Summer Reading List: From Strange Worlds to Living Between Words

Make time for reading this summer. The world will thank you.

Autumn Presencing – 正在的秋天, Huichun Liang

Poet, Translator, Professor of Chinese language and literature at the University of Missouri – Columbia. I had the immense pleasure of studying under Professor Huichun dances between languages with universal empathy. Autumn, Presencing is as precise as it is concise, and displays a breadth of humanity which we can all use at the moment. With allusions to great Chinese poets of past ages and meditations on daily life, Professor Huichun is a name that belong on your shelf!

Buy Now: Indie Bound

The Reincarnated Giant: An Anthology of Twenty-First-Century Chinese Science Fiction (Weatherhead Books on Asia)

Ok, I’ll be the first to admit. Science Fiction, Sci-Fi, SF, whatever you want to call it, not my cup of tea. Cyberpunk, sure. Fantasy, OK. But SF just fell short. 1984? Boring. War of the Worlds? Meh. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing but respect for the SF canon but I never felt swept away and figured SF just wasn’t for me.

Not until this past semester; tasked with writing a term paper on contemporary Chinese SF and wow. Just… Wow. I am officially hooked on the stuff. The speculative worlds and veritable quandaries explored through the authors of Reincarnated Giant introduces a new wave of post-Mao literature in the global, even galactic context. But that’s the beauty of SF, right? It’s not about the fantasy, it’s about SF’s ability to reveal the most fundantal human concerns. Concerns of self vs other, conolonialism/decolonialism, embodiment, AI, environmentalism, and humanitarianism, even posthumanism. If you buy one book this year, please consider Reincarnated Giant!

Buy Now: Columbia University Press

Pachinko, Min Jin Lee

An epic in every sense of the word, Min Jin Lee’s novel Pachinko sprawls over nearly a century, tracing both the larger sociopolitical history of the Korean peninsula as well as the extremely specific trials and tribulations of one family across four generations. At the center of the story is Sunja Baek, a kimchi vendor who stoically absorbs the suffering of everyone around her as she perseveres through the decades. The book is fittingly being adapted into a TV series. — Andrew R. Chow

Buy Now: Pachinko on Bookshop

Asian American Dreams, Helen Zia

Throughout my life, the history of Asian America was largely supplementary to my education. My mother worked hard to ensure that any gaps (and there were many) in my schooling about the history of Asian Americans in this country were covered. It’s a familiar issue that Helen Zia addresses in Asian American Dreams, where she seeks to tell the stories of the Asian Americans who helped build the country we know, but whose narratives largely are “missing in history.” From documenting the first major wave of Chinese immigrants in the 1850s to bearing witness to the moments that have mobilized the Asian American community, such as the 1982 racially-motivated murder of Vincent Chin that helped solidify Asian Americans’ place in the Civil Rights discourse, Zia shines light on an the untold but important legacy of Asian Americans in American history. — Cady Lang

Buy Now: Asian American Dreams on Bookshop | Amazon

Days of Distraction, Alexandra Chang

“It is difficult to parse which parts of me come from my family, from being Chinese, from being Asian American, from being American, from being a woman, from being of a certain generation, and from, simply, being,” thinks the 24-year-old narrator of Days of Distraction. She’s a writer at a prestigious tech magazine in Silicon Valley, who follows her longtime boyfriend, J, to a quiet town in upstate New York. Along the way, she starts to question what it means to be in an interracial relationship, delving into the history of Asian Americans and her own family history. I loved Alexandra Chang’s debut novel, which came out in March 2020. In funny, tender and thought-provoking vignettes and fragments, Chang articulates many aspects of office politics, racism, misogyny, love and identity in an insightful way. As an Asian journalist who has been in many similar environments to ones in the novel, her words deeply resonated with me. — Naina Bajekal

Buy Now: Days of Distraction on Bookshop | Amazon

Wild Swans, Jung Chang

“It is my conscious decision to write about characters and people whose private personal lives are intimately connected with the politics and history of the country,” historian and writer Jung Chang told TIME in 2019, speaking about her book Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister: Three Women at the Heart of Twentieth-Century China. This approach to the history of China started with Chang’s epic autobiography Wild Swans, published in 1991 to international acclaim. Weaving together family history, including the experiences of her grandmother, her mother and her own story against the backdrop of 20th century China, Chang portrayed the experiences of women’s lives in a nuanced, deeply personal, yet accessible way. “I did not appreciate that information about China was not easily available, or was largely misunderstood, in the West,” writes Chang, reflecting on her time as a young woman in the early 1970s. Reading Wild Swans and Chang’s subsequent work goes a long way toward changing that. — Suyin Haynes

Buy Now: Wild Swans on Bookshop | Amazon

Eat a Bowl of Tea, Louis Chu

Arguably the first Chinese American novel to receive widespread publication, Louis Chu’s Eat a Bowl of Tea takes an unflinching dive into Manhattan’s Chinatown in the 1940s, where the rigid societal structures of the old world clashed with 20th century dreams and desires. Chu has no qualms in grappling with the community’s misogyny, violence and shame, while painting vivid scenes of communal joy and support. The book’s honesty and brutality made it shocking to many readers when it was published in 1961; it is now central to Asian American history and studies. — Andrew R. Chow

Buy Now: Eat a Bowl of Tea on Bookshop | Amazon

Minor Feelings, Cathy Park Hong

Cathy Park Hong’s Minor Feelings is the most honest and apt exploration of Asian American identity I’ve ever read. This prescient collection of essays, published in early 2020 just before a year of unprecedented anti-Asian violence due to the pandemic, finds its immeasurable strength in the subtleties, struggles and occasional triumphs of a community living at the margins of a society, largely unacknowledged and left out of a national dialogue about race. Running the gamut from unpacking the shame she felt growing up as the daughter of Korean immigrants to deconstructing her identification with the uncomfortable, caustic comedy of Richard Pryor, Hong’s essays are at once candid, complex and gutting. They demand to be seen in the full range of her humanity as an Asian American woman and writer. — Cady Lang

Buy Now: Minor Feelings on Bookshop | Amazon

Further Reading

Chinese Science Fiction https://booksandbao.com/great-works-of-chinese-science-fiction/

Published by Nicholas Andriani

Writer • Poet • Educator • #英語教師 Food, Folklore & Pop Culture in Japan. Part-time Cheesemonger Asian Studies + English + 日本語 @mizzou

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