Book Marks: What book do you think your book is most in conversation with?
Steph Cha: Minor Feelings by Cathy Park Hong. We’re both Korean-American writers who grew up in Los Angeles, so some obvious surface similarities, but our books are also thematically linked. Minor Feelings is subtitled “An Asian American Reckoning,” and that kind of describes a large part of my book, which looks at the role of Asian Americans in a country built on white supremacy, where conversations about race tend to code Black and white. Oddly enough, she was also inspired by the work of Sianne Ngai, who was one of my favorite professors in college.
BM: A book that blew your mind?
SC: The Known World by Edward P. Jones. It’s almost a hard book to talk about because it’s so different from every other novel I’ve read. Beautiful and experimental and packed with pathos and story.
BM: Last book you read?
SC: From Scratch by Tembi Locke. I know Tembi and her sister (the exceptional Attica Locke) so it was cool (also sad) reading this bittersweet memoir. I listened to it (I have a paper copy, but I’ve been renting audiobooks from the library while I hang out with my six-month old) and thought it was a great audiobook, read by the author.
BM: A book that made you cry?
SC: Miracle Creek by Angie Kim. I challenge you to get through it without crying.
BM: What book from the past year would you like to give a shout-out to?
SC: The Book of Lamps and Banners by Elizabeth Hand. It’s the fourth in the criminally underappreciated Cass Neary series. This one is about an obscure occult book and an app that might make you lose your mind, and like all the Cass Neary books, it’s an exquisite mess of death and drugs and art.
BM: A book that actually made you laugh out loud?
SC: We Are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby. I laughed so hard at this book that I read sections of it out loud to my husband but couldn’t get through them without laughing until I cried.
BM: What’s one book you wish you had read during your teenage years?
SC: The Way You Make Me Feel by Maurene Goo. It’s a fun, charming young adult novel about a Korean-American girl growing up in Los Angeles, and when I read it, I felt kind of sad that I didn’t get to read anything like that when I was the protagonist’s age.
BM: Favorite book to give as a gift?
SC: Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day by Ben Loory. Forty unique, vibrant stories that, for the most part, take less than ten minutes to read. His second book, Tales of Falling and Flying, is equally good.
BM: Classic book you hate?
SC: The Quiet American by Graham Greene. Maybe hate is the wrong word, but I’ve really liked the other books of his I’ve read, and I was surprised by how little I enjoyed this one. To be fair, it was really not written for me. It’s about two white guys who fall in love with a sexy 20-year-old Vietnamese girl who is nothing but an exotic fantasy. Also, there’s a dog named Duke, who shares a name with one of my basset hounds, and he dies a violent death.
BM: What’s a book with a really great sex scene?
SC: The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory. Turns out romance novelists know how to write sex. I do not.
BM: Favorite book no one has heard of?
SC: Raymond Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Brian Evenson. It’s part of a series of writers writing about books that were important to them, and I don’t think it’s gotten much play (I heard about it from Ben Loory). You don’t even have to have read or liked Carver to enjoy this book. It’s part memoir and part criticism, with the interiority and riveting narrative of the best fiction.
BM: Favorite book you were assigned in high school?
SC: As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner. That book turned something on for me. I’ve read for fun pretty much every day since we studied that book junior year.
BM: Book(s) you’re reading right now?
SC: The Cider House Rules by John Irving. It’s been on my list for years and I’m finally listening to the audiobook. Pretty fantastic. Otherwise, I’m mostly reading crime short stories, since I’m editing Best American Mystery & Suspense next year.
BM: Favorite children’s book?
SC: The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. I can’t wait to read this with my kid.
Steph Cha is the author of Your House Will Pay, winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the California Book Award, and the Juniper Song crime trilogy. She’s a critic whose work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, and the Los Angeles Review of Books, where she served as noir editor, and is the current series editor of the Best American Mystery & Suspense anthology. A native of the San Fernando Valley, she lives in Los Angeles with her family.
Steph Cha’s Your House Will Pay is out now in paperback from Ecco