If you’re still on the internet in times like this, I salute you and also how the heck do you do that.
For the past few weeks, my news feeds have been an infinite scroll though a continuing carnival of horrors. It’s exhausting to sustain this level of anger; I’ve had to step away from the news multiple times in order to deal with the world.
Believe me: Reading books (or honestly engaging with any kind of art) by people from marginalized groups, about marginalized perspectives, is an act of resistance. It amplifies narratives that have been historically suppressed or erased. They remind me of my connection to humans whose experiences are unlike my own and give me the energy to keep fighting for all of us.
And so, my a summer reading list for angry people. Consider it more of a formula; instead of recommending specific books, I give categories, share what I’m reading and give a few suggestions for fiction and nonfiction (many of which cross over between categories):
Happy Pride Month! This month, we honor the memory the 1969 Stonewall riots, the series of demonstrations that catalyzed the LGBT civil rights movement. As with Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, I honestly think we should be celebrating LGBT identities year-round. (And won’t it be cool when we don’t need to have recognition months anymore, because no one is marginalized?) But for now, it can be nice to have a month to remind us to reflect on and recommit to our support for one another. Sort of like a way to hit refresh on respect!
Today, I want to talk briefly about language, specifically the ways that language can empower and disempower people in non-dominant groups. Historically, LGBT communities especially have had to deal with their identities being misrepresented in language. Words are never “just words.” Words convey our thoughts and beliefs; whether we are conscious of it, they betray our values. Reexamining our language and making sure that it truly reflects respect is the first step toward advancing understanding—which, in turn, puts us on a path toward achieving justice.
My personal goal this month is to educate myself on gender and sexuality. I realized that it was a weak point of mine, during a conversation I had last week with my boyfriend’s grandmother, on a humid night in rural Rhode Island.
May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month! Though it’s worth noting that, to paraphrase from a wry friend, “for some of us, every month is APA Heritage Month because… we own mirrors.”
So yeah, we should celebrate APA heritage every month. But sometimes it’s nice to consecrate time to reflect on what APA heritage means to us and our communities. For me, APAHM is about honoring the diversity of APA experiences. It’s about remembering that there is no single APA story. APA artists are continuing to expand and enrich the narrative, bringing in more LGBTQ, first- and second- generation, Southeast Asian, hapa, low-income, and refugee perspectives.
So to celebrate the rich multiplicity and intersectionality within “Asian Pacific American,” I’m excited to showcase some of my favorite books by APA authors. Check them out below!
I recently experienced a Significant Life Change. I won’t get into the details, but it was one of those events that made me reevaluate whether my day-to-day life actually reflected my values. (You might remember how my dad’s hospitalization forced me to think critically about health insurance policy for the first time.)
Long story short, I realized that my brief, fabulous stint in Silicon Valley wasn’t as fulfilling as I thought it would be. Of course, I learned a lot and met kind, smart people. But I wasn’t learning how to write well, and I didn’t feel like I was making public education more equitable. None of my personal goals were being realized.
It’s easy to underestimate or dismiss the impact of independent bookstores. When I was growing up, the only bookstore in my neighborhood was an enormous Barnes & Noble. It wasn’t until I worked in publishing in New York that I realized the importance of independent bookstores—how they help to shape a sense of community and identity around books, particularly in communities of color.
It’s been a while, and I know what you’re thinking. At least, I know what you’re thinking if you’re also me: You’d better have been doing something fabulous during this unconscionable absence from the blog!
So what was it? Was I scaling mountains in far-flung countries? Was I preparing a new and edgy article that will bring justice to the world?
Flattering! But no. In the past month-ish, I’ve mostly been working on confronting my fear of failure—in less-nice words, I’ve spent the past few weeks applying to various literary projects and getting rejected from them.
If you want to read my previous travel-ish essay, check out my Notes from Lake Tahoe. Unless you already have—in which case, good for you!
On a Sunday with no obligations, my boyfriend and I decided to pick some city at least an hour away and explore. Most travel guides recommended Sebastopol, and almost all of them described it as “artsy.”
For as long as we’ve been dating, Tanner has cringed at that word. “Artsy,” he often says in quotation marks. “What does that even mean?”
When I was in college, my boyfriend and I subscribed to local produce “shares.” Here’s how it works: Each week, we’d pick up our basket of seasonal produce from regional farmers. Each week, we’d examine the vegetables and ask, “What is this radish? It looks like a creature from a Miyazaki movie.” Then, one of us would shrug and say, “Google it.”
About last Saturday night: I was sitting cross-legged on the second-floor landing of an elegant rental house in the mountains of South Lake Tahoe, nursing a plastic cup that I hadn’t bothered to fill with anything and wondering if I was doing my youth wrong. Below me, in the kitchen, people with whom I had been affable all weekend were already several shots into the evening. They danced to Top 40 songs and occasionally erupted into peals of laughter.
I was persuaded to come on this trip months ago, when the long late-summer days exacerbated my loneliness. I was new to the Bay Area, newly far away from everyone I had loved. A snow-mantled weekend in the mountains, sharing a house with the other 20-somethings in my company, seemed like a good idea at the time.
When I duck into the bookstore before Celeste Ng’s talk, I feel conspicuously literary. The Wordsmith Bookstore is in San Francisco’s historic and grungy Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. The attendees are mostly University of San Francisco MFA students—vibrant, leaning forward in their seats, just older than me. (Later during Ng’s talk, I notice that the MFA students punctuate her poignant lines with a low “mmh,” as if they were verbally underlining sentences.) On top of it all, I’m wearing a black faux-leather jacket that looks like it reads Allen Ginsberg poetry whenever I’m not inhabiting it.
As I found out during the talk, both of Ng’s novels are grounded heavily in where Ng herself came from. Ng grew up in a Chinese American family in Ohio. She describes her suburban hometown as inclusive the point of self-consciousness. On the surface, one saw manicured lawns, cordial neighbors. But behind closed doors, there resided the kind of shame that motivated the desperate desire for perfection, the kind of desire that compelled the residents to keep their trash cans behind their houses, away from the open street, and have garbage collectors surreptitiously pick it up and carry it away.
Everything I Never Told You opens with a sense of perfect suburban calm, violently destabilized: “Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet. 1977, May 3, six thirty in the morning, no one knows anything but this innocuous fact: Lydia is late for breakfast.”