July 02, 2017

Issue 7: June 2017 - Self help and a small rant

Welcome to #aznbooks2017, the monthly journal where I will be tracking my attempt to read only books by Asian authors in 2017. You can read more about the project here and follow updates in real time by following the #aznbooks2017 hashtag on Twitter and Instagram, and following me on Goodreads. If you like this newsletter and you value diverse media, please subscribe, and tell your friends to do so as well!

June saw a bit more reading than May did, thank goodness, both of #aznbooks and of non-Asian books. Like I said last month, I really underestimated the psychic impact of uprooting my entire life over the span of six weeks. There were some dark days in June, so I allowed myself to pick up a few books that weren't by Asian authors because I just needed some help. I'll talk about them more later. 


I knew this was going to be a difficult project, but in the sixth month, I've felt particularly constrained. There are so many other books I want to read! It doesn't help that when I walk into a bookstore, the featured books right up front with the sexy titles and beautiful cover art almost never include Asian authors. So I spend 30 minutes searching for titles on Goodreads and then trying in vain to find them among the stacks. Usually, I walk out with nothing. I suppose this is what the point of this project was: To simultaneously highlight the lack of, ahem, literacy we have about Asian authors, as well as to round out my own education. 

To be sure, we have our Amy Tans and our Kelvin Kwans and and our Jhumpa Lahiris. But true diversity is being able to see a multiplicity of identities within one group — the poetic, the mediocre, the ostentatious, the realistic. I believe that diversity does exist under the giant umbrella identity of "Asian books," so when will booksellers see that too? 

OK, book time. 

The Leavers, Lisa Ko 

I went to an event at the Asian American Writers Workshop last month where Lisa Ko was doing a reading of "The Leavers" and discussion on Asian rebels and fuckups. It was refreshing to sit in a room next to other Asian people with tattoos who don't speak their parents' languages particularly well, and talk about how we all failed to embody the model minority in our own ways.

"The Leavers" was similarly refreshing. It's the story of a boy who was separated from his mother at a young age, and who went on to be adopted by a white American couple. I recognized myself in him at different points in the story, and I was horrified at him at others. But this is the kind of book we need more of on "featured" tables in bookshops, one whose Asianness and Americanness is fully entwined into one identity. 

If you read "Lucky Boy," I think you might like this. 

The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories, Ken Liu 

Oh my gosh, this is my favorite book I've read all year. It was delicious and fascinating and horrifying, and I recommend it in every possible way. Liu is a science fiction and fantasy writer, and though I haven't read a ton of the genre, I was so, so into this. So many of the short stories could have easily been Black Mirror episodes. 

Each of Liu's stories involves humans merging with machines in some way -- either physically, or mentally. There's also usually an Asian character tossed into a story, but it's often not the point of the story, which I appreciate. It didn't feel like Liu's stories were burdened with the responsibility of ~~representation~~ (ugh). 

Anyway, if you read one thing I recommend this year, read this. 

And now it's time for — bum bum bummm — non-Asian books. 

I had my reasons for reading these, OK? I already made myself feel guilty enough, and I am now done feeling guilty. Here's a quick run-through: 

Weird in a World That's Not, Jennifer Romolini: It's the buzziest new career book this year! I grabbed it hoping it would shed some light that I needed shed on me. It didn't really. What can you really expect from career books though? 

There Is Nothing Wrong With You, Cheri Huber: I can't say for certain, but I think by the end of all of this, this book will have changed my life. I'm already starting to think about myself differently than the way I did earlier this month, and I blame it on this book. Highly recommend. 

OK, that's it for June! Wow, 2017 is already halfway over. I'm heading out to explore a new bookstore today — maybe I'll be pleasantly surprised by the books they have in stock. See ya next month!