I went to Wendy Nelson Tokunaga’s book reading tonight at Kepler’s Bookstore in Menlo Park. Her second novel, Love in Translation, is about an American woman who travels to Japan and falls in love. Not sure why I was drawn to this reading at first. I saw her announcement on the She Writes site. The reading was structured as two brief excerpts – read quite theatrically by the author – followed by her singing a Japanese song from the book, music arranged and performed by her husband.

When she picked up the microphone and started singing, I knew why I had been called to attend that reading. With her surfer-dude Japanese ex-pat husband manning the sake and rice cracker snack table, his music playing on a portable boom box, and the author – a middle-aged white woman wearing a slightly funky black blazer, colorful glass jeweled multi-strand necklace, and wild greyish blond hair – crooning Japanese lyrics into a microphone, I realized I was seeing someone who had become comfortable in her own skin. She was calm, unself-conscious, and very matter-of-fact in her presence. Her singing was filled with the joyful tongue-in-cheek quality of Asian karaoke love songs. Corny by design yet also filled with hope for true romantic, star-crossed love, these songs (which I love to sing in Chinese) allow us to express our childlike yearnings in an adult format.

There were just a handful of us in the audience for the reading – the subject matter of Love in Translation was probably too fun and frivolous for the serious, ambitious, upwardly mobile Atherton crowds who normally flood Kepler’s. Hint: the #1 bestseller in the store this week is Daniel Pink’s book Drive, on the psychology of motivation. Wendy’s reading was honest, straightforward, fun, and from the heart. Her singing was just as unabashedly from her own unique heart.

Rare to see someone unafraid to be a little corny, a little wacky, a little funny, and hard to categorize. I just liked it, and I don’t know why.

Advertisements