My childhood was defined by the three places where I spent most of my waking time: school, the restaurant that my family owned and the county library.
At the age of eight, I was already bussing tables and doing kitchen prep work at our family’s restaurant. But when business was slow, I would walk two blocks over to the Lemon Grove Public Library and pick up a stack of books so large that I could barely see over the top of them. In fact, I spent so much time there that I got to know the staff and volunteers on a first-name basis.
The aisles and shelves of the library whet my appetite for knowledge. It didn’t matter which section I was in, I’d always find something interesting, whether it was filled with dinosaurs or theology, art or business. I know, it probably doesn’t sound like your average grade-school child. But it was the library that instilled an unshakeable belief in lifelong learning, curiosity and exploration. This same belief gave me the drive to set a record on the most number of TEDx talks given, and helped me lead a landmark case going before the United States Supreme Court; this sense of curiosity also helped me start numerous businesses, publish several books, and prepared me for touring the world with my band, The Slants.
As we celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, I’m reminded of the sacrifices that my parents made (you can hear that story here) — not only to provide a home for our family, but for encouraging me to use the library as a way to grow as well. Today, the library does more than lend books: now you can check out films, use the computer, take classes, and more!
Here are some of my favorite works that I’d recommend you check out:
The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John C. Maxwell: This was one of the first leadership books I read as a teenager. I was instantly hooked. Not only do you learn about leadership principles that can help you lead an organization, but there are plenty of great lessons for being a better student, friend and volunteer as well.
The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz: Diaz is one of my favorite authors. He gets being a geeky person of color and his characters are incredibly relatable, frustrating and real. It provides a fresh perspective on teenage life, rejection and redemption.
King Dork by Frank Portman: I grew up in the early 90s pop punk scene so I was obsessed with a band called the Mr. T Experience. Later on, the lead singer became an author and published this coming-of-age novel with the same wit, comedic awkwardness and rock n’ roll references as the songs I loved.
Octavia’s Brood, edited by Walidah Imarisha: Local author and activist Walidah Imarisha teams up with Adrienne Maree Brown to create this incredible combination of science fiction and social justice stories. It’s a must read.
1Q84 by Haruki Murakami: Murakami paints these swirling, surrealistic worlds that blend alternate realities with our own. In part, this novel pays homage to George Orwell’s 1984, but I believe it surpasses it in nearly every aspect.
Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop by Jeff Chang: Chang provides a breathtaking biography for the history of the hip-hop movement, from the Bronx to Jamaica. It is based on over a decade of interviews and research and is considered one of the best musical, as well as political, writings available.