Non-Fiction Recs by AAPI Authors | 2020 Edition

Next up in my updated recommendation list of books written by AAPI authors in non-fiction. I never read much non-fiction when I was younger, but the older I get the more interested I’ve become in the genre, and in particular, memoirs.

Here’s the link to my original 2018 post of non-fiction books recommendations written by AAPI authors [link].

Again, these are my recommendations for books that I’ve read and/or books that I want to read and are in no way a comprehensive list of the number of English-language novels written by authors of Asian and Pacific Islander ancestry.

Some websites and posts that I recommend checking out if your are looking for even more recommendations for books written by authors of Asian and Pacific Islander descent and/or prominently feature characters of Asian and Pacific Islander descent are:

So let’s get to my recommendations.

Know My Name: A Memoir by Chanel Miller 

This memoir is arguably one of the most powerful memoirs to be published in the last few years. For a long time, Chanel Miller was known only as Emily Doe, the victim in the Stanford rape case. Her victim impact statement was posted on Buzzfeed and was read by millions around the world and translated into multiple languages and helped create change in California law. 

This memoir is her story – told through her own words, through her own voice about the trauma she faced, her courage and recovery, and the transcendent power of words. It’s also an indictment of a criminal justice system that has continually failed the most vulnerable and sheds light on a society that has far too long protected the perpetrators instead of the victims. Miller is a powerful writer, who weaves pain, resilience, and humour through her sentences in this memoir.  

Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning by Cathy Park Hong 

Essayist and poet Cathy Park Hong take on the prickly subject of what it means to actually be an Asian American in America. While considered a “model minority”, the disparity between what people believe and the reality is vast – with one of the most economically divided groups in the U.S, Asian Americans have roots from over two dozen homelands spread across large bodies of landmass and water – with vastly different cultures, histories, and traumas. 

Minor Feelings is a part memoir, part cultural criticism, and part history of what it means to be Asian American. Through essays and Hong’s thesis of “minor feelings” this intimate collection dives deep into an examination of racial consciousness in today’s American society.

All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung 

All You Can Ever Know was one of the best books I read in 2019. Nicole Chung grew up in a small town in Oregon knowing that she was different from everyone around her – facing prejudices and questions of identity that her family did not understand. Adopted by Caucasian parents after her biological Korean parents put her up for adoption shortly after her birth, Nicole is one of the thousands of transracial adoptees in the U.S. As Chung grew older, she questioned the mythology surrounding her biological parents and adoption, and wondered about their story, and in turn, hers too. 

The book flips between Chung’s search for her biological family and her journey on becoming a mother and creating a family of her own. This is a profound book that explores the idea of identity and family and chronicles one woman’s search for both. It’s a beautifully written biography and introduction to Chung’s important voice on transracial adoption.   

How to Write an Autobiographical Novel: Essays by Alexander Chee 

Published in 2018, How to Write an Autobiographical Novel is Chee’s debut award-winning non-fiction essay collection. Through each essay, Chee explores the different formative experiences of his life and that of the U.S’s history and how they have shaped his identity not only a gay Korean American man but also as an activist and writer in America. 

Both wry and heartbreaking, we journey through Chee’s life, the loss of his father, 9/11, the writing of his first novel, Edinburgh, and finally the election of the 45th President of the U.S. The collection asks questions about how we shape our lives and identities in art, and how we fight when who we are, comes under attack. 

Not Quite Not White: Losing and Finding Race in America by Sharmila Sen 

At the age of 12 Sharmila Sen immigrates from India to the U.S, and is asked to “self-report” her race, which to a 12-year-old who has never had to identify with a race before, dismisses her new designation as “not quite white”. In the book, Sen faces the question of what does it mean to be “white” in America, who’s allowed to be white and why whiteness retains the power of invisibility that people of colour do not have, and how much of that whiteness is part of what it means to be an “American”. 

Within the pages of Not Quite Not White, Sen tackles the issues of passing, cultural appropriation, code-switching, bias, and class inequality in the U.S and within the Indian community in the country. The book is equal parts honest and humorous and offers insightful cultural criticism of the U.S. and the possibility of what America might look like in the future, not only to Americans but the world. 

Extras Recs

World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments by Aimee Nezhukumatathil 

The Collected Schizophrenias: Essays by Esmé Weijun Wang 

I hope these recommendations help you find your next books written by an AAPI author. Look out for the next post on romance books written by AAPI authors in this series.

If you missed my fiction recommendations, check them out here.

Thanks for reading!


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