Writers of literary fiction are supposed to disdain celebrity memoirs. They’re sucking up all the big advances and lowering the bar of what’s supposed to be Literature, right?
But I’ve got a dirty reading secret. I love celebrity memoirs, particularly by standup comedians (and not just because I was doing research for No Good Very Bad Asian, my novel about a fictive famed standup comedian named Sirius Lee). The best standup memoirs can be so raw and honest, revealing uncomfortable truths about life that even the best fiction rarely addresses.
Here are some of my favorites, a mix of books that I read while researching No Good Very Bad Asian and recent entrees into the genre.
Read the rest of the list at Electric Literature.
“Whenever the topic of Asian Americans in the entertainment industry comes up, for a few moments, I mentally include Sirius Lee. And then I remember that he is only a fictional standup comedian, the protagonist of Leland Cheuk’s intimate novel No Good, Very Bad Asian. It’s such a vivid and engrossing portrait of a lovable, modern-day schmuck—a character who feels immediately iconic, like Holden Caulfield—that I was almost disappointed when I learned that Cheuk is not at all like Sirius Lee, although he did perform standup in bars while researching for this novel.
While Sirius Lee finds fame as a teenager and struggles with the fallout from that, Cheuk’s fiction didn’t get picked up by publishers until he was in his late 30s. His debut novel, The Misadventures of Sulliver Pong, was published by the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography in 2015; a story collection, Letters From Dinosaurs, followed soon after in 2016 from Thought Catalog Books. Before all that had happened, Cheuk survived a life-threatening diagnosis of MDS, receiving chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant. Over coffee in Brooklyn recently, Cheuk revealed how his manuscript-in-progress for No Good, Very Bad Asian took a different turn after his recovery. But it’s still funny as hell.
Cathy Erway: I don’t think I’ve encountered in literature an Asian American character who’s overweight, struggles with substance abuse, and is constantly screwing up in life. Have you?
Read the rest of the interview at Electric Literature.
So much Pierre had yet to do despite twenty-eight years on this planet.
The to-dos came to him in threes (usually after his morning bowel movement). He didn’t know why they interrupted whatever thought he was having at the time, or why they did so in that particular number, but he kept a list on his phone app, and decided he needed to complete each task.
He’d had acute myeloid leukemia. His doctor put his chances of surviving the stem cell transplant at 70%, his chances of finding a perfect match donor also 70%. Multiplied together, Pierre’s probability of survival at that moment was just 49%.
“Fifty-fifty. Isn’t that everyone’s odds every day?” Pierre asked.
The doctor chuckled and later apologized for doing so.
Two years later, Pierre was still here. He’d recovered and now had an unknown number of years to do everything he’d ever wanted to do with his life. The only problem: he’d never kept a bucket list, never even considered death until the doctor kept uttering phrases like “life-threatening condition” and “you can die from” blah-blah-blah (spoiler: just about anything and everything). But now the list was making itself, like a divine revelation.
Pierre packed a sizable backpack and set off to complete his first list.
- Make a black friend
- Fire a gun
- Learn to drive stick
Read the rest of the story at Maudlin House.
“I’ve recently noticed a spate of work by Asian-American authors in epistolary form.
Correlation is not causation, and there may be nothing to this trend other than a cluster of coincidence. But historically, the Asian-American story has been ignored, erased, overlooked. Asians in America have worked in government, grown the nation’s food, healed the sick, fought in wars, built the very infrastructure of the transcontinental railroad, yet too often we’re pushed out of the picture, seen as perpetual foreigners, regardless of how much history we have with this country.
Asian Americans have our own experiences of racism, experiences that often get lost or minimized by the model minority stereotype. We want to have our stories heard but not fall into the trap of competing in an “Oppression Olympics” with other minorities. Our stories are distinct, and thus the idea of a letter as storytelling vessel is a tantalizing one. At its simplest, a Dear Someone letter demands to be read, as is the case with this one, in which former New York Times editor Michael Luo addresses the racist woman who told him and his family to “go back to China.”
Read the rest of the piece at The Millions.