Today I have the privilege of spotlighting the Asian blogger Zara from A Bibliotaphe's Closet!
What do you look for in a book?
I love language and tend to gravitate towards literary fiction, historical fiction, memoirs, and poetry. I look for tight, clear, beautifully written narrative that’s lyrical, but not wordy. And I love the stories I read to be character driven with depth and sensitivity. I’m impressed if the characters are flawed, but believable. Stereotypes drive me crazy! I have to really care about the characters in a book in order to really enjoy my read. If I’m indifferent about them, I don’t believe the author has succeeded in doing his or her job. I dislike superficial plots and perfectly tied and/or explanatory endings. “Show me, don’t tell me” has always been my “rule of thumb.” Essentially, though, I put a high value on a novel if it has emotionally stunned me with its writing and narrative; its characters’ evolution in the work; and if some part of me, however small, has opened in perspective by experiencing the richness of the story.
What got you into blogging?
I’ve always been a voracious reader ever since I started reading at the age of five. My passion for books evolved into writing, which I stayed with and formally studied in university having graduated with a BA in English Literature and Creative Writing (and a minor in Women’s Studies and Minorities in Canadian Society) from YU. Eventually I worked as an editor for a small publishing company, so I have always been involved with books one way or another.
As a reader, my own personal library collection kept growing. I bought books with anticipation like a child entering a toy store. And as I read them, I kept a personal diary of my thoughts and reactions. It felt somewhat tedious to fill my hardcopy journal so I wanted to find a place online to house them for myself. A collection started on the application Evernote. But, after a while I got bored with it and wanted to share my ideas with someone else.
I had no experience in blogging. I did a search on Google to find out where I could indeed start. It led me to Wordpress.com. I posted a few reviews, tinkering with the application. I slowly taught myself how to use it. And then all this blogging jargon hit, too. What was a button? A widget? Rafflecopter? I had no idea.
I’ve only recently passed a few milestones for myself as a blogger. Just two weeks ago, I finally put images and links onto my sidebars! Last week, I figured out how to create a Google document. I only started blogging in December of 2011, so I’m three months young in the blogging world. But, the process and slowly growing into the blogging community has been fantastic. I’ve finally found people who have the same amount of passion I have for books! And I love that blogging allowed me to make that discovery.
Who's your favorite author/authors?
I love our iconic Margaret Atwood for her exact prose. I also met Barbara Gowdy personally and her honesty in writing is just as genuine as she is in person. I love Michael Ondaatje for his character driven stories, which are both intelligent and sentimental. I love the stark work of Mark Strand’s poetry. And I trust Jhumpra Lahiri as a supreme writer about the marginal experience.
If you could have any supernatural power, what would it be?
This question should have been pluralized because if I had the ability to own a superpower, I wouldn’t limit myself to just one! I would love to be able to read minds, influence them, understand and speak all languages, and shapeshift at will. Flying doesn’t suit me because I’m extremely scared of heights and immortality would only imprison me throughout the ages. Death is a good thing. It’s inevitable and necessary. And time, well, I wouldn’t want to mess with that. Too complicated.
Do you think Asian characters and/or authors are prominent enough in young adult fiction?
No. Young adult fiction tends to focus primarily on the White-American tradition if it writes culturally at all. I see trends focused more on the paranormal and fantasy genres than anything else. I’ve come across a lot of vampires, werewolves, angels, witches, demons, shape-shifters, etc. Another popular theme in YA is romance, but usually from a non-Asian perspective.
Perhaps the danger in writing “Asian characters” in YA is to over-simplify their specific cultural experience in consideration of its target audience. The problem when that happens is the endorsement and danger found in reinforcing Asian stereotypes. But, yes, it would be wonderful to see more Asian authors and/or Asian stories in YA fiction. Absolutely.
How close would you say you are to Asian culture?
Culture doesn’t stem entirely from geography or place of origin. It’s a culmination of your experiences. I was born in Toronto, Canada to two Filipino immigrants so I’m a product of two places and two cultures: a dichotomy between the east and the west; the Asian and the non-Asian.
I feel as an individual, I’m always on the peripheral when I think of myself culturally. I have one foot in the Philippines and the other foot on Canadian soil. And it’s a balancing act of choices. I do my best in taking the “best” cultural examples from both sides.
For example, I still believe and favour a more traditional sense of courtship and the importance of honouring your elders by name and action. As well as supportive of what it means to be subservient in an act of respect and propriety. But, I’m also quite forward-thinking when it comes to independence and feminist values.
Language and food, too, play a part in defining me culturally. I can understand Tagalog, but I speak and major in the English language with no visible Filipino accent. I love all types of Asian food: Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Thai, and Filipino are favourites. But, when I cook at home, I tend to cook “neutral” dishes for my husband who is Latin-American and my children who love spaghetti! But, when a power struggle threatens my cultural sensibility, I defend it vigorously.
Would you say you appreciate Asian inspired literature more, less, or the same as other literature?
As an Asian-Canadian, I don’t believe it’s a matter of appreciating Asian inspired literature more than books with other cultural themes. As a voracious reader and writer, myself, I appreciate great literature, period, especially since literary fiction is my favourite genre of choice.
I do, however, believe my experience in reading stories and poems that contain Asian themes is a more intimate one because I can empathize more readily with its references to food, language, geography, cultural traditions, customs, and forms of propriety. It’s also a privilege to be able to recognize yourself and your specific cultural experience written out in a book and shared with a larger audience. This kind of perspective leaves me with not only a great sense of pride and honour, but enjoyment when I can connect Asian references in a work to my own personal definition of what it means to be an Asian and how that definition continually grows and changes. It also affords me a truer sense of when an author, Asian or non-Asian, has gotten its details, references, and cultural implications wrong.
And now it's time for this or that!
The part of the interview where we ask if you like this or that!
This is a very difficult choice for me because the Filipino egg roll called Lumpia is divine, while I’d pretty much do anything for a tray of sushi! Crispy white tuna is my favourite. And Lumpia dipped in a vinegar sauce is a super snack!
Ramen. Especially when it’s in the Korean kimchi soup. It helped me survive through college.
Intricately designed chopsticks. Or for Filipino style, the tablespoon AND fork, rather than the fork and knife. But, when eating rice with freshly cooked crabs, I’ll eat the way Filipino natives and my ancestors ate: with my hands!
Thanks for taking the time to let us interview you Zara! Be sure to check out Zara's blog A Bibliotaphe's Closet and give it a follow!
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