R.O. Kwon Picks 5 Books By Women You Should Read
The author of “The Incendiaries” suggests ways to get more non-men—and more Korean American writers—onto your shelves
Electric Lit relies on contributions from our readers to help make literature more exciting, relevant, and inclusive. Please support our work by becoming a member today, or making a one-time donation here.
If you didn’t hear about R.O. Kwon when her debut novel The Incendiaries blew up last year, you may know her from the latest installment of her “books by women and nonbinary authors of color to read this year” series, published earlier this month in Electric Lit. This year there are 48 recommendations, more than ever before—but Kwon also did a list of 46 highly anticipated books by women of color in 2018, and 34 in 2017. Not only that, but she convened a roundtable of prominent Asian American woman writers for a fascinating discussion about race, politics, and publishing.
So you might think Kwon has already done enough to promote the cause of reading more non-men. But she’s not resting on her laurels. In the latest installment of our Read More Women series, presented in collaboration with MCD Books, she offers five ways to expand your reading list—not just to include more women, but also to include more Korean American writers.
Last year was an extraordinary year for books, movies, and television by and centrally featuring Korean Americans, a group not at all used to seeing itself on the page and screen. I’m Korean American, and a writer, and it wasn’t until after college that I first encountered the published work of other Korean American writers. This means that, until I graduated from college, I was obsessed with an art form, literature, in which people like me did not exist. I keep talking about this, it seems; I can’t stop talking about it, in part because I’m still aghast. No one should have to grow up that way, and nowadays, it’s becoming increasingly, spectacularly possible to avoid such a lack.
All You Can Ever Know, Nicole Chung
2018 was lit up by new work from, among other luminaries, Alexander Chee, Jenny Han, John Cho, and Sandra Oh, but since this is a series about reading more women, I’ll start by talking about Nicole Chung’s All You Can Ever Know. Have you read this book yet? It’s a memoir about Chung’s adoption, powerful and generous and wise, and it will crack your heart open.
If You Leave Me, Crystal Hana Kim
The fact that the Korean War is commonly referred to as “the Forgotten War” sometimes has me nearly levitating with rage and sadness. Forgotten by whom, fuckers? You know who has not come close to forgetting that imperialist, country-dividing war? Every Korean person I know. Kim’s debut novel is inspired by her grandmother’s experiences as a war refugee, and it’s as devastating as it is unforgettable.
Emergency Contact, Mary H.K. Choi
“Emergency Contact is one of the smartest books I’ve read in some time,” said my husband, one of the best readers I know. (I’m biased, but hey.) This novel is about two people, Penny and Sam, who fall in love over texts. In addition to its aforementioned intelligence, the book is exceedingly charming. Just go read it.
The Kinship of Secrets, Eugenia Kim
Back to that not-at-all-forgotten war: The Kinship of Secrets is centered on two sisters separated by the Korean War and its repercussions. It made me cry, and it reminded me to call my own sibling. The Kinship of Secrets is based on Kim’s family’s experiences.
The Way You Make Me Feel, Maurene Goo
In this engrossing novel, Clara Shin has a summer job she doesn’t want at her father’s Korean Brazilian food truck. I first came across the book by reading an interview of Goo in which Steph Cha says, “I read Maurene’s latest, The Way You Make Me Feel, with great joy and a sense of recognition I never got to experience as a young adult reader,” to which I say hurrah and manseh.