Archive for the ‘Setting: Japan’ Category

7. “Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void,” Mary Roach

December 24, 2010 1 comment

Mary Roach looks at the history of the US (and Russia’s) space program to feel out the feasibility of a future peopled mission to Mars.

This is the sort of thing Mary Roach does well: exhaustive Googling paired with access to important people and a willingness to ask questions that embarrass both of them. Poop factoids abound and it is a fun and quick read.

Note to self: Read Mike Mullane’s biography. Apparently he is one of the astronauts most willing to make a good poop joke.

Page count: 321
Page total: 1,865

5. “Covering,” Kenji Yoshino

December 4, 2010 Leave a comment

I would think, I wish I were dead. I did not think of it as a suicidal thought. My poet’s parsing mind read the first “I” and the second “I” as different “I”s. The first “I” was the whole watching the self, while the second “I”– the one I wanted to kill– was the gay “I” nested inside it. It was less a suicidal impulse than a homicidal one. (8)

While I tried to speak calmly, Bill has since told me I failed. He said I reminded him of the dinner parties he was attending in those days. At the mainly straight parties, his age peers would jabber on about their children. At the gay dinners, they’d jabber on about their coming out. This made him think coming out is the closest many gay men will come to giving birth. The act of giving birth to oneself is miraculous and terrifying, but unlikely to be calm. (13-14)

It is worth quoting Yoshino’s definitions of a few terms at length.

My struggle to arrive at a gay identity occurred in three phases, which I could also trace in the lives of gay peers. In the first phase, I sought to become straight. When I went to the chapel at Oxford, I prayed not to be what I was. I will call this desire for conversion. In the second phase, I accepted my homosexuality, but concealed it from others. By the time I talked to Bill about his class, I was no longer trying to convert. I was, however, trying to hide my identity from my classmates. I will call this desire for passing. Finally, long after I had generally come out of the closet, I still muted my orientation by not writing on gay topics or engaging in public displays of affection. This was not the same as passing, because my colleges knew I was gay. Yet I did not know a word for this attempt to tone down my known gayness.
Then I found my word, in sociologist Erving Goffman’s book Stigma. Published in 1963, the book describes how various groups– including the disabled, the elderly, and the obese– manage their “spoiled” identities. After discussing passing, Goffman observes that “persons who are ready to admit the possession of a stigma… may nonetheless make a great effort to keep the stigma from looming large.” His calls this behavior “covering.” Goffman distinguishes passing from covering by noting that passing pertains to the visibility of a particular trait, while covering pertains to its obtrusiveness. He relates how Franklin Roosevelt always stationed himself behind a table before his advisers came in for a meeting. Roosevelt was not passing, since everyone knew he used a wheelchair. He was covering, downplaying his disability so people would focus on his more conventionally presidential qualities.” (17-18)

I could keep going and quote the entire book, but that should be enough to make you want to give Yoshino a high five. Not only is he immensely readable (which I am coming to feel more and more is something embodied theory must be), but his application of covering is very timely. This book is theory told through memoir and is poetic and incisive.

Page count: 203
Page total: 1,544

64. “The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food,” Jennifer 8 Lee

October 2, 2009 1 comment

I liked this book. Like most “a cultural history of [a noun]” books, it would have benefited from a good editor, but it’s no worse than most of these book, and much better than some.

I learned a number of things that it never occurred to me to wonder about. Among them:
-Those white cartons Chinese food comes in (in the US) are a purely American invention. They aren’t even in Canada. Some places import them in response to strong customer demand for those white things on “Seinfeld.”
-In the US, Chinese food restraunts out number McDonald’s 2:1
-In 2005, 110 people hit five out of six Powerball numbers one night– 104 of them played numbers from a fortune cookie.
-The PF of PF Chang’s is Paul Fleming, who also had a hand in creating Outback Steakhouse (18)
-In 1994, Philip Carlo served sixty days in Rikers for assaulting a Chinese food delivery man for leaving menus in Carlo’s building (33)
-“‘People consider it ethnic [food] when it’s new to them and they don’t understand’.” (19)
-Between 1850-1910 Taishan, China had 14 floods, 7 typhoons, 4 earthquakes, 2 droughts, 4 epidemics, 5 famines, and a 12-year ethnic war. Before the 1950s, 80% of all Chinese immigrants came from this region in the Guangdong province. (51)
-In a 1865 trial of a white race rioter, his white lawyer argued that Chinese people were inferior saying: “why, sir, these Chinamen live on rice, and, sir, and they eat it with sticks” (54)
-Chinese immigrants were referred to as “Celestials” by European-Americans who had never seen Asians before. (51)
-In the 1870s, (what is now) Idaho was one-third Chinese. (55)
-Fortune cookies are Japanese, but it was US Chinese restaurants that made them the cultural symbol they are
-The largest fortune cooking company in the US, and therefore the world, picks their lucky numbers by hand, out of a jar. When word leaked out that they were thinking about switching to computer-generated numbers, they received a number of letters including one about the small human connection that this offers that might have made me tear up a little on the train. (Judging by this blog, I spend a lot of time manfully blinking back tears on the train.)

Page count: 291
Page total: 24,830