by Jen Moyers (@jen.loves.books)
This month, our Unabridged Podcast Book Club pick is Celeste Ng's Our Missing Hearts (Bookshop.org | Libro.fm)—our episode will release next Wednesday!—and as Ashley and I were discussing the book, soooo many other, parallel books popped up. These would be great books to read to further explore certain threads in Ng's gorgeous, dystopian novel.
Considering the role of literature and art
One of the elements that struck me most—for obvious reasons—about Our Missing Hearts is the way that control over society is exerted through control over literature. As the protagonists in Ng's book watch as Asian-American people are persecuted by its society, that persecution is enabled and extended by erasing literature by and featuring Asian-American characters, history, and folklore.
This should come as no surprise. One of the key ways to target a group of people is to target their representation in literature, in art. That process only emphasizes the importance of access, of creation, and of preservation.
Here are three other novels I recommend that confront these issues:
Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 (Bookshop.org)
This is classic dystopian literature, centered on a world in which firemen exist to burn books. Guy Montag, the protagonist of the novel, is a fireman who has never read a book but who—despite his training by all that he knows—becomes curious about the secrets that books may hold. Gorgeous on the sentence level, Fahrenheit 451 examines where these types of movements begin and what it takes to fight against them.
Kelly Barnhill's The Girl Who Drank the Moon (Bookshop.org | Libro.fm)
This novel was our November Book Club pick, a middle-grade fantasy novel about witches and magic and monsters. One facet of the book that resonated with me was the lack of access to books and literature for the citizens of the town at the center of the story. That control allowed those in power to perpetuate some truly evil rituals without facing questions or challenges from the townspeople.
Emily St. John Mandel's Station Eleven (Bookshop.org | Libro.fm)
Station Eleven is one of my favorite post-apocalyptic novels—I recently re-read it for my IRL book club—and it's one whose adaptation holds up to its brilliance. The book's apocalypse is a pandemic, so proceed with caution—there are definite parallels to our own pandemic experiences. Despite the eeriness of those scenes, the fact that the bulk of the story takes place decades later made this one a powerful re-read for me. In those parts, the book centers on the Traveling Symphony, a group who moves from community to community performing Shakespeare. There's also a comic book that plays a large part in the book (and that gives it its name). Both Mandel's novel and the adaptation ask questions about the importance of art, about how essential it is to a society, and about the role that stories can play in our understanding of ourselves and the world.
Considering a parent-child relationship
Cormac McCarthy's The Road (Bookshop.org | Libro.fm)
This is another recent re-read for me—it's a book I've read ten or more times (I used to teach it every year). In many ways, it's a bleak read, but it's also a beautiful and ultimately hopeful book (though many readers disagree with me on that last part). The part that always stands out most to me is the beautiful love between the unnamed father and son who are the center of the novel, which contains many parallels to the relationship between Bird and his mother Margaret.
Considering the Asian-American experience
In 2020, we read Samira Ahmed's Internment (Bookshop.org | Libro.fm), a speculative novel in which the protagonist and her parents are taken--in the near future--to an internment camp for Muslim citizens of the United States that is located near Manzanar. As we considered the historical sources that laid the foundation for Ahmed's book, I put together a Bookish Fave of books about the Japanese internment camps here. To this list, I would add Traci Chee's We Are Not Free (Bookshop.org | Libro.fm), linked stories about teenagers who are held at the incarceration camps. We also recently read Laura Gao's Messy Roots (Bookshop.org), a book—like Ng's—that is in some ways a response to the recent targeting of Asian Americans.
(A note to our readers: click on the hashtags above to see our other blog posts with the same hashtag.)
Interested in what else we're reading? Check out our Featured Books page.
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