May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, a time to celebrate and honor the rich cultural contributions of these communities. There are way too many AAPI authors you should be listening to every month, not just during AAPI Heritage Month, to spotlight on this list. However, these audiobooks are a great jump-off point to get more acquainted with AAPI authors making their mark in fiction, memoirs, and essays.
- Trust Exercise by Susan Choi
- How Much of These Hills is Gold by C. Pam Zhang
- Chemistry by Weike Wang
- On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong
- Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu
- Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
- The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka
- Crying in H-Mart by Michelle Zauner
- The Incendiaries by R.O. Kwon
- The Collected Schizophrenias by Esme Weijun Wang
- Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion by Jia Tolentino
- Dear Friend, From My Life I Write to You in Your Life by Yiyun Li
Trust Exercise by Susan Choi
My first reaction after listening to this book was to ask everyone around me to grab it so we could chat. Set in the 1980s at an elite art school, this is a great fit for anyone who likes campus reads. Though it takes place in a high school, it has all the great markers of campus literature, including ambition, student entanglements, and a charismatic teacher.
The title tells you a huge part of what you need to know going into this book: you have to take a leap and trust Choi to guide you. A story about a teenage romance is also about consent, manipulation, and who holds the key to the narratives we tell.
Length: 9 hours and 57 minutes
How Much of These Hills is Gold by C. Pam Zhang
Lucy and Sam are on the run after losing their parents. Though the story is set during the Gold Rush, the questions it asks about race and how immigrants are supposed to find a home still resonate today.
This is an adventure tale, though it’s a dark one. Interweaving the story of family and the tales of those who left their homes hoping for more, Zhang covers a lot of ground in a debut novel. She also employs magical realism and non-linear storytelling to make a book so grounded in a historic time also feel otherworldly.
Multiple narrators bring this story to life, and you will have lots to think about when the narration ends.
Length: 9 hours and 8 minutes
Chemistry by Weike Wang
The unnamed protagonist of this story may seem like a 20-something who has her life together. Working in a lab and in a relationship with a boyfriend ready to get married, she is making her parents happy and supposably living the life she wanted. But is she?
Wang takes us through the exploration that occurs when you let go of what you thought your dream life was supposed to be and actually figure out what you really want. Tender yet controlled, Chemistry makes the protagonist’s story relatable, a great appeal to those who enjoy coming-of-age stories where one searches for their place in the wider world.
Length: 4 hours and 53 minutes
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong
Told in letter format, Vuong shares the story of Little Dog, a young man writing a letter to his illiterate mother. Having suffered abuse at her hands, Little Dog still attempts to explain his story to her, and he attempts to learn about his mother and grandmother and how their lives in Vietnam helped shape them into who they became.
Go into this one knowing the topics are heavy, the sadness permeates as you hear the words, and the deep dive into the past and how it intersects with the present is breathtaking. I’m not sure if actual tears made it past my eyes when I finished this book, but the profound impact it had didn’t leave. Vuong narrates this novel, and he brings depth to each sentence.
Length: 7 hours and 19 minutes
Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu
Willis Wu is a side character in life and as an extra in Black and White, the show filming in the restaurant he frequents. He is an Asian man who feels confined to the roles he’s been handed, passed down stereotypes, throughout his life. His mother believes he can be more.
Though playful and funny, Yu dives deep when he explores the boxes we get placed in and the lazy stereotyping that keeps us from seeing each other, and ourselves, as fully realized beings. A story about the damage of Hollywood cliches, this National Book Award winner takes less than five hours to finish, and it’s worth every second.
Length: 4 hours and 20 minutes
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
By now, you are probably familiar with Ng’s work, especially Little Fires Everywhere. However, my favorite of her incredible books is her debut novel, Everything I Never Told You. Lydia is dead, and her Chinese American family struggles with the loss of their only daughter, especially since her cause of death is a mystery.
While this is definitely a novel that builds with tension as readers try to find out what really happened to Lydia, it’s also a love letter to families and all the complications they involve. Ng casts a knowing eye on marriages, parent/child relationships, and siblings. It’s her ability to paint such an accurate and devastating picture of siblings growing up together that took my breath away until the very end of the audiobook.
Length: 10 hours and 1 minute
The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka
Following young women from Japan to San Francisco as they get ready to live their lives as brides to men they’ve never met, this historical fiction tale is worded in a way that makes it feel razor-sharp and poetic at the same time.
Breaking the barriers of storytelling, Otsuka opts to tell the story from a collective viewpoint, using “we” instead of “I” as these young women journey through the trials of a life lived in a new land. For me, it works, and for other listeners the concept may feel too different to grasp. It’s a historical fiction novella that reminds us how we’re all connected in our experiences even as we live individually.
Length: 3 hours and 52 minutes
Crying in H-Mart by Michelle Zauner
You may know Michelle Zauner as the singer in the band Japanese Breakfast. Zauner’s musical talents are matched by her writing chops as she explores loss, food, and family in this radiant memoir.
Zauner explores how food connects us to family and to the identity we carry. She shares what it was like to grow up feeling othered as an Asian-American growing up in the Pacific Northwest, and how letting that part of her identity disappear became easier with age. When her mother is diagnosed with the disease that will eventually take her life, she reconnects with the food, the culture, and the person who helped raise her.
Length: 7 hours and 23 minutes
The Incendiaries by R.O. Kwon
Want a campus read with love, cults, and violence? Who doesn’t! This is a hard one to turn off as Kwon both dives into hard topics, creates multi-dimensional characters, and builds suspense throughout the entire story.
Will is hoping to escape his religious upbringing when he comes to Edwards College. Phoebe is looking for belonging after a family tragedy leaves her drowning in guilt. Phoebe is drawn to a cult on campus, and when the cult’s devotion moves from problematic to violent, Will has to face another form of extremism engulfing the woman he loves.
If you’ve listened to A Secret History by Donna Tartt, this will likely be a new favorite.
Length: 5 hours and 12 minutes
The Collected Schizophrenias by Esme Weijun Wang
I followed Wang on Twitter before picking up her brutally honest, beautiful essays. It never occurred to me that her magnificent fashion choices were a way to be considered high-functioning after being diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder. In Wang’s essays, she addresses the stigma around schizophrenia and the fears she and others with the disorder have to deal with on top of the actual condition itself.
Wang’s former time working in a lab gives her the ability to explain complex issues in a way that a common listener can understand, and she succeeds in examining a condition that many of us have never taken the time to truly study. She also helps listeners develop empathy and grow in their awareness of what it’s like for the population that lives with this condition.
Length: 7 hours and 51 minutes
Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion by Jia Tolentino
Tolentino narrates her book of essays, all nine original and breathtaking in scope and honesty. This book was thought-provoking and reminded me of my own blind spots when it comes to how I perceive myself and how the internet, reality TV, and our general culture make it even harder to get a clear picture of who we are.
Questioning everything from wedding culture to the idea that self-improvement is necessary until the day we drop dead, Tolentino reminds us of how we accept certain beliefs no matter how ludicrous they are in reality.
Length: 9 hours and 46 minutes
Dear Friend, From My Life I Write to You in Your Life by Yiyun Li
Don’t let the short listening time fool you. Li’s memoir about her battle with suicidal depression is a heavy read that still somehow leaves listeners with hope. In it, Li explores her relationship to writing, reading, and the authors who help sustain her when her own mind is her worst enemy.
I remember latching on to her friendship with William Trevor, a writer I have read and admired since college. Hearing Li talk about him and her love of literature in general balanced out the hard but necessary deep dives the story took into Li’s depression.
Trigger warning if you struggle with mental health issues: this book can be uplifting and leave you feeling less alone, but it may also be necessary to read it slowly and make sure you are ready to move onto the next chapter before you proceed.
Length: 5 hours and 35 minutes