Things My Son Needs to Know About the World, by Fredrik Backman

Currently, I only have a daughter, but a parent I trust recommended this book to me and told me I didn’t need a son to enjoy it. And she was right. This book is charming and lighthearted, humorous and relevant for any parent.

Backman is a total jokester, and I know a lot of people would love this book for all the small quips throughout his writing. But for me it was really the anecdotes that made me laugh – the kind of oversights and accidents that all of us sleep-deprived parents are prone to. Things like showing up to work with a toddler because we forgot to drop them at daycare, or the crazy online purchases we make in a late-night panic when our kids won’t sleep… Backman captures these moments with a perfect balance of empathy and exasperation.

This was such a quick and easy read, and was exactly what I needed in a week where I was busy and a little stressed. It’s the kind of book you can read out of order, or take long breaks from, coming back to it when you need a laugh or something that is both light-hearted and heart-warming. I don’t know any parents who wouldn’t benefit from keeping this on their side table.

Fran Lebowitz: Essays vs. Docuseries

I didn’t know of Fran Lebowitz until recently, when I watched the docuseries Pretend It’s A City on Netflix. Several friends recommended this series to me, thinking I would love it, and they were so right. The series is really just a collection of conversations with writer Fran Lebowitz, who is hysterically funny, mostly on the topic of New York City.

Naturally, after enjoying the series so much, I was keen to look at some of Lebowitz’s writing, and so I picked up The Fran Lebowitz Reader, which is comprised of her two published books: Metropolitan Life and Social Studies. Both are collections of short, humorous, non-fiction essays, and one thing I really enjoyed was the brevity of these short pieces – I could easily fit short reads on short breaks from work or during Hulu commercials.

And yet, I have to admit that I didn’t find Lebowitz’s short essays quite as entertaining as her interviews. Of course, Pretend It’s A City was filmed many years after the publication of Lebowitz’s books, so perhaps her humor or viewpoints had changed or matured in a way that appeals to me. But for me, The Fran Lebowitz Reader came off slightly more silly and perhaps slightly less cynical than Pretend It’s A City. That said, there are certainly a few comic gems in the written collection, and both the docuseries and the book proved to be, for me at least, an entertaining and close depiction of life in New York City.

Interior Chinatown: Powerful, Playful, Pressing

Powerful. It’s the first word that comes to mind when I think about Charles Yu’s Interior Chinatown. By the time I was twenty-five pages in, I could totally see why this spectacular novel won last year’s National Book Award, and that feeling only grew stronger the further I got into the story. In fact, there were several points where I simply had to set the book down and digest a powerful phrase or paragraph, to savor it. “Powerful” also fits because Interior Chinatown takes on extremely important questions related to class and racism in a way that is bold and illuminating, because Yu does an incredible job of showing the transformation of his characters from both their perspective, as well as from the perspective of various other characters.

Playful. But even while Yu takes on these somber and heavy issues, he manages to infuse his novel with humor, playfulness, satire, unexpected romance, and so much intrigue. For all the nerdy readers out there, Yu is also playful through his use of intertextuality (sometimes writing in screenplay format, other times prose) and metafiction (Nabokov’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being comes to mind… I kept expecting to be pulled into the plot as a character, or for the characters to show up at my doorstep).

Pressing. Lastly, I am so grateful that I read this book now, for two reasons. First, it really helped me to read this book after finishing Matthew Salesses Craft in the Real World, which undoubtedly helped me recognize my own biases as a reader while engaging with Yu’s style (for example, I’m sure I would have been tempted to use the word “experimental” to describe Yu’s work, but now am considering that Yu’s style and approach might be new for me, but perhaps simply part of traditions I’m less familiar with). Secondly, and far more importantly, the timing of this book is significant for me because of the ways in which Yu’s fiction draws attention to the racism and stereotyping towards Asians and Asian-Americans that has recently been a focus in the media, pointing to the injustices, violence, and marginalization that these groups have long been subjected to in America.

Ultimately, this book is just as much a work of antiracist literature and socio-political satire as it is a fun and engaging novel. No matter what you’re looking for, this book is sure to challenge and entertain you. Highly recommend!

Related Links:

Anti-Asian Violence in US Demands Response

National Book Award Winners 2020

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