Summer Reading – The Joy Luck Club

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

I have a funny story about attempting to readThe Joy Luck Club. I first read an excerpt from it in one of my writing classes when we were either talking about memoir or tone or something like that. I read about Waverly Jong, protege chess player and I was fascinated.

I determined I would read the whole thing as soon as the opportunity arose. Now, I’m sort of a lazy library user. I do everything online: I request whichever books I want, they send the books to the library of my choosing, and when I arrive they are all on one shelf with my name on a sticker on the binding. It’s wonderful. So I went on to Hillsborough County’s Public Library online and requested The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan or at least what I thought was TJLC with an academic forward by Harold Bloom. What I got was a collection of essays about TJLC and writing about being the children of immigrants. I was frustrated. And at that point the list of books I wanted to read had grown exponentially larger and I briefly contemplated just dropping it off the list. I’d seen about 10 minutes of the movie and thought that might be enough. But my conscience wouldn’t let it go… or some perverse need to finish arbitrary goals I set for myself just wouldn’t give up. Anyway, I reserved it again online and got the correct book the second time around. It joined the stack of books that travelled to the beach and I started it the Monday night at the beach.

The funny thing about reading while on my family vacation wasI felt everyone was super conscious of what I was reading. I only finished three books while I was there because I was still trying to make a dent in Anna Karenina. Nevertheless, Jeffrey teased me for waiting so long to read TJLC. I looked at the publication date and told him I was two years old when it came out so I’m surprised it took me this long, too.

I’m glad that I did give it the time, though. Every girl’s relationship with her mother is immensly complex. It was interesting to see this complexity played out between women who did not speak language the same way and who held different societal and cultural values. These complexities are true in non-immigrant families (that whole “generation gap” thing) but are sometimes more difficult to recognize. A lot of the time it’s written as the younger generation’s impatience with the older and the older generation’s dismissal of the younger. (Why can’t we all just get along?)

So four fairly modern women and three mothers tell the stories of their lives either growing up in China or in America. I found the mother’s stories a bit more fascinating because to me the daughters mostly seemed whiney to me. I love the idea that parents have stories they don’t share with their children that if they did would create all kinds of common ground. I think it’s tricky for parents and children to realize that they can have common ground with their adult children. And for the children who attempt to claim adulthood at 18 it can be difficult for us to know when we’re really ready for it.

I love reading about family relationships and how they change over the years. So this was a fascinating book to me. Especially the traditional Chinese elements that were involved in the story. All in all I enjoyed it and if you’re looking for something a little heavier than your regular summer fluff this one’s great. It’s also a great book for discussion since most copies include a book club section in the back and there is the movie.



Uncle Oscar used to call me Henry. This confused me because I’m a girl. And I wasn’t very good at sarcasm until I was much older.

This was back in the days that I used to try to wander around in the woods like an “Indian” without making a sound and looking forward to when I would finally be able to drive the three-wheeler. I was young and fascinated (and a little terrified) by the woods behind my grandparents house. We had a little garden and grew carrots and my little sister ate them right out of the ground.

So, I was Henry. An awkward little girl that would imagine the woods as a magical playground made just for her, who loved playing outside, and thought swinging was the closest you could get to flying.

Henry… When I was sixteen my parents bought a car from some of our friends. My first car. He was a 1987 325is BMW. Made the same year as me… heh. Our friend bought it brand new in 1987 and owned it all the way up until we became the new owners. He asked that whatever we did with him that I keep his name the same: Heinrich. I was new to the idea of naming things, but I agreed and called him Henry for short.

So we were the Henrys. And we had some adventures. And I think about all these memories… these people I’ve been and could be… names I’ve had and will have. And this is what keeps me grounded.