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Do you really know? I mean, really really? Do you know what you are reading them and how they are hearing what you are reading them?…

I was browsing through the Costco “magazine” (what sadly passes as reading material for me nowadays) in bed when my oldest came to snuggle with sit by me. Not wanting to stop this rare moment, I tried hard to engage him in conversations.

“You like 2012 right?” The DVD is featured in the magazine because it is a shopping catalogue in disguise.

“Oh. That movie is AWESOME!” For my son, things can be easily divided into two groups: Things that are awesome; things that sucks.

I pointed to the DVD for the movie Where the Wild Things Are directed by Spike Jonze (of the Being John Malkovich fame). “Dad said the movie is actually quite good. He saw it on the plane. We should watch it sometimes.” Having two boys five years apart in age, I am constantly searching for movies that will appeal to both of them and are age-appropriate. To be honest, I aim for semi age-appropriate now because the picking is just slimmer than a meth addict on a super model diet. I bet Mr. Monk has watched more PG-13 movies than any other 7-year old in the suburbs.

“Oh. I know what it is about. It is based on the book Where the Wild Things Are…

Yeah. I was thinking. You and every other person older than three know what this movie is about. Duh.

“It is about this boy who got into trouble. He ran away from home to live with the monsters, and the monsters tried to kill him.”

“What?” I sat up to look at him. “Are you serious? No. Seriously. Is that what you think the book is about?”

“Uh huh. I told you. I have read this book. It was about this boy who went to live with the monsters, then he became homesick. And when he tried to leave, the monsters threatened to kill him. They said, ‘We will eat you up!'” He said, with even more conviction this time.

I laughed, yet at the same time, I was becoming more and more alarmed.

“No, dude. You are just being smartie pants, right? You don’t really think that’s what this book is about, right?”

“I am SERIOUS! That’s really the story! You don’t know anything, mom!”

Mr. Monk walked into the room at this time. I asked (with gnashed teeth) my oldest to not say anything about the book to his younger brother since I really don’t need two traumatized kids on my hand. I asked Mr. Monk whether he knows the story.

“I have the book. I’ll go get it!”

The three of us sat in bed while I read the story out loud. Just like I once did when they were much younger. I remember this book being one of the favorite books for both boys at around the same age.

When we got to the part where Max says goodbye to the Wild Things,

“Oh please don’t go — We’ll eat you up —“

“See? What did I tell you?!” Triumph in his voice now, my oldest moved in for the kill, “And see here? They were threatening to eat him!”

One of the most beloved children's books... What have we done?!

To think that I used to read this book to him before he went to bed. Many many nights.

p.s. No boys were harmed, physically or psychologically, in the making of this blog post.

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I probably don’t need to publish this post on my blog. It is not appealing. It is not good writing. It will not make you laugh out loud. It is not even a proper rant. Besides, it is friggin’ long – I am amazed at how much I tapped out on my iPhod, and tedious. I am not even making any coherent argument, not to mention grammatical errors! Run-on sentences! totally exposing myself as a feeble-minded person. Even the title spells “MEH”.

That being said, I feel this pathological need to be on the record, I guess. Since I have been treating this blog as my diary, I want everything that comes out of my head to be on here. So, sorry about this… mental puke…

I brought the book, The Help, by Kathryn Stockett with me on my flight back home last December. I have had the whole flight between IAD and Narita to ponder on this book. I won’t even attempt at writing a review since I am really not qualified to do so. And at any rate, there are already more than 1,400 reviews on Amazon.com. Furthermore, all the book reviewers in the major news outlets have done so and waxed poetic on this book, with one of them comparing The Help to To Kill A Mocking Bird.* I will just make a list of things that I have been chewing on. By Tap Tap Tap on my iPhone (without a SIM) and therefore heavy editing involved thereafter.

Spoiler alert: If you are thinking of reading this book, you should skip this. I will also be 100% honest with myself, which means I will be contradictory, at times nonsensical, and possibly offending, especially if you love the book.

Confession first: I enjoyed reading this book tremendously. Cliché, yes. Truth is: it IS a page turner. For me. From the moment when I opened it in August when I first received it, I could not completely put Aibileen out of my head until the Christmas week, when I finally had time to sit down and read the book in long stretches.

The stories are riveting. The voices are, as much as I hate using this word because it is often confused with “stereotypical”, or at the very least “archetypal”, the voices sound to me “authentic”. That is, when I was reading it, when I was caught up in the drama of the story that was being expertly told, when I was kept in suspense as to the safety of the women, when I was hoping with clenched fists and a racing hear that they would triumph over evil and that justice would be done. Well, justice be done to a certain extent, in the strict confines of the story-telling.

Now I ask myself: How many Southerners do I know? None.

Do I know any African American domestic help? Nope.

What do I know about Southern dialects and accents? Not a thing.

So what do I know about whether the book is “authentic” or not? Hasn’t this always been the gripe I have against books like Memoirs of a Geisha? That a fiction novel, on account of its main characters being of a non-white race, is evaluated and praised for delivering an “authentic” portrayal. Do we even care whether Dan Brown’s characters are authentic or not?

Damn the identity politics theories I read, classes I took.

I cannot help, in the back of my mind, though I immensely enjoyed the stories of these women, that a white woman took possession of the black women’s stories twice, especially after I read Kathryn Stockett’s personal note at the end of the book: like Skeeter in the story, Stockett wrote the black women’s stories and gained wild success.

I understand the above statement reeks of identity politics, but I cannot help the gnawing feelings in the back of my head.

What bothers me even more is Skeeter’s cajoling, forcing almost, these women into telling her their stories because she was told that she needed to write something that nobody had ever written before in order to get into the publishing world. Throughout I was extremely uncomfortable with her motive: next to the all too real risk to the black women’s lives, her motif seems so trivial. Selfish even. What is the potential downside for her engagement in this feat? None too serious really. And indeed, there was a happy ending for Skeeter. But for Minnie and Aibileen the future remained uncertain.

Although I do wish something horrible would happen to the wrong-doers and was a bit let down when it didn’t, I do applaud the author for not cheapening the story by taking the easy way out. They are still in the mid 1960s in Mississippi and it is not like they are going to all of a sudden find true equality by the end of the book. I need to give the author props for not providing her White readers with an easy cathartic way to assuage the white guilt. “The villain that caused such misery is dead/appropriately punished, all is well in the universe. Now get on with your merry life.”

As I mentioned, the book received gleaming reviews. From White book reviewers. This could be racist on my part, and certainly identity politics at its worst as some might say, nevertheless, I feel I NEED TO know how an African American reader may feel about this book. NOT because a white woman from a privileged family in the South wrote this book, but because, again, despite my immense enjoyment of this book, and yes indeed I feel guilty for liking this book when I started wondering how my friends back in my graduate study classes would have said about this book, I cannot ignore the conflation of the tropes: 1. the White heroine being rescued, or finding self-realization, through Black folks around her that she does not socialize with, 2. Black people, unable to help or save themselves, being rescued by a White person.

I imagine this book already optioned by a movie studio. Or soon will be. Anyway you look at it, it IS going to be a great vehicle for some of the outstanding African American actresses, and god only knows how hard it is for a good script with a strong minority character lead to make it all the way to some head honcho’s desk. I do hope that the script and the actor that portrays Leroy would breathe some more life into him rather than the one-dimensional wife-beater. When in doubt, we reach for the things we share as women: abusive husbands, cheating boyfriends, sexist Chauvinistic patriarchs. In that process, our men are further demonized. Joy Luck Club immediately comes to mind. I can’t watch that movie without cringing. Not a single man in that movie is worthy of loving. Is it why it was accepted by the white mainstream audience? “Poor Asian women. They are so much better off over here. Away from their men.”

When The Blind Side came out, and the Internet was all abuzz about what a feel good movie it was, it immediately raised the mental red flag for me. “Feel good” means, to me, “Not for you. You are probably not the target audience/reader. Stay home. Otherwise you won’t feel good.”

I asked an African American columnist whether she planned to see the movie,

“No. We don’t consider that movie an attractive idea.” She said coyly.

* The surest way to incite heated debate against the worth of any book is to compare it to the beloved To Kill a Mocking Bird… So if you hate someone, yeah, go ahead and compare them to Harper Lee.

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Once in a while I get all riled up with my mouth foaming like a rabid dog. My irrational anger especially loves a good target of Stereotype Mongers and Exoticism Panderers. This is that kind of moment.

PMS. Whatever.

The target of my rant today is this book:

Lost on Planet China: The Strange and True Story of One Man’s Attempt to Understand the World’s Most Mystifying Nation, or How He Became Comfortable Eating Live Squid

Look at that title, and please tell me it is not being deliberately sensationalizing.

Mind you, I have a great sense of humor. Like all great Jewish comedians (by the way, I am neither) I have perfected self-deprecating humor. I can make fun of myself, ourselves, my people, my race.

BUT I was not impressed with the passages my husband quoted me from the book. My “stereotype police” and “pandering to exoticism” antenna immediately went up when the author starts the book by talking about a restaurant menu full of internal organs of a goat. He claimed that was the first restaurant he walked in when he landed in China. Just picked it out of the random. His good luck then. I would not even know where to find one myself.

Let me emphasize this again:

WE DO NOT EAT LIVE SQUID OR GOAT BRAINS AS A DAILY MEAL.

They are probably sold in some specialty restaurants. But NOT part of the standard diet. Can people just please get over it already?! Besides, you eat moldy cheese which is pretty sickening if you ask me. So there, we are even.

And seriously, I HAVE A QUESTION:

How come it is all chi chi, high class, cultured, sophisticated, and cosmopolitan to eat raw fish and octopus in a Japanese restaurant? And live squid is now, YEW. How disgusting. How barbarian.

FUCK ME!

After browsing through the reviews and seeing a high percentage of the people say that they knew NOTHING or little about the country and the culture before they read the book,

GREAT. JUST GREAT! I thought.

I am becoming more and more agitated by the existence of this book.

TTYL. Now I need to go find a book about how white people can’t jump.

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