Feb 25, 2023

Book Reviews: Multigenerational Families in one Household: Comedy and Pathos

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 a family friend, 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? 

Memes: The Sunday Post hosted by The Caffeinated BookreviewerAlso,  It's Monday: What Are You Readingand Sunday SalonStacking the ShelvesMailbox Monday

48 comments:

  1. I love books with humor as well. I will be looking closer at The Sweet Spot. Great review.

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  2. Looks like a great memoir. My friend who is Hmong wrote about his family's escape from Laos during the Vietnam war. Some humor in his recollections as well. Happy reading this week.

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  3. These both sound good. I like that the memoir has humor to temper the seriousness and tragedy of the topic.

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  4. I agree- that memoir sounds excellent - I'm trying to expand my nonfiction reading this year so this will go on the list. Hope you have a terrific week.
    Terrie @ Bookshelf Journeys

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  5. Replies
    1. I was entertained as well as riveted by it.

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  6. Humor can make serious subjects impact me more, I find. I feel like I can relate to the person better if I've laughed with them.

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  7. Just started 'Fifth Avenue 5AM - Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany's, and the Dawn of the Modern Woman' by Sam Wasson. After that I'll be reading 'The Color of Money' by Walter Tevis.

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  8. I've been very interested in finding humor in books lately. Perhaps it's because the world has been so grim for the last few years.

    I'm especially interested in reading memoirs since I've been taking my memoir-writing class. Everything I Learned, I Learned in a Chinese Restaurant sounds compelling. A good memoir, for me, offers both serious and humorous takeaways.

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    1. A memoir writing class sounds so interesting! And this memoir is a good one to read for it!

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  9. The restaurant memoir sounds awesome. I love my local Chinese restaurant. It's run by a family and does seem to be a gathering place for the community.

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    1. An amazing and informative memoir, written with a lot of humor

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  10. These both sound good, thanks for your thoughts on them.

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  11. Thank you for two great suggestions for books. I want to read the Curtis Chin book!

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  12. Both of these books sound so good. I'm going to add them to my wishlist. Thanks for the great reviews!

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    1. Hope you enjoy them, Yvonne. Worthwhile reads.

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  13. Who doesn't love a good book that has humor? I'll check out this book!

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  14. I enjoyed Musical Chairs by Amy Poeppel and plan to read The Sweet Spot at some point. Both books sound good.

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    1. If Musical Chairs is as funny as The Sweet Spot, I'll have to get it.

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  15. As a Michigan resident I'm super interested in that first one.

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    1. Hope you get a chance to get it on NetGalley or when it’s published in October, Greg.

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    2. I'm definitely bookmarking it.

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  16. These all sound like interesting (and fun) books. Happy Reading!! :-)

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    1. One was all fun; the other was a mix of humor and pathos.

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  17. I do enjoy a story that makes me laugh. Sounds like you had an interesting mix of reads this week. Have a great week!

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  18. Memoirs can be hit or miss for me but I'm glad to see you liked this one!
    Mary @Bookfan

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    1. It has a lot of interesting history, cultural, and social content.

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  19. Wow both of these reads look like winners. One thoughtful and the other funny. I need them both. Thanks for the reviews.

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  20. Both of these books sound good to me!

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  21. Both books sound good.
    Have a great week.

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  22. Love the sound of these memoirs. The Chinese Restaurant one sounds like a really great read.

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    1. Yes, it is! The second one is really a novel, and a bustling, comedic one.

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  23. Everything I Learned does sound like a really good memoir. It made me think of the past four years as my temp office was next door to a Chinese restaurant. Family operated by lovely people. The second book looks like fun too. Hope you enjoy your books. Happy Reading!

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    1. There are several books out now about Chinese restaurant families and new immigrants.

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  24. Both of these sound so interesting and definitely worth looking into.

    I think I'll take a closer look at the Chinese Restaurant one first. I am busy with She Who Became the Sun, it's about Chinese history (like 1100's old), but it's fascinating. Guess I might as well stick with China for now!

    Elza Reads

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I appreciate your comments and thoughts...

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