Monthly Archives: October 2015

“Everything I Never Told You” by Celeste Ng

Everything+I+Never+Told+You+-+Celeste+NgEverything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

“Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet. 1977, May 3, six thirty in the morning, no one knows anything but this innocuous fact: Lydia is late for breakfast.”  These opening lines to Celeste Ng’s debut novel Everything I Never Told You  is the secret only the reader and narrator know.  The characters in the story do not know it.  So, what happened to Lydia?  As we enter this mystery, we likewise learn of the  tenuous threads holding the family together.

Lydia is the middle child daughter of blonde Marilyn and Chinese-American James.   She is the most “American looking,” the apple of her father’s eye, and her mother’s favorite child. To her parents, she seems to be popular and doing well in school.  She is a responsible, perfect child.  So, what happened to Lydia?

To help answer this question, the narrator transports the reader back to the 1960’s, when Marilyn and James met at Harvard – he a young graduate student teaching a course that Marilyn took. Their love affair seemed to erase their insecurities – his for being Chinese American, hers for being doomed to being  a homemaker like her mother.  When Marilyn becomes pregnant with Nath, she leaves Harvard and her medical-school aspirations, to marry James and start a family together.

Lydia is burdened with her parent’s hopes and dreams.  Marilyn realizes that she has become the homemaker like her mother, so she passes on her medical school ambitions (and pressures) to Lydia.  It  shocks Marilyn to learn that Lydia struggles in Physics. James only wants to fit in and be accepted, so it is a blow to him to find out Lydia is  not popular (she would fake phone conversations to supposed friends just to please him) and in fact is a loner.  We can feel the weight inflicted on Lydia – all the pretense of keeping up appearances and the pressure to please and redeem her parents.

This is a human tale of parents hoisting the responsibility of redeeming failures and insecurities on their children.  However, I think it is an American and maybe more specifically an Asian-American story of fitting in and succeeding in the American Dream.

Ng’s writing is so beautifully economical.  Her crisp, pointed prose that says so much in so few words astounded me throughout the book.  The non-emotional, matter-of-fact narration had an unusually emotional effect, and I frequently asked myself: “wow, how does she do that?”

Find out what happened to Lydia by watching Bryan on WZZM Channel 13’s “My West Michigan” morning show at 9:00 a.m. on Monday, November 2.  Join The Book Nook’s monthly book club at 6:00 p.m., Monday, November 2 for a discussion of Everything I Never Told You at the Book Nook & Java Shop in downtown Montague with refreshments, snacks, beverages, and camaraderie; of course, everyone is welcome, and the Club meets the first Monday monthly all year long.

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“The Rosie Project” by Graeme Simsion

rosie-projectDon Tillman, a genetics professor, leads an efficient, organized, structured existence.  He has a standardized meal plan that alternates 7 menus – one for each day of the week.  The benefits are that his shopping list is always the same, there is no unnecessary food in the house – only ingredients for the meal plan – thus no waste, and he can cook without thinking – leaving his frontal cortex free to work on something more important, like a science problem.  He organizes his day down to the minute: 2 minutes for shower, unless he washes his hair (which adds an additional 87 seconds due to having to leave the conditioner in for 60 seconds), his martial arts training, his bicycle commute, and his lectures.  An unexpected interruption could disrupt his whole day.  Don has Asperger’s syndrome, which the reader comes to realize, but Don does not.  He even gives a presentation on Asperger’s syndrome, but doesn’t see the similarities between the symptoms and himself.

Don has not had much luck with women, but decides genetically that it is time to find a mate.  He believes his IQ, health, finances, and social status (all above average) should make him an attractive partner.  He creates a “Wife Project” to manage the process of finding a marriage partner.  His efficient, logical approach is to cut out the wasted efforts of having to go on first dates only to find out that the candidate is a smoker, drinks too much or is unorganized – all deal breakers.  He devises a 16-page questionnaire that prospects must complete before the first date.

As is typical in almost all romantic comedies (or even Mary Poppins and Mr. Banks for that matter), a strict, structured male is disrupted by an uninhibited, lively female; his world changes from black-and-white to chromacolor.  Rosie is a perfect disrupter.  Rosie fails many points of the questionnaire – she smokes, drinks, is disorganized, and is habitually late. She also is strangely captivating, fiery, and intelligent. And while Don quickly disqualifies her as a candidate for the Wife Project, as a DNA expert, Don is particularly suited to help Rosie on her own quest: identifying her biological father.

When an unlikely relationship develops as they collaborate on the Father Project, Don is forced to confront the spontaneous whirlwind that is Rosie—and the realization that, despite your best scientific efforts, some things you can’t and won’t control.

The book is highly entertaining.  It is interesting to see the world from an ultra-rational perspective, and how “regular” people employ irrational means to maintain an unwrinkled social fabric.  Don doesn’t get telling white lies to protect someone’s feelings, or that, when someone coughs, they just are trying to get the bartender’s attention, or how people can cry at a movie about fictional characters.  The book is perfectly suited to the big screen, so a movie is in the works with Jennifer Lawrence as Rosie and Richard Linklater directing.

Watch Bryan on WZZM Channel 13’s “Take Five” morning show at 9:00 a.m. on Tuesday, September 1, discussing The Rosie Project.  Join  The Book Nook’s monthly book club at 6:00 p.m., Tuesday, September 1 at the Book Nook & Java Shop in downtown Montague for refreshments, snacks, beverages, camaraderie, and discussion; of course, everyone is welcome, and the Club meets all year long.

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“We Are Not Ourselves” by Matthew Thomas

we-are-not-ourselvesAs a young woman and the daughter of Irish immigrants, Eileen Tumulty longs for the day when she will marry a successful husband and fulfill the American Dream of wealth, comfort, and belonging. Bright, ambitious, and attractive, she wants to flee her current situation, mired in poverty and alcohol abuse.  Palpable shame drives her ambitions.

While getting a graduate degree in nursing administration, Eileen’s roommate coaxes her to go on a blind double date New Year’s Eve, and so she is matched with Edmund Leary.  Ed is a brilliant brain scientist studying the effects of psychotropic drugs on neural functioning.  Eileen is taken with his smarts, drive, and seriousness and sees great prospects for a happy, prosperous future.  They marry without ever having a conversation about what each is looking for in life. But, when Ed turns down an offer from Merck – including state-of-the-art equipment in a lab of his own, lab assistants, and a hefty salary – Eileen realizes their goals may not be aligned.  Ed decides to keep his quiet research and teaching position at the local college.  Even later, when he is offered a promotion to deanship of the college, he declines.  Through many heated quarrels, Eileen makes her feelings known and sees the American Dream within their grasp.  Ed refuses to budge.

Eileen takes it upon herself to find a large house in the suburbs and convinces Ed to go along with it even though they will be stretched financially.  In addition to depleting their savings to buy the house, the amount of work and funds it will take to fix up the house is daunting.

Then, what cruel twist of fate (similar to Beethoven going deaf) affects Ed the brain scientist at the young age of 51?   How does this affect his mind, his profession, and, of course, Eileen’s hope?   Eileen is pushed to the limit as she struggles to hold it all together, like many of us do in our own lives when Fate intrudes unannounced, just when things seem to be going well.  Can Eileen succeed for both Ed’s and her own sakes?  There is much for us to learn from their experience.

This extensive, stunning grand story spans three generations and is written in serene, elegant prose.  It follows one woman as her idealistic dreams are dashed and when faced with a tragic destiny a determined resilience emerges that looks a lot like love.

Watch Bryan on WZZM Channel 13’s “My West Michigan” morning show at 9:00 a.m. on Monday, October 5.  Join the monthly book club at 6:00 p.m., Monday, October 5 at the Book Nook & Java Shop in downtown Montague for refreshments, snacks, beverages, camaraderie, and discussion; of course, everyone is welcome, and the Club meets the first Monday monthly all year long.

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