A detail shot from Xiran Jay Zhao's book Iron Widow showing a black armor clad woman with her hair in an elaborate updo posing in front of images of flames

#AsianReadathon 2021

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Monsters, Aliens, and Holes in the Ground

This year, I decided to once again participate in #AsianReadathon, an event run by YouTuber withCindy focused on getting participants to read books written by Asian authors. Last year was an interesting experience, which I wrote about here. So here’s a wrap-up of the things that I read for Asian Readathon this month.

The prompts for Asian Readathon suggested that the reader find books that are from different nationalities and about different parts of Asia, as well as books that hit several key prompts: a book by an Asian author, a book featuring an Asian protagonist, read a book by an Asian author in your favorite genre, a nonfiction book, and a non US-centric book. I didn’t do a very good job reading books from different countries mostly because while I started a bunch of books from authors that represented a bunch of different countries, I ended up finishing a lot of books by Chinese authors.

At America’s Gates: Chinese Immigration During the Exclusion Era, 1882-1943 by Erika Lee

This book was intended as my non-fiction book for the month, focusing on the Chinese Exclusion Era of American immigration policy. However, halfway through the month, my library loan ran out and I had to return the book and wait for 20 days for the book to come back in. The book itself is a bit dry and academic, but definitely worth checking out as it shows not only a period of time that I was not super aware of, but also shows how the policies and racism of the early 1900’s are still informing American foreign policy to this day.

The Kingdom of the Gods by In-Wan Youn

My partner and I started watching the Netflix Korean series Kingdom, the one that is probably best summed up as “historical Korean zombies,” and around the time we started watching it, my partner bought me a copy of the graphic novel to read. They are completely different beasts, though you can see how one informed the other. Kingdom of the Gods actually contains two different stories, the first one focused on zombies and the second a sort of pirate adventure involving serial murderers. Both stories are drawn in a distinctly grotesque and violent style, and even in the black and white style that the illustrator has chosen you are definitely aware of the gore.

Idol Worship by J.S. Lee

In April I fell a little bit down a rabbit hole of K-pop novels, including the first part of two series by author J.S. Lee. Idol Worship is the second novel in the H3RO series, and is a K-pop reverse harem novel where the principal female character is being romanced by the entirety of a K-pop group that she manages. For me, the biggest issue in the H3RO series is that it doesn’t feel like a reverse harem so much as under negotiated polyamory where most of the parties are completely unaware that they are in that type of relationship. This is just cheating? Aside from the moral dilemma and the constructed drama that arises from people not communicating, this is a fairly standard romance novel.

Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao

I received this book as an advanced reader copy from the publisher and was incredibly excited. I’ve basically been waiting specifically for this book for awhile, as the premise sold me so incredibly well: Pacific Rim meets the Handmaid’s tale in a polyamorous reimaging of China’s only female emperor. This book is a lot – intense from start to finish, the author gives a fascinating portrait of a world that is equal parts foreign and recognizable. I’m a sucker for basically anything in the style of Pacific Rim, and once you combine that with a love triangle that actually supports all three prongs of the triangle? Sold. Iron Widow is set for release in September of this year.

Boys’ Love, Cosplay, and Androgynous Idols: Queer Fan Cultures in Mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan (Queer Asia) by Maud Lavin, Ling Yang, and Jing Jamie Zhao

This is the non-fiction book that I picked up when it looked like my other book would not come in on time from the library. It’s a series of essays on different queer media from the Sino-phile world, specifically focusing on mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. The strongest essays were on gender presentation as it related to groups like the Alice Cos Group – a group of cis-men who perform dressed up very convincly as women. I started the book as a way to find more scholarship on danmei, and while this book didn’t necessarily get to the heart of that, it still covered a lot of interesting topics.

The Black Tides of Heaven by Neon Yang

For last year’s readathon I read the twin to this book, The Red Threads of Fortune. Both books are a part of the Tensorate series, a fascinating blend of science fiction and fantasy that reminds me of the science fiction that I used to read when I was younger, but without the pitfalls of suddenly turning the page to find a cheap rape scene or someone being casually misognynistic so that the author can earn their grimdark bonafides.

Silent Reading by Priest

I almost did not finish this book in time for the readathon. I love danmei – Chinese novels focused on romanticizing relationships between men – and I’ve read another novel from Priest before so I was excited to dig into this one. Silent Reading has a reputation of being well written, and after finishing it, I can definitely see why. The main characters and their relationship are well developed, and it’s presented alongside a story about intrigue and heartbreak. I often relate good mysteries to the “promise of early season Sherlock” and it has elements of that. This, more than any novel or book I read throughout this readathon, is something that needs trigger warnings for it’s violence and abuse, but it is still probably the book I engaged with the most over the course of the readathon.

Overall, I found this to be a very successful exercise. I love reading books based on a theme, even one as fairly open ended as “Asian authors.” I recommend basically every book that I read this month for this challenge.


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