Some Books For Dark Days


These worrying times are full of voices. I am all questions and no answers. But some books that I read have been helping me think and helping me breathe. I thought you might need them too.

Some of these I just read, and others I have found myself coming back to. I’m not going to tell you how to interpret them, only the questions they helped me consider. I’ve included abbreviated versions of their blurbs to help you decide if any of these might be for you.

Can gentleness survive in a world simmering with hate and rage? Can you find a way to live in the cruelty of this world?

Human Acts, Han Kang

“Gwangju, South Korea, 1980. In the wake of a viciously suppressed student uprising, a boy searches for his friend’s corpse, a consciousness searches for its abandoned body, and a brutalised country searches for a voice. In a sequence of interconnected chapters the victims and the bereaved encounter censorship, denial, forgiveness and the echoing agony of the original trauma.”


How do so many humans end up battering each other? What does it mean to care for someone with whom you can’t agree?

Your Heart Is A Muscle The Size of A Fist, Sunil Yapa

“Grief-stricken after his mother’s death and three years of wandering the world, Victor is longing for a family and a sense of purpose. He believes he’s found both when he returns home to Seattle only to be swept up in a massive protest. With young, biracial Victor o one side of the barricades and his estranged father—the white chief of police—on the opposite, the day descends into chaos, capturing in its confusion the activists, police, bystanders, and citizens from all around the world who’d arrived that day brimming with hope. By the day’s end, they have all committed acts they never thought possible.”


Who should I be listening to? Who has a story like mine? Who has one completely different? What do they feel?

The Good Immigrant, Edited by Nikesh Shukla

Bringing together 21 exciting black, Asian and minority ethnic voices emerging in Britain today, The Good Immigrant explores why immigrants come to the UK, why they stay and what it means to be ‘other’ in a country that doesn’t seem to want you, doesn’t truly accept you – however many generations you’ve been here – but still needs you for its diversity monitoring forms.”


How does a government create an atmosphere of fear? What does that do to the people living within such a world?

The Sympathizer, Viet Thanh Nguyen

“It is April 1975, and Saigon is in chaos. At his villa, a general of the South Vietnamese army is drinking whiskey and, with the help of his trusted captain, drawing up a list of those who will be given passage aboard the last flights out of the country. The general and his compatriots start a new life in Los Angeles, unaware that one among their number, the captain, is secretly observing and reporting on the group to a higher-up in the Viet Cong.”


What does it mean to be strong? What does it mean to be strong as a woman? How much can the world throw at you?

Difficult Women, Roxane Gay

“The women in these stories live lives of privilege and of poverty, are in marriages both loving and haunted by past crimes or emotional blackmail. A pair of sisters, grown now, have been inseparable ever since they were abducted together as children, and must negotiate the elder sister’s marriage. A woman married to a twin pretends not to realize when her husband and his brother impersonate each other. A stripper putting herself through college fends off the advances of an overzealous customer. A black engineer moves to Upper Michigan for a job and faces the malign curiosity of her colleagues and the difficulty of leaving her past behind.”



Is home a place, a person, an ideal? 

I Am China, Xialou Guo

“London translator Iona Kirkpatrick is at work on a new project: a collection of letters and diaries by a Chinese punk guitarist named Kublai Jian. As she translates the handwritten pages, a story of romance and revolution emerges between Jian, who believes there is no art without political commitment, and Mu, a poet whom he loves as fiercely as his ideals. Jian has come to Britain seeking political asylum and is mere miles away in Dover, awaiting news of his fate. Mu is in Beijing, writing letters to London, feverishly trying to track Jian down.”


This is not an authoritative list. I need to read more. I need to learn more. But it is my start.


Go Home!—Twenty-Four Journeys from the Asian American Writers’ Workshop and the Feminist Press


I’m honored to be the editor for the Go Home! Anthology. Today, I’m thrilled to announce our contributors. Their beautiful words will be with you in 2018. Some of the names you will recognize—we reached out to writers we admired. Some will be new to you—we want to showcase rising talents. Some were new to us—we met their voices through our open call.

I have been an editor on two lit mags, and a reader for NPR. I’ve read much brilliant unpublished work. I have never cried so much as reading our open call submissions. That’s not to say all the stories and poems were sad, but they had vigor and truth.  We couldn’t include many of the stories that broke me in half. Please keep sharing your words.


Our Lovely Lineup 

Mia Alvar

Gina Apostol

Muhammad Amirul

Chaya Babu

Gaiutra Bahadur

Rowan Hisayo Buchanan

Wo Chan

Alexander Chee

Karissa Chen

Marilyn Chin

Muna Gurung

Kimiko Hahn

Mohja Kahf

Alice Sola Kim

Jason Koo

Amitava Kumar

Chang-Rae Lee

T Kira Madden

Rajiv Mohabir

Fariha Róisín

Jennifer Tseng

Sharlene Teo

Esmé Weijun Wang

Wendy Xu



Loving tea is a writer cliché of which I am guilty. There’s nothing like getting up to make a cup of tea when fleeing a seemingly unfixable sentence. In particular, I drink a lot of Japanese tea. I end up describing the difference between the different types fairly frequently, so I thought I’d define a few common ones here.

I end up describing the difference between the different types fairly frequently, so I thought I’d define a few common ones here.tea

Matcha (抹) is powdered green tea. This is the tea that appears in the tea ceremony. It is also the tea used to make green tea baked goods, ice cream, macaron, etc. In its unsweetened form it is slightly bitter, but very invigorating.

Sencha (煎茶) Most of the time when you have something described as “green tea”—it’s Sencha. The leaves and the tea produced are green.

Genmaicha (玄米茶) is green tea combined with toasted rice. The flavour is similar to sencha but with a nutty overtone.

Hōjicha (ほうじ茶) is made by roasting the tea leaves. When you brew the tea, it is brown and tastes lovely and toasty. It has less caffeine than matcha or sencha.

Sobacha (そば茶) is buckwheat tea. It contains no tea leaves at all. This is a very nutty flavoured tea. It is wonderful warm in winter or chilled in summer.

(When I get time, I’ll try to write to you about Kyobancha, mugicha, and jasmine tea.)

Which is your favourite?


July 21st—Of acid baths


IMG_2969So my book is coming out in the UK in 3 weeks. I’m pretty excited about that. There won’t be parades. The air won’t smell different. Yet, I’m full of humming hope. But I’m also scared. I don’t know what will happen. Will anyone read my book? Will they like it? To distract myself, I’ve been taking an etching class.

There is a moment when doing a hard-ground etch when you drop your plate into an acid bath. The acid eats away at where you’ve scratched your lines. It is impossible to know exactly how your drawing will come out. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes the acid bites where it shouldn’t and leaves dark splotches. But if you don’t put the plate in the acid, you won’t have an etching at all. So you’ve got to dare to do it.

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I’m often suspicious of metaphors using visual art. It’s too easy to make it a stand in for writing. Visual art has its own powers and vocabularies. It has a physicality to it. It is so much more than a metaphor. But for now, I’m clutching my copper plates and my simile and trying not to be too afraid.


Emotional Fiction Video Interview

Inky Dumbbell has a new interview up with Paul McVeigh who is a terrific writer. His short fiction has been commissioned by BBC Radio 4 and has appeared in several anthologies. He is the Director of the London Short Story Festival, and Creative Director of Word Factory, the UK’s leading short story literary salon. And he has a novel coming out… so generally whoah.

He talks about how to write emotions that feel real, but overwrought. He talks about the process that works for him. AND he has some super smart things to say about the importance of touch.

P.S. Apologies. My voice is a little bit snuffly as I had a cold. But it is worth it for Paul’s general awesomeness.




Eating fruit and reading poetry, what could be a more decadent friday morning?

“Oh, the feel of the wolftail on the silk,   
the strength, the tense
precision in the wrist.
I painted them hundreds of times   
eyes closed. These I painted blind.   
Some things never leave a person:
scent of the hair of one you love,   
the texture of persimmons,
in your palm, the ripe weight.”

The end of Persimmons, by LI-YOUNG LEE. You can read the rest of the poem here:

{Photo credit to me.}