March each year brings Shanghai International Literary Festival where programs include winners of the world's leading awards in literature including the Man Booker award, National Book Award for fiction, and the Miles Franklin award. The festival is in its 16th year having begun in 2003 by two Shanghai expat residents, coincidentally both Australian; Michelle Garnaut (Shanghai's M On The Bund) and Jenny Laing-Peach. This year it will again be held at M On the Bund from March 14-27, 2019.
In recognition of this event, we're giving thought to our favorite books and our favorite literary characters - both give way to a lot of thought for me! Mostly I got to thinking about how we choose the books we read, or rather how I have chosen the books I read and I came to some fun realizations.
For me, sometimes choosing a book is oft the way I might choose a bottle of wine, too - by it's cover! Seriously, there is something to be said for wine label art, and since we're talking about books here, sometimes book cover art is even more intriguing. Some years back, I had an author recommended to me, Barbara Kingsolver (an American writer) and her first work Bean Trees. The cover art for this book just didn't do a thing for me, though at the time her most recent work, Prodigal Summer, with its striking green foliage cover did catch my eye. I'm glad I picked up that book and gave it a read, because I found that Barbara Kingsolver quickly became one of my favorite writers (I did read Bean Trees after all, and a couple more)!
With that said, I would guess a common way any of us discovers a new literary work or author of whose works we will read, is through recommendation. Well, for me this has worked with a couple of long time reading groups I enjoyed. Another author whose writing style I fell in love with is Maeve Binchy; an Irish born writer of plays and fiction and even some travel writing. I fell in love with her storytelling because it captured human nature seemingly to a T and her well-written characters and colorful descriptions of surroundings kept me well entertained. Binchy's Tara Road and her Scarlet Feather and Quentins all remain favorite works of fiction for me.
Now here's a funny note, while living in Zhengzhou, a favorite watering hole had a curious collection of books, paperback and hardback, on each table and on the window sills. It was an informal book exchange - take a book, leave a book - it was surprising and unexpected to say the least. And it was here that enjoying a cerveza, I discovered a historical fiction book, Mary: Mrs. A. Lincoln written by Janis Cooke Newman (another American writer from my hometown of San Francisco, CA). Finding a book on the wife of an American president here at a bar, on a window sill, in China was just so crazily odd, I had to give it a read - and I enjoyed it!
Then there are the numerous book review lists, and a favorite of mine is the New York Times Book Review which is published weekly in the Sunday edition. For years, until coming to China, I read the Times every Sunday, cover to cover and one of my favorite bits was the weekly NYT Book Review supplement. It was here that I discovered Paulo Coelho, a Brazilian author, and his work The Alchemist. Till this day, and my most recent reading group here in Taizhou agrees, this book is a must read for any reading group. It's an easy and inspiring read and The Alchemist captures and holds your attention, making this a book you can't put down!
For me, reading good books, sharing about them over good food and drink, and imbibing on what is good or not so good in a particular work is such a treat. As an expat here in China, I have found good friends through reading and sharing books! Creating a reading group is a way to keep reading while living abroad, to make friends, and to learn of new authors and books to read. And it's true, we can't tell a book by its cover, but, still for me a good book and a glass of wine to unwind - no matter where in the world I find myself - is a good thing.