Summer Reading List: From Strange Worlds to Living Between Words

Make time for reading this summer. The world will thank you.

Autumn Presencing – 正在的秋天, Huichun Liang

Poet, Translator, Professor of Chinese language and literature at the University of Missouri – Columbia. I had the immense pleasure of studying under Professor Huichun dances between languages with universal empathy. Autumn, Presencing is as precise as it is concise, and displays a breadth of humanity which we can all use at the moment. With allusions to great Chinese poets of past ages and meditations on daily life, Professor Huichun is a name that belong on your shelf!

Buy Now: Indie Bound

The Reincarnated Giant: An Anthology of Twenty-First-Century Chinese Science Fiction (Weatherhead Books on Asia)

Ok, I’ll be the first to admit. Science Fiction, Sci-Fi, SF, whatever you want to call it, not my cup of tea. Cyberpunk, sure. Fantasy, OK. But SF just fell short. 1984? Boring. War of the Worlds? Meh. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing but respect for the SF canon but I never felt swept away and figured SF just wasn’t for me.

Not until this past semester; tasked with writing a term paper on contemporary Chinese SF and wow. Just… Wow. I am officially hooked on the stuff. The speculative worlds and veritable quandaries explored through the authors of Reincarnated Giant introduces a new wave of post-Mao literature in the global, even galactic context. But that’s the beauty of SF, right? It’s not about the fantasy, it’s about SF’s ability to reveal the most fundantal human concerns. Concerns of self vs other, conolonialism/decolonialism, embodiment, AI, environmentalism, and humanitarianism, even posthumanism. If you buy one book this year, please consider Reincarnated Giant!

Buy Now: Columbia University Press

Pachinko, Min Jin Lee

An epic in every sense of the word, Min Jin Lee’s novel Pachinko sprawls over nearly a century, tracing both the larger sociopolitical history of the Korean peninsula as well as the extremely specific trials and tribulations of one family across four generations. At the center of the story is Sunja Baek, a kimchi vendor who stoically absorbs the suffering of everyone around her as she perseveres through the decades. The book is fittingly being adapted into a TV series. — Andrew R. Chow

Buy Now: Pachinko on Bookshop

Asian American Dreams, Helen Zia

Throughout my life, the history of Asian America was largely supplementary to my education. My mother worked hard to ensure that any gaps (and there were many) in my schooling about the history of Asian Americans in this country were covered. It’s a familiar issue that Helen Zia addresses in Asian American Dreams, where she seeks to tell the stories of the Asian Americans who helped build the country we know, but whose narratives largely are “missing in history.” From documenting the first major wave of Chinese immigrants in the 1850s to bearing witness to the moments that have mobilized the Asian American community, such as the 1982 racially-motivated murder of Vincent Chin that helped solidify Asian Americans’ place in the Civil Rights discourse, Zia shines light on an the untold but important legacy of Asian Americans in American history. — Cady Lang

Buy Now: Asian American Dreams on Bookshop | Amazon

Days of Distraction, Alexandra Chang

“It is difficult to parse which parts of me come from my family, from being Chinese, from being Asian American, from being American, from being a woman, from being of a certain generation, and from, simply, being,” thinks the 24-year-old narrator of Days of Distraction. She’s a writer at a prestigious tech magazine in Silicon Valley, who follows her longtime boyfriend, J, to a quiet town in upstate New York. Along the way, she starts to question what it means to be in an interracial relationship, delving into the history of Asian Americans and her own family history. I loved Alexandra Chang’s debut novel, which came out in March 2020. In funny, tender and thought-provoking vignettes and fragments, Chang articulates many aspects of office politics, racism, misogyny, love and identity in an insightful way. As an Asian journalist who has been in many similar environments to ones in the novel, her words deeply resonated with me. — Naina Bajekal

Buy Now: Days of Distraction on Bookshop | Amazon

Wild Swans, Jung Chang

“It is my conscious decision to write about characters and people whose private personal lives are intimately connected with the politics and history of the country,” historian and writer Jung Chang told TIME in 2019, speaking about her book Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister: Three Women at the Heart of Twentieth-Century China. This approach to the history of China started with Chang’s epic autobiography Wild Swans, published in 1991 to international acclaim. Weaving together family history, including the experiences of her grandmother, her mother and her own story against the backdrop of 20th century China, Chang portrayed the experiences of women’s lives in a nuanced, deeply personal, yet accessible way. “I did not appreciate that information about China was not easily available, or was largely misunderstood, in the West,” writes Chang, reflecting on her time as a young woman in the early 1970s. Reading Wild Swans and Chang’s subsequent work goes a long way toward changing that. — Suyin Haynes

Buy Now: Wild Swans on Bookshop | Amazon

Eat a Bowl of Tea, Louis Chu

Arguably the first Chinese American novel to receive widespread publication, Louis Chu’s Eat a Bowl of Tea takes an unflinching dive into Manhattan’s Chinatown in the 1940s, where the rigid societal structures of the old world clashed with 20th century dreams and desires. Chu has no qualms in grappling with the community’s misogyny, violence and shame, while painting vivid scenes of communal joy and support. The book’s honesty and brutality made it shocking to many readers when it was published in 1961; it is now central to Asian American history and studies. — Andrew R. Chow

Buy Now: Eat a Bowl of Tea on Bookshop | Amazon

Minor Feelings, Cathy Park Hong

Cathy Park Hong’s Minor Feelings is the most honest and apt exploration of Asian American identity I’ve ever read. This prescient collection of essays, published in early 2020 just before a year of unprecedented anti-Asian violence due to the pandemic, finds its immeasurable strength in the subtleties, struggles and occasional triumphs of a community living at the margins of a society, largely unacknowledged and left out of a national dialogue about race. Running the gamut from unpacking the shame she felt growing up as the daughter of Korean immigrants to deconstructing her identification with the uncomfortable, caustic comedy of Richard Pryor, Hong’s essays are at once candid, complex and gutting. They demand to be seen in the full range of her humanity as an Asian American woman and writer. — Cady Lang

Buy Now: Minor Feelings on Bookshop | Amazon

Further Reading

Chinese Science Fiction

Call for Applications: Venice-Princeton Summer School in Classical Chinese & Classical Japanese/Kanbun

What can I do with a B.A. in Japanese Studies?

Call for Applications
Venice-Princeton Summer School in Classical Chinese and Classical Japanese/Kanbun

The Ca’ Foscari – Princeton Summer School in Classical Chinese and Classical Japanese/Kanbun is unique in its kind. It offers two tracks of comprehensive, grammar-focused instruction which are designed especially for students who wish to develop their linguistic expertise for graduate study in any discipline of premodern China or Japan.

Both tracks are taught by the principal instructors of the classical language programs at Ca’ Foscari and Princeton. In addition to language classes, students will be offered a lecture series on topics in premodern Chinese and Japanese culture (history, literature, thought). Both tracks welcome students who are beginners in Classical Chinese or Japanese, as well as those who already have some background foundation.

Dates: July 4 to 29 (4 weeks)
Location: Venice, Italy – Ca’ Foscari University, School for International Education (SIE)
Application Deadline: March 31st

Credits: 12 ECTS or equivalent of one full semester (80 classroom hours plus additional lectures)
Fees and Costs: € 1.300,00…

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Travels and Travails in Translation – Aesop’s Fables from Greek to Japanese to English

Peacock and Crane

クジャク が ツル を バカ に して、はね の いろ を けなしました。

「わたし は きんいろ の はね で、こんな に きれい だけれど、

 あなた と きたら つばさ の どこ を みて も きれいな いろ が ぜんぜん ないわね」

 すると ツル は、

「でも わたし は、そら の たかい ところ まで とんで いけるのよ。

 あなた なんか ニワトリ と おなじ で、じめん を あるきまわる だけ じゃないの」

 きかざっていても じゆう の ない にんげん より も、みなり は しっそ でも じゆう の ある にんげん の ほう が よい と、この おはなし は おしえています。


Peacock and Crane

Peacock boastfully spread its plumage before Crane, flaunting its feathers.

              “Look upon my plumes as they spread like a rainbow, pure and clean while your second-rate feathers are dull.”

Unperturbed, Crane spread its own wings and took aflight.

              “Indeed. But you’ll see with these wings I rise into the sky and leave you behind.”

Lion and Gadfly






Lion and Gadfly

Flying before a resting lion, the gadfly teased the reclining beast:

              “You with your self-important gaze, I am not afraid.”

The gadfly stung lion upon the nose,

              “Nor am I afraid of your scary face!”

Gadfly spoke proudly and buzzed off right into a spider’s web. A fatal mistake.

Donkey and Cricket

クリケットの素敵な歌を聞いたロバは、興味を持って出かけました。 「クリケットさん、この地球上であなたの楽しい曲を養うものは何ですか?こんなに甘く歌うために何を食べますか?」 「梅雨のエッセンス、草」 クリケットはロバに知らせました。 したがって、ロバは同じことをすることに決めました、そして、その腹が空になり、ロバは死にました。

Donkey and Cricket

Upon hearing the lovely song of a cricket, Donkey went forth with interest:

              “Cricket-san, what on this earth feeds your delightful tunes? What is it you eat to sing so sweet?”

              “It is the essence of the rainy season, the grass”

Cricket informed the Donkey.

Donkey thus decided to do the same and, its belly emptied, Donkey died.

Poem: Rambling Without Destination, or Paradise Lost (Patron Content)

All support contributes to my upcoming chapbook. An assemblage of essays, poems, and short stories. More info coming soon. Tremendously thankful for all those of you who've supported me along the way.

Rambling Without Destination, or Another Paradise Lost


“Biting into an anchovy brine dissolves across my tongue. Salt and sea marrying into the myriad effervescence of it all. The wine settled deep within my belly, then rising, awakening the uninhibited within. I raise my head back and suck at the sharp-edged mother of pearl, plunge my knife into another spine, and shoot down a lick of Tabasco. The waiter smiles, proffering a damp towel.”

So many years ago now.

“Kalismera”, she said, nodding east. The sunrise cast hazy projectiles of gold leaf into the Cretan sky.

A beautiful morning. I smiled in agreement.


But I hadn’t come here for the sunrise. Certainly not for the oysters or the Seabreeze.

It was a sort of literary pilgrimage. Or so I insisted. Let’s rephrase that: it was an attempt to escape my life, disguised as a literary pilgrimage…



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Demons Out, Fortune In. It’s Setsubun (節分): Bean Scattering, Bad Fortunes & Demon Slaying


Demons out! Fortune in!

As we embark upon the Year of the Tiger, there are many concerns among us. Especially here in the Middle West. From the looming state of a global virus to the multi-faceted winter storm mysteriously named Landon… Blankets of snow render campus into a ice palace fit for the Snow Queen herself. But there are other stories out there. While I hunker down with a bowl of microwave miso soup and stale ramen, I am reminded of the world outside. For those of us Japanese scholars who have been denied entrance into our beloved country, a world of resources have opened through public scholarship. The digital humanities are booming as researchers in and outside of Japan work tirelessly to provide content and material to those of us with limited access. These people, these people are like beans. And the virus, a hoard of Oni, obnoxiously beating their bellies, roaring, and cracking their spiked kanabō (金棒) upon the earth. This will all make sense in the following blog. What I mean to say is thank you. Thank you everyone. Thank you for supporting me. For Providing. For your generous readership. For your tireless generosity. This past year ground me to a pulp.

But you know what, we’re going to sing. We’re going to throw our beans, embrace this spring. Out, out with you Oni! Come, come good things. Oh, and get boosted. Seriously. Are you an Oni, or a Bean? Think about it,

Demons out! Fortune in! Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi! As we embark upon the Year of the Tiger it’s time we set our demons in order. That’s right, everyone, it’s Setsubun no Hi #節分の日 #節分

OK, where were we? Ah, Setsubun no Hi (節分の日)

Setsubun (節分) is the day before the beginning of spring in the old calendar in Japan. The name literally means ‘seasonal division’, referring to the day just before the first day of spring in the traditional calendar, known as Setsubun; though previously referring to a wider range of possible dates, Setsubun is now typically held on February 3 (in 2021 it was on 2nd February), with the day after – the first day of spring in the old calendar – known as Risshun (立春). Both Setsubun and Risshun are celebrated yearly as part of the Spring Festival (Haru matsuri (春祭)) in Japan.[4] In its association with the Lunar New YearSetsubun, though not the official New Year, was thought of as similar in its ritual and cultural associations of ‘cleansing’ the previous year as the beginning of the new season of spring. Setsubun was accompanied by a number of rituals and traditions held at various levels to drive away the previous year’s bad fortunes and evil spirits for the year to come.


The main ritual associated with the observance of Setsubun is mamemaki (豆撒き, “bean scattering”); this ritual sees roasted soybeans (known as fukumame (福豆, “fortune beans”)) either thrown out of the front door, or at a member of the family wearing an oni (demon/ogre) mask while shouting “Devils out! Fortune in!” (鬼は外! 福は内!, Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!), before slamming the door. The beans are thought to symbolically purify the home by driving away the evil spirits that bring misfortune and bad health with them. Then, as part of bringing luck in, it is customary to eat roasted soybeans, one for each year of one’s life (kazoedoshi), plus one more for bringing good luck for the year.

The custom of mamemaki first appeared in the Muromachi period, and is usually performed by either a man of the household born in the corresponding zodiac year for the new year (toshiotoko (年男)), or else the male head of the household.

Though still a somewhat common practice in households, many people will also or instead attend a shrine or temple’s spring festival, where the practice of mamemaki is performed; in some areas, such as Kyoto, this involves a dance performed by apprentice geisha, after which the apprentices themselves throw packets of roasted soybeans to the crowds. In other areas, priests and invited guests throw packets of roasted soybeans, some wrapped in gold or silver foil, small envelopes with money, sweets, candies and other prizes. In some bigger and more central shrines, celebrities and sumo wrestlers are invited to celebrations, usually to Setsubun events that are televised.

Video by Discover Kyoto

How do you celebrate the coming of Spring?

The world is full of rich and colorful festivals marking the passage of time. I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments below.


Together we will create brave space
Because there is no such thing as a “safe space”
We exist in the real world
We all carry scars and we have all caused wounds.
In this space
We seek to turn down the volume of the outside world.
We amplify voices that fight to be heard elsewhere,
We call each other to more truth and love
We have the right to start somewhere and continue to grow. We have the responsibility to examine what we think we know. We will not be perfect.
It will not always be what we wish it to be
It will be our brave space together,
We will work on it side by side.

by Micky Scottbey Jones

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