An interview with Kristin from My Life as a Teacup
The lovely bibliophile Kristin runs literary blog My Life as a Teacup, where she writes about her favourite books, life as a literature student and much more. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter at @mylifeasateacup.
You recently graduated from university with a degree in English Literature and Japanese – congratulations! As a child, which books inspired your love of reading?
Thank you! It’s been a year since graduation already, and it still feels surreal! After changing my major more times than I could count, I knew literature was where I was meant to be, in part because of my childhood love for books and writing. I practically lived in my local library as a girl, checking out the maximum number of books I could on each visit, from The Babysitter’s Club to Ender’s Game. The first landmark book I remember, however, was Tolkien’s The Hobbit, which I checked out of my middle school’s library at least once a month. It was simply the most captivating and magical adventure I could imagine. It wasn’t until I read The Great Gatsby in 11th grade, however, that I realized that, beyond just reading, I loved literature and what it had to say about the world and humanity, on large and small scales alike.
Studying Japanese must have been interesting; I did a class in Mandarin at university and was fascinated by the language and the origins of the words. How do you think literary culture in Japan differs to the West?
The language and origins of Asian languages are incredibly fascinating! There’s quite a lot of linguistic sharing between the Chinese, Korean, and Japanese languages in terms of grammar, sounds, structure, and written language. Literary culture as a whole is a pretty big topic, and while I could go on about the status of manga and book consumption (I love Japan’s embracing of the keitai shousetsu/cell phone novel, personally) but I’m always interested in the palpable difference in narratives between Japan and the West (I can’t speak for many other Asian cultures, aside from the similarities I’ve seen in Korean dramas, heh). I’ve always been intrigued by the fact that Japanese stories – whether novels, television shows, or movies – have a different mood and pacing than Western stories. They have a way of reflecting on the little, everyday events, and draw out the natural and emotional conflicts and tension, where most Western narratives feel blockbuster-y and over the top. It’s like a study in real, human characters, and while there are certainly tropes and archetypes in Japanese narratives, it’s a refreshing change from those that are rampant in Western culture. There are a lot of fate-related themes too, and not necessarily in a drastic, epic way.
Do you have a favourite Japanese writer? What is it you love about their work?
Each time I read or reread one of his books, I am constantly astounded by Murakami Haruki’s ability to make everyday life seem positively enchanting. His stories are not only infused with an element of magic, but every word, every sentence, seems to be handpicked and intentional. He makes even those sentences that seem simple and plain at first glance poignant. Another favourite of mine is Banana Yoshimoto, who is able to mesh realism with her own brand of quirkiness to create original yet sentimental narratives that really resonate. Kitchen? It’s a fave.
Classic American literature vs. classic English literature: what are your favourites and why?
English literature, hands down. Ironically, however, my favourite book is a work of American literature: The Great Gatsby. That little anomaly aside, I much prefer English literature. Something about its themes and commentary of class and society (I realize that’s a pretty broad statement!) always drew me in, from Austen to Ishiguro. I’ve known people to find English literature dry, and maybe it’s because I not-so-secretly think I was born in the wrong country, but I find American literature to read like a dull, overly hopeful episode of Bonanza. Sure, Dickens may be depressing, but American naturalism? Yawn. But William Blake? Shakespeare? George Eliot? Austen’s Northanger Abbey? Paradise Lost? Andrew Marvell’s “The Mower” poems? Francis Godwin’s Man in the Moone? Stoker? Mary Shelley? H.G. Wells? Those I can do 🙂 But I digress.
William Blake won me over with his integration of words and images in his illuminated prints and philosophical views in Songs of Innocence and Experience (I highly recommend popping by The Blake Archive!), and Andrew Marvell wrote some of the most eerily beautiful poems in “Damon the Mower”, “The Mower to the Glo-Worms”, “The Mower, Against Gardens”, and “The Mower’s Song”. I just suppose I haven’t found as many works in the American canon that won me over quite like those of my favourite English authors.
Which books are you planning to read next? Do you have any that you secretly suspect you’ll never get round to?
I feel like a terrible literature major for never having read much of the Russian classics like Crime and Punishment and War and Peace. I’m in the midst of Anna Karenina, but at over a thousand pages it’s not very enticing. Up next on my list of to-reads is David Mitchell’s number9dream, which was recommended to me by a friend, and to finish my Batman education with some more graphic novels (Birth of the Demon and Batman and Son) from my good friend/Batman dealer.
Are there any books you started but never finished?
Admittedly, I did try to read Twilight at the recommendation of a friend; really I tried. It just wasn’t my cup of tea, for various reasons, which I won’t jump into here. By the time I got to the final book (yes, I trudged through until then!) I had to stop – it started turning into Alien, which just made me feel like watching that instead. Which is exactly what I did.
I also never finished Little Women (gasp!). I had never read it as a girl, when I think I would’ve truly enjoyed it. By the time I got around to reading it I was in my twenties, and it just felt too moralistic a story for my age. Perhaps had I read it sooner and revisited it at 22 instead of venturing into it for the first time, I would’ve found a more nostalgic value, but I think it’s just now past my time for enjoyment.
Would you ever be interested in writing a novel? If you could have written any existing book, what would it be?
As much as I love the idea of writing a novel, I don’t think I have the discipline to do so. Every time I feel ambitious and sit to write properly, I end up with too many ideas, with one overwhelming the next, and eventually get so frustrated and flooded with ideas that I give up. Maybe one day I’ll fine-tune a process that works for me, but for now I’ll stick to reading and writing academic articles. If I could have written an existing book, it would have to be Brideshead Revisited if I’m going for literary beauty and genius. Though, I’d just a much love to have written Gail Carriger’s witty, steampunk “Soulless”.
I’m terrible for buying books and having piles of them lying around the house waiting to be read. How do you prefer to read: are you a Kindle addict, library regular or a paperback collector?
I’m a little bit of everything. I love being able to preview books on my Kindle, but have stacks of books in various states of being read lying around my house too. Walking into a discount bookstore – any bookstore, really – ruins me, hence the piles. Though I do frequent the library for just that reason. Sometimes I just need a deadline. Ideally, I like buying a physical copy and being able to call that book my own. I can tote it around, keep it in my car, my purse; sticky note things, fold things, or jot notes if I feel so compelled. But most of all I just like to hold it and know that it’s mine.
I like to keep my books as new and undamaged as possible. Do you have any pet hates about the way other people read or treat their books?
I used to be a sort of elitist when it came to my books – no bends, marks, or notes. I’m still particular about certain books that have sentimental value, but since college I’ve learned to deal with making notes in books, even having done so myself. I try to limit my note-making to those books that I need to mark up for classes or discussion purposes, but I don’t cringe quite so badly when I see marks in the margins any more. Except when it’s a used edition of Paradise Lost in which the previous owner didn’t know how to spell “Satan”, instead commenting on the fallen nature of “satin”.
And finally, do you have any random/funny/bizarre stories about books to share with us?
Strangely enough, I have a scar on my hand from a hardcover book! It’s become a nerdy, bookish badge of honour for me at this point, but at the time I couldn’t help but think, “Really? A battle wound from a book?”
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