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Book Review: Wendy and the Lost Boys: The Uncommon Life of Wendy Wasserstein by Julie Salamon (Part 1)

My first introduction to Wendy Wasserstein was her book Bachelor Girls which caught my eye in the early-1990’s at a small boutique bookstore on West Beaver Avenue in State College, PA. I picked it up because it had an attractive cover, had very short chapters, and was relatively thin. The latter two aspects were probably the deciding factors.

I had always been an avid reader. However, up to that point, my reading of anything written in English had been limited to books and articles that were related to my graduate school studies (i.e., earth sciences), passages forced onto me by English language teachers over the years, and newspaper articles that appeared on The Daily Collegian. I’d never read a book written in English for pleasure.

On this particular day in the early-1990’s, however, I went to the bookstore, intending to pick up something to read. Perhaps I had finished all the Japanese novels sent to me from my parents and was desperate.

I’d never heard of Wendy Wasserstein. But it was a think book with short chapters written by a female author. I liked the cover design. So I bought it.

One of the reasons why we read books is to experience lives and points of views that are not our own. Bachelor Girls allowed me to peek into, and experience the world that was entirely different from my own. Well-to-do NEW YORK women who belong to exclusive clubs (i.e., the New York Broadway Theater circle, alumni of exclusive New England universities) were all over the chapters living their lives. Meanwhile, I was a poor graduate student with an absolutely uncertain future spending most of my waking hours alone in the lab or at my desk. Occasional social hours were spent with other poor graduate students over a six pack of Busch, the cheapest beer you could buy at the time.

Bachelor Girls whisked me off to a different world. I was jealous. And I was thoroughly entertained.

Book Review: The Buddha in the Attic

I just finished reading Julie Otsuka’s The Buddha in the Attic.

(spoiler alert!!!)

(spoiler alert!!!)

(SPOILER ALERT!!!)

This historical fiction is a collective story of Japanese mail-order brides, who were a group of women and girls sailed across the Pacific Ocean in ~1920 to marry Japanese immigrants in California whom they had only known through photos and letters. The women and girls came with very modest hopes that they would no longer have to labor hard hours in rice fields and instead, make living helping the immigrant husbands’ businesses. However, their hopes got shattered as soon as they arrived in San Francisco. The husbands were no business owners as described in the letters filled with false realities. Instead, the brides were sent immediately to California farmlands along with their new husbands to work long hard hours in strawberry fields and vineyards.

Over the next few decades, some of them remained as farm hands while others became domestic workers or small business owners. Some would become prostitutes while others would just simply become lost. Many would have children. Some children would become assimilated well whereas others would be treated badly by their peers. None of the children would seem to appreciate their parents’ ways.

The story ends with the immigrants’ forced migration to the internment camp during the World War II. The migration came after many months of uncertainties and worries. The immigrants and their children were greatly missed by their neighbors, customers, employers, and schoolmates. Meanwhile, some Californians remained skeptical about the immigrants’ allegiance. Before long, the California neighborhoods would get used to the daily lives without the Japanese American citizens.

One intriguing aspect of this book is its “first person plural” narrative. All of the women’s experiences are voiced simultaneously from the first person perspective. This allowed me (the reader) to experience all their dreams, hopes, resignations, and sorrows collectively and simultaneously.

I embrace the fact that I came to the US under much different circumstances. I got to maintain and renew my hopes and dreams without losing or downsizing them. Little sorrow was involved. However, at the same time, I cannot help but wonder whether the choices and decisions I made as a modern woman were superior to the ones made by the mail-order brides. I wonder if, just like the mail-order brides could be considered as mere pawns in the big picture of humanity, what I thought of as my own choices and decisions were actually not mine at all but inevitable decisions handed to me by the universe.

Are modern women making a greater difference to the humanity than the mail-order brides? Have the decisions made by contemporary women impacted the humanity more strongly than the decisions made by the mail-order brides? The answer is most certainly no.

Otsuka’s book keeps me honest and humble. That’s a good place to be on this Sunday evening before I take on another busy week filled with decision-making.

On a side note, I borrowed this book from my local library’s e-book rental system. I love this system. This book was fairly popular (it has been nominated for the 2011 National Book Award) and there was a waiting list of hold requests. In the old days, I would have had to drive 5 miles one way to the library, turn in my hold request, wait for the email or call from the library, and drive 5 miles again to pick it up when the book would become available. However, with the Kindle lending system, I turn in my request on line, while lounging on my couch in pajamas, and when I get the notice from the library, I retrieve and download the book while sipping a margaritas in the kitchen. No getting dressed, brushing teeth, putting on shoes or getting in a car required.

Ultimate Cinnamon Rolls (really!)

I think I finally perfected my cinnamon rolls!

The dough recipe I used to use (introduced in my previous cinnamon roll post) yields rolls with a great texture and flavor. However, it is very elastic and springy, and is not the easiest dough to work with while rolling, flattening and shaping. It springs back as soon as I flatten it with a rolling pin. Consequently, the whole rolling/flattening-filling spreading-shaping operation has to be conducted extremely hastily, not exactly the kind of relaxing leisurely activities I would enjoy on a Saturday morning.

Then I found this recipe. It yields very soft, pliable dough perfect for rolling and shaping. When baked, the rolls are light, fluffy and almost flaky. This morning, I made cinnamon rolls using this dough for the second time. I don’t think I will be trying any other dough recipes for quite a while, at least as far as cinnamon rolls are concerned.

As always, most of those 12 cinnamon rolls were swiftly consumed by my two teenagers after their swim practices. I did eat a few myself, however, even though I am consciously trying to keep my diet more about simple, raw food and less about pastas and pastries. I was in the middle of reading the Indian ashram part of Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert (thanks to my wonderful local library now offering this and many other titles as Kindle e-book rentals), and eating the sweet, buttery pastries felt like making an evil commitment. To make myself feel better, I followed my breakfast by an hour of yoga practice and a 30-minute jog.

 

[Recipe] (the dough recipe is after DUFFYchan‘s recipe)

Dough:

  • 240 grams Bread flour
  • 60 grams Cake four
  • 40 grams Sugar
  • 5 grams Salt
  • 6 grams Bread machine yeast
  • 1 Egg
  • Enough milk to make (egg + milk = 220 grams)
  • 50 grams Butter

Filling (combine the following):

  • 2 TBSP butter (melted)
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 2TBSP sugar

Icing (mix the following well together with a wire whisk):

  • 1/4 cup butter (softened)
  • 1/4 cup c ream cheese (softened)
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp lemon or orange juice

Combine the dough ingredients into the bread machine and run them through the dough cycle. The Japanese recipe owner recommends that butter be added to the bread machine about 9-10 minutes into the knead cycle for a better texture.

After the dough cycle, turn the dough onto a well-floured working surface, and split into two parts.

Using a rolling pin, each part is flattened to a rectangle (about 6″ x 8″), spread with half the filling, and rolled up into a log.

The log is cut into 6 pieces, which are then arranged in a greased 9″ cake pan.

Repeat with the other half of the dough.

Proof the rolls for about 45 minutes.

Then they are baked at 375 degrees for 12 minutes.

While still hot, the icing is spread.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (Review)

[SPOILER WARNING] Don’t read on if you haven’t read this book and don’t want to be spoiled!

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I finally read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, written by Stieg Larson. Once I started, I could not stop.

My favorite part has to be the scene at the sheep farm. I love how Harriet is well respected by her farm hands and loved by her son. Despite her horrible childhood experience with men, she was able to cultivate good relationships with men as an adult. This was extremely gratifying. I re-read this part over and over.

Haruki Murakami and Rainy Sunday Morning

(This was originally written on August 24, 2008. )

There are three life situations which prompt me to pick up a Haruki Murakami novel and read. One is when I boil spaghetti, one is when I am on travel in a hotel room alone, and the third is when it is raining outside on a Sunday morning.

It is raining outside thanks to what’s left of ex-hurricane Fay. So I picked up Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World.

I read it for the first time when I was a freshman in college. Its cyberpunk-ish storyline was quite fresh and shocking at the time (although Murakami saves something far better than a mere shock for the ending chapters). Now, it reads like a familiar, recurring theme.

Murakami and his stories have evolved over the years. The evolution became especially noticeable after the big Kobe Earthquake. His post-Kobe stories are much more mature, engaged, and tangible. However, I still adore his pre-Quake novels for their youthful, ambivalent attitudes about everything. No, I don’t want to grow up, either.

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