During Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, TODAY is sharing the community’s history, pain, joy and what’s next for the AAPI movement. We will be publishing personal essays, stories, videos and specials throughout the entire month of May.
During the last year, if you've been juggling a changing work environment, remote learning with kids or anything else that life has thrown at you, reading a book might be the last thing you want to do or there just isn't enough time. But with summer and sun-filled beach trips in the horizon, potential reading days look brighter and breezier.
If you're not quite sure how to get back into the groove of reading (or you've already devoured Read with Jenna's latest book club pick), New York Times bestselling author Kevin Kwan can help with that. You might know Kwan as the author of the "Crazy Rich Asians" trilogy, whose first book was turned into a star-studded film in 2018.
Kwan joined the 3rd Hour of TODAY to talk some of his recommended reads, from a classic romance novel that inspired his most recent publication, "Sex & Vanity," to an astonishing read by an author Kwan says is one of the most original Asian American writers out there today.
"This is one of my all-time favorite books, and truly one of the most romantic books ever written," Kevin said about E. M. Forster's "A Room with a View." In this classic 20th century novel, Lucy Honeychurch falls in love with a lower-class man and instead becomes engaged to Cecil Vyse but finds herself veering away from societal expectations.
Kwan first discovered it in high school and fell in love with the story, the characters and the book's setting in Italy. "It was definitely ahead of its time in the way it revealed the inner conflicts of its heroine Lucy Honeychurch, and also how it gently satirized the English tourist 'on the grand tour' at the turn of the century. This book influenced my novel 'Sex & Vanity,' from its shared love of Italy to the challenges my heroine Lucie faces as she’s torn between two men, two cultures and two worlds."
An AAPI Heritage Month selection
To celebrate Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, Kwan chose this novel from filmmaker Sandi Tan, whose film "Shirkers" won the Sundance Documentary Award in 2019. In this read — which Kwan calls astonishing, laugh-out-loud funny, touching and cinematic — two Korean American sisters, a creepy drama teacher, a gay horror novelist and a white mom with an adopted Vietnamese daughter make up the book's main cast.
"The premise is so deceptively simple: it’s a look at the people who live on one street in suburban LA," Kwan said. "But the inhabitants of this street turn out to be such quirky characters and the storylines take such strange and yet compelling turns — you absolutely have no idea where the story’s going to go, but it’s a riveting journey. Sandi Tan has a unique way of seeing the world ... she is truly one of the most original AAPI writers out there today."
"Reminiscent of 'The Talented Mr. Ripley,' this glamorous thriller is set amidst glittering Venice and Manhattan. Two amateur con artists try to get away with a multi-million dollar con involving historical treasures, and it’s just a fascinating, gripping ride into the world of antique dealers and billionaire collectors," Kwan said. "Along with the captivating story and characters that you root for, the novel is exquisitely well written — so many of its passages are pure poetry that evoke the beauty of Venice in the most unexpected ways."
What Kevin's reading now
Kwan's current read is Barbara Amiel's memoir, in which she peels back the curtain on the real story of her life — despite the decades she's spent in the public eye as someone in the top of the journalism industry, someone married four times to both famous and not-famous men, and, of course, the marriage she's been in since 1992.
"She and her husband Conrad Black were one of the leading international jet set couples of the 1990s, but when Conrad’s business was hit by a financial scandal, they were punished by their 'enemies' in an unfathomable, almost biblical way, and long before the years’ long trial finally acquitted Conrad, many of their 'friends' — the grandest, most bold-faced names of New York, London, Palm Beach and Toronto society — abandoned them. Barbara tells it all in an unflinchingly raw and yet mesmerizingly endearing way, and beyond this epic fall from grace is an admirable story of transformation and survival."
A music-themed selection
Editor's note: This book will be released on June 24, 2021, and is currently available for pre-order.
Emma Brodie's debut novel, which won't be out until next month, has already received praise from major names in publishing, from "The Alice Network" author Kate Quinn to "Good Company" (and Read with Jenna pick) author Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney.
"Reading this was like taking a summertime ride down the Pacific Coast Highway in a vintage convertible," Kwan said. "Set in the late 1960s and early 1970s, it perfectly evokes those heady days of the Laurel Canyon music scene….the heroine is a singer / songwriter reminiscent of Joni Mitchell, and her lover a cross between a young James Taylor and Jeff Buckley. It’s a love story, but also the story of how a person evolves to become a true artist. It’s an atmospheric insider’s peek into process of writing a hit song, recording it, and struggling to get notice in a business that at the time was dominated by men."
Best vacation read
"Don’t be deceived by the title — Rahul’s story is actually a whip-smart and hilarious satire with very heartfelt moments," Kwan said about Rahul Rania's "How to Kidnap the Rich." "Told from the point of view of a working class hero who grew up in the slums of Delhi but through his own resourcefulness ends up befriending a rich kid and coming up with a fake kidnapping plot, the story satirically dissects pop culture, corruption and inequality in modern day India. It’s a bold, high-speed entertaining story brimming with heart that's especially timely right now."
For more stories like this, check out:
- Jenna Bush Hager shares 8 must-read books for any mom this Mother's Day
- 5 books to read right now, according to a New York Times bestselling author
- Jenna Bush Hager selects epic adventure novel for May 2021 book club pick