Nicole Chung’s new memoir, All You Can Ever Know, looks at what it means to lose your roots—within your culture, within your family―and what happens when you find them once more. Born severely premature, she was placed for adoption by her Korean parents and raised by a white family in a sheltered Oregon town. From childhood, she heard the story of her adoption as a comforting, prepackaged myth.
But as Nicole grew up―facing prejudice her adoptive family couldn’t see, finding her identity as an Asian American and as a writer, and becoming ever more curious about where she came from―she wondered if the story she’d been told was the whole truth. Vital, profound, and unflinchingly told, All You Can Ever Know is essential reading for anyone who’s ever struggled to figure out where they belong.
Recently, Nicole spoke with Read It Forward about her ginormous to-read pile, her enduring reverence for Tolkien, and her devotion to all things loquacious.
Featured Illustration: Lorenzo Gritti; Author Photo: Erica B. Tappis
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What’s the book on your bedside table?
A lot of my friends have debut novels out this summer, so I've been working my way through those: What We Were Promised by Lucy Tan, Number One Chinese Restaurant by Lillian Li, The Incendiaries by R. O. Kwon, A River of Stars by Vanessa Hua, Fruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras, If You Leave Me by Crystal Hana Kim.
What’s the one book you tell everyone to read?
I'm pretty annoying, yet no doubt typical for your audience, in that I'm forever recommending books to people who have ginormous TBR piles already. My suggestions vary quite a bit depending on the person. But last week, my husband was getting ready to leave on a business trip and asked me which books to bring, and I practically threw Station Eleven and One Hundred Years of Solitude at him (he took the former, as he's read the latter several times). So maybe that's telling—Station Eleven is definitely one of my many go-to recs for a broad range of readers; it is so my jam that I cannot imagine anyone not loving it.
Name three characters from literature or authors (dead or alive) that you’d want in your ideal book club?
This is a great, impossible question! Maybe Dorothy Parker, Dorothy Sayers, and, oh hell, since I'm on a roll here, Dorothy Day?
What word do you love and why? What word do you hate and why?
I'm partial to loquacious. It me. And it's just a fun word to say. I don't know that I hate any words...except maybe trypophobia, because it calls to mind very disturbing images. (DO NOT GOOGLE trypophobia! It's a horror show.)
What’s the one book you love to give as a gift and to whom do you give it?
This, too, varies widely by person and by year. But last year, for instance, I believe I gave copies of Celeste Ng's Little Fires Everywhere to at least five people I'm related to. And I gave Rachel Khong's Goodbye, Vitamin to several friends.
What’s the one book you read as a kid that has stuck with you?
So many, but I suppose I've been thinking a lot about Lord of the Rings lately, because my dad passed away this year, and it was a very special book to both of us. My mom gave me Jane Austen; I have my dad to thank for Tolkien. I still remember how excited he was the day he gave me my own copy.
What’s the one book that never fails to delight or inspire you?
I deeply love E. B. White's book of essays; I reread it at least once a year. It's my literary happy place. It kick-starts my own writing when I'm blocked. The saltwater farm essays are my favorites.
What’s the last book you read on a long flight?
I read an ARC of Jasmine Guillory's new book, The Proposal (out this October!) on my way to New Orleans in June; I adored her first book, The Wedding Date, but somehow I loved The Proposal even more. And on the way back I read Tommy Orange's There There, which is just as great as everyone has told you. If you haven't yet, buy it immediately.