Join us in celebrating Asian American/Pacific Islander Heritage Month! We’re highlighting AAPI literature and members of our state’s literary community—like Thu Doan, a great booklover, previous Festival moderator, and member of the Inprint team in Houston. Thu runs her own Asian and Asian American book club in Houston, and here talks about why she chose to start on and how it works.
In January, I started a book club called Books, Hugs & Harmony to highlight and explore books written by Asian and Asian American authors. At the time, I was working as the Events Manager at Brazos Bookstore in Houston, and since then I’ve moved on to promoting reading and writing at Inprint, a literary non-profit just a mile away. My teams at both at Brazos and Inprint read diversely and our taste in literature is a reflection of our city: Houston, the most diverse city in America. I read mostly fiction by Asian and Asian American authors mainly because I was starved of Asian literature growing up. Now, I’m voracious!
Books, Hugs & Harmony is a play off of the rap group Bone Thugs-N-Harmony because that’s what I just happened to be listening to. I didn’t want to get caught up in a mess of political correctness and Asian puns. It’s a slippery slope. I don’t want to go viral, I just want to read the books I like and force other people to do it too. I thought, “well, names aren’t important and they can be changed, so I just need to do it—start my Asian book club!”
My impression is that, maybe, starting a book club is hard, and that’s why not everybody does it? I’ve boiled it down to picking a book, time, and place. Then, you invite people to come. If you want it to be really special, then there should be snacks! Social media makes sharing and reminding people simple too.
A rule of thumb I like to follow is to set my expectations very low. For instance, I would be very happy if one person or 100 people showed up at my book club. Why else would I host my book club at a boba shop? If no one shows up, then I would merrily read my book while sucking up boba milk tea. If no one showed up, I would even order a very messy snack. Luckily, so far the meetings have ranged from 5-10 people.
Our meetings are casual. We share an open discussion about the month’s pick ranging from themes, issues, comparison studies, and everything in between. I try to ask questions without any expectation because, to my surprise, a lot of the people that come to my book club have never been in a book club. I feel really touched that they choose to dedicate their time to reading the books and coming out to meetings.
For our reading options, I try to choose paperback books or older books that are easy to access, and I circulating my picks by country because it’s interesting to experience the variance in cultures and to highlight underrepresented cultures within an already underrepresented subset. While I do take recommendations and suggestions, I find that if people have too many choices, you end up in the same situation as endlessly asking “What do you want for dinner?” back and forth until no one even wants dinner. Do you feel my drift? So, in a way, I am the best, most ideal kind of dictator. Did I mention I’ve received positive feedback? Well I guess that’s what a dictator is expected to hear after all.
Overall, I’m dedicated to Books, Hugs & Harmony. I hope it grows, people learn new things, and come away with a bigger appreciation for Asian and Asian American literature.
Books We’ve Read So Far:
Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto
The Collected Schizophrenias by Esmé Weijun Wang
The Body Myth by Rheea Mukherjee
Bright by Duanwad Pimwana
Up Next: Want to join Books, Hugs & Harmony? They’ll be reading America is Not the Heart by Elaine Castillo, and meeting to chat on Saturday, June 15, 10am at Inprint House, 1520 West Main, Houston, TX.