Celeste Ng: By the Book

Which classic novel did you recently read for the first time?

“The Age of Innocence,” by Edith Wharton. I’d read “Ethan Frome” in high school, but somehow missed this one. It’s a masterpiece. Despite being almost a hundred years old, it still speaks powerfully on the assumptions we make about each other, and our human failures to communicate our needs and desires.

Whose writing today most inspires you?

Rebecca Solnit is a clarion voice of reason. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s work — both fiction and nonfiction. The poets Jane Hirshfield and Maggie Smith. And Heather Havrilesky’s “Ask Polly” column in New York magazine’s The Cut should be required reading for all humans.

What kinds of books bring you the most reading pleasure these days?

I read with my 6-year-old son every night, and frankly, with the state of the world, it’s a relief to turn to children’s literature. We’ve been enjoying some classics like “The BFG” and some new books like Abby Hanlon’s “Dory Fantasmagory” and Shannon and Dean Hale’s “The Princess in Black” series, which make both of us laugh. And picture books — especially really thoughtful, beautiful ones like Aaron Becker’s “Journey” trilogy, Carson Ellis’s “Du Iz Tak?” and everything by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen — are a balm for the soul. They give me hope for the next generation.

Which genres do you avoid?

I try to read omnivorously, because I never know what’s going to spark a new idea. Often the things that I least expect to seize my imagination end up being the most productive. So I’ll read anything regardless of where it’s shelved in the library, from science writing to history to poetry to Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers to Octavia Butler. I read literary fiction most often because it’s my own field, but the borders of what’s considered “literary” are blurring a lot, which I’m thrilled about.

How do you like to read? Paper or electronic? One book at a time or several simultaneously? Morning or night?

I prefer paper for reading books, because I like to feel the weight of the book shifting as I turn pages, and because I like to be able to flip back and look at earlier pages and chapters as I make connections. But I read a lot onscreen as well, between news articles and blog posts and longform content online.

I used to be a serial reader and now I’m a simultaneous reader: one book on my desk that I read in short bits throughout the day as I have…

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