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May 13, 2022
Our book club is reading Ghost Bride for May, which is great because it is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. I am pretty sure we did not plan that, but it works out beautifully.
Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo was chosen because we all loved her Night Tiger, which was chosen because we all have a deficit in our Asian/Asian American authored books repertoire, and we wanted to rectify that.
Kate and I were thinking that maybe some of you need recommendations for Asian American authors like we do, so we decided to take the month of May to introduce you to some of our favorites while asking you to tell us about some of your favorites!
I was in the 11th grade when I read The Joy Luck Club. I remember loving it. I remember my teacher making a very specific point to add authors of color into our American Lit class (while still a novel idea in 2022, it was even more so then).
When I entered college in 1996, I again was lucky; I was required to take a class called Ethnic Literature (sure the name could have been better), but the class was right on. We confronted our own privilege; my professor shattered the whitewashed history we were previously taught; we explored different cultures and the literary devices used to convey those stories. The first Asian American book I read in that class was called Women Warrior.
The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan and Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston are two books that will stick with me forever.
I am not sure that these two books should be paired, but they are paired in my head as they are the first two I read by Asian American authors. And they do share similarities. They are both written in a memoir style. They both address children of immigrants. And they both focus on the importance of language and culture. And of course they are both written in sections that can be excerpted.
I also read Donald Duk by Frank Chin in this college class. This is a great coming of age novel, and a constant struggle for our twelve year old protagonist is his name, Donald Duk, a name which his parents King and Daisy Duk are very proud of. The book explores the generation gap, especially that of immigrant parents and their first generation American children.
After these first three books by Asian American authors, I was excited to read more and expanded the definition of Asian.
Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Sun are on this list of my favorites because they are also from my favorite genre, historical fiction. Nothing makes me feel dumber than learning I know nothing about the world. The Kite Runner is a beautiful and violent story of tragedy, politics, coming of age and forgiveness set in Afghanistan spanning from before Russian rule, through Russian rule, into the rise of the Taliban. A Thousand Splendid Suns illustrates the life of women and girls under the Taliban during the contemporary era. These are not for the faint of heart; some of the very realistic violence sticks with me, but I am thankful for those vivid memories that help remind me regularly the suffering and survival of people.
Namesake and The Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri, an Indian American author, are about Indian and Indian American families, friends and lovers. Lahiri has been celebrated for giving diversity to Indian and Indian Americans through her stories. The Interpreter of Maladies won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature in 2000.
There are others on our list, and just because I did not write about them does not mean they are not worthy. These specific ones, I chose because they changed me in a way, maybe because of when I read them in my life, maybe because of the book, maybe a little of both.
Kate is a lover of Celeste Ng-- if she liked writing blogs as much I as I do, she would love to tell you about her books. So take it from me--if Kate says they are good, they are good!
Here are some other books we can recommend
Our book club read and enjoyed The Leavers by Lisa Ko.
After reading The Joy Luck Club, I rushed out to read The Kitchen God’s Wife; loved it.
The Night Tiger is a great mix of Chinese and Malaysian culture with a lot of mystery.
Good Talk is a graphic novel. It is a great story and the illustrations are mixed media, a bit of a different take on the graphic novel.
Share with us some of your favorite books/stories by Asian American and Pacific Islanders!
January 15, 2022
Kate and I got to read lots of books together in 2021! In addition to our Book Club reads, we also chose to read a few buddy reads. Kate and I have pretty similar opinions on books, with varying degrees of like and dislike.
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
Kate called this her favorite book of the year. It was a pretty close second for me. Bennett’s storytelling was slightly reminiscent of Toni Morrison. I always enjoy stories where paths cross in natural and realistic ways. Highly recommend this one.
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
We picked this book because in years past we have explored the gothic genre with Rebecca by du Maurier and The Haunting of Hill House by Jackson. If you are not a fan of the gothic tradition, I do not recommend Mexican Gothic, but Moreno-Garcia did an amazing job paying homage to the genre while adding some contemporary elements and themes as well. It is creepy, but in the vein of the genre it is a slow build with an understated climax.
Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
This was my favorite book of the year. Eugenides, the author of The Virgin Suicides, weaves a fascinating book whose genre is simply literary fiction even though you could call it: a family drama or a historical fiction or a coming-of-age story. The narration is funny and unique in the way that the narrator is telling the story of his grandparent’s childhood in the present tense, as if he was there.
Piranesi by Susanna Clarke
This was a fun read, but I think we were all hoping for a little more than fun. Even after our book club meeting, none of us could really tell you what this book was about. It has a unique story structure and it kept all of us guessing as to what was really going on, but the ending left us wanting. Wanting what? I am not sure. I would still recommend it because it is likely that you have never read anything like this.
Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo
Kate and I both really enjoyed this book. It was exciting and beautiful. It explores old customs, issues around colonization and class as well as family dynamics (always one of my favorite motifs).
Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart
I wrote an entire blog on this book. You can read it here. Basically, it was too long and not the caliber of book I expect to win the Booker Award. The more I talked and wrote about it the more I liked it, which is a sign of a good book in my opinion.
Frankenstein by Mary Shelly
While reading Frankenstein, we both thought the same thing while reading Dracula – WOW– I know so little about this book, and it is way better than I expected. Again though, if you do not like the gothic genre, a slow build with an understated climax, this may not be for you.
Get a copy here!
No One Goes Alone by Erik Larson
This book is unique for a few reasons. First, it is the first work of fiction by Erik Larson, famed for The Devil in White City and In the Garden of the Beasts. Second, it was available only in audiobook form. And keeping in our 2021 tradition that we were not aware of until we started writing this blog, it is a gothic tale. It is short; the plot is slow and you find yourself waiting and waiting for something crazy to happen, but it never really does or if it does, it all unravels very slowly. We both enjoyed it. It was filled with some historical facts (you know Larson couldn't resist).
Those were our book club reads.
Stamped From the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi
We started off very ambitious with this one. Meeting twice a week. We made charts and timelines and note cards. It is a heavy read especially if your history is not up to snuff. It was enlightening and a must read for your anti-racism journey.
Beneath A Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan
Eh. Save it for the beach. It is a historical fiction novel, not super well written, but with interesting characters and plot, but nothing that you likely have not already read about World War II spies.
Matrix by Laura Groff
This is the fourth book by Groff we have read, and the first I did not finish it. Kate finished it, and basically told me when I was a little more than halfway through that there really was no reason to finish. Groff’s writing is amazing. She is so talented and creative. And I respect what she was trying to do–create a female-only world. And I thought the setting was wonderful, a 1400s abbey. But there was no plot and no character development. If you have not read Groff, try Arcadia, Fates and Furies, or Monsters of Templeton. All so different than the others which makes me respect her so much.
The Dutch House by Anne Patchett
I listened to this one. It was read by Tom Hanks. The story is amazing–again a family saga following the characters over generations, but Tom Hanks reading it is just the best thing ever, possibly.
Overall, 2021 was a good reading year. Leave us a comment if you read any!
July 23, 2021
It is unreasonable to expect a reader to answer the question: what's your favorite book?
Their response is likely, "in what genre? or for what age? a funny one or a serious one? by which author" and then they will just look at you with disgust.
Recently, I have decided to create my top tier of books. Before I add a book to that tier, I have to sit with it and roll it around in my head for a while.
Currently, the books in that tier are:
The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
The Milkman by Anna Burns
The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien
Middlesex by Jeffery Eugenides
Dracula by Bram Stoker
Our book club read Piranesi by Susanna Clarke last month, and after sitting with it for about a month, I have decided not to add it to my top tier. However, it is a great book, and a great book for a book club to read. Our book club had a rich discussion with some debate and each member enjoyed the book.
This is a fantasy novel. Fantasy is not one of my favorite genres, at all, but I do not think that is what kept me from proclaiming it to be one of the best books I have ever read.
In the novel, Piranesi is the main character and protagonist. The setting is the House, a place of innumerable halls and rooms, with statues, floods and fish. To Piranesi, this is the world and it is a kind world.
There is one other person there. Piranesi calls him The Other. He is wise, and he sends Piranesi on various excursions and academic adventures. Piranesi is fond of him.
During much of the book, Piranesi walks around the House and details what he sees and finds. He makes assumptions about his about this world and notes them as truths.
Eventually, Piranesi begins to question of beliefs he has held and searches for the answers. Slowly those truths are revealed to the reader.
Clarke's imagery, allusions and foreshadowing are beautiful entwined into the plot, and the reading experience is engaging and unique.
However, what I found missing was a point or a deeper look at the human experience. And maybe that is part of the fantasy genre (I really have never read anything fantasy, I do suppose). So that is why it did not make it to my top tier, but I have many tiers and this book is up there and I do suggest you read it.
Our Book Club is Cool
This is true for many reasons, but why I bring it up now is to share this. In preparation for each meeting, we each (well usually only a few each time) do a project. (yes, that is correct, there are more than a few teachers in this book club).
But I think we all agree the projects are really good and help the book club discussion along quite a bit.
Sometimes projects are research projects, or poems, or dioramas or games or food or painted pictures... you get the picture. We do whatever moves us and sometimes only one of us shows up with a project.
But whether we have 1 project or 7, they always help moved the discussion and add a ton of fun to our meeting.
For Piranesi, only one member created a project, and it was amazing, so we want to give her props here. Piranesi slowly reveals a little bit of the reality to the reader, and as does Cat's book she made. The pictures here are not related to the book. She was inspired by the slow reveal. We each got to look at it independently and it was so fun to watch everyone's face when they hit the last page. The title is pretty amazing too.
You can check out Cat's artwork on IG and Tik Tok @cateynell or on her website.
June 16, 2021
May 11, 2021
This May we are reading Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides...