Boxers & Saints by Gene Luen Yang

unnamedGene Luen Yang is probably my favorite graphic novelist. I’m not sure anyone else even comes close. I read American Born Chinese last year and fell in deep, deep love. Recently, he released his follow-up, a companion novel set called Boxers & Saints. I bought the box set for myself for Christmas and read them in one sitting.

Yang’s two book collection tells the story of the Boxer Rebellion in China during the late 19th Century through the characters of Little Bao (Boxers) and Four-Girl (Saints). Little Bao fights on the side of the Chinese rebels while Four-Girl grows up and converts to Christianity, fighting on the side of the foreigners. Their stories interweave to create a surprisingly complete and complex look at this particularly volatile time in Chinese history.

LOVED IT. I didn’t think it could live up to American Born Chinese, but it did – in spades. I seriously think this one beat the pants off of ABC. So, so good. I don’t even have words. Words are failing me. Yang’s ability to break my heart and make me laugh simultaneously is unparalleled in any recent book I’ve read.

Beyond Yang’s amazing storytelling, Boxers & Saints are both beautifully illustrated and colored. The palette is gorgeous and muted – changing over time with the stories. The hues of these two books really reminded me of the coloration in the movie Her that was just released and which I also loved. There are panels in both books that I could stare at happily for hours. Panels I love to print out and put on my wall to look at every day. And that’s what a good graphic novel should do. Its words and its pictures should be able to evoke a strong emotional response. Kudos, Mr. Yang.

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I beseech you to go and pick these two gems up immediately. Go ahead and grab Yang’s entire backlist while you’re at it. You won’t be sorry.

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Southern Anecdotes III: The Food!!

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Let’s talk Southern cuisine. It’s really all about the food, right? When you think of Southern American down home cooking, what comes to mind? Grits, cornbread, collard greens, fried okra, and sweet tea are a few that immediately jump out. Fried chicken, butter beans, and banana pudding as well.

Growing up, my mom cooked nearly every meal I ate. We didn’t eat out much and when we did it wasn’t anything remotely fancy. I didn’t realize how much I loved my mom’s cooking until I moved away from home and tried to find a decent Southern substitute. But even now with all the glorious restaurants in Atlanta, nothing comes close to the comfort of my mom’s food. I know the biggest ingredient is probably nostalgia which can never be replicated.

Growing up, my favorite meal was cubed steak smothered in milk gravy, mashed potatoes, and butter beans. My dad used to tell me I’d turn into a butter bean one of these days. Instead of birthday cake, I requested this meal. Whenever I would go home during college, my mom always made sure to make this for me. I’m salivating just thinking about it. I’ve tried on several occasions to replicate the recipe, but my milk gravy never comes out properly. SADFACE.

I remember a trip I went on in high school where we had this huge convention with other kids from all 50 states. The Southern states always spent half the time convincing everyone else that grits grew on trees. And most of them believed us. Oh goodness, now I want some grits – with lots of melted cheese. YUM.

Of course, I don’t like all Southern food. For every black-eyed pea or boiled peanut I’ve inhaled, there’s also a ton of fried okra and sweet tea I’ve left unattended. I just can’t get behind either one. When I was little, greens of any sort weren’t my jam, but now I can’t get enough.

There are so many Southern food variations as well. Food in Louisiana, for instance, is so amazing and so different from the food I grew up with. My last time in New Orleans I had the best gator meatballs and gumbo I’ve ever had the pleasure to consume. I grew up near the coast so seafood was always available. And I’ve eaten my fair share of freshly caught fish – saltwater and freshwater varieties. My brother cooks a mean pork rib and biscuits from scratch. I could now fall down the BBQ rabbit hole, but I’ll spare you.

As far as odd food goes, Southerns like to eat many parts of many animals. One of my favorite snacks growing up was chicken gizzards. My Big Mama (that’s what I called my dad’s mother) used to soak them in this brine and then cook them up. She’d give me a dixie cup full every time I went to her house (which was mostly every day) and I’d gobble those things down like nobody’s business. I have yet to find restaurant gizzards that come close.

What are your favorite regional food memories?

Rec Thursday: Movies

This Thursday I’m recommending some recent movies I’ve watched since the beginning of the year. There have only been three so I’m just going to slap all of them down here. I enjoyed each for different reasons and think that others will appreciate them as well!!

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The Heat – I know, I know. You’ve all seen this before. But I’m just now getting around to it so oh well. Sandra Bullock is my girl from the way back. Throughout the nineties, she was my favorite actress, hands down. Comedy is my least favorite film genre so I’m picky. Loved seeing a buddy cop movie that stars two women!

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Drinking Buddies – I recommend this one with hesitation. People HATE the ending. But it was so realistic. Olivia Wilde and Anna Kendrick played very well here as ordinary girls dating ordinary boys. Neither was overly made up or felt like glamorous movie stars. A great look at what dating after college can be like, and Jake Johnson is a sweetheart. Plus, the actors improvised their dialogue!!

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Her – Go see this now, oh my goodness. If only for the beautiful color palette, cinematography, and music. The story is sweet, haunting, and I felt the writing down to my bones. I’ve literally said some of the lines in this movie out loud in my own real everyday life. But Spike Jonze still left me with so much to ponder and yearn for. Joaquin Phoenix is brilliant. Amy Adams, despite having a small role, was utter perfection. I saw a lot of myself in her character. If Drinking Buddies was a look at adult dating, then Her is a lovely and brutal discussion of marriage/love in the 21st Century. Watching Her felt like reading a T.S. Eliot poem.

Have you seen any good films lately?

? Tuesday: Favorite Anthem

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When I drive around in my car with the windows rolled down I love to belt a great song at the top of my lungs. I call songs perfect for this anthems. We all have them. Perhaps you sing yours in the shower or while you dance around when you’re home alone on Friday nights. Whatever the situation, I want to know what your song is. Or songs. As many as you’d like to list.

Currently, my go-to jam is ‘Classy Girls’ by The Lumineers. I sometimes listen to that thing on repeat 10+ times. And actually, their whole album is good for this – ‘Dead Sea’, ‘Ho Hey’, and ‘Stubborn Love’ are also favorites. The Lumineers is a departure from my normal power girl anthems by Lady Gaga or Kelly Clarkson.

Freud’s Mistress by Karen Mack and Jennifer Kaufman

16158597A few months ago, I entered the Litwits in TLC Book Tour’s monthly book club giveaway contest and we won 10 free copies of Freud’s Mistress! The ladies and I were so excited. Winning stuff always makes you feel like a winner, ya know? What I didn’t expect was how many members would join us in our reading despite not having received a free copy!! On Sunday, we finally met to discuss what we thought of this historical fiction story – the first historical fiction novel for me in quite some time.

Freud’s Mistress is a novel co-authored by Karen Mack and Jennifer Kaufman chronicling the supposed affair between Sigmund Freud and Minna Bernays – sister to his wife, Martha Bernays Freud. The story follows Minna’s life at the close of the 19th Century as she approached the spinster age of 30 without having married, instead choosing to offer herself as a ladies maid to well-to-do women or darling Aunt and caregiver to her many nephews and nieces. Along with the juiciness of the affair, the reader also receives a first hand glance into Freud’s mind as he discusses his research and developing psychological theories with Minna.

Overall, the ladies of my book club were ‘meh’ on Freud’s Mistress. Most everyone finished the book and noted how easy it was to keep the pages turning, but we weren’t left satisfied. We hoped for a different ending for Minna – something away from Freud and her sister. Minna could have been this amazing woman, but ultimately, couldn’t escape her ideal of Freud or the restrictions placed on women by the time period. I think we’d all hoped the book would have something greater to say than that Minna had had an affair with a creepy douchebag. But it didn’t.

Some ladies really enjoyed Mack and Kaufman’s sense of place. The setting in Austria and Germany during the turn of the century was well done. These authors can definitely write a beautiful passage and their ideas flowed seamlessly together – I never felt like I was reading two competing voices. The Litwits were disappointed at the lack of plotting and weird pacing. The middle dragged. Once the affair had begun, it felt like the story had nowhere to go.

Under scrutiny, Freud’s Mistress might not hold up all that well, but if you just want a good, gossipy novel about Minna Bernays and Sigmund Freud – this is your book, for sure! You could probably read this one in a day or two, and I think most historical fiction readers can find something to enjoy within its pages. Plus, our group found plenty to talk about and discuss so this could be an excellent book club read if you’re looking for one!

Southern Anecdotes Part II!

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Another fond and interesting memory I have of growing up in a Southern dialect is the time my mother came home from work outraged that she was expected to teach her kindergartners that the word ‘dog’ rhymes with ‘log’. Where I come from, dog is pronounced ‘dawg’. Any other way is absolutely blasphemous and ridiculously upsetting. She had a hard time reconciling herself to teaching the children something that would ultimately get them made fun of and ridiculed, despite the fact that technically dog does rhyme with log. (#southernproblems – are we hashtagging in blog posts yet?)

Recently, Jimmy has started complaining about a particular Southern phrase that really irks him. Down here, many of us will say the following: “I’m fixin’ to!”. We say fixin’ in place of about. So we’re always fixin’ to do this and fixin’ to do that. And yes, we know that fixing means something entirely different, but we don’t care. Adapt or get left behind, Mr. Hubs.

When I used to frequent Panama City Beach, Florida (Redneck Riviera!) during spring break back in high school, there were always a ton of kids from the Midwest vacationing there as well. My friends and I once stumbled across a group of college boys from Wisconsin who literally spent thirty minutes giving us phrases to say in ‘our language’ as they called it. Their favorite, hands down, was ‘Oh my god’. To this day, I still don’t get it.

At the end of college, I made a concerted effort to change the way I said certain words. I wanted to sound not less Southern but just more correct. These words included: water, catch, and on. I drop far fewer ‘g’s off the ends of words. And I’ll even admit that my ‘dog’ sounds a lot more like ‘log’ than it used to. Unless, of course, I’m shouting ‘Go Dawgs!’ which will NEVER CHANGE.

Now I want to hear all of your funny, quirky accent stories – no matter your accent! Any words you’ve tried to correct in your daily speech? Any words you refuse to correct? What are the most common phrases specific to your area? I love hearing about dialects and nuances of speech so do tell!!

Rec Thursday: The Neighbourhood

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In my goals for 2014, I set out a resolution to spend more time with my jams. I’ve never been a huge poetry reader unless it’s the kind that goes with music. And then I love it. I’m not sure why musical lyrics work so much better for me than static poetry. Perhaps it’s hearing the emotion in the singer’s voice.

My tastes are really all over the place, but I feel most at home in the alternative rock genre. As I’ve grown older I’ve added more of a folksy vibe to my playlist and a ton of singer-songwriters. Cleverly done pop music tends to cheer me up the most, and I adore a good sing-along anthem. I thought I’d give y’all a little recommendation to get this Thursday started and get my 2014 off in the right direction.

There were many amazing albums released in 2013, but my absolute favorite was The Neighbourhood’s I Love You. Don’t let the sweet title fool you, however! I Love You is a hypnotic rock album with snarly guitars. But even with all the noise, Jesse Rutherford’s soothing voice can easily lull the listener to sleep. Add in a booming bass line and hip-hop drum beat and you’ve got a genius combination. Just take a listen to the album’s biggest hit (made it all the way to number one on Billboard’s top 100 alternative), Sweater Weather. I’ve included the official music video and a live, acoustic performance below:

Lyrically, The Neighbourhood often writes about what any young twenty-somethings living in California would – being young, growing up, falling in love, and the struggles those things can bring. Their songs often leave me feeling nostalgic for a time gone by.

She planned ahead for a year, he said, “Let’s play it by ear.”
She didn’t want him to run, he didn’t want her to fear
Nobody said it’d be easy, they knew it was rough
But, tough luck

I fell in love today,
There aren’t any words that you can say
That could ever get my mind to change
She’s enough for me, she’s in love with me

You’re a doll, you are flawless
But I just can’t wait for love to destroy us
I just can’t wait for love
The only flaw – you are flawless
But I just can’t wait for love to destroy us
I just can’t wait for love

So, she put his heart in a bag, he wouldn’t ask for it back
He didn’t want her to cry, she didn’t want to be sad
She said, “You better not leave me.”
This shit’ll be fucked for days and weeks and months, but…

Add it all up, I can find it
The problem with love is I’m blinded by
It rattles my lungs, but my mind is
Tangled between your little flaws
Your flaws, your flaws, your flaws

Wait for love, I won’t wait for love
Wait for love, I won’t wait for love
Wait for love

My twenty-year-old self would have been in love with these boys. Ten years later, I still might be! You might have noticed from the two videos I posted, but aesthetically the group has made the decision to film everything in black and white. I honestly don’t think I’ve seen a single image or video of them in color. This choice helps give the group a sense of age, maturity, and an old Hollywood glam vibe that’s pretty rad.

The Neighbourhood isn’t a band for everyone, I know this. And their lyrics are steeped in expletives which doesn’t bother me, but might others. However, it’s one of the sexiest albums I’ve heard in a long while and I can’t stop listening. I literally just push play and listen to the whole thing on repeat while I read or blog. Then I plug it into my car stereo in the morning and sing along at the top of my lungs. What else could anyone really ask for from their music?