May Reads

For Asian Readathon and AAPI heritage month I read a diverse selection of stories, alongside some other pieces in-between selections. In total I read about 18 books (one being the next installment of Yona of the Dawn, which I did not include here), all of which provided a plethora of unique narratives, even if I found some more engaging than others. There were so many other AAPI books I had hoped to read this month, but I look forward to continuing to read more POC authors in the upcoming months.

All photos courtesy of Goodreads

How to Write an Autobiographical Novel: Essays by Alexander Chee

What would you read to someone who was dying? Annie Dillard had asked our class. She wanted this to be the standard for our work. There, at the memorial service for my friend, I thought of another: Dying, what stories would you tell?

Short Description: Essayist and author Alexander Chee recounts his experiences growing as a writer and a person.

Critic Quote: “ . . . a new essay collection by Alexander Chee, is a bookthat will leave you breathless, as much for its vulnerability as for its exquisite sentences.” – Vox

My Verdict: Beautifully written with a message that resonates long after the last page falls – definitely recommend!

Full Review HERE

The Boat by Nam Le

You couldn’t think of after, you only thought of now, and come to think of it, you didn’t do that either — you were left with pools of memory, each stranded from the next by time pulling forward like a tide.

Short Description: A moving collection of short stories as well as an online digital experience beginning and ending on the experiences of Vietnamese refugees.

Critic Quote: The Boat – both the book and the namesake story – is an incredible feat of imagination, emotional stamina and storytelling skills.” – The Short Review

My Verdict:  I really enjoyed the digital experience, and its minimal time commitment warrant a general look-over by all.

The Making of Asian America by Erika Lee

The history of Asian Americans is lastly a history of America in a global age. Like many Americans today, Asian Americans live transnational lives and form their identities across national borders.

Short Description: A historical account of the impact, struggles, and legacy of Asian Americans of various origins.

Critic Quote: “A powerful, timely story told with method and dignity.” – Kirkus Review

My Verdict: Factual but engaging, this is a great addition to anyone’s knowledge base on U.S. History.

Full Review Here

Dear Girls by Ali Wong

Just accept that you’re not a genius. Once I told myself that, I was able to finally write.

Short Description: Comedian Ali Wong recounts her experiences growing up, forging her path as a comedian, and becoming a mother in a series of letters to her daughters.

Critic Quote: “. . . if you’re looking for a gag gift for a potty-mouthed girlfriend, or something to wile away the hours over the Christmas break, Dear Girls might be the answer.” – South China Morning Post

My Verdict: Not as enjoyable as her comedy and falling short in its attempts to provide depth, I would pass on this memoir.

Breasts and Eggs by Mieko Kawakami

What if you were alone? All the books and blogs catered to couples. What about the rest of us, who were alone and planned to stay that way? Who has the right to have a child? Does not having a partner or not wanting to have sex nullify this right?

Short Description: A thirty-something Japanese woman considers her views on womanhood and motherhood as she interacts with her family, co-workers, and friends.

Critic Quote: “Kawakami lays open a wealth of philosophical ideas, and writes with a clean, lively directness that evokes the unruly creativity of the Osaka dialect. ” –  The Japan Times

My Verdict: Thoughtful and well-written, this book is a must-read, especially for those interested in translated fiction.

Your House Will Pay by Steph Cha

Now she knew—they’d built their house on sand, and the rain had come down and the waters risen, the cold swallow of the real world.

Short Description: The impact of the LA Riots in contemporary LA are brought back into focus when a tragedy occurs, rupturing various communities.

Critic Quote: “To read Steph Cha’s compelling and risk-taking new novel, Your House Will Pay, is to be submerged in tragedy and to appreciate the herculean effort needed to pull back from the brink of spiraling disaster. ” – LA Review of Books

My Verdict: blah

Full Review HERE

Life of the Party by Olivia Gatewood

If I am ever murdered, like, 

body found in a ditch, mouth 

stuffed with dirt, stocking 

around my neck, identified 

by my toenails, please don’t go 

looking for a guilty woman.

Short Description: Poet Olivia Gatewood observes how true crime, misogyny, and fear intersect at girlhood and how women endure.

Critic Quote: Life of the Party traces a genealogy of fear, but the book also illuminates the many other vents of the heart: its capacity for love and anger, and the potency of these and other feelings for shaping and describing the world.” – The Rumpus

My Verdict: Striking and visceral, this is a memorable collection of poetry for those looking for something bold.

Man Tiger by Eka Kurniawan

If a man couldn’t control his beast, it could turn so violent that nothing could restrain it once enraged.

Short Description: A man with the spirit of a tiger murders a beloved member of the community.

Critic Quote: “Imagery, lyrical and arresting, is another great strength.” – The Guardian

My Verdict: This was a “meh” read for me, however, for those looking to diversify their international reading repertoire, this may be something to pick up.

The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree by Shokoofeh Azar

We climbed and climbed until we passed the clouds and could see Planet Earth below us. For a moment, we stopped, and so did the tree. We looked down. Down at Earth with all its forests, its oceans, mountains, and clouds; with all its countries, borders, people, loves, hates, murders, and pillaging. We looked at each other and realized how easy it was for us to let go now.

Short Description: A magical realism take on on family’s life and death during the Islamic Revolution in Iran.

Critic Quote: “Nods to poetry and literature make the parables of The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree engaging, tantalizing, and memorable.” – Foreword Review

My Verdict: A visually engaging, if somewhat confusing read, I’d recommend giving this book a chance if you enjoy magical realism.

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal

If you had told me what you were doing, I could have warned you about the dangers of it, and if you’d listened, that man wouldn’t have come after you. Tell me: was it worth it? 

Short Description: A down-on-her-luck twenty-something takes up teaching creative writing to widows – with unexpected results.

Critic Quote: “By turns erotic, romantic, and mysterious, this tale of women defying patriarchal strictures enchants.” – Kirkus Reviews

My Verdict: This was a sweet, light, enjoyable read! Definitely recommend.

If I Never Met You by Mhairi McFarlane

Keep a close eye on the worst things that happened to you, they could turn out to be a doorway, a route to someplace else entirely, a map you couldn’t yet read.

Short Description: When her long-time boyfriend of 18 years breaks up with her, Laurie decides to start fake-dating office flirt Jamie, though, the plan soon becomes complicated when they begin to fall for each other for real.

Critic Quote: “McFarlane’s arch humor and earnest characters make this familiar plot feel fresh, fun, and genuinely moving. This is a delightful rom-com full of sass, sparkle, and heart.” – Publisher’s Weekly

My Verdict: Slow but sweet – pick this up if you’re a fan of contemporary British romances.

If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha

Most people have no capacity for comprehending true darkness, and then they try to fix it anyway.

Short Description: Five salon workers navigate life, love, and their careers within a society that values their appearance and compliance over all else.

Critic Quote: “The vivid characters at the novel’s core make for a compelling read, and in a time of such global division, hopefully a uniting one. ” – InStyle

My Verdict: A brief, but confusing read. Consider your own preferences before picking it up.

Dogeaters by Jessica Hagedorn

Nothing is impossible, I suppose, with that crazy imagination of yours. I’m not surprised by anything you do or say, but if I were you, prima, I’d leave well enough alone.

Short Description: An electric collection of connecting vignettes of various people living in Manila, Philippines.

Critic Quote: “Hagedorn’s unflinching view of Manila . . . is leavened by ironic, often humorous observations” – Publisher’s Weekly

My Verdict: A bit over the place, but still enjoyable for its dynamic characters and unique perspective. I’d recommend, even if only for its cultural relevance.

The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang

This crusade to fix herself was ending right now. She wasn’t broken. She saw and interacted with the world in a different way, but that was her. She could change her actions, change her words, change her appearance, but she couldn’t change the root of herself. At her core, she would always be autistic. People called it a disorder, but it didn’t feel like one. To her, it was simply the way she was.

Short Description: Econometrician Stella Lane is a great at her job, but at a loss for romance, so she hires escort Michael Phan to teach her how to love.

Critic Quote: “Stella and Michael’s story is deeply moving, brimming with social commentary on the stigmas surrounding sex work and mental health, and skillfully demonstrating that before we can love someone else, we must love and accept ourselves.” – NPR

My Verdict: This is a light-hearteded, though spicy, read. I enjoyed it for how easy it was to breeze through, but consider your own taste before picking it up.

The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo

If I had known how easy it is to lose your life, I would have treasured mine better.

Short Description: When Li Lang is haunted by a deceased groom, she changes her fate by diving into the spirit world, and all its many beauties and dangers.

Critic Quote: “Choo’s multifaceted tale is sometimes difficult to follow with its numerous characters and subplots, but the narrative is so rich in Chinese folklore, mores and the supernatural that it’s nonetheless intriguing and enlightening. A haunting debut.” – Kirkus Reviews

My Verdict: Visually arresting and beautifully told, though the pacing of the novel is somewhat slow, I’d still highly recommend this book!

The Elephant Chaser’s Daughter by Shilpa Raj

Nevertheless, two officers began to cut up the elephant while Appa and his partners hastily dug a pit for the animal’s corpse. The officers sliced into the elephant’s head and removed its small tusks. The herd stood at a distance, looking on and making low, mournful trumpeting sounds.

I will never forget how much the elephant herd cared about one of their own, even when they were scared,’ Appa said, turning his gaze deliberately upon me. ‘Unlike us humans, even in danger they stay together.’

I averted my eyes.

Short Description: Labeled an untouchable a birth, young Shilpa is given a remarkable opportunity to change her fate – but everything comes at a cost.

Critic Quote: A deft, intimate portrayal of a young woman’s growth through education.” – Kirkus Reviews

My Verdict: A beautiful kick in the emotional gut. I loved Daughters of Destiny, but here Shilpa creates a heart-wrenching memoir worth reading independent of the Netflix show. Moving, honest, and inspiring.

Prelude to Bruise by Saeed Jones

You’ve been broken in. Begin again, bend.

Short Description: A collection of poetry following the main character, Boy, as he explores his sexuality, invoking the deadly fear of others.

Critic Quote: Saeed Jones’ Prelude to Bruise is so visceral and affecting, I can’t risk burying it in my own figurative language.” – NPR

My Verdict: Some poems are more powerful than others, but this is a precise, sharp collection worth reading.

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