Read time: 3 minutes
Here’s what I’ve been reading, listening to, and learning this month. Enjoy!
Chop Suey Nation, Ann Hui
In this memoir/historical/travel adventure, Ann Hui embarks on a cross-Canada road trip to explore the odd phenomenon that is “chop suey” (or “bits and pieces”) cuisine. Over crispy egg rolls and brightly coloured sweet-and-sour pork, Hui speaks with restaurant owners to understand what has brought them to Canada’s smallest towns to serve this odd version of Chinese food. Along the way, she discovers her own family’s chop suey story.
This book spoke to me on an unexpectedly personal level. Like the author, I’ve scoffed at “chop suey” cuisine for most of my life. You wouldn’t catch me eating a fried chicken ball for any amount of money. In Chop Suey Nation, Hui provides the context I needed to understand why Chinese restaurant owners serve this food day after day, and why every restaurant somehow has the same decor, menus design, and furniture no matter where you are in the country.
My family was part of an early wave of Cantonese-speaking Chinese mainlanders who came to Canada long before the influx of wealthy Mandarin-speaking expats from Hong Kong (many of whose children were my peers during adolescence). As I was reading, I remembered that in the 70’s, my own father had worked for a time in my Uncle’s chop suey restaurant in the Vancouver area. I had no idea that this narrative was so wide-spread in the Chinese-Canadian immigration experience until I read Chop Suey Nation. Growing up, I read voraciously, but never found novels with my own perspective – the child of a child of Chinese immigrants, mostly Western, and yet inextricably still Chinese. Now, I understand how these Chinese restaurant owners have worked so hard to be here, making chow mein noodles and lemon chicken.
It’s not often that a book truly changes my outlook on something, but Chop Suey Nation has done just that. I have a newfound respect for restaurants at which I previously would have wrinkled my nose, and for the hard-working restaurateurs of my own family. It’s the perfect book to kick off Asian and Pacific Islander American Heritage Month (May).
The Age of Persuasion: How Marketing Ate Our Culture, Terry O’Reilly & Mike Tennant
The Age of Persuasion is filled with funny anecdotes from O’Reilly’s long and successful career in radio advertising. It provides insight into the evolution of persuasive marketing, examines the successes (and failures) of guerrilla campaigns, and discusses the Great Unwritten Contract between advertisers and consumers.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It provided an excellent backstory to the strategy and communication tactics I use every day in my life as a freelancer. It also gave me a peek into the world of national agencies and big campaigns that I haven’t yet had the opportunity to be a part of. This book is accessible to everyone and has the same flavour as O’Reilly’s current podcast, Under the Influence. Recommend!
Never Have I Ever, Netflix
Never Have I Ever is a charming new Netflix coming-of-age series about Devi, an Indian-American teenager, who is dealing with the death of her father while navigating high school and family drama. It explores themes of dual cultural identities, grief, young love, friendship, and more.
I binged this series within a few days of its release. Throughout the funny, heartwarming and sometimes painfully awkward scenes, I kept thinking about how much it would have meant to me (and other visible minorities) to see a TV series like this when I was in high school. At one point, Devi bemoans that she feels both “too Indian” and “not Indian enough” – an extremely familiar feeling to me. Mindy Kaling has created a beautiful show with complex and diverse characters. This is the representation I want in my television shows!