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Your Favorite Book with Elaine Hsieh Chou

Your Favorite Book with Elaine Hsieh Chou

Welcome to another installment of a collaboration between the Chicago Review of Books and the Your Favorite Book podcast. Malavika Praseed, frequent CHIRB contributor and podcast host, seeks to talk to readers and writers about the books that light a fire inside them. What’s your favorite book and why?

This week’s guest is Elaine Hsieh Chou, whose debut novel Disorientation is part campus novel, part political satire, part analysis of Asian American identity, and adds up to far more than the sum of its parts. The novel follows Ingrid, a PhD student making her way through her dissertation on Chinese-American poet Xiao-Wen Chou. Through her research she comes across a shocking discovery that throws not only her research into new light, but every aspect of her day to day life. Her family life, romantic relationship, friendships, and relationship to her Asian identity at large. As things spiral further out of control, Ingrid is forced to reexamine her worldview and fight for the reality she wants, even if it goes against what she’s currently constructed for herself.

Chou celebrates the off-the-rails satire by celebrating Fran Ross’s 1974 novel Oreo. This book, an interpretation of the myth of Theseus starring a biracial teen, was unappreciated in its time and warrants more consideration. Oreo, our titular character, goes on an epic quest to uncover the secret of her birth, and along the way battles adversaries large and small. The novel defies our modern concepts of characterization and interiority, and in ways is both very of its time and ahead of its time. We discuss the merits of experiencing the novel both in print and via audio, the inherent wackiness of Greek mythology, and why this book remains uncelebrated in a world that worships Ulysses. Even if you’ve never read Oreo, it’s certainly worth the listen. As always, there are no spoilers here.

See Also

Sula by Toni Morrison (with Saeed Jones, Author of Alive at the End of the World) Your Favorite Book

Our guest this week is Saeed Jones, the acclaimed memoirist and poet, whose recent collection ALIVE AT THE END OF THE WORLD takes on both individual and collective grief in the midst of a nation in crisis. Spanning topics from the legacy of Black artists and entertainers to visions of the end of the world as a chaotic rave, Saeed brings every feeling to the forefront and never turns his back to the hard questions. Saeed chose a book stemming from his adolescence and one that continues to generate deeper meaning for him, Toni Morrison's SULA. This book, hardly two hundred pages in length, delves deep into what it means to be a Black girl, and to be both in and out of a community, and the complicated social dynamics it takes to perpetuate said community. The book is luminous at a prose level and never ceases to shock at every turn. There are some spoilers for this episode, but none that take away from the integrity of the novel. Together we chat about all things crafting a poetry collection, why the United States struggles with creating a grief culture, the triumphs and pitfalls of high school literary opinions, and so much more. Books discussed: One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Milk Blood Heat by Dantiel Moniz, Magical Negro by Morgan Parker Buy Saeed's book: Follow the show on instagram and twitter @yfbpodcast
  1. Sula by Toni Morrison (with Saeed Jones, Author of Alive at the End of the World)
  2. Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward (with Joe Meno, Author of Book of Extraordinary Tragedies)
  3. Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger (with Adam Levin, Author of Mount Chicago)
  4. The Song of Everlasting Sorrow by Wang Anyi (with Belinda Huijuan Tang, Author of A Map for the Missing)
  5. A Death in the Family by James Agee (with Jean Thompson, Author of The Poet's House)

Listen to this episode of Your Favorite Book at the link above and stay tuned for more episodes with other writers in the weeks to come. If you enjoy this episode, check out other episodes of Your Favorite Book on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or other major podcast platforms.

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