The book I am currently reading
I picked up At the Existentialist Café by Sarah Bakewell in a Berlin English bookshop. It’s such a fun book – a reconstruction of the prosaic life details and animating ideas of existentialists, including Sartre, De Beauvoir, Camus, Karl Jaspers and Martin Heidegger. I think it could make a great TV series.
The book that changed my life
I didn’t have any feminist reading when I lived in China, and The Female Eunuchby Germaine Greer was the first feminist book I encountered when I came to Britain. It was inspiring and revolutionary for me.
The book I wish I’d written
Roland Barthes’s A Lover’s Discourse.
The book that influenced my writing
If I recall my early days of writing in my late teens, I think all the books from Marguerite Duras had a very strong emotional impact on me and on my writing technique. Works like The Lover, Whole Days in the Trees and The Sailor from Gibraltar – to mention a few. I connected to a particular feminine quality in Duras’s books and their foreign locations. In my early 20s, I tried to discover the secret of her style. For me, no other writer conveys such a sense of intimacy with her subjects.
The book I think is most overrated
Overrated books are often written in English and repeatedly celebrated in anglophone media. It’s the result of an imperial past and the fact that English is the current lingua franca. Lists of so-called “most important books in the last 100 years” always comprise mainly books written in English. This is a very unhealthy and lazy way to view our literary history: it treats Arabic, Asian and African literature as secondary. Charles Dickens is my favourite case of an overrated writer. Almost all of his books are sentimental, clumsy and lack poetry.
Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. Even though it was the book was published in the 60s, I only read it in 2010 after I left China. It was such a revelation. It is one of the most beautiful and simply written science books, but more human and emotional than lots of sentimental fiction.
The last book that made me cry
Boris Vian’s Foam of the Daze (L’Écume des Jours). It was written in the 1940s but I still find it modern and experimental, and at the same time naive but also political. It also made me laugh. It’s like a great comic book for adults.
The book I’m most ashamed not to have read
I’m not ashamed. I simply don’t have much time now for long reads. I’d rather do yoga and walk in the park these days. Shall I say the Bible?
The book I give as a gift
My own novels. Otherwise what’s the purpose of getting them published?