CALLING ALL BOOK LOVERS! NOVEMBER READING LIST

Photo: Sally Griffiths

I’m a reader. Books inspire me, comfort me, excite me, relax me. My dad would take me to the bookstore every weekend and let me pick out one book a week. He read bedtime stories to my sister and me until we got our own rooms when I started the 7th grade. He got us started early on Little Women, Pride and Prejudice and the classics he loved. Other nights, he’d read the Runaway Bunny for my little sister who was five years younger than me; I never minded hearing it again even as a jaded pre-teen. Bedtime reading was part of our tuck-in ritual. When my mother was living in NYC doing a prestigious two-year cancer surgery fellowship at Sloan-Kettering and I was 12, he left me Tales of the Fourth Grade Nothing and Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret on my bed in a brown bag. Mortifying for everyone involved. But they were a way to say things he didn’t know how.

As an adult, it’s hard to find time to read. But I’ve come back to books and writing fiction for myself. It brings me back to the beginning: A happy, cozy place from where my mind wanders and is free to imagine new stories and worlds. To stay inspired, I make more time for books. In my old life as an editor and journalist, I read books to stay current with culture. Now I read for pleasure.

THE JOYCE LUCK BOOK CLUB

One of my go-to book recommenders is Lauren Christensen, an editor at the New York Times Book Review. I met Lauren through her mother, Andrea Jung, a legend in the beauty business, one of the first female (and Asian-American) CEOs of a Fortune 500 company, and a great mentor of mine. When I took my position as editor-in-chief of SELF at Conde Nast, Lauren was an assistant at Vanity Fair. I invited her up for a career chat in my office. I wanted to pay forward the generosity her mother had shown me.

In our first meeting, I asked Lauren what her interests were.

“Books,” she replied. “I love books. I want to write about books.”

My real-talk response: “My first piece of career advice is to get some new interests, Lauren! The only thing deader than magazines is books!” We had a good laugh.

Fast forward, a few years and jobs later, Lauren stuck with her guns and scored her dream job at the NYT Book Review. I’m so glad she followed her own compass and not my advice! Now to my great delight, our mentorship goes both ways as friends. I still offer advice on her career as needed and she recommends me books that make me laugh, cry and think differently.

I recently asked her to help me think of books for a #JoyceLuckBookClub recommended reading list. Here’s an excerpt from our conversation:

Lauren Christensen: People think of reading and writing as a solitary thing. But we read and write for the same reason we talk to each other. It’s a powerful kind of empathy. We read and write to feel less alone. Writers write because they want to share something, for others to know something.

Joyce Chang: I’ve actually struggled with writing because it does feel so solitary. I miss the buzz of the newsroom and the energy of a magazine. Thinking about writing is a way of keeping my own company and creating a conversation with myself in order to share what I want to say with others. That’s part of the mission of the Get Go: To make a better communication with your own self! It makes me think about reading differently too.

LC: Reading is a conversation too. We want to know what someone else is thinking. Personally, I like hearing from new people. My favorite author is Henry James. He was new once too. How exciting to have discovered him then! There’s such a moment now for new voices.

JC: There are so many diverse voices, immigrant voices, people who are telling stories we haven’t heard before. When I was in college, I was a creative writing major. I won awards, studied with the best professors. But there was something missing from my work. I would create these nameless first-person main characters. I would avoid giving any specific physical description. They would be emotionally developed but you never could picture her in your mind. I didn’t want to have to describe a white person or an Asian person specifically. To write a specifically Asian heroine felt like a statement about race and I didn’t want race to be the focus of what I was writing. On the other hand, to write a white heroine simply wasn’t who I was either. I didn’t want to choose. I didn’t have enough confidence then to know I didn’t have to. Now I want the books that we highlight on the Get Go to represent writers who do what I couldn’t do in college. To be honest about feeling Other and not erase or diminish ourselves as heroines in our own stories. That’s why I loved There, There by Tommy Orange so much.

LC: I didn’t know much about the Native American experience and I certainly had never heard the modern, urban Native American experience. It’s an unprecedented story. It’s the opposite of a comforting book. There’s such a crescendo to an ultimate act of utter violence.

JC: It’s a gut punch.

LC: It’s not a fairy tale. As a reader, I was self-conscious. I’d catch myself, why do I expect neat endings? Why shouldn’t I be surprised? There’s no emotional manipulation in this book. It’s masterful how he develops these multiple narratives and how original it all feels.

JC: You’re not falling for archetypes and the expected boy-meets-girl, or family heartstrings. We’re primed to like these kind of stories because we’ve heard them before. It makes you pay attention because you don’t know what’s going to happen next. But that’s also how life is. It’s not storybook!

LC: Don’t get me wrong, I’m used to falling for the psychological novel. But a book like this doesn’t comfort you, it shocks and destabilizes you. But it’s still relatable because it’s a story of growing up and belonging–or not belonging. What happens if you don’t want to embrace a perception of what’s coded into your appearance? Maybe your heritage feels overridden by your daily American heritage. That’s a new heritage.

JC: I like the idea of a new heritage and a change to the Establishment. I’m excited to get going the other books on our list: She Would Be King by Wayetu Moore, another debut novel that uses magical realism to reimagine the history of Liberia and Small Fry, the mesmerizing and raw memoir by Lisa Brennan-Jobs, Steve Jobs’ daughter. We talk about innovation all the time in business and technology. Books are the most ideas-driven of all businesses in some ways. Shouldn’t we expect more innovation in what we read?

LC: Yes, we should. We need to seek it out.

* Edited and condensed for clarity.

We’re all about discovering new layers of ourselves and illuminating new ways of seeing the world we live in at The Get Go. That’s part of self-growth. Please share your comments on Instagram or DM if you read any of our book recs. We’d love to hear what you think!