Reading with... Lindsay Wong

photo: Shimon

Lindsay Wong holds a BFA in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia and an MFA in Literary Nonfiction from Columbia University. Her memoir, The Woo-Woo: How I Survived Ice Hockey, Drug-Raids, Demons, and My Crazy Chinese Family, was published recently by Arsenal Pulp Press. She lives in Vancouver, British Columbia.

On your nightstand now:

Little Fish by Casey Plett. I was in the same MFA program as Casey and just finished reading her gorgeous and devastatingly sad novel. She makes writing raw, emotional characters look like Olympic-level figure skating; it's all so effortlessly choreographed.

Favorite book when you were a child:

I would have to say Princess Frownsalot by John Bianchi. I remember thinking that it was so absurd and wonderful to be able to obtain a smile implant, especially from a cat. Being a cranky, pissed-off child, grown-ups were always telling me to smile, and I'd be like, "What's the point? I can just get a smile implant when I have money."

Your top five authors:

David Sedaris, Yiyun Li, Karen Russell, J.K. Rowling, George Saunders. They are storytellers, magical octopuses, who can multitask by balancing charm, humor, nuance, metaphor, narrative structure, voice and emotion, all at the same time, in one book. It's exhilarating but also depressing. Because when I read, I am also competing and trying to see if I can write it better.

Book you've faked reading:

The Lord of the Rings trilogy. I just couldn't get through Tolkien's heavy-on-the-description prose. Also, the entire reading curriculum at Columbia. I wanted to just write my thesis instead of reading 30+ books per semester. I remember deliberately not reading Proust and James Joyce and Henry James and then writing all my papers based on quickie SparkNotes summaries. The professor was surprisingly agreeable when I told him, and he said: "That's fine, but your workshop submissions better be amazing."

Book you're an evangelist for:

Betsy Lerner's The Forest for the Trees. Lerner just understands what inspires and compels writers to haul themselves out of bed and not-to-give-a-shit about anything except the writing--she's funny and brilliant, too.

Book you've bought for the cover:

How Did You Get This Number? by Sloane Crosley. There was this gigantic grizzly bear on the cover, and at that time, I was fascinated by bears. I have had five casual run-ins with bears in my parents' mountainous suburb in Vancouver, and my friend keeps saying that one day I am going to get mauled to death. And I was like, no, this is a sign that I am going to have several close calls with death and danger and I'll most likely survive. I saw the cover at Chapters Indigo, and bought the book because of the roaring bear. I'm a fan of Crosley as well. Anyway, it was 90% cover and 10% author.

Book you hid from your parents:

Evelyn Lau's Diary of a Street Kid. My dad had read about her in the newspapers and thought she was a horrible influence: rebellious Chinese teenage girl, runaway, prostitute and, worst of all, aspiring writer. My dad thought Lau had written pornography, so I wrapped the book in a wad of toilet paper and stuffed it in my tampon drawer.

Book that changed your life:

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers. I did not know memoir could be both funny and terribly sad. I thought literary memoir had to take itself seriously, so I was really struggling when I first started writing my own memoir. Eggers's take on family tragedy is distinctly entertaining, and in this way, it completely changed my perspective. Reading Eggers felt like it was suddenly okay to laugh at the terror and sadness that were happening in my own life.

Favorite line from a book:

"I haven't the slightest idea how to change people, but still I keep a long list of prospective candidates just in case I should ever figure it out." At 16, I remember reading this line from David Sedaris's essay collection Naked, and thinking: Yes! Oh my god. I'm going to try to change everyone, starting with my parents. Then I'll move onto my siblings, followed by the entire extended family. You'll be sorry once I'm through with you.

Five books you'll never part with:

Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts by Maxine Hong Kingston
Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

Which character you most relate to:

I think I relate to Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games. Not pre-Hunger Games when she sacrifices herself for her sister, but launching a first book, especially a memoir, really feels a lot like being in the actual Hunger Games, where there's always some gigantic unforeseen hurdle. It's actually quite scary.

Book you most want to read again for the first time:

Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss. I love anything by Dr. Seuss, but the notion of eating green ham still makes me laugh out loud. I'd just love to rediscover the wonderful weirdness of trying to read these rhymes as a child again.

Genre you wish you could write:

If I knew how to write genre fantasy, I would. My absolute favorites include the Magicians trilogy by Lev Grossman, the Abhorsen trilogy by Garth Nix and the Half-Bad trilogy by Sally Green.

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