While researching for my thesis, I came across the stat that the typical (median) American has read five books in the last 12 months. I’ve read 90 books this year. I also started reviewing and writing about books professionally, and I started a bookstagram.
To celebrate, I’ve narrowed down my list to five books I loved that I think you should give a shot.
Memoir: Maybe You Should Talk to Someone
After a personal relationship crisis, therapist Lori Gottlieb looks for a therapist of her own. This memoir is about Gottlieb’s journey to healing. You get inside her head both as she goes through therapy and therapizes others. I loved this book for its honesty and for the way it allows you think though scenarios with the author. This is definitely not a self-help book or a replacement for therapy. But I recognized part of myself in some of the anecdotes, and it was helpful to have a vocabulary to think through what was happening to me or those around me.
Not my genre but I loved it anyway: Babel, or The Necessity of Violence: An Arcane History of the Oxford Translators’ Revolution
Babel is a historical fantasy novel set in 1830s England. The main character, Robin, is taken from his home in Canton to train as a translator at Oxford. Robin loves his school and his new life there, but as he learns more about the translation magic that keep society running, he realizes that it comes at deadly cost.
I’m usually not a big fantasy or historical fiction reader, but this book really resonated with me because of angst about elite institutions of higher education. This book is set in the past, but a lot of the issues are super relevant today. Low key, this is the book that got me writing about Asian American books.
I also talked to the author, R. F. Kuang, about it, and she was super cool! Check out the interview in the Boston Globe.
People need to talk more about this book: The Measure
This magical realism tale about a world in which everyone wakes up to find a box with a string inside. No one knows where they came from. But when it’s discovered that the length of your string corresponds with the length of your life, society devolves into chaos over them. This book follows the story of eight people–some with short strings, some with long strings– as they navigate the aftermath and the moral dilemmas that come with the boxes. It’s a book about knowing the future/fate and what that does to your perception of others, love, and politics.
I read this book in a day. Lots of books have interesting premises, but this book executes the premise in thought provoking ways that stick with you far beyond the time that you’re reading the book.
Other 2022 books I think didn’t get enough hype:
Most Innovative Storytelling: True Biz
True Biz is a novel written in multiple perspectives which surrounds a Deaf school. You can read a more detailed summary on bookstagram, but I’m recommending this book because it so beautifully captures the process of language learning and sign language specifically through text which is so difficult. Novic deftly combines passages teaching you about Deaf culture and sign language with an expertly plotted narrative that gives you glimpses into different people within the Deaf community’s experiences.
Overall book of the year: Our Missing Hearts
Celeste Ng’s newest novel is a dystopian book that hits close to home. It’s about the aftermath of a plague turned economic crisis which causes the rise of government sanctioned discrimination against Asian Americans and censorship. She started writing this way before the pandemic. But given everything that has happened in the last few years, this book is so emotionally gutting on every level which makes it hard to recommend to people. But I love this book, and I’m saving my copy for my kids to read some day.
My full review ran in the Boston Globe (PDF available here).
Bonus: Books that I can’t stop talking about
Okay, I said five books, but here are some other books that live in my head rent free. If you’ve talked to me in the last year, I probably mentioned at least one of these.
- The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz – binge readable thriller/book within a book that got me into reading physical copies of books again.
- Somebody’s Daughter by Ashley C. Ford – powerful memoir about the author’s grappling with her relationship with her father while he is incarcerated and growing up in general.
- You’re Not Listening: What You’re Missing and Why It Matters by Kate Murphy – a journalist tells you about the art of listening and challenges you to think about how much you’re really listening to others.
- One for All by Lillie Lainoff – inventive YA reimagining of “The 3 Musketeers” with a disabled female protagonist.
- We Were Dreamers by Simu Liu – touching memoir about growing up as the stereotypical guaixiaohai and finding a dream of your own.
- American Made: What Happens to People when Work Disappears by Farah Stockman – non-fiction book that follows three factory workers in Indianapolis (!) as their workplace closes to move to Mexico/China. This book really humanizes an issue we often talk about in the abstract.
- Counterfeit by Kirstin Chen – This book low key solidified my thesis. It’s about an Asian American who gets caught holding the bag for an international counterfeit scheme. But it’s so much more. No spoilers, but there’s a reveal halfway through that I still think about all the time.
- Mika in Real Life by Emiko Jean – Mika’s life has been a low key mess. She was just broken up with and lost her job. When the daughter she gave up for adoption in high school finds her via social media and wants to reconnect, she lies about her whole life. This book is great example of Asian American rep that isn’t about race but integrates identity well.
- Funny You Should Ask by Elissa Sussman – about a culture journalist, Chani, who profiles a movie star with unprecedented access. She meets him at his home, gets drunk and sleeps over at his house. After the profile publishes, everyone thinks they slept together. Years later, she has to write a follow-up, and it’s a second chance romance. The main character lives both my dream and my worst nightmare as a culture writer.
- Book Lovers by Emily Henry – I love a publishing rom-com.
- Disorientation by Elaine Hsieh Chou – Satirical look at East Asian Studies, academia, and romantic relationships. This book made me laugh and made me cry. Chou is a brilliant essayist, and you’ll be in good hands.
- There There by Tommy Orange – (technically a reread for class) multi-perspective novel about Indigenous people in Oakland. Made me think a lot about what it means to represent a minority group/community in writing.
- Members Only by Sameer Pandya – This novel follows an Indian American professor as he basically has the worst week of his life. It’s an interesting look at the way that Asian Americans are racialized in this country and explores cancel culture/the teacher-student relationship.
I’m always looking for more books to read/review. Pitch me by getting in touch or email is in my bio on the side bar.