One of my favourite authors is asleep on the bed beside me. As I write this, she is sleeping off her jetlag from the trip between New York and Sydney. When she wakes, I will ask her to her sign my copies of her books. Then, she will write, and I will edit for my day job. Between bouts of focus, we will catch each other’s eyes and derail that carefully cultivated focus into conversations about this specific plot point or that particular narrative technique. Tonight, we will go to dinner with some of our favourite authors, people who have changed the trajectory of our lives as young people in publishing. Trust me, I am equally as, if not more, disbelieving than you are that this is my life.
Of course, this life does not come without sacrifice. You can’t help developing this strange feeling of apathy when your personal and professional lives are so closely entwined. Everything I do for fun seems to lead me back to work, and everything I do for work seems impossibly, addictively fun. The lines blur. When I cut one, it bleeds into the other. I can no longer feel the seams between work and pleasure, between fatigue, joy, regret, and some other emotion that feels too big for my body to hold. Triumph? Fear? I feel like I am racing against the clock with every book, every word, I read. Or don’t read. How long can I do this before crumbling under the pressure of an industry that is too white, too straight, too narrow, to support the voices of people like me? But that is a story for another day. This is a story about doing what you love for work and loving it, despite the work.
By day, I am an editor. I read intensely, constantly. Sometimes, that looks like picking apart the words in the same lines in the same manuscript for days, for weeks, until the words flow off the page in the exact way that they are meant to. Other times, it is combing through pages and pages of words, flying through manuscripts, mining through my publisher’s submissions inbox in search of our next diamond.
By night, I am a reader. I read intensely, constantly. But I am learning that there can be a separation between the two kinds of reading—like day and night. When the moon hangs in the sky, I try to read words that remind me of why I chose this life, books that I want to be putting on shelves one day.
In ‘Wild Flower’, the title track of the debut solo album of BTS’s leader, RM raps ‘My start was poetry / My one and only strength and dream that protected me so far.’ The lyrics reference the K-pop group’s unprecedented success, despite the odds in both the local and international music industries being stacked against them. The sentiment feels particularly apt to me, and I feel so lucky to be able to share with you the books that I have been reading and re-reading—the books that gave me my start in this industry, and the books that continue to protect my love for publishing.
If I am ever not talking about Chloe Gong, you can safely assume that there is something very wrong. There has been no greater joy for me than watching her growing success. With three New York Times bestsellers (and counting!) under her belt, her latest title, Foul Lady of Fortune, features a pair of ill-matched spies who fake a marriage to investigate a series of murders in 1930s Shanghai. It was everything I could want in a book.
In the vein of Asian excellence in publishing, Ann Liang’s If You Could See the Sun is the academic rivals-to-lovers YA romance of my teenage dreams. I cannot wait to see what Liang does next. Anyone who spoke to me in 2022 will know about Grace D. Li’s Portrait of a Thief. An ambitious heist novel with the diaspora experience at its core, reading it was a thumb pressed on a healing bruise, seeing everything I am and want to be in its pages, and a homecoming. Babel: Or the Necessity of Violence: An Arcane History by R.F. Kuang needs no introduction. If it is not on your radar, it should be. It will be a modern classic. Shelley Parker-Chan’s She Who Became The Sun is a devastatingly visceral (and queer!) reimagining of the rise of the founding emperor of the Ming dynasty. A masterclass in character work, Parker-Chan’s talent can only be described as mirrored in the scale of the main character’s wanting—extraordinary.
Narrative non-fiction is a recently discovered love of mine. I fell head over heels for Tabitha Caravan’s This is Not a Book About Benedict Cumberbatch, which was such a validating exploration of fandom and female joy in a world desperate to snuff it out. Claire G. Coleman’s Lies, Damn Lies has been equally unforgettable. The chapter ‘I, Monster’ was searing in its explanation about Bla(c)k women depicted as the monster in popular media, and I am already looking forward to my reread. Eda Gunaydin’s Root and Branch: Essays on Inheritance dissects ideas of class/communities/family/loss with a sure hand. The essay ‘Kalıtsal’, in particular, has made a home for itself in my mind. Gigorou is Sasha Kutabah Sarago’s manifesto to decolonising and reclaiming beauty through sharing wisdoms from First Nations matriarchs. It is unwaveringly honest, graceful and generous. The final chapter—simultaneously a love letter and a call to action—will stay with me for a long time.
Then, there are books that tempt my return to bookselling, just for the selfish joy of pressing something I have loved into another’s hands. Freya Marske’s The Last Binding series is an alternative-Edwardian romantic fantasy trilogy with her signature luscious prose and flawless pacing. Marske’s books are the epitome of joy and I will read everything she writes. The genius of Siang Lu’s The Whitewash eludes description, but this story about the rise and fall of a Hong Kong actor in Hollywood is one of the funniest books I have ever read. Rhiannon Wilde’s Henry Hamlet’s Heart was a staple of my bookselling career, and her sophomore novel, Where You Left Us, about sisters, grief and falling in love didn’t disappoint. C.S. Pacat’s Dark Rise—a queer, twisty take on the classic hero’s journey—was flung across the room when I read its final line. Is there a greater joy in a reader’s life than finding a story that evokes that level of violence?
I have also been making my way through the English translations of MXTX’s The Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation novels as they are released. I love every adaptation of this story but am particularly fascinated by science fiction and fantasy works in translation and what they teach us about non-Western structures of narratives. The concept of decolonising narrative structures, first introduced to me by Lilly Lu’s brilliant interview on Bookish Brews, feels particularly weighty to me.
Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t discuss my latest guilty pleasure (used in the most affectionate sense of the term)—monster romance. The less savoury titles will be confined to my Kindle history, but I will publicly admit to devouring the entirety of Ruby Dixon’s Ice Planet Barbarian series and its spin off series. The books are not without flaws, but Dixon is a master of her genre—escapism in its finest form, these books are also an unexpectedly fascinating insight into serialised worldbuilding.
But this wouldn’t be a ‘What I’m Reading’ if I didn’t share my constantly growing TBR list. An ARC of Gong’s adult debut, Immortal Longings, has recently made its way into my hands—an Anthony and Cleopatra retelling pitched as ‘If the Hunger Games movies were directed by Wong Kar Wai’—and I will be clearing my entire schedule for it. I am also particularly excited about Leanne Yong’s Two Can Play That Game. About games and the connections people find through them, I can’t wait to drown in all the Malaysian-Australian diaspora feelings. Taken, the highly anticipated sequel to Dinuka McKenzie’s The Torrent, has been jostling for its spot at the front. I devoured The Torrent in a night—you won’t be able to help yourself, it is Australian crime at its best and McKenzie has her readers firmly in the palm of her hand—and have been dying for more Detective Kate Miles since. I can’t wait for Jodi McAlister to give me all the butterflies in Can I Steal You For a Second, a sapphic romance set on the set of a reality dating show. And I have been saving Mirandi Riwoe’s The Burnished Sun for a time when I need to be inspired by meticulously researched and beautiful storytelling. Last, but never least, I would do illegal things for an ARC of the sequel to Vanessa Len’s Only a Monster. Len’s debut was the first time I saw myself in a YA fantasy and it changed my life. I know that it’s sequel will be the highlight of my reading year.
With books like these as kindling for my love, I find it almost impossible to remember why I am worried about my future in publishing. If it holds stories and storytellers like these, the future will be bright—the kind you simply cannot look away from.
LinLi Wan is a Chinese-Malaysian-Australian reader, editor and (occasional) writer living and learning on unceded Cammeraygal land. She is the Trainee Editor at Pantera Press and edits fiction for Voiceworks. Her work was shortlisted for the Deakin University Non-Fiction Prize in 2021. She is passionate about stories and storytellers, and talks about both @linliwan_.
(Note: Where possible, every book by an author of colour has been linked to the corresponding Amplify Bookstore page. They do incredible work and are so worth supporting.)