By Samantha Pak
Northwest Asian Weekly
For bookworms in search of new reading material, Gold House is here.
The newly launched Gold House Book Club has put out its first list of books—all exploring the Asian American identity. The club is part of the organization’s Gold Records venture, which focuses on curating and codifying the Asian Pacific Islander (API) heritage to strengthen generational bonds, enshrine legacies, and shape future narratives.
“Central to this mission is understanding our identity and trying to answer the question, ‘What does it mean to be Asian American?’” Cindy Joung, Gold Records director, said. “As there is no one answer to this question, my team—Erica Quach, Chanelle Garcia, Vibhor Mathur—and I wanted to find a vehicle that would spark deep introspection and meaningful discussion. To us, the solution was through storytelling, specifically through the rich catalog of books about and by APIs.”
Gold House is a nonprofit collective of API cultural leaders dedicated to forging stronger bonds that deliver more authentic and successful lives, according to Joung. The book club will feature a new book each month, which will be paired with virtual programming. Events will range from moderated panel discussions, to fireside chats and other interactive formats.
“We’ll also introduce resources on our website so that people can create their own book clubs for more intimate discussions within their own communities,” Joung said.
The club’s first reading list for the next six months touches on the following themes: immigrant journeys, what it means to be Asian American, intersectional stories, coming of age, coming of identity, historical fiction about motherlands and bridging generations, and biculturalism. This month’s book is “Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen” by Jose Antonio Vargas. Future reading includes “Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning” by Cathy Park Hong, “American Born Chinese” by Gene Luen Yang, and “Pachinko” by Min Jin Lee.
The club’s inaugural event is set for 1 p.m. on Oct. 20. Gold House, along with Define American and the Asian American Writers’ Workshop, will host a virtual panel discussion on Asian American identity with Vargas, Hong, and fellow author Alexander Chee. The event will be streamed live on Gold House’s Facebook page.
The plan is to put out a new list every six months and Joung said each list will focus on one theme related to identity. They introduced six different themes with this first list to give people a taste of the topics the club will cover going forward. By focusing on one theme over six books in the future, readers will be able to really dive deeper into the topic,” she said.
Reading lists are compiled by a 21-member advisory council, which includes API writers, activists, and Asian American studies professors with expertise in the subject matters.
Books have always been a passion for journalist and advisory council member Jeff Yang. He said they are at the center of how he first became immersed in Asian American culture and history.
“Reading lets people into lives and contexts that they’ve never seen or participated in like no other medium,” he said. “Movies and TV are terrific and immersive, but they’re telling you a complete story. Books require you to bring something of yourself into the story, which forces you into a position of empathy. That’s why they’re so life and attitude changing.”
The current social and political climate definitely influenced the idea of an API book club, Joung said. She and her team were inspired by people on their personal social feeds sharing books and articles about race during the Black Lives Matter protests in the wake of George Floyd’s murder at the hands of Minneapolis police. This outpouring of resources made them realize they could do the same. Gold House could provide people with a syllabus of reading material to help guide them as they learned about API identity and the themes affecting the community.
For Yang, the two books that really touched on these matters were “American Born Chinese” and “Minor Feelings,” which he stumped hardest for.
“Both because they explore and express emotions and ideas about being Asian in America that I’ve always wanted to articulate but could never do as well as these two authors have,” he said.
Joung also noted the rise of anti-Asian racism and xenophobia community members have witnessed and/or endured as a result of COVID-19. This has left many wondering “what our place is in this country when we can so easily be seen as the ‘other’ in our own homeland.”
“The hope is that the books we feature will help us start to formulate an answer to these kinds of questions,” she said. “Whether through history, memoir, fiction, and every genre in between, the stories will help us understand where we come from, who we are, and what our legacy can be.”
Yang said, “Getting more people—Asian and non-Asian—to read Asian American literature literally can save lives, and it certainly can raise consciousness.”
Prior to the book club’s full launch this month, Gold House hosted a pilot event in June celebrating “The Joy Luck Club” by Amy Tan. This was their first virtual book club event featuring Tan as well as actresses Lauren Tom, Ming-Na Wen, Rosalind Chao, and Tamlyn Tomita from the film adaptation. Cowboy Ventures founder Aileen Lee and “The Joy Luck Club” producer and Gold House co-founder Janet Yang moderated the event, which revisited and discussed the book and film’s cultural significance. Joung said the event “was inspired in part by the desire to bring our community together and connect people at a time when we were physically unable to convene.”
In addition, Gold House Book Club has put out a list of children’s books for young readers, ranging from beginners to middle grade readers because representation is important when it comes to developing identity.
“We believe it’s crucial that children have a way to experience media that not only serves as a window into someone else’s experience, but also mirrors their own identity and offers representation rather than invisibility,” Joung said.
The club will also hold programming for youngsters, including a story time event, which will be announced in the coming months.
Samantha can be reached at email@example.com.