As promised, here are my answers to all your questions! Thanks to everyone who submitted one; it was tons of fun. 🙂 The full livestream recording, plus extra questions, is on YouTube.
Do you have a favorite first line from a book? Or what are some favorites if you can’t narrow it down to just one. Any memorably bad first lines come to mind?
The opening line of Resurrection by Leo Tolstoy:
Though hundreds of thousands had done their very best to disfigure the small piece of land on which they were crowded together, by paving the ground with stones, scraping away every vestige of vegetation, cutting down the trees, turning away birds and beasts, and filling the air with the smoke of naphtha and coal, still spring was spring, even in the town.
There used to be a YT video, created by a young Polish man, that included his reading of this passage. Though he later took it down, it stuck with me forever, and I plan to read Resurrection some day just because of this first line.
What would be good books to get into Russian literature? Any particular translations? (I can’t read Russian.)
My top recommendations would be:
- Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev (Constance Garnett is dated but still a decent translator for this book)
- Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin (James Falen and Stanley Mitchell are my favorite translators)
- Fyodor Dostoyevsky – No wrong place to start, but go with Notes from Underground if you’re looking for something short
- Anton Chekhov short stories
How do you choose the books you’re going to read? Do you choose them randomly; do you choose a genre; do you have a plan, etc.?
I’m very much a mood reader—that is, I read by mood. I have a very long list of books to read that will certainly outlive me. So I usually choose something that sounds interesting in a given moment.
That said, I do have phases and themes that I will read from, sometimes for years. Some of these phases start randomly, like my interest in T. E. Lawrence—others are more intentional, like my 2020 goal of reading about Asia.
Right now my phases include: Japanese literature, Virginia Woolf, books from around the world, and automation/UBI/China-US relations.
What makes a classic, and have you read any modern literary novel that you think could or should be a classic?
I often use the term colloquially to mean “old books,” but that’s not exactly accurate. Not all old books are classics.
Generically speaking, here in the US we tend to talk about classics as the Western canon, but I think any book that left an impact anywhere in the world could be considered a classic.
Classics are defined by cultures or subcultures. My prediction is that, as the world becomes more globalized, more subcultures will arise to fill our innate desire for commonality on a smaller scale. Classics will become less centered around countries/languages and more focused around these subcultures and niche interests.
A classic, in my mind, is a book that’s left an impact on a culture. Maybe it’s inspired other books, real-world events, or changed the society of its readers.
Typically classics enjoy a long-lasting appreciation, but longevity is subjective… some books used to be considered classics and are no longer read (much, if at all). Example: Ben-Hur by Lew Wallace, once considered a staple of American classic literature and now barely mentioned. (Given the density of its language, the move away from religious-themed literature, plus the excellent film adaptation, I’m not really surprised the book has lost its status.)
Classics often cover universally appealing themes like family, love, war, and brotherhood. Often, but not always. Still, if a book reaches readers from different backgrounds and experiences, over many eras, there’s a good chance it’s a classic.
Which living authors and/or books do you think will have the greatest lasting power?
I don’t read enough living authors to be able to answer this one, unfortunately.
Why do you film a long, detailed review about a book you did not enjoy?
- I consider myself a book critic as much as a reviewer. Critics will give any book, movie, etc. an in-depth review merely for the sake of analyzing it, whether they enjoy it or not. I enjoy the challenge of setting personal emotions aside as much as possible and picking something apart through critique.
- It helps me explore my likes and dislikes and provide support or evidence for my opinion. There’s nothing wrong with just reacting to a book (in this case, negatively), but I desire to understand why I did not like something.
Are there any classics that you have intentionally held off reading? Not books that you just haven’t got around to yet, or titles you have no desire to read. Books that you intend to read, but you’re intentionally waiting for a specific time, or whatever other reasons you might have. A title you’re saving for the future.
Yes, I’m waiting on a few classics till I can get better at reading their original languages. For example: The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and anything by Jorge Luis Borges.
Is there a specific book that got you into reading?
I started reading when I was about 5 or 6. I consider The Boxcar Children to be the first series I really got into. I would hunt the library for all the new releases (the later books were ghost written), take home 4 or 5, and read them in a week!
When was it that you started writing your own stories?
I was about 7… I hadn’t been reading for very long, so naturally my story was a conglomeration of things I’d already read or been read (Alice in Wonderland, Narnia, etc). I wrote a story about a fantasy land where the bad guy was a skeleton living in a cave… my sister and I were the main characters and it also starred my imaginary friend, “Shelly.” I wrote it with a gel pen on old computer paper (the kind that has holes on each side) and taped it together to form a book. I was very proud of it!
Did you start reading classics as a teen, if so did you understand?
I was first read classics by my mother when I was very young, probably 7 or 8. I was reading classics on my own by 10 or 11.
I didn’t understand everything, but I got the gist of the stories, and I loved them! It’s easy to get overwhelmed and intimidated by classics, but the best way to read them is immersively. Don’t worry about the parts you don’t understand. That will come over time. Same with vocabulary… I never looked every word up in the dictionary. I just learned what they meant by context, over time.
Along with reading classics, watching faithful film adaptations can help with understanding at least the basic plot.
What books or authors have had a permanent, constant effect on your understanding, personality, etc?
I had to go wayyy back for this question, since that’s the only way I’ll know if it’s permanent.
- Arthur Conan Doyle – I read a lot of his books, not just Sherlock Holmes but Professor Challenger, Brigadier Gerard, his horror short stories, etc. He taught me to find novelty in the mundane. But the biggest thing I learned from him was to be a people reader and to have empathy.
- Charlotte Bronte – I’m thinking of Villette and the protagonist Lucy Snowe… I am far more like Lucy than I would like to be. Charlotte’s books were a coping mechanism for me in my teenage years. I was also inspired by the resilience of her female characters and how they confront conflict not only in the outer world but in their inner spiritual world. That’s something I “inherited” from her characters.
- Soren Kierkegaard – This is more recent (2015-16), but I can already say his Christian existentialism has greatly helped me mature in my faith and been a huge comfort in the uncertainty of life. His motif of the “knight of faith” is such a beautiful image that will stick with me forever.
If you could take an element of writing from a few different authors to make one super author which elements would you choose?
- Psychology – Joseph Conrad
- Character painting – Arthur Conan Doyle
- Beautiful writing – F Scott Fitzgerald
- Subtlety – Kazuo Ishiguro
- Emotion – Dostoyevsky
- Humor – G K Chesterton
- Imagination – Jules Verne
Do you ever decide to doodle or randomly draw something on paper? Has any book you’ve read made you want to respond to it with your pen and no words?
Not exactly, but I do doodle sometimes… see timestamp 23:41 on the video.
I really like your booktube concept. May i know what inspires you to have this particular concept of your videos?
For my “tabletop” style, I’ve been really inspired by ASMR YouTubers, especially The French Whisperer and Asmr Vids. I was so honored to be part of The French Whisperer’s educational ASMR compilation video earlier this year. It was not something that I intended for my channel to become, but I’ve gotten lots of feedback that people find my videos relaxing. As someone who enjoys these kinds of videos to help unwind, I’m so glad I can help others out in this way!
How are you able to prioritize reading in the busyness of life?
My life is far less busy than many… it’s just me, myself, and I around here. Career-wise, I try to choose jobs that give me a good work-life balance rather than the highest paycheck. I don’t watch a lot of movies on my own, and I’ve largely given up other hobbies like gaming, sewing, music, etc.
My best habit is reading before bed. It’s something I started as a small child and continue to this day.
Favorite and least favorite books.
I mostly have Axes now, but I have an unofficial list of current favorites/least favorites. This changes frequently, so take it with a grain of salt.
- Eugene Onegin
- The Painted Veil
- The Metamorphosis
- The Odyssey
- The Divine Comedy
Favorite classic authors (or if that is too specific, favorites by some classic category). Least favorites as well.
- Franz Kafka – hit or miss but I love him anyway
- Jules Verne – see Magellania and Paris in the 20th Century
- W. Somerset Maugham – only read 2 books so far, but so far a favorite
- Kazuo Ishiguro – early works
Least Favorites — I forgot to answer this on the livestream, whoops. I would say I struggle with James Fenimore Cooper and Ernest Hemingway, although it’s too soon to say conclusively. I also rather dislike Shakespeare and Jane Austen *ducks tomatoes*… but I think Shakespeare is winning me over, slowly. And I haven’t read Austen in a long while, so I’m holding out hope there as well.
Any classic that you think doesn’t deserve status whether in quality or because it’s famous for non-literary reasons?
The Castle by Franz Kafka. As much as I’m a Kafka fan, it was genuine misery getting through this one. The concept is great… the book as a whole is just lacking for me.
Most obscure classics you’ve read.
- The Heir of Redclyffe – Charlotte Mary Yonge
- The Green Ray – Jules Verne
- Embers – Sandor Marai
- Hyperion – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
- Fanshawe, The Marble Faun – Nathaniel Hawthorne
- Sylvie and Bruno – Lewis Carroll
Thoughts on audiobooks? Do you think they’re as good as physical books/ebooks?
Absolutely. It’s a different experience, but since verbal storytelling was the original form, I think they’re just as a good.
I listened to audiobooks a few years ago while experiencing some back issues. It was very enjoyable and a nice change. My only problem with audiobooks is that my mind tends to wander so I have to rewind quite a bit.
Shout out to LibriVox.org – they have some great free audiobooks. Two of my favorite readers are David Barnes and Peter Yearsley.
What sort of music do you like?
I enjoy all kinds of music, pretty literally. (The two genre I know I don’t like are metal and modern country.) But as long as I like the lyrics and melodies, I will listen to most genres. Some of my favorites are indie folk, indie pop, retro pop, classical / opera, post-rock, lo-fi, and some k-pop. I post a lot of music on my personal blog.