Kim Rooney (高小荣) is a Chinese adoptee from Jiangsu Province. She received a B.A. in English writing and a BPhil in Communication rhetoric at the University of Pittsburgh. For the latter, she defended her thesis, “Triple Nothings: Racial Identity Formation in Chinese-American Adoptees.” While at Pitt, she served as editor in chief of Collision Literary Magazine and copy chief of The Pitt News. Currently, she works as a video game writer for Pitt’s Laboratory for Child Brain Development. Her writing has appeared in The Offing, The Jellyfish Review, and Pittsburgh Magazine. She is particularly interested in the ways identity is constructed and maintained, and she enjoys experimental and genre-blurring art forms. When she’s not working or writing, she’s often cooking, crocheting, or running. Profits from sales of Kim’s booklist will be donated to SisTers PGH, a transgender centered drop-in space, resource provider, and shelter transitioning program based in Pittsburgh, PA. (Photo by Emma Vescio)
1.Night Sky With Exit Wounds, Ocean Vuong
This collection of poems struck me with its honesty, beauty, and vivid imagery. It is filled with painful memories and relationships laid bare. “Headfirst” is the poem I find myself returning to most often: “When they ask you / where you’re from, / tell them your name / was fleshed from the toothless mouth / of a war-woman.” The only Chinese name of mine I know was given to me by welfare center staff, but these lines make me wonder if my birth parents have their own name for me.
2. On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, Ocean Vuong
I cried through the first 30 pages. This book offered a new vocabulary and framework for thinking and talking about my relationship with my birth parents and culture, particularly as it pertains to generational trauma and loss. It let me mourn parts of myself that I couldn’t articulate were absent until I read this book.
3. Her Body and Other Parties, Carmen Maria Machado
“The Husband Stitch” was the best story I read in 2017. I was thrilled to find out it’s the first story in this collection. It helped me process trauma, manipulation, and failures in various relationships, and it offered a lesson in writing about ghosts.
One of the most vivid things I remember from this is the image of a cord casting a shadow on the wall of the main character’s home. It struck me as incredibly real, and it reminded me to sharpen my eyes as a writer. To me, this book also exemplifies writing a character who doesn’t learn from their mistakes while avoiding the story becoming static.
5. The Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro
I originally read this as an assignment for a philosophy class. We discussed it in the context of what constitutes a good life, and I think the book also serves as an amusing and engaging example of writing an incredibly unreliable narrator. It also focuses on a paternal relationship, which I don’t think or write about as often as I do maternal or sibling relationships, so I like returning to it as an entry point into thinking about the topic.
My partner and I read this book together, and I was struck by the lengthy amount of time that passes in the book. Most of my stories take place over the course of several hours. Few go longer than two days. I return to this book when thinking about narratives that span decades, when stories start, what separates events from story, and where stories end.
7. The Refugees, Viet Thanh Nguyen
I read “Black-Eyed Women” first, then had to put down this collection for several months to process it. The image of a small ghost boy swimming for years after his family who left him and their home behind haunted me, as ghosts are wont to do, and I wrote the first draft of what would become a story about two sisters chasing the ghost of their mother. I often return to this collection to remind myself how stories end.
8. The Pillow Book, Sei Shōnagon
Things that I enjoy about this book: surprisingly funny passages punctuated by even more surprisingly sad images, the structure that feels so freeing to borrow, the history that makes it so special to have been written and preserved, the professor who assigned it and the memories of her class.
9. The Making of Asian America, Erika Lee
I read portions of this book for my thesis, and it was an excellent jumping off point for thinking about non-adopted Chinese-ness. My partner and I also began reading it in its entirety after we finished Pachinko, and while we’ve been on a bit of a hiatus from reading it, it’s already taught me so much about Asian-American history that I never learned in schools or even colloquially through my parents or friends’ parents. It’s an incredible contextualization of Asian people’s place in America, and it’s helped me better understand and think about what being Asian-American means now and what it can mean in the future.
10. All about Love: New Visions, Bell Hooks
This books helped me think through what I’ve been told about love by my adopted parents and how that made it more difficult to comprehend my birth parents’ decision to abandon me. bell hooks has such a welcoming way of writing that I’d like to bring into my own writing. Reading all about love has been like pressing a release valve on my heart so that I can finally unpack and examine all of my assumptions about love.
11. The Leavers, Lisa Ko
The Leavers is an excellent look at a Chinese-American adoption narrative that deviates from the Chinese daughter-white parents one that we most often see. It explores the trauma of the adoptee along with the pain and racism that the white parents inflict, in part because they are so determined to see themselves as well intentioned they are blind to their own biases. The book jumps between the Chinese son and his mother, tracing their story and their separation through several parts and decades. All of the book feels incredibly honest, and it allowed me to acknowledge for the first time that the potential of not being able to find my birth parents was something that hurt me.