Friday, September 12, 2008

I have spent most of the day at Kaiser with my dad, going from appointment to appointment. As ever, I had a book with me, "The Maytrees" by Annie Dillard. Halfway through, this is what I think:

SO . . . MANY . . . WORDS . . .

Sounds a lot like yours truly. I'll let you know soon what I think of the book. It's not looking good folks.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Let’s just get it out of the way: I eat meat. I eat chicken, fish, pork, shellfish, buffalo, ostrich and even (gasp) red meat. I do not eat veal, but that’s neither here nor there. My family has strong vegetarian leanings going back many generations. My brother is an “omnivore who chooses not to eat meat” and I am married to a man who was raised on a dairy farm. I am not amused (and am often annoyed) by people who use their food consumption choices as a way of bullying others who may not make the same choices they do. Smug “we don’t eat (insert food choice)" comments make me want to eat whatever it is they don’t. Seriously, I have had enough of this self righteous food snobbery that grass fed, organic, free range, locally grown, soy based goop might spurt out of my eyes if I have one more raised eyebrow pointed in the direction of my grocery cart. Don’t get me wrong, I read labels and avoid high fructose corn syrup as much as possible. I buy the bulk of my produce from local farmers. I love food, but I don’t hold it up as an idol to be worshipped or as a weapon to be wielded.

All this leads up to a book I just finished: “My Year of Meats” by Ruth L. Ozeki. It was a summer reading option for my book club and I have to say that I really enjoyed it. It is the story of Jane, a Japanese-American documentarian who lands a job producing a Japanese television show for an American beef exporting business. During her year producing “My American Wife!”, she learns about the unpleasant side of the commercial beef industry. She also learns about life, love and understanding. A parallel story of an abused Japanese wife searching for self and safety weaves in and out of the main narrative, as do poems from Sei Shonagon’s “The Pillow Book”. Reading this book felt like I was watching an expertly edited film or gazing upon a piece of collage.

Yes, it’s pretty disturbing in parts. I skipped a whole scene toward the end. But all in all, it is a darn funny book. I loved it in the way I loved the movie “Lost in Translation”. It wasn’t completely Japanese in sensibility, but it wasn’t entirely American either. It was like a wonderfully tasty dish, something that is both American and Japanese at the same time. Like drinking a Coke and eating sushi at the same meal, “My Year of Meats” was two worlds meeting on the same dinner plate.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

At our last book club meeting (Note: I dislike calling our times together "meetings", they are so much more than that, but at this writing, I have lack of a better word!) we decided that there would be four books on our summer reading list and that we should read as many or as few of them that we could and our first time back together would be spent talking about what we read. One of the books, The Master Butcher's Singing Club by Louise Erdrich, I had already read and the other two (My Year of Meats by Ruth Ozeki and The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein) were nowhere to be found in my quest for free or nearly free books. The only book I managed to get my hands on and read was The Distant Land of My Father by Bo Caldwell. Hooray for! I like to think that there was some divine providence involved with my acquisition of this book because it was exactly the book I needed to read at this moment in my life's journey.

To the young Anna Schoene, our narrator, life in Shanghai is indeed magical. There are servants, a luxurious villa, a beautiful mother and a young, handsome father. Unfortunately, her father is also a smuggler and speculator who loves his freewheeling life more than anything (or anyone) else. Despite warnings, Schoene's father refuses to leave Shanghai even after the Japanese invade, and his wife and child retreat to Los Angeles. Anna's dreams and ideals of her father fall with Shanghai and she leaves China forever, learning to live in a land different from her his.

As the adult daughter of an father who is growing older between blinks, this book grabbed my heart and poked it in tender places. I don't always know what to do or who to be with my dad anymore, especially since my mom died three years ago. Most days I feel like the roles have been exchanged and then there are days when I feel like I am still 10 years old, searching for his approval. It gets to be confusing and frustrating and maddening and sad, all at the same time. The worst part is that I know it only gets tougher from here on out.

The Distant Land of My Father wasn't so much about cultural identity, as I thought it would be, but more of an exploration of what it means to be a daughter. But that's just my take on it. I'd love to know what you thought.