A few months ago, Christine Tan — who writes the fabulous Shanghai Shiok — Facebooked me with this photo and a message:
Hey Jocelyn, quick look at my…bookshelf shows I have more explicitly WF/AM [White Female/Asian Male — also referred to as AMWF] books (yes, I include Anna and the King!) than the opposite, AF/WM [Asian Female/White Male] (and yes, I include Amy Chua in that one). Wonder why I enjoy the former more even though I’m part of the latter. Maybe I just haven’t come across really good/insightful/not based on creepy stereotypes AF/WM writing. I mean, are there any AF/WM books you like and could recommend?
I chimed in with some suggestions of good AF/WM books, as did others, but her post lingered with me. Of course, there’s no “law” saying we MUST enjoy more those books that best reflect our own relationships and realities. Still, it was fascinating to me that Christine — who is in a AFWM marriage — still enjoyed more AMWF books over AFWM books.
And the thing is, I feel the same way.
That’s not to say I don’t have AFWM books that I love. In fact, I recommended Red China Blues and Chinese Lessons to Christine, which both feature AFWM relationships. Xiaolu Guo’s A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers is brilliant, as is Pang-Mei Chang’s memoir Bound Feet, Western Dress. Even Amy Chua’s controversial Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother was fascinating.
But compared to these and other titles, my AMWF list of favorite reads is much longer. And because I’ve discussed this with other friends — both online and off — I just know I’m not alone. The question is, why is this?
On one level, it’s clearly a writer’s choice — that they choose not to write about AFWM relationships. That might be because AFWM couples are more common, which might lead a writer to think it’s clichéd enough to shift focus to something else. But I have to imagine that many authors — especially white males — want to avoid getting into bed with all of the “creepy stereotypes” about AFWM relationships. That’s something author Matthew Polly captures perfectly in his comment on this post:
Publish on paper that one time you got drunk, ordered up the sexy massage, and enjoyed a happy ending and you are forever marked—and a certain subset of the female population will forever be lost to you. Why would a young single man, who probably plans to come home and find an “appropriate” wife, want to risk that? Far safer to write about ancient Chinese artifacts and leave the wild oats untold. Having written about sex in China myself, I can say that there is a price to pay even if it is done very carefully.
But perhaps the publishing industry also plays a role — for similar reasons. Women read more than men (especially when it comes to fiction). I have to wonder, are the gatekeepers rejecting more AFWM book manuscripts (especially those with even the smallest hint of an Asian fetish in their pages) with their mainly female readership in mind?
What do you think? Do you see a similar disparity (in terms of good reads) between AMWF and AFWM books? And if so, what’s your explanation?