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I realize we have turned the corner into June, but I didn’t want to let May slip away without acknowledging Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. One of the great privileges of my life is that I got to spend a significant part of my childhood living in Korea and Japan. That experience, and participating in the other diverse communities I had the opportunity of being a part of, was incredibly formative. As necessary conversations are continuing around issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion, we need as many narratives as possible to help continue to widen perspectives around race–away from simple binaries–and to combat the attitudes that has made violence against Asian Americans rise astronomically in these last couple of years.

Of course, stories of the Asian diaspora are incredibly vast in number and complex in subject. So this is only a tiny start, a small drop in the bucket. But a few recommendations of some of my recent faves, perhaps for your summer reading. Please add your own in the comment sections.

To watch:

  • Minari. A wonderful film, chronicling the struggle of a family to establish a farm in Arkansas, directed by Lee Isaac Chung. Deserving of all its accolades.
  • Kim’s Convenience. Season Five of this witty, heartfelt Canadian sitcom premieres today on Netflix. Authentic and warm-hearted and, bonus, captures church culture brilliantly.

To read:

  • Charles Yu, Interior Chinatown. The winner of the 2020 National Book Award for Fiction, Interior Chinatown is one of the most inventive novels I’ve read in a long time. Yu’s novel examines issues of representation in a fresh, smart way. These issues of representation are also of note in Peter Ho Davies’ masterful The Fortunes.
  • Min Jin Lee, 1) Pachinko and 2) Free Food for Millionaires. Yes, I’ve mentioned Lee here before. I’m a huge fan–and it’s my personal mission for everyone to read her books. Her novels, like the best 19th century ones, help us think about big issues, even as we are grounded in the lives of everyday people. Of late, she’s written two moving essays in the New York Times that I highly recommend: here and here
  • Michelle Kuo, Reading with Patrick. The longer you read it, the more you realize that Kuo’s evocative memoir defies easy categorization. At first glance, the story of a highly educated young woman and her time, post-college, in the Arkansas Delta–especially her work with her incarcerated former student–the book grapples deeply with issues of literacy and educational access, of justice and privilege, of the power and limitation of literature. Kuo’s deep integrity and self-interrogation will make you love her. And it’s a book you won’t soon forget.
  • Bich Minh Nguyen, Stealing Buddha’s Dinner. I taught this incredibly engaging 2008 memoir to my first year writers in the fall. Growing up in Grand Rapids, Nguyen uses food as the organizing principle of telling her story as an immigrant in white bread 1970s Grand Rapids. The book’s attention to detail is stunning and emotional.
  • Gene Luen Yang, American Born Chinese. For fans of graphic novels and just well-told stories, Yang’s amazing work shouldn’t be missed. Yang is a MacArthur Fellow, and we’ve been lucky enough to host him at the Festival of Faith & Writing! Here’s his Rewrite Radio episode.

May these “delight and instruct” in the way of all good literature. Enjoy!

Jennifer L. Holberg

I’ve taught English at Calvin College since 1998–where I get to read books and talk about them for a living. What could be better? Along with my wonderful colleague, Jane Zwart, I am the co-director of the Calvin Center for Faith and Writing, which is the home of the Festival of Faith and Writing as well as a number of other exciting endeavors. Given my interest in teaching, I’m the founding co-editor of the Duke University Press journal Pedagogy: Critical Approaches to Teaching Literature, Language, Composition and Culture (and yes, I realize that that is a very long subtitle). As an Army brat, I’ve never lived anywhere as long as I’ve now lived in Grand Rapids, a city I've come to love. I count myself rich in friends and family. I collect cookbooks (and also like to cook), listen to all kinds of music, and watch all manner of movies and tv shows. I love George Eliot, Jane Austen, Marilynne Robinson, Dante, E.M. Delafield, Tennyson, Hopkins, and Charlotte Bronte (among others). And I used to have a bumper sticker on my car that said: “I’d rather be reading Flannery O’Connor.” I don't have the car anymore, but the sentiment is still true.

3 Comments

  • Daniel Meeter says:

    Thank you so much for this table of gifts. “Bassroom” indeed.

  • Another thanks! I loved Reading with Patrick and pushed it on all my friends. I’ll make note of the others and add them to my 20 book hold list at the Herrick District Library North Branch.

    • Karl J Westerhof says:

      Reading With Patrick was a book that just delighted me, and introduced me to places totally new….. and gave me a picture of a life that taught me and enriched me and stretched me…. and I can’t recommend it enough. So well written! Glad you loved it too!

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