10 Books by Asian Canadian and Asian American women you need to add to your reading list

In light of International Women’s Day, it is important to celebrate writers and authors who are too often marginalized by the mainstream publishing industry.

In light of International Women’s Day, it is important to celebrate writers and authors who are too often marginalized by the mainstream publishing industry. According to Data USA from 2018, although a majority (59.3%) of writers and authors in the US are female, Asians only make up 4.09% of writers and authors overall.

Reading has always been key in helping me learn, and one of my personal goals this year is to diversify my reading list. By doing so, I hope to walk away from every book I read with new insights and perspectives on the world around me.

Especially with the recent rise in hate crimes against Asian Americans, it is increasingly important to celebrate and support the work of writers who recount the unique stories of the Asian diaspora.

Ranging from memoirs to short stories to fiction novels, here are 10 books by Asian Canadian and Asian American women you need to add to your reading list. 

Crying in H-Mart – Michelle Zauner

Book cover of Crying in H-Mart by Michelle Zauner

In this evocative and poignant memoir, writer and indie musician Michelle Zauner (also known as Japanese Breakfast) shares her experiences growing up as a half Korean American, detailing the relationship she had with her late mother. As she grieves the loss of her mother to cancer, she returns to her roots and reconnects with her Korean heritage through food. This is a book about family, food, grief, and endurance – embracing the messiness of being human.

Here is Zauner’s viral 2018 The New Yorker essay that shares the title of this book.

How to Pronounce Knife – Souvankham Thammavongsa

Book cover of How to Pronounce Knife by Souvankham Thammavongsa

A young schoolgirl brings home a book and asks her father for help pronouncing the word, “knife.” A boxer finds himself painting nails at his sister’s local salon. A woman plucks feathers at a chicken processing plant. Winner of the 2020 Scotiabank Giller Prize, Canadian poet Thammavongsa’s collection of fictional short stories captures and honours the immigrant experience of Laotian Americans who are struggling to find their bearings in unfamiliar territory.

Minor Feelings – Cathy Park Hong

Book cover of Minor Feelings by Cathy Park Hong

Hong’s collection of thought-provoking essays explores her personal journey growing up as a Korean American. She takes a deep dive into examining racial consciousness — shedding light on the self-hating Asian, respectability politics, and shame as it ties back to her identity as a writer. If you’re interested in a personal and honest examination of Asian American history, psychology, and identity, this book is for you.

See also: Identity awakening of an Asian American — Cathy Park Hong’s Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning

We Are Not Here to be Bystanders – Linda Sarsour

Book Cover of We Are Not Here to be Bystanders by Linda Sarsour

American political activist and Women’s March co-organizer Linda Sarsour shares her intimate and moving coming-of-age story growing up as a Palestinian Muslim American.

One chilly spring morning in Brooklyn, 19 year-old Sarsour stared at her reflection in the mirror as she wore a hijab for the first time. Moved by the shocking aftermath of 9/11, she discovered her innate sense of justice. This is a profound memoir about finding one’s voice and what it means to not be a bystander — woven together by powerful and inspiring narratives based on her own experiences.

Bestiary – K-Ming Chang

Book cover of Bestiary by K-Ming Chang

Based on various Taiwanese, Chinese, and Fujianese folktales, Chang’s debut novel follows three generations of unnamed matriarchal Taiwanese American women – Daughter, Mother, and Grandmother. One night, Mother tells Daughter a tale about a toe-eating tiger spirit, Hu Gu Po (Tiger Ghost Woman), and Daughter awakes one day with a tiger tail.

Pushing against the traditional diaspora narrative, this is a spellbinding tale told through magic and animals about immigration, violence, and belonging.

See also: Of animals, magic, and mothers: K-Ming Chang’s World of Bestiary

Days of Distraction – Alexandra Chang

Book cover of Days of Distraction by Alexandra Chang

The protagonist of this novel is a young Chinese American millennial who works as a staff writer for a prestigious tech publication in Silicon Valley. At work, she is constantly faced with office politics, racism, and microaggressions.

Eventually, she decides to move across the country to New York with her Irish American boyfriend, leaving behind her job and her family — who are Chinese immigrants. She embarks on a journey of self reflection and acquaints herself with stories about her Chinese heritage, as well as those of other Asian Americans.

We Have Always Been Here – Samra Habib

Book cover of We Have Always Been Here by Samra Habib

Habib is a Pakistani Canadian photographer, writer, and activist. This queer Muslim memoir traces Habib’s journey as an Ahmadi Muslim who grew up in Pakistan and came to Canada with her family as refugees. Growing up, her family had to hide from Islamic extremists. When they came to Canada, she was eventually forced into an arranged marriage. Habib faced many adversities, but eventually found an accepting community photographing queer Muslims and sharing their stories. This is a story about identity, faith, art, and love.

Dear Girls – Ali Wong

Book cover of Dear Girls by Ali Wong

Wong is a standup comedian known for her critically acclaimed Netflix specials Baby Cobra and Hard Knock Wife. Many also recognize her from the film, Always Be My Maybe, which she co-produced with Randall Park.

Dear Girls is an extremely candid memoir, woven together by a series of hilarious and heartfelt letters to Wong’s two daughters. Covering brutally honest, unfiltered, and maybe even TMI (too much information) details from her upbringing, relationships, marriage, sex, and more, Wong shares the lessons learned and wisdom gained from her life as a standup comedian.

Although this memoir is addressed to her daughters, it is truly an inspiring and enlightening story of success.

See also: Cold Tea Reads: Reflecting on Ali Wong’s Dear Girls

All You Can Ever Know – Nicole Chung

Book cover of All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung

In this moving memoir, Chung recounts her experience as a Korean American transracial adoptee and the search for her birth parents.

Chung documents her childhood growing up in a small, predominantly white town in Oregon with her adoptive parents — trying to navigate and find her identity as an Asian American. She shares how her childhood experience as an adoptee intersects with her experience as a new mother, which sparked the quest to search for her birth parents. This is a story about identity, belonging, and hard truths.

The Best We Could Do – Thi Bui

Book cover of The Best We Could Do -byThi Bui

Bui’s illustrated memoir beautifully captures an intimate and heartfelt story about immigration, displacement, and parenthood.

As Bui navigates motherhood for the first time, she recalls her own childhood growing up in California. She documents the difficulties her family faced building new lives for themselves after escaping South Vietnam in the 1970s, and reflects on the endless sacrifices her parents made during the Vietnam War by retelling stories from their past.

This engaging memoir uncovers unresolved trauma and hardship, distilling years of emotion from her family’s history into small, but powerful, illustrated panels.

I hope this list inspires you to seek out more books written by Asian Canadian and Asian American women to diversify your 2021 reading list. There are so many more incredible titles written by women, so let us know if you have any recommendations!

Like Malala Yousafzai said in I Am Malala, “Let us pick up our books and our pens. They are the most powerful weapons.”

Featured photo credit: Anthony Tran

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