Tiny Beautiful Things – Cheryl Strayed
In ancient Greece there was the Oracle of Delphi who one could go to when one was an existential crossroad, and the oracle in her wisdom would dispense advice. In the modern world, we have Sugar aka Cheryl Strayed in the Dear Sugar columns.
No, really. I’m not being sarcastic. This should be every sensitive, thoughtful 21st century person’s bible.
When I first started reading this book, I wondered at her confidence and the audacity of bringing her own experience into the advice. This is not what advice columnists are supposed to do. This is not supposed to be about them.
But the introduction itself acknowledges it, and points out that this is Strayed’s power. And as I read, in most cases, I think her sharing her own experience helps her connect with the letter writer. And she’s had a helluva lot of experience, which I already knew from her book Wild. She’s led no life of comforts until quite recently. So it works.
I won’t say I agree with all her advice. But I agree with most of it. And as one reads the columns one begins to trust where she’s coming from. Which I think is so important (I’ve realised this with blog reading).
Each letter and the response from Sugar was like a tiny jewel that one could string onto a rope of greater wisdom to rub between one’s fingers when one’s soul needs solace. The letters range across situations and Strayed’s responses are wise, compassionate and spot on.
There were letters that made me think specially of certain people, there were of course letters that made me think of myself, there were letters I bookmarked mentally for when my children grew up and might need to read it.
This one’s for the bookshelves.
Following from The Perks of Being a Wallflower, I decided to catch up on Judy Blume. I remember reading and loving exactly one of her novels, the only one I could get my hands on at the local library as a tween, and it stayed with me over the years. Goodreads tells me it was Iggie’s House. So I pulled whatever I could find on our library shelves and got Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret and Fudge-A-Mania. The Margaret book is a standalone one and a timely book for someone who’s lost her religion. I would have loved the book to have definitely solved the religion riddle but Blume is all about the ambiguity and exploration that is childhood. I loved that the book tackled the issue of religion so fearlessly, in addition to its frank depiction of periods.
Judy Blume seems like a nice old lady, but she was considered revolutionary enough to be at the receiving end of death threats. Read this fascinating interview here.
Fudge-A-Mania deals with a slightly younger age bracket and is apparently part of a series. I loved the quirkiness of the characters, the coming-of-ageness and the slightest hint of romance. I love how old people are eccentric and wonderful in her books. And of course, the precocious protagonists.Obviously, my kids are going to have these on their selves. I’m resisting buying the lot in advance.
While I was reading the books, we happened to Skype with my niece who is now eight (how and when did that happen?) and she happened to be reading Judy Blume too. It was both weird and wonderful to be bonding with her over this, and bittersweet to recognise that she’s grown up enough to read and reflect on books on her own. Also to talk like this: “So basically, you know,…”
These books are a great mood elevator and I wanted more but couldn’t find any in the library. So I had to move on.
Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan
I had read somewhere – maybe the synopsis of this book itself – that there is a super-rich echelon of society in Hong Kong where marriages are almost always arranged by the doyennes of the community. Apparently, it’s not just Hong Kong but the extended elite community of Chinese in Asia and overseas. This book offers an insider’s view into that milieu.
As expected, it’s all fabulous wealth and the trapping of richesse like you can never imagine, but the defamiliarising element comes in the form of the interloper – a Chinese American girlfriend of an extremely eligible Sinagporean. Rachel Chu has no idea about her boyfriend’s antecedents and is in for a rude culture shock when she visits Singapore at his behest. You’d think it would be a good thing to discover that your boyfriend is super rich and comes from the cream of Chinese society, but the flip side is trying to break into a clannish and snobbish community that immediately closes ranks while presenting a deceptively indifferent exterior.
I enjoyed this book as an insight into a facet of Chinese society that I only had an inkling of, but also because I identified with the situation. No, I don’t come from an extremely wealthy or esteemed family, but what I realised is that most families behave in the same way. All families think they’re the bee’s knees and view outsiders with suspicion. There’s almost resentment when eligible members of the family are snapped up by people the family doesn’t deem sufficiently worthy – and probably no one would be sufficiently worthy to the family, particularly to the mothers of eligible sons. Some things are the same everywhere, it would appear.