Congratulations, fellow Rioters! We have survived the cluster-pluck of 2017, Year of the Rooster. It was a close call, following on the heels of the feces-throwing Year of the Monkey. But I have good news! 2018 is under the Year of the Dog, and it promises to be a bit kinder to us this year. The perfect time to find your new bestie, reconnect with your loved ones, and settle down with a good book.
(To learn more about Chinese New Year and the Zodiac Sign of the Dog, go here.)
Okay, there are no guarantees about any of this. For some, it is a serious belief; for others, it is a bit of fun to give their year some character and perspective. Either way, it is a great theme to give you some hope for a better year. And the Chinese Dog has PLENTY of hope. I mean, check out the attributes for the Year of the Dog:
- Loyal and honest
- Amiable and kind
- Inherent good nature
- Looking for a quiet life and family to remind them of the good stuff in the world
- Always ready to help others
How can you possibly resist these puppy-dog eyes?
Fine, fine. If you’re simply not up to some loud and explodey festivities, you can still celebrate Chinese New Year in the same humble manner as The Dog. Make friends with your local bookstore and curl up with a new bestie. Here are eight of my fave books to set the scene for you. Why only eight? Because eight is a lucky number in China! And if it has any chance of living up to my expectations, 2018 is going to need all the luck it can get.
Three Kingdoms: A Historical Novel by Luo Guanzhong
Three Kingdoms tells the story of the last reign of the Han Dynasty (206BCE–220CE) when the Chinese Empire was separated into three warring “kingdoms.” It is an honest and compelling story displaying how power is wielded, how wars are created, and how people being people are the key to it all. Three Kingdoms is considered the Chinese equivalent of Homer’s epic storytelling and a favourite amongst the history buffs. If you are interested in Chinese history, culture, and empires in general, this is the book for you.
Afterglow: a dog memoir by eileen myles
Sitting at the other end of the spectrum is Afterglow: A Dog Memoir, a poetic and very personal recount of all a dog can offer in companionship. Myles has laid it all bare and presented their very personal views of loyalty, honesty, and family. All characteristics for the Year of the Dog. For those familiar with Myles’s poetry, this is a full-commitment dive into the emotional waters surrounding a dog who also represents something…else. Be forewarned: this is not for the casual prose-appreciator. Myles has a style weaving in and out of traditional poetry, forcing you to take a step and re-evaluate. Pretty apt for 2018.
The Year of the Dog by Grace Lin
Sometimes you have to write the book you want to read, and Lin did exactly that. Aimed at the younger readers just starting on chapter books, Lin shares a year of her childhood, the Year of the Dog, and what it means for her. Pacy (our main character) is nervous about the year ahead, but her family uses the Chinese New Year to help her focus on the opportunities. In Chinese Astrology, the Year of the Dog is the year we learn about our values and path in life. It is also the year we can meet the friends who will walk beside us on the journey. Pacy’s experiences through the year are both uplifting and insightful while it addresses cultural differences, distance from family, and the general awkwardness of being a kid. It’s one of the best “upbeat” books I have read on these issues (along with The Happiest Refugee by Anh Do, listed below).
Bronze Dog by Li Jian
For the youngest readers, Bronze Dog is a great introduction to The Year of the Dog and all of its attributes. Jian tells the story of two brothers in China who find a bronze dog. It is a sweet and simple story connecting family loyalty and the inherent good nature traditionally associated with Dog. The story is shared in both English and Chinese, so it captures both the literal and the cultural heritage of the Chinese Zodiac. I particularly love the artwork, with simplistic ancient designs and warm earthy tones. A definite favourite with the kids.
The Happiest Refugee by Anh Do
I may be slightly biased on this one, due to my slight crush on Anh Do…Just slight! But he really is pretty darn awesome! The story is Do’s life; from escaping Vietnam with his family to his experiences as a refugee in a strange new community. This isn’t just a light-hearted retelling of a flight to Sydney. The family’s journey is full of dramatic and life-threatening events, including high seas and pirates! Their time in a Malaysian refugee camp is confronting. And the welcome mat was not exactly offered when they arrived in Australia. Yet Do shares all of these experiences with a sense of hope and gratitude, reflecting the extraordinary courage and resilience of his family (and himself). It’s the perfect book to read in a year focused on family, friends, and finding your path.
The Fire Horse Girl by Kay Honeyman
I’ll be honest and tell you I have yet to read this one BUT it is now top of my reading list in the new year. I have heard so much good news about the historical relevance, in both character and the social environment. The Fire Horse Girl is a YA novel centered around Jade, a girl born in the Year of the Fire Horse (considered the worst sign of the Chinese Zodiac for girls). Jade’s story begins in China in the 1920s, with all the tradition and gender-bias that comes with it. When a stranger offers to take her and her father to the “Land of Opportunity” (yes, the good ol’ U.S. of A), Jade is faced with problems she can only defeat with all the characteristics previously seen as “flaws.” I know she is a Fire Horse but her loyalty to family and her steadfast commitment to her personal values are traits shared with the Dog. A kick-arse heroine with a detailed and accurate historical setting? Let me just hang my “Do Not Disturb” sign right here…
The Zodiac Legacy: Convergence by Stan Lee, Stuart Moore, and Andie Tong
A whole series around the Chinese Zodiac, penned by Stan “The Man” Lee and Stuart Moore, with art by Andie Tong. Yes, ART. Would this count as a graphic novel? Not sure because the art is dispersed throughout the book, in the right style at the right moment. It fits in with the fast-paced action and powered-up characters you would expect from a book with Stan Lee’s name on it. We have all the elements of a middle-grade reader with all the fun of a slightly older YA. Or whatever the genre is for geeky adults who pretend they bought the book for their kids and really enjoyed the storytelling themselves. *AHEM* It starts off with a common trope: Mixed-race Chinese American kid visits China and receives mystical Chinese Zodiac superpowers. I know, I know! But what I DID like about this is how the book doesn’t hide from the trope. It confronts it and addresses it directly. This is only the first book in the series, and I am on the hunt for more!
Invisible Planets: contemporary chinese science fiction in translation compiled by Ken Liu
If you are in the mood for some short speculative fiction, check out Invisible Planets. Liu has collected 13 stories from some well-known Chinese writers and translated them to English. I, for one, am grateful for both his choice and his amazing translation skills. Liu is upfront and honest about the limits of his selection; this is not a “Best Of” compilation but rather a selection of the most accessible stories for a wider audience. This is the first real insight I had into Chinese commentary on the world as a whole, in the way only science fiction can. And I liked it. There are dystopian futures, fantastic worlds, and technological predictions. The only downside is the lack of gender representation and equality; an underlying issue that raises its head in a few stories. I’m interested to hear what you think: whether the gender issues are part of the cultural representation in the collection or a concern for the sci-fi genre as a whole?
If you have any other suggestions, please share them in the comments below! We always love to hear about your favourite books and your thoughts on our suggestions. Until then, have a Happy New Year! And may the Year of the Dog be kind enough to bring you some new books, and some peaceful time to read them!