Hapa Reads: Issue 006
The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson
The Gargoyle tells the story of a man who has recently been in a horrible car accident and his body is now covered in horrible burns. Suddenly, Marianne Engel starts visiting him in the hospital and proclaiming that they were lovers during the middle ages in Germany. She was a nun and he a mercenary and they loved each other deeply. She keeps visiting him while he recovers, and tells him tales of love throughout the ages. Eventually he is released and goes home to live with her. Marianne is an incredibly gifted sculptress of gargoyles and has been given word by her spirit guides that she only has 27 gargoyles to create until she dies.
I’m usually not a huge fan of this style of writing but The Gargoyle weaves a beautiful tale of love and redemption that crosses the centuries. Even my cynical self found this book to be incredibly beautiful.
There’s a Mouse About the House by Richard Fowler
It’s a good thing that simply saying “There’s a mouse about the house” is fun. The phrase begs for trying on various accents and cadences and if you have a child in your life like I do, you’ll need to keep things fresh for how many times you’ll be repeating these words.
Richard Fowler’s beloved kids’ book must’ve been an instant classic in 1983. First of all, it’s uniquely shaped—like a psychedelic wine menu from a Michelin-starred situation, it’s tall and bold and sticks out of any pile of books. The colors are classic, riding the wild wave out of the ’70s clash appeal; the cover presents a mouse hole in a house that unabashedly sports pink and white striped walls and lime green trim…
The storyline is basic: There’s a mouse (actually a few) running loose in Mr. and Mrs. B’s house and we follow the rodent through his quest for cheese. Some tension builds when the vermin seems to get lost and is seen by the humans and the parrot of the house who all remark “There’s a mouse about the house!” The critically fun aspect of this book is that there are slots in each page for an actual paper mouse (that comes with the book) to travel in and out of. The other super fun detail is that this is a book full of flaps for kids to lift and peek at. And if you lose the paper mouse there’s a traceable mouse on the back for replenishment. Visual crack for babies. A+
Edith Can Shoot Things and Hit Them by A. Rey Pamatmat
Michael A. Rosegrant
Every now and then, as I wade through the wonderful sea of works by playwrights of color, I stumble on a play that completely knocks me off my feet. A. Rey Pamamat’s Edith Can Shoot Things and Hit Them is one of those plays. This is a beautiful story of childhood, queerness, and survival that achieves universality through its specificity.
Samuel French captures the premise well: “Three kids—Kenny, his sister Edith, and their friend Benji—are all but abandoned on a farm in remotest Middle America. With little adult supervision, they feed and care for each other, making up the rules as they go. But when Kenny's and Benji's relationship becomes more than friendship, and Edith shoots something she really shouldn't shoot, the formerly indifferent outside world comes barging in whether they want it to or not.” Each character faces a unique and complex struggle that intertwines with each others’. The beauty of these characters lies in their imperfections, which are rendered inconsequential by the love each one feels toward the others.
The character list is brief and brought a smile to my face:
“EDITH – 12, Filipino-American, a girl, KENNY’s sister
KENNY – 16, Filipino-American, a young man, EDITH’s brother
BENJI – 16, any race, a friend”
That smile turned into joy when reading the author’s note: “Edith Can Shoot Things and Hit Them should be performed by young-looking adult actors, not actual teenagers.” I read with the joy of knowing I could, at some point, play a character in this show.
One of the strengths of this play is the character that the protagonists, Edith and Kenny, simply are Filipino-American; no caricature needed. Kenny doesn’t sit in a barong telling chisme in Tagalog to his younger sister as they eat halo-halo prepared by their titas dressed in chinelas and floral dresses. They are Filipino-American and they are real people. In the same way that Kenny’s queerness does not make up the entirety of who he is, Kenny’s “Filipino-ness” does not make up the entirety of who he is. Kenny’s queerness and Filipino-ness are both a part of him, but they are not his personhood.
I formed intimate bonds with Kenny, Edith, and Benji. I felt invested in their stories to the very last page. There are not words to express the immense gratitude I have for Pamatmat for writing this incredible play, and I hope you get the chance to read—or even better—see it in the near future.
The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande
I’m usually a fiction reader. The Eyre Affair, Ready Player One, and a Terry Pratchett novel are sitting on my bookshelf, waiting to be read. But instead, I’m in the “Return of Saturn,” the “turn this boat around” phase of life, as Ali Wong would say. So I’m reading self-help nonfiction books like The Checklist Manifesto, bought using the Amazon Prime account I paid for myself, thank you very much.
The Checklist Manifesto isn’t a book of checklists, as I initially assumed. It’s more like a series of vignettes and stories. From the medical to the architectural, simple checklists can make all the difference between failure and success. The book itself is a perfect subway read, or an afternoon well-spent.
Bad Behavior by Mary Gaitskill
Rebecca Lee Lerman
Probably the most influential book that inspired how I write: dark, depraved, and erotic, yet somehow beautiful and poetic. When I read this in college, I remember being shocked, saddened, and somehow comforted by language that was willing to go there. I remember reading “rub her injured-looking vagina,” and “I shouldn't be doing this, he thought. She is actually a nice person. For a moment he had an impulse to embrace her. He had a stronger impulse to beat her.” This kind of writing held my attention like no other. I really enjoyed the fact that someone could write this way—exposing the darkest of people’s minds with such simple clarity. Perhaps because it was a form of feeling that I understood so well. The loneliness and wanting connection ,with someone else, even if it only brought pain, because feeling pain was better than feeling nothing. The writing gave me permission to be more open, raw, and flawed in my own work. Writing that triggers a strong visceral reaction, that makes the deepest parts of your body stir, this is my type of writing.
The Odyssey by Homer
Kathy Yamamoto - @kathyamafarted
Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari
Lauren Hardie - @warlaur
Yes, it's taking me about a year to read (it's a 400-something-page hardcover, and a bit of a pain to walk around with) but it's "light" and "fun" as far as anthropological nonfiction goes, with sprinklings of humor throughout. I had to read Guns, Germs, and Steel (Jared Diamond) in college and I couldn't believe I enjoyed a _textbook_. And if you liked Guns, Germs, and Steel, you'll probably like Sapiens. In fact, I think Sapiens could be a good gateway to other books in this genre. So, excuse me while I open up my literary trench coat to peddle Sapiens to the children... and suggest they consider the much lighter paperback or e-reader versions.