Between the Pages | February

The Circle by Dave Eggers

I love reading books before the movie adaption comes out. Yes, I’m often guilty of saying, “Well, the book was SO much better.” But to be real, I never expect a movie to include every detail of a novel. Sure, I wish that each Harry Potter movie was about 10 hours long with every line and every detail as J.K. Rowling originally wrote, but we all know that isn’t possible. Words haven’t the limitations the screen does; films are pieces of created magic while the power of words is a type of magic humans are born with. Films typically can’t compare to such power. Anyway, I digress. This month we are looking at The Circle written by Dave Eggers and soon to be released to theaters with the incredible Emma Watson, Karen Gillan, Tom Hanks and John Boyega. As a major Harry Potter, Doctor Who and Star Wars fan (wow, I just revealed how geeky I am), I’m excited already!

“You sit at a desk twelve hours a day and you have nothing to show for it except some numbers that won’t exist or be remembered in a week. You’re leaving no evidence you lived. There’s no proof.”

The book centers on Mae Holland (Emma Watson), a young women who finds herself working at the powerful and influential technology company called The Circle, thanks to her friend Annie (Karen Gillan). The Circle is more than a social media company; it’s a way of life. Employees can grocery shop, see a doctor, use the gym, sleep in a dorm and go to parties all without leaving the huge campus. The healthcare is some of the best in the world, and essentially every detail of an employee’s life is thought of and taken care of by the company. Mae begins at the bottom of the chain and slowly becomes noticed as she takes part in an experiment that pushes ethical boundaries.

“You know how you finish a bag of chips and you hate yourself? You know you’ve done nothing good for yourself. That’s the same feeling, and you know it is, after some digital binge. You feel wasted and hollow and diminished.”

Mae begins to realize success at The Circle is contingent upon her performance on social media. While the book doesn’t use our actual social media plateforms like Facebook and Instagram, it refers to The Circle Feed, smiles and zings (types of affirmation) and SeeChange (cameras positioned all over the globe that live stream). Mae buys more and more into the company values, while her relationship with her parents and ex-boyfriend begin to fade as they disagree with her new lifestyle choices.


Mae begins to embrace complete transparency by wearing a camera and live streaming her life almost 24-7. She finds herself going deeper into the depths of the company and begins to embrace the values that “SECRETS ARE LIES SHARING IS CARING PRIVACY IS THEFT.” The plot thickens as she meets the founders and the transparency experiment spirals into something she can’t control. For the sake of spoilers, we’ll leave the synopsis there, but you’re going to want to read the ending. Trust me.

“Most people would trade everything they know, everyone they know- they’d trade it all to know they’ve been seen, and acknowledged, that they might even be remembered. We all know the world is too big for us to be significant. So all we have is the hope of being seen, or heard, even for a moment.”

The book itself is an easy read, especially for millennials who are already so adept to social media jargon and this type of lifestyle. The book is a cross between modern fiction and a dystopian feel. If I could describe it, I would say The Circle is the bridge that you walk across from the modern world into the dystopian genre. You begin in the modern world and end in something strange.

It challenges the place of social networking in our lives and brings to light the power of knowledge. One of the arguments presented by one of the founders of the company, Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks), is that when people are monitored, they are much less likely to do the wrong thing. He believes that, “All that happens must be known” for the common good. The book battles within itself about ethics, morality, privacy and human rights, showing characters with diverse opinions and beliefs (much like the world we live in today).

Reading The Circle made me think about my life on social media and the importance of human morality in the 21st century. It caused me to think deeper about the ideals and cultures being created through social networking, both the good and bad. How often do we shape our lives around what looks best on our InstaStory? Go and pick up a copy of the book and decide for yourself what you think.

You can watch the film in theaters staring Emma Watson, Karen Gillan, Tom Hanks and John Boyega on April 28, 2017.

I’m a Foodie & I Know It

In Mandarin, “Lee” means “we came for the food.”

Okay, so it doesn’t really mean that. But in my childhood home, that was certainly a plausible translation. It has been ingrained in my DNA to have a genuine appreciation for all things home cooked, a large portion of second-helpings, and an openness for new food. From a very young age, I can remember my dad always saying, “try it at least once. If you don’t like it, then you don’t like it. But at least you were open enough to at least say you’ve tried it.” Thankfully, I had a very gracious palette and to this day, I like almost any food I try.

Yes, I’m a Foodie, I know it, and I love it.fullsizerender-4

Being a foodie means more than liking what your taste buds are savoring. It’s not just about the combination of the perfect ingredients or discovering the newest hipster restaurant in town. It’s not even about how many food pictures I can post on Insta or the corresponding likes. Unfortunately, it’s not even about how much food you can eat at a single sitting (because if it were a contest, I’d definitely win at that.)

Being a Foodie means connecting across the table and appreciating the culture behind the deliciousness. Food is simply a doorway into someone’s home. The appreciation and the connection are the true elements that constitute an authentic Foodie.
fullsizerender-2Recently, I had the opportunity to cook a traditional Chinese New Year meal (Gong hay fat choy!) for my friends here in Tulsa. Taylor (the other one), Allie (see pictured) and I prepped and cooked for the majority of an afternoon to present an authentic Chinese meal. I made sure to cover all the basics: fried rice, bok choy, steamed fish, roast pork, steamed dumplings, egg rolls—the whole 9 yards and then some. By the time we were ready to eat, I finally had a moment to stop and take it in. The kitchen aroma brought me back to an 8-year old Taylor in her grandmother’s kitchen—tears instantly welled in my eyes. I blinked them away before anyone could see such a vulnerable side of me, but it was then that I realized how strong of a connection I had with this food, Chinese culture, and my family. I often shy away from the fact that I am Asian American and stigmas that go along with being Chinese, but that night, I embraced the longevity of my culture in full force.

As 5 of my good friends and I sat down to partake in some authentic and delicious dishes, there was a peace that settled in the room. In such a turbulent time of racism and political conflicts, there was something beautiful about friends of all different races and diverse backgrounds sitting at a unified table and honoring a long-standing tradition in Chinese culture. Despite busy schedules and governmental issues of the week, we could laugh, reminisce, and bond over a well-prepared authentic home-cooked meal. fullsizerenderThe food may have brought a Mexican, Cuban, Puerto Rican, German, Irish, and an Asian together, but it was that connection that kept us sitting around that table with full bellies and genuine smiles long after the last crumb.
And that is the essence of sobremesa. It’s the time we spend laughing, digesting, enjoying, smiling, loving, appreciating, and simply being with each other over a meal. And it’s in those moments, I appreciate that I’m a foodie, and I love it.

Go eat something delicious this week.

~Tay Lee

“People who love to eat are the best kind of people.” – Julia Child



Between the Pages | January

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

If you’re anything like me, historical fiction isn’t something you probably read often. The name of the genre itself is a contradiction and can often seem dry, cliché or simply uninteresting. However, I’ve lately been discovering the power historical fiction holds and how it’s one of the best ways to gain knowledge and become emotionally connected to the past. I’ve been fascinated with World War II; the atrocities that took place, the horrors humanity is capable of and the utter devastation it left all less than a hundred years ago. Among the historical fiction pieces I’ve read concerning World War II, Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys stands above the rest.   

“War is catastrophe. It breaks families in irretrievable pieces. But those who are gone are not necessarily lost.”

Imagine East Prussia at the end of World War II in 1945 in the dead of winter. The Nazi Reich is crumbling, the Soviets are begin to advance, and hundreds of thousands are fleeing for their lives. The story is told through four independent voices that become woven together as their lives intersect and history unfolds. Joana is a young Lithuanian nurse who meets a sweet and pregnant Polish girl named Emilia and a Prussian called Florian who’s on the run with a secret. All three encounter Alfred, a proud and zealous Nazi solider, as they board a ship trying to escape the Soviets. The story is wrought with danger, horrors and hunger, yet exudes poetry, love and hope as well. The climax comes as readers witness the attack and sinking of Wilhelm Gustloff in the Baltic Sea, the single most disastrous shipwreck in history. Over 9,000 perished on January 30, 1945 when Soviet submarines brought down the German ship holding thousands of refugees, half of them children. Little is known about the sinking and even less is remembered by history. Salt to the Sea pays homage to those who perished in the freezing waters in their quest for freedom.

“I wept because I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet.”

Sepetys is an author that draws you in on the first page. Her writing style is poetic and peppered with flairs of imaginary that takes the unimaginable scenes of war and paints them before your eyes. You can almost feel the crunch of the snow beneath your shoes, taste the potatoes and smell the strong sent of the Baltic. Her characters are strong and distinct, and the short chapters are told in a first-person perspective, rotating between the four characters, so readers are involved in both the thought-process and outward actions of each character. It creates a very intimate atmosphere between the reader and the book. The story itself is very gripping and emotional, as each of the characters have different worldviews and thoughts that culminate together to create a book that’s difficult to put down.      

“What had human beings become? Did war make us evil or just activate an evil already lurking within us?”

Something I continually grapple with is the question of, “How can human beings treat each other like this? What lie is believed in someone’s soul that says its right to behave this way towards anyone – whether animal, man or child?” While the goal of the book certainly isn’t aimed at answering this question, Sepetys brings hope as her characters show kindness, demonstrate loyalty and sacrifice and fall in love, even in the midst of suffering. We know that evil exists in man, this is easily seen on every news channel and in every history book, yet there is courage and goodness also. And that is a very encouraging thought.   

“Just when you think this war has taken everything you loved, you meet someone and realize that somehow you still have more to give.”

I highly recommend Salt to the Sea. It gave me both historical knowledge and emotional awareness about the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff while being gripped by the story itself. I finished the book with a sense of loss for all those who had died, as well a hope for the future, that we would not be so foolish to make the same mistakes as our forefathers if we truly choose to love.

Portable Magic

Do you ever wish you could climb outside of your own skin and into the world of a book?

I admit freely it’s a frequent desire of mine and one that has only grown with age instead of diminished. I was the little girl who used to read under the bed with a flashlight so my parents wouldn’t catch me up late and the one who did the reading challenge every summer at the library. And my appetite for reading has only grown. I go to the library about three times a week, I have a reading list on my phone I’m constantly working on, and it’s my cardinal rule to never travel without packing at least two books. There are stories I habitually read at certain times of the year, and there are characters I know so well that I would call them friends. One of my favorite quotes is by author Cassandra Clare: 


As Stephen King says, books are portable magic, and I have always been enchanted by the power of words and the art of story. To use my imagination to do wondrous and impossible things is one of the most beautiful gifts the Lord has given. And I believe that stories are only as true as you allow them to be. To choose to be impacted by a story, or a paragraph or a character, is a personal decision. There are books that have deeply affected me and shaped my worldview. To me, words and ideas are two of the most powerful things in the world. For those who would say they don’t “enjoy reading,” I would dare to venture that you haven’t allowed stories to come alive. If you keep a book or a character at a distance and never embrace the adventure or only cling to reason, you’re not going to enjoy what you’re reading. It’s a deep desire of mine that I would be able to write something that would have soul and life and mean something. Someday I’ll see if I have it in me.

For now, my New Year’s Commitment (not resolution because to me a commitment involves discipline and dedication – something I’m much more likely to keep than a wishy-washy resolution) is to read 250 books this year. This is partly because I have so many books I want to check off my list that I need a solid goal to reach for. The other part is because I want to grow my personal philosophy, intellect and theology. Reading is one of the best, and most enjoyable ways, I know how to do this. 

Every month, I’ll post about a new book that I’ve read. It might be a classic work or modern fiction or a historical account; I’ll try to keep it interesting! I’d love to hear what you’ve been reading too and how it’s impacted your thinking.

Here’s to 2017, new books, big cups of coffee and pretending to be Hermione Granger. 
Always, Allie