Seeking Asian American Books Beyond Lit and History
July 23, 2020 7:48 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for recommendations for Asian American books that are not Asian American literature or history textbooks.

I recently read and enjoyed Yunte Huang's books on Charlie Chan and Cheng and Eng.

I'm seeking other books that explore Asian American people, characters in media, and cultural phenomena as an opportunity to delve into and discuss Asian American issues.

To give an example of what I'm looking for, I would be interested in a critical biography of Amy Tan that analyzed her writing, success, and criticism in social and historical contexts--but I’m not interested in a recommendation for "The Joy Luck Club."

I've read the following books or have them in my queue next:

Bruce Lee: A Life by Matthew Polly

The Fortune Cookie Chronicles by Jennifer 8. Lee

Chop Suey: A Cultural History of Chinese Food in the United States by Andrew Coe

Thanks for your recommendations and insights!
posted by cursed to Society & Culture (23 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

Eddie Huang's memoir Fresh Off the Boat?
posted by ferret branca at 7:59 AM on July 23, 2020 [2 favorites]

Memoirs of a Geisha is fiction, well-written and researched, an excellent read.
posted by theora55 at 8:00 AM on July 23, 2020

Is YA ok? Read Laurence Yep's books, especially "Child of the Owl" and "Dragonwings." And reading the earlier books (=earlier chronologically, not earlier written) gives you (me) a good picture on the reasons why some people left China in the first place.

Is Canadian ok? Denise Chong's "The Concubine's Children" illustrates half a family in China and the other half in Vancouver, and many of the issues are the same.

Books by Lisa See.
posted by Melismata at 8:01 AM on July 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

The Accidental Asian by Ted Liu (a recommendation in this FPP from a few years ago which may also be of interest).
posted by Rash at 8:10 AM on July 23, 2020

Nicole Chung's memoir "All You Can Ever Know" looks at her life as a transracial, Korean-American adoptee in the US.
posted by knile at 8:34 AM on July 23, 2020 [3 favorites]

I loved Thi Bui's graphic novel memoir The Best We Could Do. She explores the Vietnamese refugee/immigrant experience and issues within the family. It's beautifully written and illustrated.
posted by rabbitbookworm at 8:47 AM on July 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

Please don't read Memoirs of a Geisha; not only is it a piece of exoticist fantasy written by a non-Asian, white person, the geisha the author interviewed sued him afterwards for defamation and distorting the truth. The geisha, Mineko Iwasaki, eventually wrote her own book as a response.
posted by suedehead at 8:56 AM on July 23, 2020 [25 favorites]

Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning looks like a great read, though I haven't read it myself yet.
posted by overglow at 9:08 AM on July 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

Jinx with overglow about Minor Feelings; this review by Jia Tolentino should tell you if it's for you.
posted by toastyk at 9:09 AM on July 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

Amy Tan did write a sad memoir, The Opposite of Fate: A Book of Musings in 2003.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 9:10 AM on July 23, 2020

Born on the Edge of Race and Gender a memoir by Chinese American activist trans man Willy Wilkinson.

They Called Us Enemy by George Takei
posted by carrioncomfort at 9:26 AM on July 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

lisa see's on gold mountain
posted by brujita at 9:44 AM on July 23, 2020

[Hi, please pay attention to the post's ask and only share texts that are helpful and relevant. As suedehead and anem0ne have stated, Memoirs of a Geisha is not an appropriate text for this thread. Let's take care when sharing and consider who these pieces are written by and for which audience? Please see the poster's explicit example of what they're looking for. Thanks!]
posted by travelingthyme (staff) at 9:54 AM on July 23, 2020 [2 favorites]

I often recommend Covering: The Hidden Assault on Our Civil Rights by Kenji Yoshino. It is a non-technical book about the legal system and cases of discrimination that have been considered not discrimination by courts. It's written from his perspective as a gay Asian-American law professor.
posted by larrybob at 9:58 AM on July 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

Hello, all. Thanks for your answers.

To clarify, I am not interested in recommendations for Asian American (AA) literature, history books, or, to an extent--because this category is less clearcut--memoirs. I have had success searching for these types of books from many helpful lists.

I appealed to AskMeFi because books like Charlie Chan: The Untold Story of the Honorable Detective and His Rendezvous with American History are difficult for me to find. I haven't had luck searching for them or from poring through curated lists.

I am looking for books that comment on, analyze, interpret--through the lenses of history, theory, and criticism--AA phenomena, AA notable people, AA media representations, AA art, AA literature, etc. Would love if these books were written by AA authors, but they seem to be hard to find! Thanks for your help!
posted by cursed at 11:19 AM on July 23, 2020

You might like Hua Hsu's A Floating Chinaman: Fantasy and Failure Across the Pacific.

(I'm not sure what to do when title title of a work contains a slur chosen by a member of that group...)
posted by TwoStride at 11:30 AM on July 23, 2020

Jia Tolentino's Trick Mirror is not entirely about being Asian American, but that definitely plays a part in some of the essays (I'm only halfway through but it's a great read).
posted by jabes at 12:45 PM on July 23, 2020

Eating Asian America: A Food Studies Reader by NYU Press might appeal.

In general, university presses might be helpful places to look. UC Press, for example, has one about Taiko Drumming, and another about Asian Americans in Suburbia.
posted by vunder at 2:29 PM on July 23, 2020

Your clarification is helpful, because your original question referred to "books that are not Asian American literature or history textbooks," and I think a lot of readers interpreted "literature" and "history" as both modifying "textbooks," i.e. you didn't want textbooks on Asian American literature or history, but you were open to recommendations for literature or history that were not textbooks. Until I saw your clarification, I was ready to recommend Ocean Vuong's On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous.

With the caveat that I haven't read it, just read reviews and heard good things about it, you might like Anne Fadiman's book The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, about a Hmong immigrant family's encounter with the American medical system.
posted by brianogilvie at 8:14 PM on July 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

This is a general suggestion, rather than a specific one, but if you want to scroll through lists of similar books to see if any serendipitously catch your attention, you could search for a book you already know on e.g. worldcat, then click on an appropriate subject heading to look at other books also classified with that subject.

For instance, the Charlie Chan listing links to Asian Americans -- Biography. You can then poke around the search results, leading to books like Minor Re/visions: Asian American Literacy Narratives as a Rhetoric of Citizenship by Morris Young. There are also filters if you only want print books, newer books, etc.

Similarly, the fortune cookie listing links to Chinese Americans -- Social Life and Customs, which leads to books like In search of a voice : karaoke and the construction of identity in Chinese America by Casey Man Kong Lum.

I haven't read either the literacy/citizenship book or the karaoke book, but both look like they might be up your alley.
posted by cdefgfeadgagfe at 1:32 AM on July 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

Kai Cheng Thom's Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars

Ed Bok Lee's Whorled

Bao Phi, Sông I Sing and Thousand Star Hotel
Note: Bao is a friend of mine from high school but that's not why I'm recommending him, it's why I know about him.

Charles Yu, How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe

Gene Luen Yang - American Born Chinese is fantastic, and The Shadow Hero is lots of fun.

Dragon Ladies: Asian American Feminists Breathe Fire
posted by bile and syntax at 10:37 AM on July 24, 2020

Not a book, but Jeff Adachi’s film The Slanted Screen, about film and TV depictions of Asian-American men is on Kanopy.
posted by larrybob at 7:56 PM on July 24, 2020

« Older Dentistry in the time of COVID   |   What are some short stories about survival bunkers... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments