Writing less to say more

51lvoalt-2l-_sx323_bo1204203200_A few months ago, I moved into my first home! It’s a 600 square-feet condo, which isn’t considered small for Toronto these days, but certainly, it cannot be called big. So I whittled down my book collection and swore that I’d only buy ebooks going forward.

Those who read Marie Kondo’s The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up will recall that she says you should buy books and read them immediately. She tells her readers to throw out books they never got around to reading because they will likely never read them.

But that has been the case for me. In my cleaning, I found a copy of Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast. And I thought I’d hang onto it because he’s supposed to be a classic and I so rarely read classics.

But I regret not reading Hemingway sooner because his writing confirmed for me, that the best writing is simple. You don’t have spell things out with big words, fancy jargon and flowery descriptions. And when you’re as good a writer as Hemingway, you don’t need any of those things to convey exactly what you want the reader to feel.

fbf7be6f9c3dabeafe5bd13af1023e70I had always heard that Hemingway had a way of writing simple prose. He’s often said to have written the six-word story: “For sale, baby shoes, never worn.” As I learned from reading The Moveable Feast, six words from Hemingway can hit you like a bag of bricks. And in today’s 140-character world, brevity is important.

But enough crushing and gushing over Hemingway’s word count — The Moveable Feast is just a great read. I don’t love Paris but I love his Paris. Can there be a theme park where you get to play a broke writer who drinks with other tortured writers of the time?


There’s a story behind all that sweet & sour sauce

(Francine Orr/ Los Angeles Times)

Kenny Ng of Paul’s Cafe in LA’s Chinatown (Francine Orr/ Los Angeles Times)

LIVES_ofthefamilyOne of my favourite things about Denise Chong’s writing is her ability to slowly and steadily roll out a great story. She’s no amateur in the sport of writing and it continues to show in The Lives of the Family.

This is a non-fictional account of the lives of Chinese immigrants who settled in small town Canada during the early 1900’s. Most of these immigrants opened up restaurants and cleaners to make a living.

The Lives of the Family is also a tear-jerker as families are ripped apart again, again thanks to immigration, war and revolution. Once in Canada, the families face personal losses, financial burdens and of course, discrimination.

I was really impressed by how many stories Denise was able to squeeze into this relatively short book (222 pages!). And yet, I wasn’t left wanting more — she covers just enough details to leave you feeling like you personally know the families.

Sometimes non-fiction likes to skimp on details to make it easy digestible for all readers — but what I love about Denise’s writing is that she always does the people in her stories justice. She gives them the respect and attention they deserve and as readers, we understand their perspective so much more.

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I had no idea these boxes opened into plates!

I had no idea these boxes opened into plates!


Photo credit: latimes.tumblr.com &marionhousebook.com.

See also: Writing Advise from Chinese Canadian Authors & The melting pot experience and White Teeth.

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Kinglets & Queenlets: Young Royalty


Anyone else watching CW’s Reign? The show is about the young Mary Queen of Scots but don’t watch it for its historical accuracy. I’d like to describe it as The Tudors meets Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants — and a little Gossip Girl thrown in.

But I love, love this trend of young royal watching. Perhaps inspired by the new cool British Royals, Will & Kate, we seem awfully eager to watch young royals in history too.

Just like how shocked I was to discover that Romeo & Juliet were only 13 years old when they declared their love and drank the Kool-aid, I’m always surprised to learn that historically, most royals accomplished their most significant feats at an early age. By that, I mean they got hitched thereby sealing alliances.

Here’s my list of young royal reading:

1) The Royal Physician’s Visit (Per Olov Enquist): The Danish Queen Caroline Mathilde falls for her husband’s German doctor. This one inspired a gorgeous movie called The Royal Affair.

2) Marie Antoinette: The Journey (Antonia Fraser): Who doesn’t love to hear about the extravagant Queen of France and all those crazy wigs.

3) Wait for Me! (Deborah Mitford, Duchess of Devonshire): I have to admit that this one’s been sitting on my shelf for a while. Wait For Me is an autobiography by the youngest of the Mitford sisters and came highly recommended.

4) Driving the Saudis: A Chaffeur’s Tale of the World’s Richest Princesses (Jayne Amelia Larson): This one’s been on my list forever. While there’s been plenty of European royal drama, the Middle East’s aristocracy remains a mystery.

5) Royal Bodies (Hilary Mantel): A scathingly critical essay (and talk) from Hilary Mantel about Kate Middleton, royalty and what little substance there is behind the glamour. “Royal persons are both gods and beasts.”



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Why Champagne Is So Expensive (but Worth It)

WIDOW_cliquotHave you ever looked in the Champagne section at the liqueur store (affectionately known as the LCBO in Ontario, colloquially pronounced lick-boe) and wondered why they cost so much more than sparkling wine?

And for those of us who have Champagne taste and sparkling wine budget, we know it’s basically the same thing but with one discerning difference. Champagne hails from the town of Champagne, France while sparkling wine can come from anywhere. Oh and of course, the price tag.

Tilar J. Mazzeo’s The Widow Clicquot chronicles the life of Barbe-Nicole Clicquot Ponsardin, the widow behind the legendary orange-label Champagne brand known as Veuve Clicquot. While it is unclear what is fact and what is assumed (there was very little actually written about the post-French Revolution business woman), The Widow Clicquot makes for a luxurious read.

The language is warm, rich and sumptuous — all the qualities you’d want from a book about something as superfluous and luxurious as Champagne. And for you connoisseurs, there are plenty of historic facts about how the bubbly has been made throughout history. There’s a reason why Champagne is so darn expensive and a lot of it has to do with its fickly nature in transportation.

What’s most remarkable is that Mazzeo tells the story of how women — specifically widows — once ruled the Champagne empire. I highly recommend for anyone who loves food and drink.




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