce’s Ulysses and Susan Faludi’s Backlash (sorry, the AP style guide is in a box in the basement) – and books that I have read during my years with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship – business books, Christian spirituality, biblical reference books, etc. I was staring at my books the other day wondering what, if anything, could someone learn about me by looking at my bookcases. It wouldn’t take long to figure out that I don’t like to dust books!

So here is my list and a little explanation behind the author. Please join in!

The Invitation Guidelines: Don’t take too long to think about it. Fifteen authors (poets included) who’ve influenced you and will always stick with you. List the first fifteen you can recall in no more than fifteen minutes. Tag at least fifteen friends, including me, because I’m interested in seeing what authors my friends choose. (To do this, go to your Notes tab on your profile page, paste rules in a new note, cast your fifteen picks, and tag people in the note.)

In no particular order…

Anne Lamott – A dear friend and colleague, Greg J., gave me a copy of  or suggested Lamott’s Operating Instructions. He mentioned that he wouldn’t recommend her to just any Christ-loving new mom, but he thought that I would appreciate her voice. I remember laughing out loud and crying as I read this book.

Madeleine L’Engle – My elementary school librarian recommended L’Engle’s time trilogy to me, and then took me and a few other students to hear L’Engle speak at Wheaton College. I still have my autographed Scholastic book paperbacks in the shelf in my room. Decades later Jenny L. would give me a copy of one of L’Engle’s journal series and I have since wanted to sign my checks as “Jane Austen”.

Victor Hugo – After seeing Les Miz, I wanted to read the book. It was a wonderful summer.

James Joyce – I took a class my junior or senior year in college on Joyce. I think I eeked through with a “C” after failing the midterm. Gratefully my father was also taking seminary courses at the time and had a rough time with one of his classes. But despite the “F” on my midterm, I thoroughly enjoyed the class because the professor loved his subject, knew the work and made pages and pages of run-on-sentences interesting.

God through the hands of some crazy dudes like Peter, Paul, Luke, John, etc. but this really counts as one – I have had several Bibles through the years, but the one I am most in awe of is the Living Bible I had as an elementary school student. I will never forget the first time I really met God in that book.

Jane Austen – Oh, Jane. How I wish we could have tea together…

Amy Tan – Before June and Waverley hit the silver screen (and I had a chance to preview the movie before the release), Tan’s Joy Luck Club told the stories of girls and women and of friends, mothers and daughters I could understand, relate to and knew in a way that didn’t require the kind of translation I had to do when encountering Judy Blume’s Margaret.

Shel Silverstein – The Giving Tree still chokes me up, and his poems now make me and my boys laugh out loud.

Alice Walker – Possessing the Secret of Joy and The Temple of My Familiar filled out an entirely new literary voice for me.

Stephenie Meyer – Don’t judge.

William Shakespeare – I wanted to hate Shakespeare but Ms. Johnson in high school wouldn’t let me.

Sue Monk Kidd – I don’t remember who recommended Kidd to me, but I remember crying in the airplane on the way to San Jose reading Dance of the Dissident Daughter. I was so moved and confused and blessed by that book, and changed part of a talk that I was giving the next day to include a snippet of what I had read. Women, you are created in God’s image and He sees us as very good.

Toni Morrison – Her writing haunts me like no other. I don’t know what it is…

Alex Kotlowitz – The beginnings of my wrestling with the injustice in our immediate present happened in a new way for me after reading There Are No Children Here and then having the opportunity to hear him at my alma mater.

Elie Wiesel – How can such a short book cover so much?

Who are some of the authors who have left a mark on you?


Why Can’t I Just Shut Up?

I have a problem. My internal filter doesn’t always work. Sometimes thoughts that aren’t fully formed but in the process of being “felt” come out of my thought bubble and rush through my mouth.

My parents did the best they could, teaching me to be appropriately silent first in the way children are supposed to be silent and then in the way young ladies are to be silent. Opinions are best left in the head, and simply naming my alma mater should be enough to gauge intelligence. Words, particularly spoken ones from my mouth, aren’t necessary. Besides, who would want their son to marry an outspoken, opinionated woman? Those traits aren’t high on the “myuh-new-ree” (daughter-in-law) list.

There are times when the properly trained Asian American woman-ness kicks into high gear, almost as if someone dialed me up to “11”. I can smile, nod, look like I am in agreement with whatever is being said and then walk away without a word. It happens, I swear.

My parents also knew enough to know that some things were irreversible. We were here in America, and one day (or almost 40 years) their firstborn would be an American. They struggled to keep the “Korean” first through language, dance, songs, food, worksheets and flashcards and hyphenated “America” by reminding me that the squeaky wheel gets the grease. Or is the oil?

I suppose that is part of growing up part of a generation raised to be bicultural – Korean and American – and finds itself developing a third culture – with or without the hyphen – that takes not the best of both worlds and rejects the rest but takes both worlds and creates something both familiar and new with its own best and rejects.

So there are times when I get squeaky. The dial gets turned the other way, and I can’t shut up. The raging extrovert in me, the angry Asian American woman who is tired but clearly not tired enough to shut up comes out and I hate when that happens because I hate that I feel like I should apologize for bringing to the conversation a different voice, a different perspective.

I can talk about things other than race, gender or class. It’s not always about race or gender or class. But many times race or gender or class (or all of the above) are in play. And the other night it was soooo easy. We were discussing The Help
, and there are still hours of thoughts and questions inside my head. Last night was just a taste. Why couldn’t we have started out with something lighter like a Nicholas Sparks book? Bahhhh!

No spoiler alert here for those of you who are still on the library’s list for the book or in the process of reading it. You know that the book touches on issues of race, gender, class, friendship and love. And if you read this blog you know that those issues are what keep us here in this cyberspace.

But those issues are uncomfortable, and it’s not always easy to go from discussing our feelings about a book to how those feelings translate into real life when it’s all so new and we don’t yet know our similarities let alone our differences. But how could I not talk about how I see life in our town as being different but not so entirely different than what we had just read? How could I not bring up how the rules of engagement between the junior league women and their help are as subtle and dangerous as describing “suspicious” cars and their drivers in broad generalities? Don’t we still have subtle lines drawn and communicated about who belongs where? How could any of us read the book and not choose to be uncomfortable if not for one night?

You Can’t Make Me But You Might Make Me Want To…Read This

I love a good book, and Wednesday night is “Bedtime Stories” – the book club my neighbor and I started. I’m hoping the name catches on. Anyway, we will be meeting to talk about our first book, The Help, by Kathryn Stockett, which I’ll blog about later. But finishing our first book means needing to have suggestions for our next book.

We aren’t book snobs – any genre will do, and a book that has already been out for a few years is preferred. That way we have a better chance of getting it for everyone through our public library system.

So, which five books would you recommend and why?

Love Or Hate “Eat, Pray, Love”?

Have you read “Eat, Pray, Love” by Elizabeth Gilbert? If so, did you love it or hate it or was it just “eh”?

Well, I have not read the book, but enough folks around me have shared their opinions about the book. I know of one woman who, after a few chapters into the book, absolutely loved the book. Others who have read the book, and mind you they were all women, were turned off by the author’s story – divorce leads to travel, food and love with a dose of whine.

Minus the divorce and travel it sounded a bit like “Julie & Julia” to me, which I enjoyed in the theater but never bothered to read the book…I did end up buying Julia Child’s French cooking tome but I digress.

The general consensus was that Gilbert’s book was a whiny memoir, but I came across this op-ed piece (via Scot McKnight at Jesus Creed) and had to ask all of you who have read the book or decided not to read it like I did based on the reviews.

Jessica Wakeman contends that:

“…Eat, Pray, Love the book (and soon, “Eat, Pray, Love” the movie, starring Julia Roberts and Javier Bardem) has turned out to be a lightening rod of controversy in the most disappointing of ways. The negative reactions to “Eat, Pray, Love” show just how resentful, bitter, contradictory, and quite frankly, hate-filled we are towards a woman who does something for herself.”

So far there are 401 customer reviews that rate the book 1 – star on Amazon out of more than 2,000 total reviews. I’m an author, but I’m not that kind of author – New York Times best seller kind of author, and I’d be lying if I said/wrote that I wouldn’t want to be that kind of author. NYT best seller? But with the fame comes the crap, and I’m not that good of a writer nor do I really want to deal with more crap. But it’s worth thinking about whether or not the criticism is, as Wakeman writes in her opinion piece, gendered and taking shots at Gilbert because she is a woman doing what Wakeman contends would have been an adventure story had a man lived the same life and written about.

There was similar criticism of the movie “Julie & Julia” – mostly but not exclusively from male movie reviewers. My thought at the time was that the movie critics were taking themselves too seriously and perhaps not understanding that this was the coming-of-age story for one almost-30 woman. Yes, Julie Powell was whiny, which is why she needed something else to ground her. Lucky for her, pounds and pounds of butter and bacon fat helped ground her, and she happened to gain some self-awareness and some success.

Is/was the criticism of “Eat, Pray, Love” or “Julie & Julia” gendered? Are readers (and are they predominantly women?) doing the same thing they accuse Gilbert of doing – whining and complaining – but about someone else’s success instead of about their own average lives? Or would the book even mattered had it been written about and by a man or would the publishers have looked at it and thought “this is nothing new”? Perhaps the issue of gender isn’t so cut and dry; isn’t it possible that a big reason this book made it is because Gilbert is a woman and leaving everything behind to find herself is a novel concept?

Now, I chose not to read the book. Instead I read several other books by non-white female authors because, quite frankly, I needed a different perspective, point of view and voice than what is so prevalent and prevailing. Gilbert is a woman, but the older I get the more frustrated I become with the false dichotomy of race and gender that I often experience. As Gilbert’s book became a rising star her star wasn’t in the same constellation as what I was seeking out – authors like Amy Tan, Bich Minh Nguyen, Yen Mah and Toni Morrison. So my reluctance to pick up her book was less gendered criticism and more cultural/racial and spiritual. I’m certain there are common bonds between all women, but I’m tired of people telling me the differences don’t matter. Differences make life complicated, interesting, compelling, frustrating and hard. I don’t want the same all the time, especially if someone else is the one always defining the “same”.

But I could be wrong about it all, so I may request the book at the library and revisit my reluctance. I’ll have to think about that some more. For those of you who read Gilbert’s book, what do you think?

Whaddya Reading?

Do you love to read? I love to read. There isn’t enough time in the day to do all the things I want and need to get done, but I’ll squeeze in a few minutes each day to read. I’m old school;there is nothing quite like the feel of a book or the smell of newsprint to get my brain synapses started.

I’ll return to the likes of Jodi Piccoult this summer when spf 50 sunscreen and wide-brimmed hats return to my daily routine.

But I’ve hit the wall. I need fresh reading material.

Any suggestions?