Celebrate AAPI Heritage Month with these staff-recommended must-read books

Woman laying upside down on a couch reading an open book.

Photo by Matias North on Unsplash.

By Sam Cohen

May 6, 2024

We asked our colleagues across Courier Newsroom to share recommendations for books by AAPI authors. Here’s what they said.

Reading has been my favorite pastime for as long as I can remember. Even from a young age, I’d choose somewhere quiet to sit and read over pretty much any other activity. I think the reason why I’ve always been drawn to it—and why it’s still something I hold close to my heart—is because reading is the number one thing that makes me feel less alone.

Books (and stories and poems and essays) help us connect with other people in a more meaningful way. They also allow us to see things from new perspectives and to gain a deeper understanding of what life is like for others. Whether it’s through fantasy or nonfiction, books act as a portal to other worlds, different mindsets, and new points of view.

So, to celebrate AAPI Heritage Month this May, we wanted to shed light on Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander authors to foster this sense of connection. My colleagues across Courier Newsroom weighed in with their most-loved recommendations, and we hope that this collection of titles will help you learn more about the AAPI community and the important role AAPI writers have played in our collective history.

To celebrate even further, Bookshop.org is offering a 15% discount for AAPI Heritage Month (from now until May 31), so be sure to check out the sale here and pick up some of these titles for yourself.

And to find and support an AAPI-owned bookstore near you, click here.

Before we get to everyone’s recs, here are a few of my own:

“The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea” by Axie Oh

Axie Oh’s “The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea” is a reimagining of a Korean folktale, “The Tale of Shim Cheong.” I was immediately drawn into Oh’s story from the very first line. It was beautiful, emotional, and enchanting from start to finish.

I loved the characters in this story and how they developed throughout, and I was sad to part ways with them when I finished the last page.

“Night Sky With Exit Wounds” by Ocean Vuong

Ocean Vuong is one of my favorite authors. Everything he writes is deeply personal—when you’re reading his work, you can feel his emotions as if they are your own.

“Night Sky With Exit Wounds” is a dreamy (though painful) collection of Vuong’s poetry. I’ve read this one several times, and each time I take something new away from it.

“Goodbye, Vitamin” by Rachel Khong

I read this book in one sitting. Rachel Khong’s writing is refreshing—it offers a sense of quiet insight that isn’t always present in fiction. To be honest, it didn’t really even feel like a fiction book when I was reading it. It felt more like a story that Khong was telling me, personally, about someone she knew.

There’s a level of intimacy in the writing that made me feel connected with the characters and the story in a really moving way.

Book recommendations

“On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous” by Ocean Vuong

Ocean Vuong’s “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous” blends poetry, memoir, and fiction in ways I didn’t know were possible. Gut-wrenching and beautiful.

-Michael Foley, Growth Project Manager

“Know My Name: A Memoir” by Chanel Miller

Just finished “Know My Name” by Chanel Miller, who is Chinese-American. Wonderful, heavy, important, makes you wonder why justice has been so long denied and continues to be for victims of sexual assault.

-Amie Rivers, Community Editor at Iowa Starting Line

“Kaikeyi” by Vaishnavi Patel

The book reimagines the life of a mythological Hindu queen, who finds her own independence in a world dictated by men. It challenges many popular beliefs people have and also helps women today find a voice (and power!)—and I think it’s been banned in certain places!!

-Mrinali Dhembla, Multimedia Reporter at Granite Post

“Afterparties: Stories” by Anthony Veasna So

So’s collection of short stories is hilarious and heartbreaking.

“The Sympathizer” by Viet Thanh Nguyen

I’ve never read The Sympathizer but many people rave about it.

“The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida” by Shehan Karunatilaka.

This won the Booker Prize in 2022.

-Michael O’Connor, Political Correspondent at Dogwood

“What My Bones Know: A Memoir of Healing from Complex Trauma” by Stephanie Foo

I read this a couple years ago which was a really rough read but gave me a much better understanding of generational trauma and complex PTSD.

“How High We Go In The Dark” by Sequoia Nagamatsu

A little triggering to read while still dealing with the aftermath of living through COVID, but I loved the way the stories of grief and loss were woven together to show how humans try to find meaning and connection among such immense tragedy.

-Marianne Kuga, Paid Media Director

“An Ember in the Ashes” by Sabaa Tahir

“Three Dark Crowns” by Kendare Blake

“Six Crimson Cranes” by Elizabeth Lim

“The Tiger at Midnight” by Swati Teerdhala

“The Poppy War” and “Babel” by R.F. Kuang

I read a lot of fantasy, and these are a few books I’ve recently enjoyed! I love seeing how fantasy authors often weave together their personal experiences and cultural backgrounds to create new fantasy worlds.

People also love “Yellowface” by R.F. Kuang, but I haven’t read it yet.

-Danielle Strasburger, Director of Communications and Marketing

“Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow” by Gabrielle Zevin

I love books that explore what love looks outside of the context of a romantic relationship. This story focuses on the love between childhood friends, business partners, creative collaborators, and more—all with incredibly moving detail.

-Jessica Swarner, Community Editor at Copper Courier

“Red Scarf Girl: A Memoir of the Cultural Revolution” by Ji-Li Jiang

Since I first read it in elementary school, “Red Scarf Girl” by Ji-Li Jiang has been one of my absolute favorites. Told from the perspective of an innocently optimistic young girl growing up during China’s Cultural Revolution, this book (based on the author’s real-life upbringing) provides a lot of insight about a time period often overlooked in history classes here in the US.

And don’t let its classification as a YA novel fool you—I definitely got more out of it re-reading it as an adult than when I was a kid.

-Christina Lorey, Community Editor at UpNorthNews

“The Forest of Stolen Girls” by June Hur

I’m pretty much obsessed with anything south and southeast Asian, but I ended up giving this book to my half Korean cousins because it has a lot of historical fiction elements. It was cool to have them be able to read about certain places that their mom actually has been to in real life.

-Angelique Inchierca, Social Media Manager at Granite Post

“The Rise of Kyoshi” and “The Shadow of Kyoshi” by F.C. Yee

Any “Avatar: The Last Airbender” fan, “The Rise of Kyoshi” and “The Shadow of Kyoshi” by F.C. Yee are so good!!

-Bryce Lacy, Partnerships Manager

“How High We Go in the Dark” by Sequoia Nagamatsu, “The Atlas Six” by Olivie Blake, and “Babel” by R.F. Kuang

All of these books are amazing, but “Babel” by R.F. Kuang is literally my favorite book of all time, I think!

-Lucy Ritzmann, Editorial and Content Manager

“Crying in H Mart: A Memoir” by Michelle Zauner

Like the author, I’m also half Korean with a mother who had extremely high expectations of me. Zauner talks a lot about feeling alienated growing up in her mostly white hometown—I also struggled with where to fit in growing up. And when I moved away from home after college, shopping at a knock-off version of H Mart in North Carolina helped me feel reconnected to my Korean identity. This book just resonated with me so much, and was the first I’ve read to include so many parts that I could have written myself from my own personal experience.

-Kimberly Lawson, VP of Community Content

Author recommendations

Paul Yoon

Jhumpa Lahiri

Ocean Vuong

Amy Tan

Kevin Kwan

Celeste Ng

Ruth Ozeki

Ken Liu

And I’ve heard Li-Young Lee’s poetry is wonderful!

-Lisa Hayes, Editorial Director

 

For additional suggestions from Penguin Random House, click here to read their Must-Read Books for Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.

READ MORE: Read more, spend less: Here’s where you can get free books

  • Sam Cohen

    Sam is the Editorial Product Manager in the Community Department at COURIER Newsroom. Prior to joining the organization, Sam worked as a writer and editor covering topics ranging from literature, health & wellness, and astrology to the British royal family and profiles of notable actors and musicians.

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