#BookedByB: Asian Wealth Porn, ISIS, British Snobs & Other Matters.
Sometimes I read to escape the world around me, and sometimes I read to learn about it. From Asian wealth porn to ISIS, the subject matters of the books I’ve added to my shelf so far this year reflect this constant sway. Here are a few:
1. In The Skin of a Jihadist—Anna Erelle
On Facebook, Mélodie, a 20-year-old French convert to Islam, meets Bilel, a high-ranking militant for the Islamic State in Syria. Within days, Bilel proposes to Mélodie and urges her to come to Syria. This already makes for an interesting and terrifying plot. What’s even more interesting and terrifying: Mélodie is actually Anna Erelle, a Paris-based journalist researching a story on ISIS. Erelle soon discovers that Bilel is actually Abu Bilel al-Firanzi—the right hand man of Abou Bakr al-Baghadi, the self-proclaimed caliph of ISIS. Oh, did I mention this is all a true story?
While In The Skin of a Jihadist could have benefited from a stronger editorial hand (there are narrative gaps, analytical holes and writing flaws), it was an engaging and quick read that had me on the edge of my seat from start to finish. The author took great risks to write this book and I hope she stays safe (Anna Erelle is a pseudonym and she is currently on the run). I also hope this book will serve as an eye-opener to young women who are susceptible to extremist groups.
Read This If: You want to learn about the factors that motivate young women to join extremist causes.
2. Crazy Rich Asians—Kevin Kwan
Kevin Kwan’s debut novel begins in a posh London hotel in 1986, where shabby-looking members of an elite Chinese family are being denied a suite by a snobbish hotel manager. Within minutes, they pull some strings and buy the place. This, my friends, is how we get introduced to the world of Crazy Rich Asians. Theirs is a world where real estate is acquired like groceries, condos are built with sky garages, climate controlled rooms are filled with monogrammed Hermès bags and private jets contain koi ponds. It’s a world that almost seems too far-fetched to be true, except the author actually based this story on his experiences growing up in Singapore. The central plot of Kwan’s novel is pretty cliché: boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love, girl has no idea that boy is wealthy, family is less than pleased with girl’s lack of pedigree, drama ensues. This is not a book you read for literary merit; it’s a book you read for two reasons, and two reasons alone: 1) The Escapism, and 2) The Wealth Porn. Crazy Rich Asians and its sequel, China Rich Girlfriend, are by far the most pleasurable books I’ve read this year. The third and final installment to the Crazy Rich trilogy is expected to be released next summer. I. Can. Not. Wait.
Read This If: You need a dose of escapism.
3. Out of Sorts—Sarah Bessey
If you’ve read my theology blogs, you probably know I’m a fan of Sarah Bessey and her book, Jesus Feminist. In her new book, Bessey shares some of the core issues she’s had to wrestle with and sort through in her Christian walk, such as: How can the God of the Old Testament be reconciled with the God of the New Testament? Why do some prayers go unanswered? How does one disagree with, yet remain within, a Church community? Etcetera, etcetera. The overarching theme of Out of Sorts is that faith is a lifelong journey and is constantly evolving. Is Bessey too evolved? One Amazon critic called her work "post-Christian." I'll let you be the judge of that. In the end though, Bessey reminds readers that God isn’t threatened by our questions, anger, grief or perplexed wanderings.
Read This If: You have questions about God, Christianity or faith in general.
4. Until We Are Free—Shirin Ebadi
Dr. Shirin Ebadi is the first Muslim woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Prior to winning the prize, Ebadi was one of Iran’s first female judges and served as the first female chief magistrate of one of the country’s highest courts. When the 1979 Islamic Revolution stripped her of her judgeship, Ebadi returned to private practice, using her expertise in Sharia and civil law to defend women, children and prominent prisoners of conscience. Until We Are Free chronicles the attacks and threats Ebadi and her family faced after she won the Nobel Prize in 2003, until she was forced to live in exile. Personally, it was very insightful—and at times unsettling—to read about the sacrifices Ebadi made. Ebadi is a skilled writer, and Until We Are Free eloquently explores the personal and the political spaces of her life.
Read This If: You are passionate about human rights and political activism.
5. Snobs—Julian Fellowes
I recently blogged about my obsession with Downton Abbey—a British-American period drama series created by Julian Fellowes. Well, while experiencing DAWS (Downton Abbey Withdrawal Syndrome), I bought Fellowes’ first novel, Snobs. The novel follows Edith Lavery, a middle-class social climber, who marries the heir to the Marquess of Uckfield. Here’s what I’ll say about Snobs—actually, I’ll just insert what the NY Times said about it instead: “to be snobby for a fleeting moment, it’s a good book but not a great one.” Rumor has it Snobs is being turned into a television series. Hopefully, the series, unlike the book, will leave little to be desired.
Read This If: You need a mindless read.
Your turn: What have you been reading lately?