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Getting Back Into Asian Literature

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This is very much a trail-of-thoughts post, and to avoid any confusion, I’ll say that by ‘Asian literature’ I mean books set in and about (East) Asian characters, by both Asian and non-Asian authors. (You could create a drinking game from the number of times I say ‘Asian’…)

My interest in Asian lit pre-dates my love of Japanese music and Chinese film. It started rather by accident; looking for a book for a friend who didn’t read (I was a hopeful teenager), I instead left the store having bought the book that caught my eye for myself.

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I read the totally fictional – Arthur Golden’s Memoirs Of A Geisha. I read the based-in-fact Empress Orchid by Anchee Min and Empress by Shan Sa. I read historical fantasy – Lian Hearn’s Tales Of The Otori and Alma Alexander’s The Secrets Of The Jin-Shei, series I never finished.

I think the reason I stopped reading Asian lit, or at least stopped making it a priority, is that blogging has changed the way I find books. (It’s also due to ARCs, but to a much lesser extent.) I like the change in general, but it has significantly lessened the ‘section’ of my reading wherein I chose books at the store randomly. Where I wanted a book but didn’t know which to get and so chose those whose titles and spines I liked. When you choose books that way rather than by recommendation, your selections will naturally skew toward interests you already have.

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And whilst that may usually hinder the broadening of horizons, I dare say that an interest in Asian Lit when I’d had no history lessons on Asia, means that such a focus later isn’t a bad thing.

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Recently I was drawn to the table of books in an otherwise book-less store, and something told me there was one in there for me. There was something specific that fit me that I had to find. I dismantled the books pile by pile and knew it when I found it. Chinese fiction and published by Virago. I’ve discovered that Under The Hawthorn Tree was adapted for film, and that it’s received mixed reviews. I don’t know if I’ll like it, but seeing it on the kitchen table where it’s left so that I notice and read it soon, I feel the old joy in my choice-at-random. I’m happy to have more Asian lit.

Regardless of whether I like the book, I’m hoping this jump-starts a trip back to my pre-blogging days. I want to incorporate Asian lit back into my reading life beyond the rare book. It will start with Ai Mi, and hopefully continue with the last empress of China. I suppose you could consider this a mission statement.

Has becoming a blogger affected the amount of time and space you give to your favourite type(s) of literature?



June 16, 2014, 7:37 am

Being a blogger can definitely change the focus of your reading. Heck, just in the past year I’ve gone from having a blog that mostly looks at various publishing kerfuffles to having a blog almost exclusively dedicated to women writers in translation (which your Asian-lit project could easily incorporate, I might add!). I’ve noticed for myself that a lot of times it comes in waves. Over the years my reading has swung back and forth between different styles and genres… and eventually it also swings back.


June 16, 2014, 8:49 am

I think if anything it’s allowed me to delve further into it, but I do feel like I am abandoning my Richard Yates type novels at the moment for other books/projects.

I think it’s wonderful you’ve made that move back to the literature you love. I can imagine you in China, travelling around with the BF reading translated local folklore. :)


June 16, 2014, 8:58 am

Beautiful post, Charlie! I love East Asian lit, mostly Chinese and some Japanese. I totally agree with you on discovering new books the old-fashioned way through the bookshop. I don’t visit bookshops that often these days, but whenever I do, there are always wonderful surprises in store.

This is totally unsolicited but because you love East Asian lit, I thought I would recommend two books for you. One is ‘Wolf Totem’ by Jiang Rong. It won the inaugural MAN Asian literary prize. It is beautiful. Another is ‘Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress’ by Dai Sijie. I haven’t read the book, but saw the movie version and I liked it very much.

Hope you enjoy your exploration of East Asian literature. Happy reading!

Tracy Terry

June 16, 2014, 12:56 pm

Oh I loved The Secrets Of The Jin-Shei,

In reply to your question, yes and no.

Whilst I don’t get enough time to read what I thought of as my
favourite genres on the other hand thanks to blogging I’ve discovered a ew more genres that have become firm favourites.


June 16, 2014, 1:35 pm

I feel like blogging gives me a place to talk about why some of my favorites are so good, and recount literary adventures like traveling for a weekend to meet other people who like one of my favorite authors (Walker Percy).


June 16, 2014, 9:05 pm

I do read more UF, PNR and romance now cos I used to read mostly library books and they got mostly fiction

Literary Feline

June 16, 2014, 10:34 pm

I have always enjoyed reading books about cultures and countries other than my own. My interest grew even more when I began blogging. I think it had a lot to do with the increase in exposure in the books available out there.

My reading definitely diversified more genre wise because of blogging.

I find though that life changes have more of an impact on my reading than even blogging does. I go through definitely phases as a result.


June 17, 2014, 12:01 am

Blogging helped me discover my favorite type of book – domestic, middle-brow, 20th C novels written by women. I never would have known about Dorothy Whipple or Elizabeth Taylor if I hadn’t started blogging.
I feel that my job duties as a librarian pull me away from my true passions because I am obligated to read contemporary fiction that doesn’t always make me happy,
I haven’t read much Asian literature so I’m looking forward to seeing your recommendations.


June 17, 2014, 4:51 pm

I think blogging has widened my reading sphere in a positive way. It has encouraged me to read more non-fiction, memoirs, classics and new releases. While I still think I make plenty of time for my favourite genres of fantasy and history.

I hope you enjoy your journey back into Asian literature. I read Memoirs of a Geisha many years ago now but I did love it. I have recently picked up a copy of Peach Blossom Pavilion by Mingmei Yip which I hope I will be able to read soon.

Jenny @ Reading the End

June 17, 2014, 6:44 pm

I think overall blogging has expanded my reading horizons and introduced me to authors I wouldn’t ordinarily have bothered about. It’s particularly made me conscious about the diversity of my reading, which is why my main reading goal for the year was to read more authors of color.

Where blogging has led to me cutting out things from my life, I think, is mainly nonfiction and enormous books. Those things just take longer to read, and I’m inclined to leave them alone more often because I’m conscious of a posting schedule that I want to keep to. It’s sad! I should stop caring about that so much!


June 19, 2014, 3:55 am

Blogging has completely changed my reading habits. Because of other people’s posts, I keep adding to my TBR and buying books that I never get around to reading, and trying to read books I don’t like. It’s bizarre. I used to read a lot more than I do now. These days, I spend time writing blog posts and hunting online for books when I could be reading. It troubles me and I’ve been thinking about quitting GoodReads so that I’m not exposed to so much ‘temptation’.


June 20, 2014, 1:08 pm

I haven’t read many books by Asian authors, or set in Asia, jut Memoirs of a Geisha and a couple more, but like you, I think I should read more of this kind.
I have also new habits because of my blogging life. BTW, I loved your “teenage you” with all that hope :DDD



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