Archive for September, 2011

The Beijinger Online Bookclub

We’ve recently partnered up with our pals at the Beijinger for a new online bookclub.

From the Beijinger:

OK, so we dig Chinese films. Chinese art is pretty cool these days, too, and we know Beijingers are all over local indie bands and hot Chinese designers. But what about literature? Are we stuck with the classics about weak, ailing women and misbehaving monkeys? Or sensationalist crap gunning for the “Banned in China!” sticker? Isn’t there more for those of us who want a rich literary look at this nation’s modern milieu?

The answer: Yes, a thousand times yes! (Maybe more like three times.) The current list of good, relevant contemporary works translated into English is small, but it’s expanding. Join our new Online Book Club as we stand at the digging of a new wellspring of wordsmithery, buckets in hand.

The first bookclub selection is The Magician of 1919 by Li Er – just in time for his booklaunch here at The Bookworm on Tuesday, September 27th.

How it works:

Sign up to the online bookclub here or email to [email protected] with your name and phone number.

Stop by The Bookworm to purchase the book and receive a 10% discount.

Read some of upcoming author Q&As and guided reading questions – and then start commenting in the online forum.

Peter Hessler – MacArthur Genius

Congratulations to BLF author Peter Hessler on being awarded a MacArthur Fellow. The New Yorker has posted a list of Hessler’s articles for the magazine. Or stop by The Bookworm for a read of Country Driving, Oracle Bones or River Town.

Between the Stacks: Gish Jen

On September 20, Gish Jen stopped by The Bookworm to read from and discuss her latest book, World and Town.

World and Town features Hattie Kong, the daughter of an American missionary and a descendant of Confucius, as one of a ragtag cast of characters, including an Cambodian refugee family on the run from their past and Hattie’s retired neurosurgeon ex-lover, who escape to the refuge and fresh start offered by a small Vermont town.

After presiding over a discussion that covered everything from how much it costs to move your grandmother’s bones to whether or not Tiger Mothers were producing a generation of super children, Jen sat down with The Bookworm’s Mengfei Chen for a short discussion about her book and her plans for the future.

How did you decide to write about a Cambodian family?

A lot of it was just serendipitous. I live in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which is quite close to Lowell, Massachusetts, where there is a large Cambodian population, which I have always been interested in. It just happened that I was walking around Halloween with my daughter, my daughter’s friend and my daughter’s friend’s mom and the mom said she had a friend who was a juvenile court justice. I had just finished my last book and I asked if I could sit in on this court.

As soon as I walked in [to the court], I saw boys who looked a lot like my son coming in in handcuffs. And this was only 20 minutes away from where my son was studying Latin. I asked, what is going on? Why are these kids already in trouble? So a lot of why I wrote the book was a sense of responsibility to these kids. I understand what is going on and because I understand, I should write about it

What is going on?

It was the families, what immigration does to the family.

And what does immigration do to the family?

First, I don’t like generalizations. But, in a general kind of way, parents often lose their parental authority. Instead of the parents guiding the kids, it becomes the kids guiding the parents. Everything the parents knew about how to be in the world is devalued by the kids and it’s hard. The kids often feel a kind of psychic orphanhood because parents can’t do the things that parents are supposed to do. Of course, a lot of factors affect this: how old the parents are, can the speak English, whether they were from a rural or urban background.

Why did you want to set the story in a small town?

I spend time in a small town and I could see that the town that I saw was not the town that I saw in literature. A lot of towns in books, like [Sinclair Lewis’s] Main Street, are claustrophobic places, places you escape from. I think a lot of people are actually moving to the small town. They are trying to get out of the city. It’s impossible to raise your children there.

I am also interested in the town as an American institution, in how globalization is going to affect these places. These little farmers in Vermont have to deal with beef prices in Argentina. It’s a lot to deal with.

World and Town is written to include many different languages and dialects. Why did you choose to include them?


English is being spoken in different ways. It’s just what I hear. As someone who is cares about voice, it’s interesting. But just, with the other languages, you also see what things they have words for. For example, Khmer has all these different ways to say father. There are a lot of ideas, a lot of culture imbedded in language.

What are you reading right?

Forgotten Waltz by Anne Enright. I’m only half way done and it’s wonderful.

 Are you working on anything now?

I’m giving a series of lectures at Harvard next year. The Massey lectures. I’m working on that right now. I can’t say too much. It’s about writing and ethnicity.

As you continue with your book tour, is there any question that you wish someone would ask you but no one does?

No. My audience has asked me every single thing I have ever thought of and then some. I mean, I can’t imagine. It’s amazing how many things people come up with.





Fall Reading

With the first chill of autumn in the air, we are looking forward to curling up with a great book and a hot cuppa this fall. Here are some of the books on our Fall Reading Lists.



Ragnarok by A.S. Byatt

“Norse Myth written by A.S. Byatt? I’m intrigued.”

Into the Silence by Wade Davis

“It’s about all my heros but set in the history of the Great Wars.”

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

“I really enjoyed Middlesex so have been looking forward to his latest.”



The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

“Did you know that in the Victorian era flowers held certain meanings and a bouquette could be loaded with a secret code? In Diffenbagh’s debut novel, a Lisbeth Salander-esque protagonist used the Victorian language of flowers to interact with people in her troubled life in modern-day San Francisco.”

River of Smoke by Amitav Ghosh

“I’ve been looking forward to the second installment of Ghosh’s Ibis Trilogy ever since reading Sea of Poppies. This novel, set in the Indian Ocean on the onset of the Opium Wars, continues the epic as all our beloved characters are about to set sail into impending adventure or disaster. My only complaint to Mr. Ghosh? Write faster, please. I can’t wait this long between books!”

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

Another much buzzed about debut novel. Baseball, broken marriages and complicated relationships. Plus, any book that gets the seal of approval from both Jonathan Franzen and Téa Obreht is worth a read.”


1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

The Magic of Reality: How We Know What’s Really True by Richard Dawkins

“I certainly need some science in my system once in awhile.”

Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness by Alexandra Fuller

“A memoir of her life and her parents’ life in Africa.”


Between the Stacks: Paul French

Paul French joined us Wednesday, September 14th at The Bookworm for a thrilling discussion about his latest book, Midnight in Peking.  Midnight details the murder of 19-year-old Pamela Werner at the end of an era: Peking, 1937, the city is a heady mix of privilege and scandal, lavish cocktail bars and opium dens, warlords and corruption, rumours and superstition. Seventy-five years after Pamela’s brutal murder and the subsequent investigation and cover-up, French finally gives the case the resolution it was denied at the time.

We chatted with French before his talk to ask some questions about crime writing, what he’s reading now and the age old question, Beijing or Shanghai.

What’s the first crime book you’ve read?

Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock

What’s your favorite occupation (if not writing)?

Researcher. I like spending time in archives, going through some old stuff.

Which talent would you most like to have?

Charm!? Funny, handsome yes, but not charming. (Yeah?)

Shanghai or Beijing?

Shanghai. One is livable, the other is not.

Do you have a favorite period in Chinese history that you like to write about?

The Republican Era between 1912 to 1945. Everything was possible then.

What book is on your night stand?

Selected essays by Christopher Hichens. His heroes are my heroes.

Midnight in Peking is available now at The Bookworm.

For more on the story behind the story, China Daily interviews French here.

Midnight in Peking

Beijing, 1939. Murder, intrigue and a city on the verge of invasion. Paul French’s page-turning, true-crime thriller takes you back to the heady days of pre-war Beijing. In preparation for his booktalk here at The Bookworm on September 14th, check out his amazing website about the book, complete with additional photos, maps and multimedia fun. For all bookworms in Beijing, you can download an audio tour and wander around the Legation Quarter with French guiding you along the way.

Man Booker Shortlist Announced

The Man Booker Short list was announced this week. The following six writers have made the cut from the longlist:

Julian Barnes The Sense of an Ending (Jonathan Cape – Random House)

Carol Birch Jamrach’s Menagerie (Canongate Books)

Patrick deWitt The Sisters Brothers (Granta)

Esi Edugyan Half Blood Blues (Serpent’s Tail)

Stephen Kelman Pigeon English (Bloomsbury)

A.D. Miller Snowdrops (Atlantic)

From more info on the prize visit the Man Booker website. Or stop by The Bookworm to pick up one of these great novels.

The Bookworm Resource Room is open!

Our virtual resource room is now up and running. We’ll be using this space for the latest in literary news, book events, author interviews and other musings. If you have questions or would like to submit a book review please contact, Kadi@china

The Bookworm Download Map

Building 4, Nan Sanlitun Road,

Chaoyang District, Beijing

100027, P.R China

Tel: (010) 6586 9507

Email: [email protected]


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