For Caitlin on her 32nd birthday: Books to read in Hong Kong and Minnesota

My sister Caitlin turned 32 yesterday. In four days, she leaves for a solo trip to Hong Kong. It will be her last trip for a while. In a couple months, she’ll marry her American boyfriend and will be a Minnesotan housewife until she’s able to work. This is not the life I imagined for Cait, who up until a few years ago called herself a “freemale,” but “Uncle Tony” is good with my kids AND joins all my readalongs, so he’s worthy.

The hours of travel and coming months of desperate housewifedom mean that I must buy books for Cait’s birthday. But the upcoming move makes it impractical to buy physical books, so I’ve bought a couple Kindle gift cards and compiled these lists:

What to read in Hong Kong


  • Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan: Satirizing the ultra-rich ABC (American Born Chinese) culture in the States, parts of this book are set in Hong Kong and it sounds like a perfect fluffy read for the airplane. Bet these guys don’t fly coach.
  • Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper by Fuchsia DunlopBased on this review, and because Cait is a sometime food blogger, and this is sub-titled “A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China.” Might help her get ready for some Chinese food that doesn’t include chicken balls.
  • The Piano Teacher by Janice Yee: Recommended by Doretta Lau (her own book. How Does a Single Blade of Grass Thank The Sun looks pretty sweet,) The Piano Teacher is another novel about rich people in Hong Kong, but sounds quite different from Crazy Rich Asians. It’s got some historical flavour.

What to read in Minnesota


  • The Group by Mary McCarthy: A tenuous connection to Minnesota, as the author only spent part of her childhood there, but as Canadians we’re used to claiming anyone we can, so. This is also supposed to be the inspiration for Sex and the City.
  • Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald: because I assume she’s read The Great Gatsby! (Right??)
  • Main Street by Sinclair Lewis: Lewis is the first American to win the Nobel Prize for literature, so I guess he must be okay. I admit I know nothing about him. This book is set in Minnesota and is about a woman who moves to another city for her man, so it might be of interest.

Bonus: What to read when you’re getting married

lovelettersfreedom thebridestripped

  • Love Letters of the Angels of Death by Jennifer Quist (my review): I want everyone who’s getting married, or is married, to read this book. It made me think about my marriage and the concept of marriage and other stuff.
  • Freedom by Jonathan Franzen (my review): I make fun of Franzen often here on the blog, but this book is really good. It’s about ‘Murca and marriage and there’s a lengthy rant about the child free lifestyle that I know Cait will appreciate.
  • The Bride Stripped Bare by Anonymous: okay, the author’s been revealed, but my edition is by Anonymous. Take this as a “here is what you shouldn’t do” guide to marriage. Disturbing and racy and one of the odder books I’ve read.

We will all miss Auntie Cait in this house, and not just for the free babysitting. She accompanies me to book events and joins me in readalongs and has taught me a lot about vegan cooking, among many other things. I will never repay her for all the drives she’s given me nor all the Maid of Honouring or Baby Showering, but I hope we can keep up with food and books even if it’s through Skype.

Henry and Auntie Cait

Henry and Auntie Cait



  1. Naomi

    I like that you wrote this for your sister (I am going to go ahead and comment on it, even though I am not her, or know her in any way). Moving to Minnesota – wow.
    I read The Piano Teacher a few years ago, and I liked it, but I can’t remember much more than that. I do remember that I read it back to back with The Commoner by John Burnham Schwartz (which I liked a little more), and there were some interesting connections. Now, I wish I could remember what they were!
    I really have to read Love Letters! It keeps getting put on the back burner.
    Your sister looks a lot like you!

    • lauratfrey

      Well I posted it, rather than just emailing her, because I hoped there was some broader appeal here 🙂 So comment away!

      I’ve never heard of The Commoner. I see it has that cliche “picture of a woman’s back” book cover, like The Piano Teacher!

      Yes yes please read Love Letters. I’ll keep reminding you every so often till you do, haha

  2. Roxanne

    Ohhh you have some interesting suggestions here – especially the Hong Kong books!! … I was the “Auntie Cait” in my family, and wondered how my role would change once I got married. A friend of mine whose kids are all grown up once told me that aunties who don’t have kids and are there in those early years of their nieces and nephews’ lives … those relationships don’t change. My friend was amazed at how, even after her sister moved away, her kids had such a close bond with her sister – who was around a lot when the kids were young. Even in their twenties – they would call her sister for advice ….that observation always made me feel better. Pass it onto your sister 🙂 I’m sure she’d love it too.

  3. Kristilyn

    Aww … great suggestions! And I love that you did a post like this. 🙂 The Piano Teacher looks interesting … and I remember I had a copy of The Bride Stripped Bare a LONG time ago but I think I donated it or gave it away …

  4. writereads

    Caitlyn’s getting married? She’s moving away? Must be some guy 🙂 I’m sorry you and the kids won’t have your sis around quite so much, but I’m sure this will be an exciting move for her and you guys will always remain close!
    That Love Letters book looks very interesting – as a freemale myself who is with a now with a partner, I feel there are many things I could learn from those book recs you made regarding marriage. I welcome your wisdom 🙂 -Tania

    • lauratfrey

      He is, indeed, some guy 🙂

      Thanks for the kind comment! My marriage book picks are a little off beat, for sure. I’m quite traditional in my own marriage (in that, always wanted to be married and have kids, and did so at the exact average ages that everyone else does) and so I’m fascinated by everyone else’s lifestyles. Now, I think I would have been perfectly happy as a freemale, or child free, or anything else. But I’m good with where I am too 🙂

  5. Thomas at My Porch

    Main Street is a classic and definitely more Minnesotan than anything Fitzgerald wrote. Minnesotans rightly claim Fitzgerald as a native son, but his books to me (a Minnesotan from 0-24 and then again from 27-30) feel very east coast. Lewis can be an acquired taste for some as his language and his whole groove always seem vintage to me in a 1930s small town, back slapping kind of way.

    And I have kind of an odd recommendation for a marriage book: On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan. It is actually a sad tale of a marriage gone totally wrong, but to me there is a really strong message about the importance of communication in a relationship. How not talking about things with your mate can be poisonous. Plus it is one of my favorite books of all time.

    • lauratfrey

      Oh yeah. You gotta read books about f’ed up marriages to learn anything about marriage 🙂 Two of my three recommendations are about marriages where one or both partners are unfaithful, so, they’re not meant to be instruction manuals, that’s for sure! I haven’t read On Chesil Beach, actually, all I’ve read of McEwan is Atonement. I think every one of his books is on the 1001 list that I (sometimes) work on, so I will get to them eventually.

  6. chiggins82

    Ah, I am bad bad sister. I read this as soon as I saw it was posted and really it was hard to comment at first because it made me a little emotional… Never used to be, but now that I am leaving it seems to be happening a lot!! I cannot wait to dive into these books! I am horribly slow reader with ADD… so it takes me lots and lots of time!

    I fully agree on learning more from marriages that are messed up.. really, what can you learn from someone that thinks everything is perfect? Going to suggest some to Tony too.

    Roxanne – your comment puts my mind at ease. The hardest thing is going to be saying bye to the nephews… We are so close now I don’t want it to change, but maybe change doesn’t have to mean less close than we are now! Hopefully they won’t forget me!!

  7. Pingback: Freedom IRL | Reading in Bed

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