Over the past few months, I have had the great pleasure of helping launch and facilitate an inaugural book club hosted by the Asian Staff Forum (ASF), an organization for which I have been serving as a board volunteer since I began working at Stanford in September 2020. The goal of the book club is to create a space for members of our community to come together and discuss great works that are written by Asian American authors and/or feature themes related to Asian American histories, identities, and experiences. We designed the book club to feature two books a year, with meetings to discuss the first book taking place throughout the fall and winter quarters and meetings to discuss the second book spanning the spring and summer quarters.
We debuted our book club by reading and discussing award-winning author Chang-Rae Lee's most recent novel My Year Abroad (2021). From October 2021 to January 2022, we held three meetings to discuss the novel, which attracted a variety of interested parties, including Stanford faculty, staff, and community members. Discussions were consistently lively, with topics ranging from character development to the Cultural Revolution in China to representations of race and gender.
Our book club concluded with a capstone event that took place on January 31, 2022, a conversation about the novel with the author himself, which was facilitated by Dr. Rona Hu, a clinical professor of psychiatry at Stanford Hospital and active ASF member. Before the conversation began, I was asked to provide a brief synopsis of the novel for attendees. During the discussion, Lee shared many insights about the creation of the novel, such as how he came up with the ideas for his principle characters, why he chose to interject tragic moments with humor, and what motivated him to give the protagonist partial rather than full Asian ancestry. I was particularly struck by his comment at one point that first-person narration is "the language of the soul" and thus does not have to reflect the actual way that a character might speak in real conversations. Overall, the illuminating conversation served as the perfect ending to a highly successful first book club series.
The next book that the ASF book club will read is Chanel Miller's memoir Know My Name (2019), and meetings will take place throughout the 2022 spring and summer quarters.
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