Little Fires Everywhere + Marginalized Identities Book Donation Call

Tuesday, December 12, 2017 Shaker Heights, OH, USA

Make no mistake about it, Celeste Ng’s latest book, Little Fires Everywhere, is a book worth reading, and is complex in its exploration of race, motherhood, identity and secrets. It’s been featured on multiple lists, including New York Times and Amazon’s Book of the Month. Yet, for me, it’s impact was far more than that. The book is intensely personal for me, as I’ve spent the past four years in Cleveland and many of the places in the book are deeply familiar.

There’s a weird sense of intensity that only comes with a familiar setting. It’s intimate and strange at the same time. Although Little Fires Everywhere is set in the Shaker Heights of the 90’s, many of the locations mentioned still exist and the feelings that Ng writes so eloquently about are still the same.

While Little Fires Everywhere seems like an ordinary book about an ordinary place, at the same time it isn’t. Ng zones in so clearly and perceptively on the character’s intentions and needs, sometimes to an intensity where we start to question ourselves. What do we know about ourselves? Are we anything like these characters? She explores privilege and race inside of a community that sees itself as progressive and liberal, and are blind to their own biases.


Shaker Heights, Ohio is real planned community. I remember a conversation that I had with a coworker about Shaker Heights a couple years ago and she had told me how it wasn’t just any community and the rules for living there, which lasted until quite recently. There are rules for how houses look, both inside and out, and who owns those houses. I had smiled and filed it away, with some disbelief. Cleveland was an interesting place, after all, with its former booming industry in the early 1900s (it was the place to be, before New York became New York) with Millionaire’s Row on Euclid Avenue and some of its former glory can be seen in nearby Lake View Cemetery, where some Rockefeller family members are buried and President Garfield is laid to rest in his mausoleum. Yet it’s also the same place that was the subject of a viral satire video on YouTube several years back and where the Cuyahoga River burst into flames multiple times. (Admittedly now though, Cleveland is on the up and up, with revitalization occurring throughout the city.)

I think that’s why Shaker Heights is the perfect setting for Little Fires Everywhere. It’s an idyllic place to be, with its orderly houses and wide streets, but at what cost are these maintained? Ng deftly explores the secrets that family members have, between each other, and the cost of following rules. The lives of Richardson family, a typical family with four kids, are shaken up when a single mother, Mia Warren, and her teenage daughter, Pearl, move into their rental house. The Richardson’s youngest daughter, Izzy, is drawn to the Warren’s and the unconventional life that they lead. Mia’s an artist who picks up part-time jobs to make rent and her life is the antithesis of the lives that everyone else in Shaker Heights lead.
One had followed the rules, and one had not. But the problem with rules... was that they implied a right way and a wrong way to do things. When, in fact, most of the time they were simply ways, none of them quite wrong or quite right, and nothing to tell you for sure what side of the line you stood on.- Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

24 Hours in Montreal, QC, Canada

Tuesday, November 21, 2017 Old Montreal, Montreal, QC, Canada

One of my favorite pastimes is visiting museums to see and learn history. When I’m not visiting museums, I’m on Wikipedia to history articles, usually finding myself deep in Wikipedia, on a whole different era and topic entirely, 20 clicks later.

In middle school, I wanted to take French so I could go on the Montreal French trip but instead I ended up sticking with Spanish. Montreal came back up again as a subject of interest when my family decided to take a short road trip north to Canada earlier in September and after doing some research and asking a friend who’d visited Montreal a couple years prior, I was set on Montreal.
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Old Montreal (Vieux-Montreal) is one of the oldest cities in North America since it was settled in the 17th century as a French trading port. Some of the original buildings, built mainly in the French Colonial style, remain. It was a change from the colonial Georgian, German and Federal architecture that I’m used to.

Navigating Post-Grad Life: Networking & Job Searching

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Post-grad life is never as romantic or cool as the movies portray it as. 
Over the past few months, I've found myself texting my friends about what our post-graduation sleep schedules have become, why we get mistaken as older than we are, how to be money-savvy (still trying to figure this out!) and if that morning Starbucks coffee is really worth it. More often than not though, my time is spent figuring out how to be an adult, navigating the space that exists now that people are going towards different things in life, whether that's to another country, graduate school/professional school, the other side of the country or work.

In the past couple of years, one of my favorite things to read are the articles where people share their career trajectories and how they’ve gotten to where they are. Since I know that by now, many people who’re reading this are either post-graduates or in college, I thought I’d ask my friends who’ve been there to share their advice. 

I met my friend C late one winter evening two years ago at our mutual friend’s apartment, both a little sleepy after a late-evening session of food. That following summer, she lived down the hall from me and I’d catch her in business-wear headed downtown at the bus stop to her finance internship in the peak of summer heat and humidity, which we both tried to avoid by being out the door by 8am. I’ve watched C go through the job hunting process, from start to end, and I’m so incredibly happy that she’s scored an analyst position at an asset management company in NYC, where she’s from. While she’s in the business field, these tips are general enough for any industry. I hope you find something helpful, insightful or interesting.

If you could change something about how you tackled the process, what would it be?

C: To not be so timid. That would be number one. I used to be very timid in expressing my strengths and how I would be the best fit for the position/firm. Second, know myself better. Through the process I gained a better understanding of what I’m good at and what skills/qualities I’m lacking. Really, the best advice I can give: be confident in what you’ve been through and be confident about who you are as well as what you know. It’s cliche but this mentality really works and potential employers can see right through you, when you’re confident but without substance. Prepare behavioral/technical questions depending on the industry, firm, and other extenuating circumstances. Understand what you’re talking about, DON’T BS it. They will know if you do. Make sure you really know your resume. Really. If you read people and know what they want to hear (they don’t want to hear about your miserable day on the phone with a broker) then you will do swell. Don’t be nervous - these are also all people and whether or not they’ve gone through similar processes/interview standards, they were all at where you are, right now, once upon a time.

#JessInAMinute- New York Edition & Being Asian-American

Tuesday, November 7, 2017 New York, NY, USA

Since my return to blogging, I've been trying to push myself with different content forms so here's #JessInAMinute, a new video series on my Instagram account, because I'm not meant to be a YouTube vlogger. It was my first time filming and editing anything so I hope you can pardon the shaky footage.

A post shared by Jessica 🐑 (@crazyredpen) on

As I mentioned in the video, my friend was in New York so we met up to catch up with life and happenings. I had texted him the night before we met up on a spur of the moment urge to ask him if it was okay that I was going to film random bits and pieces, to do what with, I had no idea. There was no real urge to make a YouTube channel and I wasn't even blogging at the time. My friend agreed, though hesitant, and off I went with my camera, after watching some YouTube videos to get an idea of what I wanted to film and how. 

I love going to new food places with friends and eating, catching up over food. My food tastes lean toward Asian as you can probably tell from the video.

Sometimes I'll stop and think how exciting it is to find Asian food popular because in elementary school and I'll never forget this, I brought dumplings to school for lunch and a classmate said loudly, "What is that? It smells gross." From then on, I never packed lunch, which lasted until mid-high school because I wanted to be like everyone else.

It unnerves me though, that sometimes Asian food becomes an exotic thing that needs explanations about how to eat it (see last year's Bon Appetit pho video where a white chef tells the viewer how to eat pho "properly") or publications that detail how they've "found" the next big food trend (see New York Times coverage of boba tea where they called it tea filled with blobs, originally titled, "The Blobs in Your Tea? They’re Supposed to Be There"). Bad coverage doesn't stop there though, with a LifeHacker article earlier this year in September calling chopsticks an "underrated kitchen utensil" that's relegated to people's drawers. 

It's interesting to me that conversations about how to cover Asian things and how to approach the Asian-American market are only discussed now. In a recent conversation earlier this year with an editor of a major publication, I was asked what people are doing wrong when targeting the Asian-American market. It threw me for a loop for a second and I thought, "Wow, this is a loaded question." The first thing that came to mind was obviously representation but another thing that also came to mind is how Asians, like most minorities are targeted as "other" in publications, and how we're grouped together as the same.

This recent Twitter thread by May 2018 debut author of The Poppy War (Harper Voyager), Rebecca Kuang is eye-opening and really tragic at the same time, especially the following tweet (Her post on what happened is also a good read):

Even more telling is this tweet:

Source

When Breath Becomes Air Discussion

Monday, October 30, 2017

Earlier this year, my mom was badgering me about reading When Breath Becomes Air and recommending books to me is something that my mom almost never does. I’ve been meaning to read When Breath Becomes Air since I read Paul Kalanithi’s article for Stanford Med, which I found out about while reading Cup of Jo (Joanna Goddard was his sister-in-law). Once I ordered a copy and read the first couple of pages, I knew that this is a book that I was going to flip through over and over again. Although at the time I wasn’t blogging, I did what most book bloggers do when they find an absolutely amazing book: tell everyone they know about it. I sent Kalanithi’s articles to people in my lab, friends, professors, and basically anyone who’d talk to me in an effort to whet their appetites for the book.

Since the book’s place on the NYT Bestseller List and positive reviews say enough about how wonderful the book is, I’ll be doing a discussion instead with my close friend Karen about what the book meant to us. I met Karen in biology lab our freshman year and I’ve always admired her ability to achieve goals, whether it was academically or career wise (congrats on the latest science manuscript!).




Why I've Decided to Come Back to Blogging

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

I'm back (and why I'm here to stay)
I haven't blogged regularly in two years and in those two years, I've sometimes forgotten that I have a blog.  Blogging has been an integral part of my life for more than seven years and yet, it seems like a lifetime ago. Perhaps it's because I've spent nearly a third of my life blogging about books and the other two-thirds doing other things. I've contemplated about the future of this blog ever since I've stopped blogging regularly, vacillating between stopping, like so many of those before me, and continuing. 

Guide to Paris, France

Wednesday, March 29, 2017 Paris, France


Eiffel Tower
Bonjour. 

I’m back. Well, sort of. In the time that I’ve been gone from blogging, so much has changed. We’ve elected a president who tests my ability to be scared/shocked/appalled with each passing day, I’ve discovered I’m really not with the times anymore (What is this millennial lingo? Stay woke? Fleek? Why am I referring to it as millennial lingo if I’m Gen Z? So many questions), and graduation is encroaching yet again somehow. I’ve also made my first trip to Europe and here’s my guide to Paris.

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