Welcome to the Book Marks Questionnaire, where we ask authors questions about the books that have shaped them.
Book Marks: First book you remember loving?
Jenny Zhang: Little Golden Books my dad would bring back from his job teaching at a public school. Also there was a picture book with a yellow cover about some kid from Europe who was going to immigrate to America and had heard the streets were paved with gold and people could just dig up gold on the street and get rich. But when they arrived, the streets were filled with potholes and everyone was miserable and dying of disease and poverty. I have no idea what this book was but I remember it resonated deeply.
BM: Favorite re-read?
JZ: Nature Poem by Tommy Pico
BM: What book do you think your book is most in conversation with?
JZ: Orientalism by Edward Said.
BM: A book that blew your mind?
JZ: The Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff Van Der Meer.
BM: Last book you read?
BM: What book from the past year would you like to give a shout-out to?
JZ: The Undocumented Americans by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio.
BM: A book that actually made you laugh out loud?
JZ: Pnin by Nabokov, the stories of Janet Frame and Grace Paley make me laugh. Tommy Pico and Morgan Parker’s poetry make me laugh. Tony Tulathimutte and Karan Mahajan’s fiction make me laugh. Qiu Miaojin and Kathy Acker and Paul Beatty make me laugh. I think more writers should try to be funny. Being dementedly funny is the hardest and most worthwhile thing to achieve in writing.
BM: Favorite book to give as a gift?
JZ: Inger Christensen’s Alphabet.
BM: Classic book you hate?
JZ: I hated Hamlet in college but I haven’t revisited since then!
BM: Classic book on your To Be Read pile?
JZ: Dream of the Red Chamber aka The Story of the Stone aka Hong Lou Meng by Cao Xueqin. It’s not a Classic Book in in the Western canon, but it is for a whole other part of the world.
BM: Favorite book no one has heard of?
JZ: Many someone’s have heard of it, especially outside of the US, but Macunaíma by Mário De Andrade was formative for me and I don’t know enough people who have read it to talk about it with.
BM: Favorite book you were assigned in high school?
BM: Book(s) you’re reading right now?
JZ: Love in the New Millennium by Can Xue, Leslie Stein’s I Know You Rider, My People the Sioux by Luther Standing Bear, Permanent Record by Mary H.K. Choi, Pearl Beyond Price by Claíre Delacroix and The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing.
BM: Favorite children’s book?
JZ: The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett.
Jenny Zhang was born in Shanghai and grew up in New York. She is the author of the poetry collections My Baby First Birthday and Dear Jenny, We Are All Find and the story collection Sour Heart.
Jenny Zhang’s My Baby First Birthday is out now from Tin House Books