I stumbled upon If You Leave Me by Crystal Hana Kim on one of those lists highlighting books to anticipate in 2018. I have to say, the cover, the fact that it was set in Korea and the thrill of a debut author made me very interested. In case you were wondering, IF YOU LEAVE ME exceeded my expectations — read my review here.
It was truly enjoyable to interview Crystal Hana Kim for BOOK’D. She shares the brilliant short story writer whose work she forces all her friends to read, some of her favorite recently released books and her “loud” reading habits. In addition, she shares a book that made her want to take her writing more seriously, her thoughts on book clubs and her extensive TBR. Enjoy Crystal’s interview!
What are you currently reading? Do you usually read more than one book at a time?
Right now, I’m reading A River of Stars by Vanessa Hua (which is so gripping!) and Text Me When You Get Home: The Evolution and Triumph of Modern Female Friendship by Kayleen Schaefer (a friend sent this to me as a gift, which I thought was such a kind gesture).
Have you always been a reader? What is the first book you remember ever reading? What drew you into reading/why do you read?
The first book I remember is Curious George, which I received as a Christmas present when I was three or four years old. I love reading because I can fall into a world different from my own. With fiction in particular, I love inhabiting a character’s consciousness, so much so that I am feeling their experiences with them.
[bctt tweet=”I love reading because I can fall into a world different from my own. With fiction in particular, I love inhabiting a character’s consciousness, so much so that I am feeling their experiences with them. -@crystalhanak” username=”afomaumesi”]
What is your philosophy on reading? (for example, some people have to finish every book they start)
I’m the type of person who must finish every book I’ve started. I wouldn’t say it’s a philosophy—more of a habit I can’t seem to break!
How often do you read? And how do you fit it into your day?
I read every day, but the amount of time depends on my workload and where I am in the writing process. I read most often in the evenings after dinner and before bed.
Where do you like to read? Where’s the weirdest place you’ve ever read a book?
I will read anywhere—on my couch, in bed, in transit, standing up while brushing my teeth. The place where I felt weirdest reading was on the bus I took to the Korean DMZ. The bus ride from Seoul was long so I brought a book, but I stopped reading pretty quickly. I wanted to look out at the landscape and absorb as much as possible.
What makes a good book, in your opinion?
Oh, there’s no one way for me to answer this question. For fiction, I’d say a compelling story with believable, complex characters that I feel emotionally connected to. Sentence-level beauty is important to me as well.
[bctt tweet=”A good book to @crystalhanak? A compelling story with believable, complex characters that I feel emotionally connected to. Sentence-level beauty is important to me as well. ” username=”afomaumesi”]
Who are your favorite authors to read?
I have so many. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Louise Erdrich, Paul Yoon, Anthony Doerr, Toni Morrison, Victor LaValle, Chang-rae Lee, Deborah Eisenberg. I could go on and on…
What is a book or who is an author you wish more people knew about/read?
Mercè Rodoreda’s The Time of the Doves, which I read for the first time last year. Deborah Eisenberg is a brilliant short story writer. I push her work into the hands of all my friends.
[bctt tweet=”Deborah Eisenberg is a brilliant short story writer. I push her work into the hands of all my friends. -@crystalhanak” username=”afomaumesi”]
E-book, audiobook or paper? How do you feel about making notes/highlighting books?
Paper, predominantly. I fill the margins of my books with pencil marks and notes. I don’t like to read on my phone and don’t have an e-reader, so I’ve never tried e-books. I do enjoy listening to audiobooks while cooking though!
Fiction vs Non-fiction?
I am primarily a fiction writer, but I love both! Fiction and nonfiction serve different purposes for me, so I need a steady stream of both to feel like I am learning enough about the world.
What happens to you when you read a good book? (at the beginning, during and after the experience?)
I love the feeling of falling in love with a good book. I’m a loud reader—I’ll sigh, cry, talk to myself, urge anyone around me to read the book so we can talk about it. If it’s a particularly good story, that means that I’ll stop marking pages halfway through because I’m too immersed in the narrative. I also slow down when reading a good book because I want to savor the words as long as possible.
[bctt tweet=”I love the feeling of falling in love with a good book. I’m a loud reader—I’ll sigh, cry, talk to myself, urge anyone around me to read the book so we can talk about it.” username=”afomaumesi”]
Do you reread books? Why?
I love rereading, and I often reread the same few books over and over again—for inspiration, to be reminded of a certain time in my life, for the language. I haven’t had much time to reread lately though!
What book do you wish you could experience again for the first time?
I was just thinking about Paul Yoon’s debut short story collection, Once The Shore today. I read it in college, and it inspired me to take my writing more seriously. I’d love to experience that book again for the first time.
What was the last great book you read?
I finally read Colson Whitehead’s Underground Railroad earlier this year; I was astounded by its power, how he used history to tell this singular story. Naima Coster’s Halsey Street was also so powerful, in a quieter way. Her words stayed in my bones for a long time. I recently finished Julia Fine’s What Should Be Wild and Lucy Tan’s What We Were Promised, both of which I loved. Fine’s book is all about a modern fairytale that explores the female body and autonomy—I couldn’t put it down. Tan’s book brought me to post-Mao Shanghai, which I knew very little about, and made me consider family bonds in new ways. Oh! I also just finished Lillian Li’s Number One Chinese Restaurant, Ingrid Rojas Contreras’ Fruit of the Drunken Tree, and R.O. Kwon’s The Incendiaries. There is so much incredible debut fiction being published this year!
[bctt tweet=”Naima Coster’s Halsey Street was also so powerful, in a quieter way. Her words stayed in my bones for a long time. – @crystalhanak I wholeheartedly agree.” username=”afomaumesi”]
If you had to choose three books that everyone should read, what would they be?
Oh this is a hard question! I won’t be able to choose three specific books, so I’d say a book that reminds you of a particularly difficult time in your life, a book that teaches you about a part of the world you aren’t yet familiar with, and a book outside your preferred genre.
What book(s) are you embarrassed to have read? What books are you embarrassed to still not have read?
No embarrassment in the books I have read. There are so many books I have yet to read though…
How do you feel about ‘classic’ literature?
I went to Columbia, where we had a Literature Humanities course as part of our core curriculum. The literature skewed western, white, and male, as you’d predict. But I still loved many of the books I discovered through that course. As with any ‘genre’ or grouping, I’m drawn to some of the books and dislike others.
How do you feel about book clubs?
I love book clubs! They’re a great way to discover new writing that you wouldn’t necessarily pick yourself. It’s also a wonderful way to meet new people. I’m going to join a few book clubs during my tour, and I’m really looking forward to chatting with readers about their thoughts and feelings about If You Leave Me.
[bctt tweet=”I love book clubs! They’re a great way to discover new writing that you wouldn’t necessarily pick yourself. It’s also a wonderful way to meet new people. ” username=”afomaumesi”]
What book(s) have remarkably changed your perspective on a given subject or life in general and how?
I read Marguerite Duras’s The Lover and Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude in the same college course. Both of these books showed me (in different ways) what language and story and writing is capable of.
How do you choose books to read?
Friends’ recommendations, word-of-mouth, and book reviews. I’ve also recently discovered that Instagram is a great place to get book recommendations!
What books are currently on your to-be-read list?
My TBR list is quite high! On my bookshelf right now: Nicole Chung’s All You Can Ever Know, Kathy Wang’s Family Trust, Chelsey Johnson’s Stray City, Caoilinn Hughes’s Orchid & The Wasp, Rachel Heng’s Suicide Club. I can’t wait to get my hands on Laura van den Berg’s The Third Hotel, Roxane Gay’s Not That Bad, and Lydia Kiesling’s The Golden State as well.
Buy If You Leave Me
Meet Crystal Hana Kim
Crystal Hana Kim’s debut novel, If You Leave Me, is forthcoming from William Morrow of HarperCollins in August 2018. She was a 2017 PEN America/Robert J. Dau Short Story Prize winner and has received scholarships from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, Hedgebrook, Jentel, and more. She holds an MFA from Columbia University and an M.S.Ed from Hunter College. Her work has been published in The Washington Post, The Southern Review, Electric Literature, The Millions, and more. She is a contributing editor at Apogee Journal and is the Director of Writing Instruction at Leadership Enterprise for a Diverse America. Connect with her on Twitter and Instagram.