As you can imagine, for a staff devoted to writing, reading, and amplifying Lao voices–this list was hard to pare down. We hope you enjoy our attempt at enticing you to pick up some of the books that have left a deep impact on us. Come back and let us know if you chose any of these stories–and the impressions it left on you!
Chanida Phaengdara Potter
Night Sky with Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong
Inside out– I felt it. As a fellow Southeast Asian refugee, I resonate deeply with the poetry of Ocean Vuong. From the aunties to the nail shop to the pain of colonists. It’s searing, powerful, nostalgic and so goddamn heartbreaking.
Hope Dies Last by Studs Terkel
Most think hope is too abstract, but it’s the only thing that’s saved us during difficult times. As one of my favorite legendary storytellers, we could learn a thing or two from the people Studs Terkel had the honor of listening to in this collection.
Changing Lives in Laos: Society, Politics, and Culture in a Post-Socialist State by Vanina Bouté and Vatthana Pholsena
The latest book by Vatthana Pholsena, an associate professor in the Department of Southeast Asia Studies at the National University of Singapore, and a fellow of the French National Centre for Scientific Research. This is a scholarly take on our fast transitioning motherland. It’s one of the only few (and rare) books out there published by a local Lao lens who understands nuances of the social, cultural, and economic order that claims the current development of Laos. As a development junkie myself, this is an important read.
The Book With No Pictures by B.J. Novak
Simple in concept, hilarious in execution. This book is fun for both the reader and the audience. It’s all about the performance, so get your reading voice ready!
Dragons Love Tacos by Adam Rubin
A delightful story about a dragon’s favorite food. Charming, silly, and beautifully illustrated. The perfect read on Taco Tuesday, or any other night of the week.
The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch
A story about a princess and the dragon she outsmarts. Princess Elizabeth is a smart, resourceful, and unconventional princess. A lovely read for little feminists.
Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood
Margaret Atwood’s historical fiction based on real events. Grace Marks is accused of Thomas Kinnear’s murder in 1843. A Canadian Lit oldie, but relevant now with the new CBC miniseries. If you enjoyed The Handmaid’s Tale, add this to your list!
The Case of the Marble Monster (and other stories) by IG Edmonds
This one holds a special place in my heart. As a child, my father would take me to Goodwill once a week. It became a tradition of ours. On days when he had enough spare change, he’d let me pick out a book. This was the very first book I chose on my own; and each night that week, we would discuss one of the fables and debate any points we disagreed on. It’s a great way to introduce ethics in a simple platform to your children.
Symbolic Logic by Irving M. Copi
This isn’t fun, but it’s fun. Also, I have maintained for a very long time that everyone should have to minor (at the very least) in Philosophy. I think it would help the world out a ton, but don’t use me as an example.
Thursday Next series (and all his books) by Jasper Fforde
For those folks that have read an inordinate amount of Western literature (all those books in middle school and high school lit they threw at you, etc.) and have quietly fallen in love with some books and certain characters—Jasper Fforde has brought them all to life. Ever wondered what really happened to Humpty Dumpty, if you could enter the world of books at will, and how a middle-aged woman handles her business? It’s all here—and bonus—it’s witty, fun, smart, detailed, and fast to boot. Seriously, read it cover to cover.
Romance of the Three Kingdoms by Luo Guanzhong
Considered one of the four historical Chinese classics. An insane amount of film, tv, manga, anime have been made based off this enormous tome. It covers over a thousand characters, hundreds of subplots, and around 100 years of Chinese history. Did I mention it was written around the 14th century?! Take that, Game of Thrones! Also, while reading this the first time, I may have made some visuals to help me through it. Worth it.
America, Earth, I am America (and so can you!), America Again (Re-becoming the Greatness we never weren’t) by The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert
These are all the most fun you’ll ever have reading pseudo-textbooks. Ridiculously good times were had on multiple occasions. I’ve even referenced them in a non-educational setting.
Bryan Thao Worra
Afterland by Mai Der Vang, Graywolf Press
Mai Der Vang’s debut poetry collection, Afterland, was selected by Carolyn Forché as the winner of the prestigious 2016 Walt Whitman Award. The award is given by the Academy of American Poets, and published by Graywolf Press in April, 2017. It covers a touching and remarkable space as a young generation reconciles with multiple internal and external histories of the Hmong and their time in Laos and the US.
The Song Poet: A Memoir of My Father by Kao Kalia Yang, Coffee House Press
Kao Kalia Yang follows up her acclaimed Hmong American memoir The Latehomecomer with The Song Poet, which recounts the life of her father, Bee Yang. He was a song poet who sang of the life of his people; from the jungles of the Lao civil war and a Thai refugee camp, to life in the cold winters of St. Paul and an account of loss and rebuilding. This was the Winner of the 2017 Minnesota Book Award in Creative Nonfiction, and finalist for the Chautauqua Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the PEN USA Literary Center Award, and the Dayton Literary Peace Prize.
Invocation to Daughters by Barbara Jane Reyes, City Lights Books
Filipina American poet Barbara Jane Reyes’ Invocation to Daughters is a blend of prayers, psalms, and odes for “Filipina girls and women trying to survive and make sense of their own situations.” Reyes incorporates a multilingual blend of English, Spanish, and Tagalog to share her meditations on the relationship between: fathers and daughters, family, and challenges of violence and brutality in the modern age, grappling with the artifacts of colonization and tradition.
A History of the Cetacean American Diaspora by Jenna Le, Anchor and Plume
With roots in Minnesota, Vietnamese American poet Jenna Le finds an innovative way to explore the Southeast Asian diaspora of her family and community through a thoughtful and playful twist of abstraction: re-imagining the experience through the lens of whales. The effect allows us both distance and a refreshed intimacy with the issues at the heart of transitioning from one way of life to the next. It is also the 2nd place winner of the Elgin Award for Book of the Year.
Apsara in New York by Sokunthary Svay, Willow Books
An excellent debut from Cambodian American poet Sokunthary Svay. Drawing upon her experience in New York of rebuilding her life with her family, she utilizes; classical music, hip hop, mythology, and pop culture to explore the questions of ideal womanhood between two countries, and the expectations and challenges from living up to them. There’s a lot going on in this collection that will feel at times familiar, and at other times, wholly unexpected.
American Dervish by Ayad Akhtar
A story about a young Pakistani American boy named Hayat growing up in the Midwest. I think many Lao Americans (especially our Lao Americans in the Midwest!) can relate to Hayat’s balancing act, where he juggles Pakistani, Muslim, and Middle American cultures. Akhtar does a great job at painting full characters, and manages to weave Sufi philosophy into an American coming-of-age story.
Swing Time by Zadie Smith
Two mixed-race schoolgirls, who love to dance, growing up in North London navigate their Black-White identities in different ways. Smith’s poignantly honest style of writing reveals some striking truths about mixed race identity, which might resonate well with a large portion of our Lao diaspora. Check out this exploration of identity that uses dance and distance to provide multiple perspectives.