Two very funny books, despite the seriousness of many topics and themes, had me re-reading one in total and the other in parts. Here's what I think about the books.
Everything I Learned, I Learned in a Chinese Restaurant: A Memoir by Curtis Chin October 23, 2023, Little, Brown and Company
Genre: memoir, family drama, multicultural interest, LGBTQ
This is a memoir about growing up in Detroit in the 1960-1980s. The publisher sums the book up best:
Nineteen eighties Detroit was a volatile place
to live, but above the fray stood a safe haven: Chung’s Cantonese
Cuisine, where anyone—from the city’s first Black mayor to the local
drag queens, from a big-time Hollywood star to elderly Jewish
couples—could sit down for a warm, home-cooked meal.
Here was where,... surrounded by his multigenerational
family, filmmaker and activist Curtis Chin came of age; where he learned
to embrace his identity as a gay ABC, or American-born Chinese; where
he navigated the divided city’s spiraling misfortunes; and where ... he realized just how much he
had to offer to the world, to his beloved family, and to himself.
As an Asian American living in the Midwest, I saw Detroit as both fascinating and dangerous, even as it declined economically and socially when it lost the auto industry and economic power, and became a literal war zone, with riots and fires, a city soon abandoned by many long time residents.
I was delighted to read of this Chinese family that stayed and thrived even in dangerous conditions, because of their well-known restaurant with customers from all classes, races and religions, the common ground being love of Chinese cuisine.
The memoir describes a volatile Detroit during those changing times and the lives of the Chinese family, the Chins, as seen by third son, Curtice, a second generation son. Curtice's book covers his life there until he left after graduating from the University of Michigan to find his own way, as a film maker in NYC.
The heady topics of his sexuality, his position in the family as the middle child of five, plus racism and discrimination, and the dangers of Detroit are offset by the humor with which Curtice Chin tackles his own personal life there. The memoir is entertaining as well as informative and very considerate regarding many of the people he came in contact with in school, at work, in daily life. This, in spite of the fact that the Chinese community there could not forget the murder of his relative, Vincent Chin, considered an act of discrimination that was never fully punished.
I can see that it took this long for the author to write this book, perhaps because of the sensitive subjects and also because gay rights and legal immigrant rights are now fully established. (At least, we hope so.)
Kudos to the author for writing with so much insight and honesty, and presenting himself with delightful humor in between the very serious topics.
The Sweet Spot by Amy Poeppel, January 31, 2023, Atria/Emily Bestler Books
Genre: family drama, contemporary fiction, romance, comedy
The theme of the book is in its epigraph, a quote supposedly from Thomas Mann.
" The sweet spot is where duty and delight converge."
I read the book twice and laughed out loud both times. I consider Amy Poeppel a comic genius for her humor in writing as well as for her intricate plotting, colorful characters, and their coincidental and often hilarious interactions with each other.
Take the young couple, Lauren the ceramist and Leo the teacher, who were just given a huge brownstone in Greenwich Village, NYC to live in, thanks to a peripatetic father, Phillip. With their three young children, the couple live happily in the rundown building over a loud basement bar named The Sweet Spot, owned by Dan.
Phillip, Leo's father, and Evelyn, Lauren's mother visit the house, Phillip to stay and Evelyn to decide on a daily basis whether to go or stay. They all cohabit rather messily but lovingly, while dealing with the problem of other characters - Melissa and Felicity and Russell and their new baby. Plus, there is Bumper, a large messy stray dog that they took in.
Melissa is out for revenge on everyone, targeting Lauren and her boss Felicity. Her antics are mind bogglingly nasty but nevertheless very funny, even when they cause a lot of grief for the others.
A whirlwind of characters, interacting in very comedic ways. I loved laughing while reading. I recommend this book for anyone looking for a read and a good laugh.
What are you reading this week?