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May 26, 2022

Books We’re Reading for AAPI Heritage Month

For readers who didn’t know (and those who did but want to learn more!), May is Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month (also known as AAPHM or AAPI Heritage Month).

AAPI Heritage Month recognizes the vibrant cultures, contributions, and influence of Asian Americans and Pacific Islander Americans. Selected by the Federal Asian Pacific American Council (FAPAC), the theme for 2022 is “Advancing Leaders through Collaboration” (learn more here).

In honor of AAPI Heritage Month, we’ve been reading some amazing books by AAPI authors to celebrate. Of course, these are books you can—and should—read all year long!

The History of Asian American, Native Hawaiian & Pacific Islander Heritage Month

AAPI Heritage Month originated in the late 70s. The first week of May was designated as “Asian/Pacific American Heritage Week” until Congress passed a law expanding the observance to a full month.

In 1992, New York Congressman Frank Horton introduced a bill designating May as AAPI Heritage Month. He cited former Capitol Hill staffer Jeanie Jew as the woman who first broached the subject with him more than 15 years prior. Jew was concerned about the lack of Asian representation and wanted to promote more public awareness. She also had a deeply personal investment: Her great-grandfather had immigrated to the U.S. from China and was one of the Chinese migrant workers who completed the transcontinental railroad.

The month of May was chosen to commemorate the anniversary of the transcontinental railroad, which was completed on May 10, 1869, as well as Japanese immigration to the United States on May 7, 1843.

AAPI Heritage Month continues to celebrate the unique journey of AAPI immigrants and citizens. Today, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are the fastest-growing racial group in the United States. Their innumerable contributions span from science and medicine to sports, recreation, government, politics, activism, art, and literature.

Our favorite way to celebrate AAPI Heritage Month is, of course, through literature—specifically reading books by authors of Asian, East Asian, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander heritage. Here are some of the books our staff recommends. Check out our reading list here.

11 Books by Asian & Pacific American Authors

Fiction

Fiona and Jane by Jean Chen Ho

Best friends Fiona Lin and Jane Shen share an intimate, decades-long bond. Both born to immigrant families, the Taiwanese American women navigate everything from family trauma to romance, sexuality, deep love, and shattering loss—sometimes together, and sometimes worlds apart.

After growing up alongside Jane in Southern California, Fiona moves to New York. The two friends drift in and out of each other’s lives, each contending with their own shifting circumstances and emotions. Stories from various timelines and perspectives weave together, creating an in-depth depiction of what it’s like to be a young woman searching for joy and meaning in ever-changing, contemporary American society.

“It wasn't a bad silence. Just the same old quiet.” -Jean Chen Ho, Fiona and Jane

Join author Jean Chen Ho and Belletrist Co-Founder Karah Preiss for a conversation on BookClub about this debut collection, as well as Jean’s process, insights, and inspiration.

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

This sweeping saga chronicles the Korean immigrant experience in wartime Japan. The story follows a Korean family through generations, starting in the early 1900s. Sunja, the daughter of an impoverished yet proud family, unexpectedly becomes pregnant and threatens to cast shame on them all. A marriage proposal and move to Japan promises a new start.

“Living everyday in the presence of those who refuse to acknowledge your humanity takes great courage.” -Min Jin Lee, Pachinko

So begins the powerful story of a family in exile from their homeland. Pachinko explores the nature of faith, success, identity, resilience, homeland, and belonging.

Exhalation by Ted Chiang

These nine poignant, provocative stories—including some published for the first time—tackle questions old and new. “Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom” presents the idea of being able to peer into alternate universes, as readers must contend with the concepts of free will and choice. In “Exhalation,” an alien scientist makes a shocking discovery—with universal consequences.

“Four things do not come back: the spoken word, the sped arrow, the past life, and the neglected opportunity,” -Ted Chiang, Exhalation

Perfect for sci-fi fans who like to tackle big questions (think Black Mirror), Exhalation is a must-read.

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

Set during and after the Vietnam War, Nguyen’s debut novel tells the story of a man whose political beliefs are at odds with his loyalties. Raised by an absent French father and a poor Vietnamese mother, he returns to Vietnam to fight for the Communist cause and becomes the captain of the South Vietnamese army. Unbeknownst to his compatriots, he is secretly observing them and reporting his findings to a higher-up in the Viet Cong.

“I could live without television, but not without books.” -Viet Thanh Nguyen, The Sympathizer

Recipient of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, The Sympathizer is written in the form of a forced confession from a spy who sympathizes with both sides—and struggles with his own divided self.

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

The acclaimed debut novel by the author of Little Fires Everywhere (another must-read!), this moving, heartfelt novel tells the story of a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio. Parents Marilyn and James Lee lose their beloved daughter—someone who might have been able to fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue—and their lives fall apart.

“Before that she hadn’t realized how fragile happiness was, how if you were careless, you could knock it over and shatter it.” -Celeste Ng, Everything I Never Told You

Everything I Never Told You beautifully uncovers how families experience grief, navigate dysfunction, and struggle to understand each other.

Poetry

Time Is a Mother by Ocean Vuong

Award-winning writer Ocean Vuong’s second poetry collection is deeply intimate. In its pages, Vuong searches for life in the aftermath of his mother’s death. How can we sit with our grief, he asks, while also being determined to survive it?

“That it’s fair—it has to be— / how our hands hurt us, then give us / the world. How you can love the world / until there’s nothing left to love / but yourself. Then you can stop.” -Ocean Vuong, Time Is A Mother

His poems explore personal loss, family, brokenness, and restoration. They’re experimental, bold, and tender, with lines that linger long after you’ve read them.

Nonfiction

Author Michelle MiJung Kim with Arlan Hamilton on BookClub.

The Wake Up by Michelle MiJung Kim

A must-read for anyone invested in real, lasting social justice, The Wake Up: Closing the Gap Between Good Intentions and Real Change by Michelle MiJung Kim dives into the nuanced work of pursuing equity and justice with criticality and compassion. It’s packed with actionable strategies for transforming ourselves and, ultimately, the world around us.

“Anytime someone decides to speak out against injustice, no matter how small of an act, it is courageous.” -Michelle MiJung Kim, The Wake Up

On BookClub, Michelle joins author, entrepreneur, and BookClub host Arlan Hamilton for a discussion on the topics covered by her book, the importance of healing racial trauma, and why joy and community are such an important part of the work. Their discussion asks what readers are willing to give up for equity and justice, and pushes readers to consider how they might become better allies.

Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner

Lyrical, honest, and intimate, Zauner’s bestselling memoir shares a title with her viral 2018 New Yorker essay. Crying in H Mart boldly explores what it was like for the author to grow up in Korean America, lose her mother, and try to forge her own identity.

“I remember these things clearly because that was how my mother loved you, not through white lies and constant verbal affirmation, but in subtle observations of what brought you joy, pocketed away to make you feel comforted and cared for without even realizing it.” -Michelle Zauner, Crying in H Mart

Growing up as one of the few Asian American kids at her school in Eugene, Oregon, Zauner struggles through a painful adolescence and ends up moving to the East Coast for college. Her Koreanness continues to feel more distant until her mother is diagnosed with terminal cancer. Zauner, a new musician and only twenty-five, begins the journey of reclaiming the gifts passed down from her mother.

Good Talk by Mira Jacob

Jacob’s wry, bold, intimate graphic memoir is both humorous and vulnerable. Her six-year-old son, half Jewish and half Indian, has questions about everything. Usually, they’re fairly innocuous, but as tensions spread after the 2016 election, they become much more complicated—and harder for Jacob to answer honestly.

“What does real love between really different people look like?” -Mira Jacob, Good Talk

The author thinks back to where she’s gotten her own answers to questions about the big stuff: race, color, sexuality, and love.

The Leader’s Guide to Unconscious Bias by Anne Chow

The truth is, unconscious biases—social stereotypes we form outside our own conscious awareness—affect every good leader, business owner, and employee. Perfect for managers who want to understand and move past their own preconceived ideas, The Leader’s Guide to Unconscious Bias by Anne Chow provides unique tools designed to reframe unconscious thoughts.

“You may believe in equality and equity. You may believe in diversity and inclusion. You may want to create a workplace culture in which all the members of your team feel they belong [...] But none of this matters if you don’t have the courage to act.” -The Leader’s Guide to Unconscious Bias

As part of FranklinCovey’s Effective Leadership book club, AT&T Business CEO and co-author Anne Chow and host Scott Miller explore how unconscious bias impacts the workplace, and how we can reframe our bias to cultivate better connections with one another. By recognizing bias (yes, we all have it), emphasizing empathy and curiosity, and prioritizing true understanding in the workplace, we can unlock the potential of every person we encounter.

Dear Girls by Ali Wong

Named one of the best books of the year by Time, Variety, Chicago Tribune, and others, Wong’s original collection shares the wisdom she’s learned from a life in comedy. Dear Girls also reveals personal stories from her life off stage, including what it’s like to be single in New York (yikes), reconnect with her roots in Vietnam, grow up in San Francisco, and more.

“Just accept that you’re not a genius. Once I told myself that, I was able to finally write.” -Ali Wong, Dear Girls: Intimate Tales, Untold Secrets, and Advice for Living Your Best Life

Addressed to her daughters, Wong’s letters are laugh-out-loud funny, moving, and illuminating for all readers.

Author Anne Chow on BookClub.

Who Are Your Favorite AAPI Authors?

Let us know your favorite books and authors on Instagram. We hope you add some (or all) of the books from our AAPI Heritage Month reading list to your TBR stack and, as always, happy reading!