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Shakespeare

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I checked in at the Booking Through Thursday blog, which is the host for a weekly book meme or blogging prompt. Here is this week’s prompt:

Okay, show of hands … who has read Shakespeare OUTSIDE of school required reading? Do you watch the plays? How about movies? Do you love him? Think he’s overrated?

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I only read Romeo & Juliet and Hamlet in high school, and I read under time’s constraint. I always thought Romeo & Juliet was very clichéd and I never cared for it. Hamlet was read as an exercise of in-depth character study in 11th grade. Taming of the Shrew was the first book I read outside of school—and it was years after high school that I picked it up.

The Taming of the Shrew has a powerful appeal for the Elizabethan audience at the time it opened because the struggle for mastery in a marriage remained a fact of existence and hot topics for writers. A true-to-life domestic scene opens the play and instantly grasps attention: Signor Baptista forbids all suitors to court his younger daughter Bianca until he finds a husband for the ill-tempered, difficult, and waspish elder daughter Katherina. It’s one of Shakespeare’s more rhetorical work.

I was concerned that A Midsummer Night’s Dream might be a reprise of Romeo & Juliet. Shakespeare nudges the story to a direction in which the style does not involve the audience too snuggly in the lovers’ emotions. The love entanglement engenders enough body and reference to larger concepts to be viewed as image of some universal human experience: one so true-to-life that it inevitably and in no time provokes sympathy.

Twelfth Night has a whimsical plot. It addresses a subtler and yet precarious issue in the situation of identical twins teetering on the risk of being mistaken. Identical twins are automatically ripped off their uniqueness, the unmistakable self. The broad appeal of Twelfth Night as a good-humored play is sharpened by its comedy of mistaken identity between the long-lost twins Sabastian and Viola. Although they are of different sexes, other characters in the play cannot distinguish them from one another when Viola disguises as a young man.

#10Books

The #10Books meme has made its way all over Facebook and finally I have been tagged by a friend to contribute to this rather painful and grueling task. It brings mixed emotions; and the idea of picking and choosing one over the other seems a daunting task to take on.

I prepare the list of 10 books that have left an indelible influence in my life. These may not essentially be the books I like the most, but I can sleep without guilt after listing them for their influence in shaping me.

1. Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin (Fiction/Gay Literature)
One of my first gay literature books that is not fluff. It explores the troubling emotions of man’s heart with unusual candor and yet with dignity and intensity. It delves into the most controversial issue of morality with an artistry. The most touching and absorbing thing is Giovanni’s unconditional love for David, whose fearful intimation opens in him a hatred for Giovanni that is as powerful as his love for him.

2. Mapping the Territory by Christopher Bram (Nonfiction/GLBT Studies)
This one really expands my scope on why gay men and women search for a mirror for reality in literature. This collection of essays is so rich in anecdotes, humor, philosophy and literary critique. Amazing how many of his feelings and experiences corroborate to mine. As a young reader, I shared Bram’s experience in reading the way into homosexuality—something is that is both eye-opening and relieving. The literature assures Bram, and myself, that being homosexual is not being off the margin. Homosexuality should be connected with the rest of life.

3. Time Was Soft There: A Memoir. A Paris Sojourn at Shakespeare & Co. by Jeremy Mercer (Nonfiction/Memoir/Travelogue)
This memoir of a Canadian journalist cum bookstore employee was what decided my first trip to Paris. Although the owner’s grand-niece had taken over the store when I finally went, I think back to what George (the original owner) said about the bookstore being an annex to Notre Dame and I think it is very true. In the end, yes, it is a famous bookstore and, yes, it is of no small literary importance. But more than anything, Shakespeare and Company is a refuge, like the church across the river. A place where the owner allows everyone to take what they need and give what they can. It’s a literary testimony to a book haven.

4. The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov (Fiction/Literature, Russian)
This book shows me the power of a cross-genre novel mixing literature, folklore, history, political polemic, and scientific fantasy. It was banned in Bulgakov’s lifetime for its criticism against Stalin. It is Bulgakov’s embittered and sarcastic response (and indictment) to his era’s denial of imagination and its wish to strip the world of divine qualities. Not only does it awaken the existence of god but more importantly, evil. Evil was capable as a magician who wreaks a havoc of Moscow in this novel. This novel is a product of reconciliation of the absolute opposites: how would anyone ever conceive a world in which God and Satan work toward the same end, and that good is not necessarily better than evil?

5. The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro (Fiction/Literature, British)
Another novel that keeps showing up on my literary map—a re-read material. Subtly plotted, this novel gives the impression that characters and scenes in the beautifully paced novel become no more than mouthpieces and backdrops for Ishiguro’s concern for the human condition: A desire to exceed one’s limitations. It also concerns with one’s ignorance and stubbornness, subverting, and mistaking immorality as high ideals.

6. A Separate Peace by John Knowles (Fiction/Literature, American)
One of the few books read in school that really blew me away. It’s the classic tale of innocence lost for good. Fear, hatred, and love all battle to gain the upper hand in the young protagonist’s heart—and it is the victory of such dark forces human nature that makes the 16-years-old introvert boy realize each person is alone with his enemy–something that is within the human heart–and not influenced by external circumstances. The desire to outsmart everyone else destroys any feeling of affection and friendship he might have had for his friend.

7. Gweilo: A Memoir of a Hong Kong Childhood by Martin Booth (Nonfiction/Memoir, Hong Kong)
I couldn’t stop nodding my head when I read through this one. Although Martin Booth was at least decades older than I, I live vicariously through his vivid details of sights and smells of my hometown. Besides the fact that Booth’s narrative, sometimes very novelistic for a memoir, is full of color and anecdote, wit and originality, this book strokes my heart-string because his first residence in Hong Kong, on Waterloo Road near Soares Avenue in Ho Man Tin, is right across the street from where I used to go to school.

8. Stoner by John Williams (Fiction/Literature, American)
This book is a hidden jewel in American Literature. It’s one of those quiet novels following a straight course of a protagonist who strives in silence. Stoner is a farm boy, initially studying agriculture and a requirement of his course is to take a class in English literature. Good things do happen in Stoner’s life, but they all end badly. He relishes teaching students, but his career is stymied by a malevolent head of department; he falls in love and marries, but knows within a month that the relationship is a failure.

9. Half a Lifetime 半生緣 by Eileen Chang 張愛玲 (Fiction/Literature, Chinese)
Rich in period details, set in Shanghai in the 1930s, it’s a love story not in the sense of titillating dialogue and actions, but in the sense of fate’s convolution. It’s neither about romantic passion nor intimacy. It’s one of the very few love stories that stays with me. Manjing and Shujun succumb to a succession of intrigues on which their families are to blame: misunderstandings, conjecture, white lies, and manipulation. The hunt for that lost love and happiness is always on, and in some tragic, truthful, stunning way it forever eludes them. This might very well be Chang’s view on love: one that is grim, unwarranted, and will-o’-the-wispy. Keeping a distance from her characters’ drama, at an angle of repose, Chang writes with a quiet prose that is emotionally detached, as if she is watching with an eagle’s eye her lovers are doomed by fate’s caprice and turbulence. Chang is very acerbic of wit.

10. East of Eden by John Steinbeck (Fiction/Literature, American)
I dig books about good vs. evil. As Steinbeck disclaims and reiterates throughout the novel, the struggle between good and evil is not only a recurring narrative within the frame of the story, it will always coexist with human history. The same ancient problem, dating back to Adam and Eve, will always confront future generations.

“School Discoveries”

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I checked in at the Booking Through Thursday blog, which is the host for a weekly book meme or blogging prompt. Here is this week’s prompt:

We all had to read lots of different things in school—some of which we liked, some of which we didn’t. Are there any authors that you’ve grown to love because you were introduced to them in your English Lit class? Or—the contrary. Are there any you hate because you were forced to read them? Did you ever go back to try them again?

I remember those two gigantic, phone book-size literature textbooks for 9th and 10th grades, which were anthology collections to give us overview of the subject matter. Anyway these books, titled Adventures in Reading and Adventures in Literature gave me the foundation and invoked in me interests in exploring further. One of the timeless pieces was The Necklace by Guy de Maupassant, which epitomizes elements of irony in short stories. Edgar Allan Poe is another favorite authors that has stayed with me. A Separate Peace by John Knowles and The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger are books that I re-read. The former is a story of innocence lost and the latter features a potty-mouth but kind-hearted Holden Caulfield. Honestly I’m surprised these two books don’t find favor with many readers.

In tenth grade I read The Pearl and Of Mice and Men, which I enjoyed but were far from my prized selections of John Steinbeck. East of Eden, perused on my own in college, has been an all-time favorite book. On the contrary, I didn’t enjoy Moby Dick and that was it for me as far as reading Herman Melville. I also found Thoreau very dry—all the harangue about civil disobedience. But I think the book is ever more relevant now in this society plagued by self-entitlement and rudeness. I also trudged through page after page of farming techniques and land allotment in War and Peace but enjoyed Anna Karenina later in life profusely. One author that is overrated in my book, even to this day, is Ernest Hemingway. I cannot say I enjoy any of his fiction, but A Moveable Feast always warrants re-reads.

Enmity

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I checked in at the Booking Through Thursday blog, which is the host for a weekly book meme or blogging prompt. Here is this week’s prompt:

Any books or authors you hate? Why? Is it the writing? The stories? The author’s personality? And—would you read their work anyway?

Hate is too strong of a word against any book or author. All I can say is there are certain kinds of books I will avoid, knowing they are not my cup of tea. After my woe with that horrible ending of Bel Canto I have avoided Ann Patchett. Instead of “hate” I learn to avoid certain authors knowing the books aren’t within my my reading taste. Haruki Murakami I would read but I don’t feel the urgency to read his new books. Over the years I have become very good at matching books to my taste when it comes to new/previously unread authors. Another type of books I avoid is fan-fiction.

Mystery

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I checked in at the Booking Through Thursday blog, which is the host for a weekly book meme or blogging prompt. Here is this week’s prompt:

Do you read mystery novels? If so, why? Is it the mysteries themselves that appeal to you? The puzzle-solving? The murders? Or why don’t you read them? What about them doesn’t appeal?

Interspersed between more high-brow and serious books I would stick in a mystery or two to relieve the tension in my brain. Mystery is one genre gap that I should be able to fill. The “whodunit” of mystery genre certainly appeals me as a reader with its mounting anticipation and delayed pleasure. I’m not well-versed in this genre, but over the years have enjoyed Agatha Christie, Thomas H. Cook, Dashiell Hammett, Arthur Conan Doyle and Patricia Highsmith. One author I find difficule to classify is Daphne du Mariner, whose works border between mystery and historical fiction. Other “supermarket book” authors I’m somewhat skeptical to pick up. As to what doesn’t appeal about mystery, I can only say that it’s kind of like popular culture. Mystery is meant for quick pleasure and usually has little literary arts in it. Think “escapist” literature. Not all mystery novels have shallow, cardboard and stereotypical characters, but most are meant for quick reading that I probably won’t remember shortly after putting them down. That said, the mystery genre has a lot going for it. The investigation and storyline are what most attract readers to the genre. The point of mysteries is to examine the clues and solve the puzzle. For readers whose goal is to solve the mystery before the detective, the appeal is the intellectual challenge.

A Literary Meme

1. What author do you own the most books by?
Charles Dickens, if I discount books that belong to the same series.

2. What book do you own the most copies of?
The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov. Multiple copies of the four different translations.

3. What fictional character are you secretly in love with?
The gay baseball player Randy Dreyfus in The Dreyfus Affair by Peter Lefcourt. He’s hot it all: athletic, ruggedly good-looking and smart.

4. What book have you read the most times in your life (excluding picture books read to children, i.e. Goodnight Moon does not count)?
The Master and Margarita now ties with The Remains of the Day.

5. What was your favorite book when you were ten years old?
Ten was a tough year for me. In Hong Kong, ten-year-olds had to focus on doing well in core subjects (Chinese language, English language, and mathematics) in preparation for secondary school entrance exam. There were talks to send me abroad for school. In between all that, I did remember reading a bunch of Roald Dahl.

6. What is the worst book you’ve read in the past year?
The very recent Capital by John Lanchester. Consider how profusely I enjoyed his previous works, the novel about a microcosm of London diverse society was a major disappointment. It is seriously flawed, with its disjointed, episodic structure that reads like a series of newspaper observations and vignettes. It’s a long book (so overwritten and overwrought to make a point about greed and mindless consumption) that just ends with the stories winding themselves out.

7. If you could force everyone to read one book, what would it be?
The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov.

8. Who deserves to win the next Nobel Prize for Literature?
Milan Kundera

9. What book would you most like to see made into a movie?
The Eustace Diamonds by Anthony Trollope.

10. What book would you least like to see made into a movie?
The Master and Margarita would be disastrous as a film. Once you edit out the offensive things, there’s nothing left.

11. Describe your weirdest dream involving a writer, book, or literary character.
I read The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner all in one day, cramming for an exam in college. I had weird dreams that night.

12. What is the most lowbrow book you’ve read as an adult?
Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown.

13. What is the most difficult book you’ve ever read?
Ulysses and To the Lighthouse need a tie breaker.

14. What is the most obscure Shakespeare play you’ve seen?
I think they’re all obscure except for As You Like It.

15. Do you prefer the French or the Russians?
Hands down the Russians. The stories address to the depth of human interest and make inquiries to the meaning of life. I feel like I don’t read about French literature to critique. Crime and Punishment, War and Peace, The Brothers Karamazov and Anna Karenina all occupy a precious spot in my heart and help initiate me into adulthood.

16. What is the biggest or most embarrassing gap in your reading?
Ancient and classic literature by time period; poetry by genre.

17. What is your favorite novel?
I can only pick one? Shadow Without A Name by Ignacio Padilla is a great one on war and identity. East of Eden by John Steinbeck for story. The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov is one of the greatest piece of literature that embodies culture, history, social satire, and cross-genre elements. The Painted Veil by Somerset Maugham is a plot-driven story set partially in my hometown. I also enjoyed Maurice, The Go-Between, and A Separate Peace. Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner is an ode to friendship and marriage. The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro is beautifully written book about one’s loyalty and unreliable retrospection.

18. Work of nonfiction?
The Gentleman in the Parlour by Somerset Maugham and Argo by Tony Mendez.

19. Who is the most overrated writer alive today?
John Grisham, James Patterson, and Haruki Murakami.

20. What is your desert island book?
And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie for the atmosphere because it’s set on an island. The Master and Margarita for the very entertaining plotlines.

Bookcases

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I checked in at the Booking Through Thursday blog, which is the host for a weekly book meme or blogging prompt. Here is this week’s prompt:

When you visit a friend’s house, do you find time to browse their bookcases? Does it shock you if they don’t have one?

Bookcases are the first things I look for and look at. The book collection (or the lack of it) gives a peek about someone’s personality and reveals a person’s life. I can always associate books with trips I made. No that I would judge my friends on it, but I cannot help to be shocked when there isn’t a tiny shelf for travel books and cook books.

It’s hard to escape the theory that there is an exhibitionist side to our bookcase obsession. It’s about showing off how much you have read, or plan to read, or pretend to have read. You are subtly suggesting that you are the sort of person who keeps Finnegans Wake handy, for example, just in case you ever fancy dipping in for a quick, albeit incomprehensible, catch-up.

Being a bibliophile and a fanatic reader myself, I like to take a peek at what other bibliophiles have in their shelves. It’s the same thing as any collection. If you’re into shoes, you’d get giddy looking at other people’s shoe collection. With a book collection, there’s always something surprising to see. You never know what’s tucked in the shelves.

Signs of A Book Addict

1. Book is your general outlook on life. People are cool but reading is your preferred social activity.
True. I can entertain myself reading all day, even on vacation. Friends are good but they can’t be there at my fingers like book, can they?

2. You know what a book hangover is and you have them frequently.
False. A great book would burn in my head but I know it’s time to move on to other books.

3. You plan whole afternoons around browsing bookstores.
True. Bookstore scouring is part of a reader’s life. You’ll be surprised what new authors and unheard-of books you’ll find when you randomly pore over the shelves.

4. If you go too long without buying or reading a book you feel a huge sense of withdrawal and are thinking of the next time you can get away to a bookstore or library.
True. At least one new book is acquired every week.

5. You have trouble functioning at work or school sometimes because you stayed up late reading.
False. I don’t stay up reading, nor do I read in bed. I rather wake up early and read.

6. You’re constantly sharing your favorite book quotes on social media and have either a Pinterest board or Tumblr dedicated to these quotes.
False. Not really, busy I’m usually too busy taking notes and writing down key sentences for my reviews.

7. You’re always looking forward to the weekend but mostly because you can’t wait to get 2 whole days for unadulterated alone time with a new book.
True. But I don’t devote all day reading. I would read for about 3 to 4 hours over breakfast in the morning, then head out to run errand, go workout, and come back to read more. I have to digest what I read.

8. You carry a book with you at all times because you never know when you’ll have a spare minute to do some extra reading.
True. Seriously at all times. I read when I wait for the table for brunch, wait for oil change, and yes, even when I’m at the park with my dog.

9. Your friends and family have stopped asking you what you want for Christmas or birthdays because they know you’ll always say books.
True. They also stop buying me books because I either have read them, have owned them, or don’t care for the ones they get me.

10. You take your book clubs seriously. If you show up and you haven’t read the book?
False. I don’t belong to one. I have a tough time finding one that shares my eccentric taste.

11. When you go out to dinner you find yourself wanting to gush about a book you’re reading and the characters in the story. You’ve been spending so much time with them you feel like they’ve become a part of your life just as much as anyone else.
False. I try not to be too attached to my reading when I’m out with friends.

12. You don’t mind layovers so much because you know it’s a perfect time to get in extra reading.
True. Especially when I can enjoy the comfort and amenities that an airline lounge can offer. I make myself comfortable with a book and some refreshments! A specific novel always reminds me of a trip.

13. When you travel you always bring as least two books because you’re not sure what kind of mood you’ll be in or what sort of story you’ll feel like reading.
True. I bring about 3 paperbacks in case one book doesn’t live up to my expectation or to my whim. I would pick up another one at the airport bookstore if I’m flying long-haul to say, Asia, like i do every year.

14. And if you don’t have a Kindle you just sort of assume half of your luggage will be all books.
False. I used to lug around a bag full of books. Now the convenience of an e-reader has reduced my travel load. Also I usually familiarize myself with local bookstores wherever I travel.

15. When someone talks smack about one of your favorite writers you instantly get defensive and suggest they try reading another work by them.
True. Every author deserves a second chance. So does a reader.

16. You legitimately don’t understand people who say they don’t read.
True. Yeah, how do they do with their spare time? Really?

17. When the movie version of a book comes out you’ll go see it but you know there isn’t any way the movie could be better than the book.
False. I have given up seeing the movies because they almost never measure up to the books. I had been appalled at how much of the story they left out.

18. One of your favorite things to do when arriving in a new city is to check out the local bookstores.
True. It’s the very first thing I research for after I book the flight and hotel.

19. You actually have a bookstore bucket list of amazing bookstores around the world you absolutely want and need to visit before you die.
True. To name a few: Shakespeare & Co. in Paris, King James Bookstore in Salt Lake City, The Strand in New York City, Book Soup in Los Angeles, El Ateneo in Buenos Aires, Boekhandel Selexyz Dominicanen in Maastricht, Keibunsya in Kyoto, and Hatchards in London

20. You’ve stopped lending books to friends because you know they just won’t care for the books in the way they should be cared for.
False. I’m grateful that the few friends who borrow books from me are really considerate and respectful to the books.

21. You don’t understand how people can be lonely when they have books.
True. I’ll be lonely without them.

22. You’ve skipped over entire meals or canceled plans just so you could finish a book.
True. Postpone a meeting or dinner but would not skip a meal. I have a habit to read while I eat.

23. You honestly can’t think of a better way to spend a Sunday than reading a book and drinking coffee or tea.
True. That’s the ritual. I would read about 100 pages of my current book, shift to the book section of Sunday paper, which is the New York Times, and go back to read the book.

24. You buy all your friends and family a book for Christmas.
False. I actually stop observing Christmas because of all the material madness of the season. All that ugly hording and buying really gross me out.

25. You always check out the max amount of books you can at the library and get annoyed when someone asks you if you’ll actually be able to read all of those by the due date. Hello, do you even know me?
False. I buy more than I borrow.

26. You have words from your favorite author or book tattooed on your body somewhere.
False. Hell no!

27. You buy more books even if you have a stack of books that haven’t been read yet.
True. Buying new books has nothing to do with what’s not yet to be read at home.

28. And you feel sort of guilty that you haven’t read those books yet but you will! Someday!
True. Just console yourself with the thought that a reader’s life is always work in progress.

29. Pretty much your entire apartment is filled with stacks of books.
False. Books all over the study. I try not to clutter my condo with books.

30. You sort of hate when a book is 250 pages or under because you know you’ll just end up reading it within a day or two and will have to find something else to read when it’s finished.
True. Yes I tend to read longer books with at least 250 pages. Novellas don’t usually get my attention.

31. But that’s okay because you always have at least a few emergency books you can choose from if you have nothing else to read.
True. I always have some quick reads set aside.

32. When people can’t find you they just assume you’re at a bookstore.
True. Or I’m sipping a cosmopolitan somewhere with a book.

33. You love seeing people in public with books and you’re always try and catch a peek at the title to see what they’re into.
True. While I’m eclectic in choosing my books, I’m always excited to see people reading in the public–regardless of what they are reading. It certainly made my day when I saw a girl read The Master and Margarita at the dog park.

34. When the ending of a book sucks you feel seriously betrayed by the author. I mean, how could they do this to me?
True. I’ll never forget and forgive Ann Patchett doing that to me in Bel Canto.

35. You think the only way you can truly get to know an old, used book is by smelling it. Ahh, old book smell.
True. The kids in school used to make fun of me smelling the pages of new textbooks. Rude!

36. When you find a used bookstore you get ridiculously excited. The level of excitement can sometimes trump excitement over other awesome things like pizza places, ice-cream shops, etc. Your enthusiasm for used bookstores knows no bounds.
True. Used bookstores are treasure boxes. People who own a used bookstore are usually devoted readers.

37. You take it personally when you recommend a book to a friend and 6 months later they still haven’t read it. What are they even waiting for?
False. I am not that controlling.

38. You wake up in the morning thinking about the characters in a book and wondering what will happen.
True. I just did this morning—couldn’t wait to find out what happens to Hans Castorp after his cousin left the mountain sanatorium in The Magic Mountain.

39. You own a variety of different editions of your favorite book. If you see it in a foreign bookstore or with a new cover you can’t help but want it for your collection.
True.

40. You’ve yelled at a book in public.
True. And throw one down as well.

Summertime

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I checked in at the Booking Through Thursday blog, which is the host for a weekly book meme or blogging prompt. Here is this week’s prompt:

Do your reading habits change in the summer?

Summer is the time of pool time and road trips with friends. That means I have to select lighter books. Although I’m a spontaneous reader, I’m mindful that I don’t bring James Joyce or Toni Morrison with me to the poolside in Palm Springs because they are too tough-going for distraction. My summer books are ones that can survive distraction. Imagine trying to read a chapter or a passage, dive into the pool, soak up the sun, come back to read some more, grab a nosh from the BBQ grill, take a nap on the float, and come back to try to read where I left off. Ulysses won’t do, nor would To the Lighthouse or Beloved. The straight-forward and tight plot of The Jungle might suit the occasion but I might have to skip the BBQ. Good mysteries always and non-fiction might be the perfect choices.

Anticipation

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I checked in at the Booking Through Thursday blog, which is the host for a weekly book meme or blogging prompt. Here is this week’s prompt:

Do you still get excited about new books as you did when you were little? In general? New books in particular, like from a favorite author? Or do you look at all new, unread books with the same level of anticipation?

Any book or author I haven’t read is new to me. I don’t distinguish between books hot off the press and ones that were written in the last century. I simply get excited about books—the smell of ink and the tactile pleasure. When I was little, I anticipated Sunday not because my favorite cartoon would be on TV, but the prospect of a visit to the bookstore after dim sum. I was looking forward to browsing and hopefully buying a book that I would read in my spare time.