Welcome to the Book Marks Questionnaire, where we ask authors questions about the books that have shaped them.
This week, we spoke to The Unpassing author Chia-Chia Lin.
Book Marks First book you remember loving?
Chia-Chia Lin: The Elves and the Shoemaker (I had a 1978 edition from the British publisher Ladybird Books), featuring John Dyke’s amazing illustrations of an extremely sorry-looking shoemaker and fanciful, beribboned shoe creations.
BM: Favorite re-read?
BM: A book that blew your mind?
CL: A Pale View of Hills by Kazuo Ishiguro. It’s decidedly weird—and so bold, for a first book! For the bulk of the novel, an unreliable, grieving narrator tells the story of an acquaintance. The story is mysterious, unsettling, and indirect, and demands active reading at all times—and even then it remains a kind of moody, atmospheric puzzle.
BM: Last book you read?
CL: The punchy Happiness, as Such by Natalia Ginzburg, which also made for an interesting pandemic-era read; the novel is primarily made up of letters, written by characters who are physically apart.
BM: What book from the past year would you like to give a shout-out to?
BM: Classic book you hate?
CL: Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome. What a miserable, flat book.
BM: Favorite book of the 21st century?
CL: Someone by Alice McDermott. The Known World by Edward P. Jones. I also listened to N.K. Jemisin’s Fifth Season on a multi-day Amtrak ride across the country and found it to be utterly original and transformative.
BM: Favorite book you were assigned in high school?
CL: My memories of high school English class are completely devoid of joy. But I did attend a public school that offered Latin. We translated our way through The Aeneid at a painstaking pace, probably taking the whole year. I understood only half of the book, or maybe less, but enjoyed the romp and even the forced slow read.
BM: Book(s) you’re reading right now?
CL: I’m about to start Stories of the Sahara by Sanmao. My dad loved the stories in his youth and recently sent me the new edition—which is also the first English translation—translated by Mike Fu.
BM: Favorite book to give as a gift?
CL: It’s hard to think of a book my friends might universally like. Maybe No One Belongs Here More Than You by Miranda July? It’s a quick read and less grim than most books I love, but the stories are told in a forlorn, funny voice that makes you feel less alone.
Chia-Chia Lin is the author of The Unpassing (FSG, 2019). She graduated with an MFA in Fiction from the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, where she received the Henfield Prize. Her short stories and essays have appeared in The Paris Review, NewYorker.com, The New York Times, Zyzzyva, and more. She currently lives in Northern California.
Chia-Chia Lin’s The Unpassing is out now in paperback from Picador