Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Bookspotting and Workshopping

This week I spotted a young man in a coffee shop carrying a book with the word Young written in bold colors on the mostly white cover. I spotted three different Chinese books on the MTR and one Hong Kong guidebook. Last night I attended a workshop at the Fringe Club for the Hong Kong Writers Circle. My friend brought along A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers by Xiaolu Guo. Another writer was reading The Dragon Book before the workshop began. When we did introductions, several of the writers shared what book they are reading at the moment. Titles included Conscious Living, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Nothing Gained (that was me), and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. The workshop was about the ubiquitous "show don't tell" principle. It was a great way to kick off my Easter holiday, which I plan to spend writing and making the selections for the Expat Women in Asia anthology. If you are planning to submit an essay, the deadline is this Sunday!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Bookspotting and IMPRINT

This was a productive bookspotting and literary week for me. I spotted a woman on the MTR reading a book called The Blue Door. Across the train car, another woman was reading Pearl of China. I spotted two different Kindles on different days, one in the hands of a Chinese schoolboy, which I don't think I've seen before. A young girl had a copy of a Percy Jackson book, this one with the word Heroes in the title. On my way to work yesterday, I saw a man reading a Robert Jordan-sized hardback, but I couldn't see the cover. This morning, a girl sitting two seats away from me also had a thick English book open on her lap. I snuck a peak on my way out of the train and saw the title, City of Bones, at the top of the page. Finally, I received a paperback review copy from Penguin China of Nothing Gained, a new thriller by Phillip Y. Kim set in Hong Kong.

On Friday, I was the MC for the launch party celebrating IMPRINT, the annual anthology of the HK Women in Publishing Society, and the Saphira Prize for unpublished writing. Below is the quick write-up about the party I did for the HK WiPS website. There was a special surprise for me when the Saphira Prize coordinator announcing the winner mentioned that my entry, The Art of Escalator Jumping, had also received a special commendation from the judges. It was quite encouraging for me because that entry was my first novel, and I had been thinking about banishing it to a drawer. Now, I feel inspired to rework it and see if I can find it a home.

What are people reading in your town this week? Have you heard any encouraging words lately? 

P.S. I hope you've all heard by now that Susan Blumberg-Kason has signed a book deal! She's a regular commenter on this blog and a terrific inspiration to me as a fellow American writing about a love affair with Hong Kong.

IMPRINT 12 Launch and Saphira Prize Announcement

15 March 2013, FCC
By Shannon Young

The main event on the HK WiPS social calendar is the launch party for IMPRINT. 2013 is the twelfth year that members have gathered their best works of fiction, poetry, memoir and art into a collection that showcases the many talents of Hong Kong’s publishing women. To celebrate, over 80 WiPS ladies, their partners and curious creatives from Hong Kong and abroad gathered in the FCC for a crowded, joyous party.

The Hughes and Burton rooms, decorated with covers from past editions of IMPRINT, provided a cozy venue with just enough room to mingle and make regular trips to the hors d’oeuvre table.

This year’s IMPRINT bears a striking, modern cover featuring a typical Hong Kong sign, a temple door and a pair of shoes. Designer extraordinaire Tania Willis shared that the inspiration behind this year’s cover is the way writers leave behind their everyday lives like a pair of shoes when they step into their creative work. It is sure to stand out on the shelves of bookstores and personal libraries across the city.

Attendees enjoyed readings from Jessica Wang, the winner of this year’s Student Competition, and four IMPRINT contributors: Laura Besley, Mags Webster, Elizabeth Vongsaravanh and Aparna Assomull Bundro. Elizabeth made a special trip from Laos to read her poetry at the event.

The 2013 launch party celebrated a new development for WiPS, the awarding of the inaugural Saphira Prize for unpublished writing to Elsie Sze. Elsie, a longtime WiPS member and IMPRINT contributor, made a special trip from Canada to accept the Saphira Prize in person. Her novel will be edited and published by fellow WiPS members.

Thank you to all of the IMPRINT contributors, Saphira judges and WiPS committee members, past and present, who helped make this year’s launch party a success!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

WOOL by Hugh Howey


Humanity has survived an apocalypse in an underground silo, but they don't know what's really going on above the surface.


Hugh Howey's Wool has gotten a lot of attention lately, which it deserves. I recently recommended this book to my sister as the best page-turner I've read in a long time. In the five-part Omnibus edition (it was originally released as serial e-novellas) we are introduced to the silo, an underground tower where a large community survives after an apocalypse they know little (or nothing) about. Although their lives are closely regulated, a few people notice suspicious coincidences and embark on investigations that prove to be dangerous - and even deadly.

The novellas take place chronologically with intersecting characters and story lines. Each main character shares a common desire to learn the truth, though their motivations are varied and personal. The relationships between the characters are complex and often moving, even as they are dealing with issues that turn out to be much bigger than themselves. The silo itself is a fascinating place, divided into over a hundred levels and connected by a massive central staircase (there is no elevator). Everyone wears coveralls corresponding with their jobs, creating factions and identities within the larger community. It's a fresh take on a post-apocalyptic scenario that will likely appeal to people who are not necessarily hardcore sci-fi fans.

The writing style is both economical and vivid. Howey uses carefully placed details to evoke an entire world without wasting words. The inhabitants of the silo have a unique vocabulary that adds authenticity to their world. Howey tackles some big ideas through the voices of his characters, making Wool more than just a good story. He poses philosophical questions throughout the narrative that keep you reading and dig into your mind long after you turn off your Kindle.



The Wool Omnibus (1-5) is $3.99 for the Kindle edition. I would have happily paid that just for the first story.


What makes you unable to put down a book? Do you think a good novel must pose deeper questions about the human condition or is it enough for it to be engaging to the last page?

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Bookspotting, Instagram, Etc.

Well, I've joined Instagram. So far I've mostly been taking pictures of views and skyscrapers. You can follow me here if you want to see what I see around HK. On to the bookspotting...

This week I spotted a boy reading a Diary of a Wimpy Kid book on the MTR. I've seen that series around quite a bit recently. Later, I saw a boy reading the Chinese edition of Harry Potter while he crossed the street near my work. Not the safest practice, but I've done it too! I spotted four other Chinese books this week, and a few more that could have been in any language.

On Friday I attended the second installment of a literary salon a member of my writing group is hosting at her apartment. We read and critiqued each others work, had snacks, and enjoyed good conversation about creative non-fiction and how much to explain/reveal/hint at in the first chapter of a novel.

This Friday, the Hong Kong Women in Publishing Society will be launching their annual anthology known as IMPRINT. This will be the second year that I'll have a piece in the publication. You can read last year's essay, titled Optimism, at my writing website. There will be an open bar and copies of the collection at the launch, so good times should be had by all. I will also be MCing the event. If you're in Hong Kong, you can join the fun at the Foreign Correspondents' Club from 7-10 pm on Friday. Men are welcome too!

What are people reading in your town this week? Are there any cool literary events happening in your neighborhood?

Friday, March 8, 2013

THE POISONWOOD BIBLE by Barbara Kingsolver


A missionary family in the Congo discovers that they are ill-prepared for their work, and for the impact that Africa will have on them.


This is one of those rare novels that is dense and lyrical, and yet impossible to put down. It follows the journey of a Southern Baptist family to the depths of the Congo in 1959, where they are forever changed. Told primarily through the voices of the four daughters, with occasional, heart-breaking input from the mother, it is about being swept away in something bigger and darker and more beautiful than you could have predicted.

The father is a hard-nosed, obsessively passionate, violent man who refuses to be flexible and understand the needs and culture of the jungle village. He pits himself against Africa in the name of God's work, and his wife and daughters become the collateral damage. Meanwhile, they are affected by the people, the attitudes towards life and death, and the very atmosphere of the Congo. Spanning one intense year and then a lifetime of repercussions, the story unfolds through sickness, war, and abuse, and explores the complicated ways people are able to live with themselves.

Kingsolver's use of imagery, particular religious imagery, to weave her story is masterful. She molds language into five distinct voices, each providing a poetic and sometimes tortured perspective on the lives of women who find themselves, at least at first, in a place where they don't belong. Even the words are distinct for each character, with one making up words at will and another using them backwards, forwards, and sideways. The story is worth reading for the creation and evolution of those voices if nothing else. Beneath the language, we see the changes that take place in young women who have their entire worldviews shattered and rebuilt around them.


Barbara Kingsolver's website


I bought the e-book for a couple of dollars when it was the Kindle Daily Deal. It's currently $8.24.


According to Leah and Adah, Rachel does not change at her core throughout the whole of her life. Arguably, Nathan also does not change. Do you think this is true and/or possible given their personalities?

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Bookspotting and Bangkok, Revisited

Last weekend I went off to Bangkok for a quick girls' trip full of shopping, foot massages and food. On my way there, I saw three people reading Chinese books and a schoolboy carrying a copy of The Mysterious Benedict Society. The woman sitting next to me on the Airport Express was reading a book called NurtureShock. She wasn't a native English speaker, and asked her companion what corporal punishment is while she was reading. In the airport, I saw a man carrying Deception Point by Dan Brown. On the plane, my friend was reading Wicked on her Kobo and I was reading Country Driving by Peter Hessler on my Kindle (it's excellent, by the way). My friend pointed out another Kindle reader, too. In Bangkok itself, I saw several Thailand guidebooks in the hands of tourists at the Chatuchak Weekend Market and Wat Pho. On the plane home, the man sitting in front of me was reading The Snowman by Jo Nesbo.

I'm now back in Hong Kong and back to my usual routine. This includes collecting submissions for the Expat Women in East Asia anthology and attending my regular writers' group. This evening a man near me in the coffee shop was reading Confederacy of Dunces. I'm only 8,000 words into the sequel for my Nanowrimo adventure novel. It'll be a while yet before I spot anyone reading anything by me.

What are people reading in your town this week?
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