Thursday, March 31, 2011



A celebrity chef shares the inside scoop on the bad old days of the New York City restaurant scene.


KITCHEN CONFIDENTIAL is just fun to read. Bourdain tells stories about his life behind the culinary scenes, and what he reveals is surprising. He describes the heady, unhealthy life in a professional kitchen that mostly revolves around sex, drugs, and food (not necessarily in that order).

The fast-paced, dangerous work environment is home to what Bourdain describes as the rejects of society: high school dropouts, alcoholics, illegal immigrants, and anyone else who is willing to do the work, obey the chef, and not complain about burns and bad manners. Such an environment provides ample material for Bourdain’s vibrant storytelling.

Bourdain’s prose is sharp and conversational. He plays around with words with dry humor and a worldly air. He includes plenty of mouth-watering descriptions of food, in addition to shocking revelations about the standard practices of a busy professional kitchen.



Currently listed at $10.35 for the Kindle edition. I think I paid less than this when I bought it a few months ago.


What is the most difficult work environment you have encountered? How did you handle it?

Monday, March 28, 2011

Bookspotting: Week 9

Thank you to everyone who has been reporting the books they see in the comments on these posts. It's so interesting to see what people are reading around the world. This week I spotted a book with the word "blood" on the cover, but I couldn't see the rest of the title. There was a woman carrying The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown in Central, and another reading Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel on the MTR. I spotted four Chinese books and two Kindles, one of them in the hands of my friend from home who is visiting this week. We spent Saturday on Lamma Island and were pleased to see a shop with boxes of used books for sale out front.

What are people reading in your town this week?

Friday, March 25, 2011

RHUBARB by Craig Silvey


A blind girl and a reclusive boy connect and learn to heal from personal trauma over cello music and rhubarb.


This is a sweet, sad, but ultimately uplifting story about the aftermath of tragedy for two young people. They are each stunted in some way by their experiences, and they struggle with the insomnia and ignominy of memory.

At its heart, this is a love story. Silvey explores themes of loss, betrayal, healing, music, and family. He includes many funny moments and a few very memorable characters. He uses animals (a guide dog, two possums, a hermit crab) to personify and enrich the lonely worlds of Eleanor and Ewan.

The style of this little novel is lyrical and poetic, full of repetition and alliteration. Silvey has a unique way of using words to create images and emotions that are original and endearing. His very vocabulary makes you think, and it makes you want to keep reading.


This is my account of Craig’s event at the HK literary festival


I bought the paperback edition at the literary festival event and it was expensive (really expensive). The book was imported from Australia and it is not available on Kindle (yet).


Do you think we need to connect with other people in order to overcome grief, or can we heal in solitude?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

FACTORY GIRLS by Leslie T. Chang


A journalist spends a few years following young migrant workers in one of China's booming factory towns, telling the story of their lives as it happens.


This is a fascinating chronicle of a unique generation in China. Leslie Chang explores the lives of young women who leave their rural villages to work in the big city. From as young as 16 they must learn to survive and create their own luck in a rapidly changing country. She also tells of her own family's history in China and how they became migrants to America.

Chang's research took her into the factories, dormitories and social lives of her subjects, and she even traveled home with them to their villages during Chinese New Year. These women have unprecedented indepedence, and take on leading roles when they send money home and become the highest earners in their families. They do not always stay in the factories, and Chang watched as they pursued futher education with the goal of becoming clerks, speakers of Cantonese and English, receptionists, and even health supplement saleswomen.

Chang's primary aim was to tell the real, personal stories of the Chinese industrial machine, rather than focusing on factory conditions and injustices. Her book reminded me of The Jungle in that it put a human face on factory life. She writes of the incredible drive and determination of these young women who are doing what no one else in previous generations has done before.


This is my account of Leslie Chang's lecture at the Hong Kong International Literary Festival. This is her Random House profile.


$10.99 for the Kindle edition


What do you think about Chang's method of writing her story in reverse?

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Bookspotting: Week 8

During the final few days of the Hong Kong Literary Festival I saw plenty of books at the events, and I saw a lot of books around town, too. After meeting so many inspiring writers I spent a lot of the weekend writing. There were people reading in the coffee shops where I sat with my laptop and my copy of Rhubarb. There were people reading at bus stops and even in the cinema, but it was hard to see the titles. I saw a schoolgirl reading Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami on the MTR. I saw someone else reading a book called December. I counted just two Chinese books in people's hands this week, plus two graphic novels and a few textbooks.

What are people reading in your town this weekend?

Friday, March 18, 2011

HKILF: Man Asian Literary Prize

The Hong Kong International Literary Festival occurs in connection with the Man Asian Literary Prize. This is a relatively new award in the tradition of the Man Booker Prize. Since 2007 it has been given for a work of fiction by an Asian author that is either written in English or translated into English. The winner receives $30,000 US and the translator, if any, receives $5,000 US.

The Literary Festival and the Man Asian Literary Prize hosted a joint event on Wednesday night at the Kee Club in Central for the five short-listed authors and their translators. The two Japanese authors, Kenzaburo Oe and Yoko Ogawa, were unable to attend, but their translators were present, along with the other three authors: Manu Joseph and Tabish Khair from India and Bi Feiyu from China. Each author read a portion from their book and answered questions from the audience. Bi Feiyu and his translator were both present, so they read in both English and Chinese.

My job was to take tickets at the door with volunteers from the Literary Prize’s office. There were members of the press and VIPs in attendance, along with guests who had purchased tickets through the literary festival. The reading was intimate; the guests sat around low tables in the posh bar area of the Kee Club and enjoyed glasses of wine, and the authors sat in the front under atmospheric lighting. From my post in the back of the room I couldn't hear the readings very well, but the low murmuring was punctuated by moments of beauty.

There were quite a few questions for the translators about the challenge of finding a unique English voice for the authors. Someone asked Bi Feiyu whether he ever feels that there are topics he cannot write about in China. He said he writes about whatever he wants. Others asked the two Indian authors, whose books are written in English, about their motivation and inspirations. Manu Joseph was particularly engaging, and he talked about being approached as a magazine editor by parents who think their children are geniuses. This inspired him to write SERIOUS MEN about a father who develops an elaborate fiction around his “genius” ten-year-old son.

The Man Asian Literary Prize was awarded at a private dinner on Thursday night. Bi Feiyu from China took home the award for his book THREE SISTERS, a story of the three women who live through the Cultural Revolution and face a changing and developing China. His two translators, Howard Goldblatt and Sylvia Li-chun Lin shared the $5,000 prize (source:

The Hong Kong International Literary Festival concludes with the closing party at The Pawn in Wanchai tonight. Do stop by if you are in Hong Kong! I’ll share closing thoughts on the Festival this weekend. Look for more reviews of the books featured in the Literary Festival over the past ten days.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

HKILF: Brian Castro and Xu Xi

On Tuesday the Hong Kong International Literary Festival program included simultaneous events at the Central Library. I was responsible for picking up noted author Brian Castro whose session was about his book: SHANGHAI DANCING. I bounced back and forth between his event and the one next door in which Hong Kong author Xu Xi talked about her latest book: HABIT OF A FOREIGN SKY.

Shanghai Dancing: Truth or Fiction? with Brian Castro

Brian Castro was soft-spoken and kind. He looked the part of a university professor, and his talk had a bit of a lecturing feel. His book is a “fictional autobiography” about a journey through Shanghai, Macau, and his father’s life. He read passages from the book to demonstrate its stream of consciousness style, and this sentence stood out to me: “I packed a suitcase and walked out of my life forever.”

Castro spoke about the divide between truth and fiction, and what it was like for him to question and ignore the boundaries between the two in his book. He wanted to do something that no one has done before. He explored unreliable narration as he wove his story through different threads, and used photos to both add and take away the truth from the fiction. He said he needed to work through things that he had heard and misheard as a child, and writing a fictional autobiography allowed him to do this.

Castro wrote this book in an effort to do something completely new. He talked about how publishers were hesitant to take on his book because it did not fit easily into a box, and he argued that publishers do not know how to read literature anymore. James Joyce heavily influenced him, and his book bears a strong resemblance to ULYSSES. He described his work as similar to Joyce in that he too wanted to make a difficult journey in literature and tell his story in a purely original way.

Habit of a Foreign Sky with Xu Xi

Xu Xi is also a university professor, and she is currently the writer-in-residence for the MFA in Creative Writing at City University of Hong Kong. She is a dynamic speaker and a dramatic reader. She spoke of her love for Emily Dickinson and quoted the poem from which she drew the title for HABIT OF A FOREIGN SKY. She read sections from the book and talked about the moments that form her characters.

The main character in HABIT OF A FOREIGN SKY is a Eurasian woman in Hong Kong. Xu Xi talked about the challenge of being comfortable in your own skin and addressed the feminist themes in the book. She believes that with the rapid changes in the world we are poised to see something we haven’t seen before. She is encouraged to find women everywhere able to do just about anything they want. At the same time she said she is confused by the return of stiletto heels (which she described as foot-binding by choice) and the way women choose to behave in a world where they can do anything (think Real Desperate Housewives and their ilk).

Xu Xi spoke about her characters as living, breathing people. She talked about how some of them follow her around from book to book. They catch her attention and come back when she doesn’t expect them. They get under her skin and hang around until she has done their stories justice. She has a living relationship with her craft, and she is clearly passionate about her work.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

HKILF: An Evening with Craig Silvey

Craig Silvey is the young Australian author of award-winning novels RHUBARB and JASPER JONES. I showed up for his event at the HK International Literary Festival and found that there was not much need for a volunteer. The event at the Saffron Café on the Peak was very laid back, and Craig seemed quite comfortable chatting with the attendees over wine and canapés. I met some interesting volunteers and booksellers, and we talked about writing until the event began.

The conversation, moderated by Amanda Hayes, focused on JASPER JONES, the story of a 13-year-old boy who makes a disturbing discovery in a rural Australian town. He must come to terms with the lies and myths told to children to keep them safe as he experiences the realities of the world. Craig was casual, charming and extremely well spoken. He had an easy way with words and he cracked jokes and shared personal stories as he discussed his book.

Craig described the writing process as a very organic experience for him. He views the story as a gift that the writer gets to bring to life, and he said he often does not know much about his story and themes until he writes them out. He says he becomes obsessive about his work as he brings the characters to life. He was humble and honest, saying that he does not view himself as a preternaturally gifted writer. He said he just really wants it and he is a stubborn person and that makes all the difference. He has been heavily influenced by the American Southern Gothic tradition, and JASPER JONES has been compared with TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. He laughed off the suggestion that he is the Australian Mark Twain.

The audience at this intimate session mostly consisted of 30-something Australian women. Many of them had read Craig’s books (I bought his first novel there; the Kindle edition of the second comes out in April). They had good questions about the nuances of the novel, but also just seemed charmed by Craig himself. His successes include a nomination for Australia’s Bachelor of the Year, and there was only one man in attendance. I also met Australian authors Shirley Shackleton and Sally Rippin who had decided to watch Craig’s event before their own sessions the next day.

At the end of the evening I was tasked with making sure Shirley Shackleton got safely back to her hotel. She asked Craig Silvey and Sally Rippin if they were heading back, too, and before I knew it I was piling into a cab with all three authors. We talked about Hong Kong as we sped down the Peak toward Causeway Bay. Sally lived here as a child, and she spent much of her life living in different countries. Craig and Sally said they had both always known they wanted to write, and there was never really a time when they decided to start. Writing is purely and simply a part of their souls.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

HKILF: Writer and Agent with Constance Briscoe, Darley Anderson and Marysia Juszczakiewicz

The final session on Saturday at the HK Literary Festival featured a panel of highly successful people from the publishing world. Constance Briscoe is the best-selling author of UGLY, a memoir of her abusive childhood, and one of the first black judges in the UK. Darley Anderson is her agent and a veteran of the publishing industry who represents a range of highly successful authors. Marysia Juszczakiewicz is the head of the only agency in Hong Kong, Peony Literary Agency.

The session had a question and answer format, and Constance and Darley shared the story of her book’s journey from manuscript to bestseller. The audience was full of aspiring writers, and many of them had also attended Aleesah Darlison’s session earlier in the day. They asked many questions about finding literary agents, the current publishing market, and book promotion.

The basic take home message was that you must have a literary agent, and you should rely on their knowledge of the industry to find the appropriate editor for your work. Constance initially sent her manuscript directly to a publisher and was rejected before finding Darley. He worked with her on structural edits and cuts to turn the book into an extremely desirable commodity. At the time the “misery memoir” market was especially hot, so they ended up holding an auction between 8 editors for the right to publish the book. Marysia reminded everyone that this is not typical.

Darley said that one of the keys to the book’s success was that he immediately recognized Constance’s ability to promote her work. Publishers typically cannot devote too much time to publicity for every single book, so the job of getting the word out there is firmly in the author’s hands. Constance has a dynamic presence and a driven nature that make her an excellent bookseller. She is currently working on a series of crime dramas.

Darley said that a bestseller must have a page-turning quality, no matter the subject matter. Constance’s story is non-fiction, but she has the ability to tell a story in a dramatic, can’t-put-it-down manner. A bestseller must be infused with drama, good pacing, humor, and strong and compelling characters. Constance also emphasized that you must write what you are good at and not just write for whatever market you think is big. She said it is the agent’s job to worry about the publishers and the future of the book and it is the writer’s job to write the best book they can.

After the event the two agents and the author stayed for a long time, talking to all the aspiring writers with questions about what to do for their own projects. Constance was particularly engaging, telling stories as she signed books and asking the writers all about their work. A lot of the information about literary agents was not new for me because I spent a summer working for a literary agency in London a few years ago, but I just loved listening to these powerful characters talking about their work.

Monday, March 14, 2011

HKILF: The Dreamer with Rajeev Balasubramanyam

I was not initially assigned to the second Saturday session at the HK Literary Festival, but I was already at the Racing Museum so I ended up staying. I am very glad I did. Rajeev Balasubramanyam is a talented novelist who won a host of awards for his first novel: IN BEAUTIFUL DISGUISES. He spent the next eight years trying to overcome the expectations that follow such early success and finally published THE DREAMER in 2009.

Rajeev looks like I imagine Jesus would have looked had he been Indian and raised in Lancashire. He has a peaceful aura and the sort of deep reading voice that requires you to listen. He read excerpts from THE DREAMER and talked about topics ranging from racism in Britain to the need for a quiet mind when writing. He shared his thoughts on multiculturalism, and said he believes that governments should step back from making policies about race as they only invite people to look for the loopholes.

Rajeev said that he needs quiet in order to think and write. After receiving lots of attention for his first novel it was very difficult to find that quiet again. In his early 20s, when many people realize they have no idea what they want to do, people were expecting him to produce his next great work. He spent eight years writing and throwing his material away before finally settling on THE DREAMER, a story of the love between a man who experiences a psychological breakdown and a dead woman.

When asked about Hong Kong, Rajeev said, “This place is just weird.” He currently teaches creative writing to adults here, and he says he has never lived anywhere else that unabashedly has just one value: money. He said two years in Hong Kong have finally made him understand capitalism and Modernity. He mentioned that his students have to consciously decide to step away from the droning, impersonal atmosphere of the city in order to express their creativity.

Acclaimed Hong Kong based author Manreet Sodhi Someshwar moderated the session. She asked pertinent, engaging questions and expertly allowed Rajeev to share his thoughts without undue interruption. The audience seemed captivated by the discussion (I know I was), and many of them appeared to be Rajeev’s former students.

After the session ended, I was lucky enough to sit down for some dim sum with Manreet, Rajeev and his partner Divya, and another festival volunteer. They were friendly and personable, telling stories about their crazy roommate when they first moved to HK and asking for my own stories about the American Southwest. I have been thoroughly impressed by the authors I’ve met so far at the Literary Festival. The overwhelming similarity is that these writers are people who seem to be fascinated by other people.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Bookspotting: Week 7

I spent much of the week attending HK International Literary Festival events, so I saw plenty of books floating around. Most of these were for sale at the events or in the hands of people seeking autographs. I saw bookmarked copies of FACTORY GIRLS and RIVER TOWN, IN BEAUTIFUL DISGUISES and UGLY, and the many works of Amitav Ghosh.

During my normal commute I saw a woman reading EAT PRAY LOVE and a man reading a book with some sort of 90-day plan advertised on the cover. I counted four Chinese books on the MTR. On Sunday afternoon I sat in Starbucks reading my Kindle next to a girl reading the Bible. I decided to take the tram home instead of the MTR because it was a beautiful day and saw a woman on the upper deck reading DIGITAL FORTRESS by Dan Brown.  

What are people reading in your town this week?

HKILF: I Want to Be a Writer with Aleesah Darlison

Saturday was a big day for the Hong Kong International Literary Festival. There were five events, all being held at the Racing Museum near the Happy Valley Racecourse. I collected tickets, fetched water, and performed general volunteering duties all day. I watched four of the five events, and only missed the fifth for a really good reason (a quick dim sum with a couple of the authors!). I'll write up each event over the next day or so, so please come back for more.

The first event was designed for young writers who want to learn more about the process of becoming an author. Australian writer Aleesah Darlison shared her experiences as the author of children's books about animals and the Totally Twins series for 8-12 year old girls. There were lots of high school students in the audience, in addition to aspiring writers of all ages.

Darlison emphasized the importance of networking as you learn to write. She suggested joining writer's groups, attending workshops, looking for opportunities through writing centers and libraries, and searching for online resources. She said it is absolutely vital to read your work aloud and ask other people to read your work as you develop your skills as a writer. She also recommended creating business cards and giving them to as many people as you can.

Darlison also said that writers must develop a range of skills in order to be successful. She worked in marketing for ten years before she started to write, and the skills she learned have been invaluable as she sells her books. Authors need to know about design, sales, public speaking, marketing, and websites in addition to writing. She also suggested that new authors think about the image they want to cultivate as they try to create a name for themselves in the industry.

Darlison reminded the audience that becoming a writer, like any other business, requires an investment. Among the potential costs are writer's association fees, course tuition, postage and stationary, and entry fees for writing competitions. She mentioned the importance of building a writer's CV by entering competitions, having shorter pieces published, and contributing to anthologies and book reviews.

The audience had many questions about how Darlison (a mother of two) makes time to write, how to deal with writer's block, and how much publicity she needs to do on her own. Darlison said she makes time to write while her kids are at school and daycare, and that is also when she does her publicity and visits schools. Others asked how long it takes to start making money as a writer, and she answered 3-5 years. She said most of her income usually comes from public appearances and speaker's fees. At the end of the event she recommended that people compile their contact information so that they could get some writer's groups started.

For the writers out there, do you have any advice to add for aspiring authors?

Friday, March 11, 2011

HKILF: Factory Girls with Leslie T. Chang

This evening I helped at my second Hong Kong International Literary Festival event: a standing-room-only talk by Leslie T. Chang, the author of FACTORY GIRLS. My duties were crowd control and ticket collection, so I did not have a chance to talk to the author personally. She had a very professional air and she was an interesting and straight-forward speaker. I am about halfway finished with her book, so I'll be putting up a review as soon as possible (I like it so far).

FACTORY GIRLS explores the lives of the Chinese young people who leave their rural villages to work in big factories in cities like Dongguan and Shenzhen. They represent the largest human migration in history, and most of them are young women between the ages of 16 and 22. They staff the massive factories that produce everything from shoes to electronics to machine parts. Chang introduced her book by explaining that there have been plenty of books written about the evils of factory life in China; she wanted to write the stories of the real people.

Chang took a unique approach in writing her award-winning book because she chose to follow her subjects around for several years to see what happened to them, rather than just interviewing a bunch of factory workers and then writing about it. Her talk earlier in the day (while I was at work) was about the process of writing in reverse, never quite knowing what would change in her subjects' lives as she wrote. She said she was actually a source of constancy for the young women she wrote about because, unlike most of the people in their transient lives, she was always there.

Chang talked about the fierce independence and the drive to get ahead of many of the girls. They are living during a time of immense change in China. Their overt individuality and independence are unprecedented in Chinese culture. These village girls are making opportunities for themselves by taking extra courses, staying informed about the different work options, and learning to live in the big cities, even though this makes it increasingly difficult to relate to the older generations. She showed some pictures of the factories and the women she studied, and she wanted to emphasize that many of them are happy to be living in the city, sending money home, and carving out bigger lives than their villages offer.

The audience asked about how Chang was able to get the girls to trust her. As a Chinese-American woman working in China, she said she was able to connect with the girls because she too knows what it is like to leave your home to pursue bigger opportunities. She also did not look too different from them, so factory bosses were less likely to chase her away. She was uniquely positioned to literally write about history in the making as she recorded the personal stories of the young women who form the backbone of Chinese industry.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

HKILF: River Town to Open Roads with Peter Hessler

Last night I attended my first Hong Kong International Literary Festival event. It featured American journalist Peter Hessler, author of RIVER TOWN and ORACLE BONES, talking about his newest book: COUNTRY DRIVING. As a festival volunteer I held the enviable post of "author escort." It was my job to meet Peter Hessler and take him to the speaking venue at the Duke of Windsor building on Hennessy Road.

He was tired, having just arrived from the US the night before with his wife (author Leslie T. Chang) and nine month old twins. We hailed a cab in Mid-levels and talked about Hong Kong and the areas we are from back in the States. In an odd way I felt like I already knew him; I had finished reading his travel memoir less than 24 hours before. The thing that struck me most about Peter Hessler was that he seemed genuinely interested in asking about me, how I ended up in HK, and even my opinions of education in Hong Kong. Demonstrating interest in other people seems to come naturally to someone who writes about people so sincerely. I could easily see why his subjects felt comfortable telling him about their lives.

When the event began I stood in the back and listened to the talk. Hessler was at ease in front of the audience, cracking jokes and showing jaw-dropping pictures of the Chinese landscape. COUNTRY DRIVING is about a series of roadtrips along the remote stretches of the Great Wall during which Hessler stopped to pick up rural hitchhikers and talk to people in the villages.

China is in a state of constant change, and Hessler witnessed firsthand the rapid migration of millions of people from the villages to the cities. The majority of the migrant workers on the move were women, all searching for a better life in the big factory cities. These were people with very little exposure to the outside world who were about to jump headlong into the progress machine of modern China. Hessler saw the evidence of a break-neck rate of change everywhere, from the modern roads to the cell phone carrying villagers to the brand-new factory towns standing empty as they waited for occupants.

At the end of the talk Hessler fielded questions about the reception of his books in China, where they have only recently been available in translation, as well as questions about the changing state of the journalism industry. He said that he thought books would endure, but was less optimistic about the future of newspapers and many magazines. He said he couldn't offer much advise to young writers who are uncertain about the industry, except to say that he learned the most about being a writer from his time in the Peace Corps. Studying literature at Princeton and Oxford paled in comparison to studying people in a remote river town in China.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

RIVER TOWN by Peter Hessler


A Peace Corps volunteer spends two years teaching English literature in Fuling on the Yangtze River and gets to know the local people and the language.


This is a thoughtful and elegant travel memoir. Peter Hessler makes astute observations about the rapidly changing China with patience and grace. He makes a concerted effort to understand his environment and the people around him. He is honest about how his opinions are influenced by his Western worldview, while still looking critically at the Communist system.

The book includes many writing samples from Hessler's students. These provide a unique look at the concerns and opinions of young people in China in the late 1990s. He writes about his own experiences in Fuling, but for the majority of the book he focuses on other people and their lives. This is a refreshing change from the current trend in travel memoirs to focus entirely on one's own struggles.

Hessler's writing style is rhythmic and rich with description, and he brings the river town to life with humor and honesty. He peppers his work with literary references and poetic analogies that are particularly welcome in a work of narrative non-fiction. Additionally, he demonstrates a genuine appreciation for literature and its ability to connect people no matter where they are.


National Geographic interview with Hessler, who remained in China and wrote from Beijing for many years


Kindle edition: $10.99

To what extent is it possible to assimilate into a new culture, especially as an adult? Do you think an outsider can ever truly understand a new country?

*Note: This author is being featured in the Hong Kong International Literary Festival

Monday, March 7, 2011

Bookspotting: Week 6

This week I saw a lot of people reading textbooks. You can tell that exams are approaching because there are so many people studying on the trains. These books have exciting titles like Architecture and Engineering 101. I counted five Chinese books this week, but I didn't see as many English titles as I normally do. Early in the week I saw a woman reading a book called Coaching, but I could not see the subtitle. I saw a little girl reading a Bernstein Bears book, which brought back memories of when my siblings and I would take every single one of the books in that series out of the library repeatedly.  Last night I spotted two people reading little English paperbacks on the Tsuen Wan line, although they got off the train before I could read the titles, and I saw a girl with a new Kindle in a bright blue cover.

What are people reading in your town this week?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Wednesday Dim Sum: HK Literary Festival Countdown

The Hong Kong International Literary Festival begins in just seven days. Today I got the schedule for the volunteers. The events I am definitely attending are listed below (even if attending means standing outside the door for the entire time, I'm still happy). The schedule may be subject to change, and in the next few days I will buy tickets for a few more events. I am making good progress on my reading list, and I've added works by each of these authors.

WEDNESDAY, March 9th

River Town to Open Roads with Peter Hessler

FRIDAY, March 11th

Factory Girls with Leslie T. Chang

SATURDAY, March 12th

I Want to Be a Writer with Aleesah Darlison

Life, the Universe and Everything with Amitav Ghosh and Stephen McCarty (Asia Literary Review)

In Conversation with Deborah Baker

MONDAY, March 14th

An Evening with Craig Silvey

TUESDAY, March 15th

Habit of a Foreign Sky with Xu Xi

Shangai Dancing with Brian Castro (These two happen simultaneously so I'm not sure how much I'll see)

WEDNESDAY, March 16th

2010 Man Asian Literary Prize

FRIDAY, March 18th

Closing Party with Everybody

Are you going to the festival? Which events are you attending? Do you have any questions for these authors in case I get to talk to them?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

ROOM by Emma Donoghue


A young boy spends the first five years of his life in a single room with his mother, and then they escape.


This is an enthralling book about a fictional woman who spends eight years imprisoned in a shed. For five of those years she raises her son Jack. Their entire world consists of four walls, necessities, and the visits of Old Nick, their captor. Despite the dark nature of their situation, this book contains powerful moments of hope and light.

Jack narrates the story in a voice that is both innocent and precocious. Donoghue artfully shows us this small world through the eyes of a child, while still communicating the desperation and determination of his young mother. Ma emerges as a very real and powerful character, and I felt that this is really her story, even though Jack is technically the main character.

Everything in the world except for Room is not real or "TV" to Jack. When he learns the truth he has to figure out how to live in a world that he believed did not exist. In the second half of the book, Jack tells us about his first interractions with the outside world: family, space, speech with people that are not his mother, etc. Ma's decision not to tell Jack that the outside world is real raises thought-provoking questions about our perceptions of reality.


Author's website: Emma Donoghue


Kindle edition $11.99


On what do you base your ideas about what is real and what is not?

*Note: This author will be featured in the Hong Kong International Literary Festival from March 8-18.
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