Sunday, July 13, 2014

Lisa See

Lisa See is the New York Times bestselling author of Peony in Love, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Flower Net (an Edgar Award nominee), The Interior, and Dragon Bones, as well as the critically acclaimed memoir On Gold Mountain. The Organization of Chinese American Women named her the 2001 National Woman of the Year.

See's new novel is China Dolls.

Earlier this month I asked the author about what she was reading. See's reply:
I’m reading three books right now. All three of these seemingly unrelated books are actually connected to research I’m doing for my next book. Mmmm…what could it possibly be about?

I’ve been reading Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio by Pu Songling for about a year. Pu Songling was a failed imperial scholar, who, in the 17th-century, traveled around China, collecting hundreds of stories of fox spirits, ghosts, demons, vampires, enchanted objects, and other eerie creatures and happenings. Pu referred to himself as the Historian of the Strange, and all the stories are presented as being “true.” Some of them are very short – a paragraph or two, while others are as long as twenty pages. They make very good bedtime reading, except when they’re too scary.

I’ve always loved books on science that I can actually understand. I guess you’d call the genre popular science. I recently returned from a research trip to Yunnan province, considered the birthplace of tea. Yunnan is a global biodiversity hotspot. There are more animal and plant species in that single province than altogether in the rest of China. It also has more ethnic minorities than the rest of the provinces in China combined. This made me turn to The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins. He isn’t writing about China by any means, but he is attempting to answer the questions I’ve been asking myself about the unique qualities of Yunnan. Why and how did this become a biodiversity hotspot? What is it about the particular plants, animals, and humans that has allowed them to survive and thrive? That’s where his concept of the selfish gene comes in.

In preparation for my trip to Yunnan, I read The Classic of Tea written in the 8th century by Lu Yu. Today, even as it was in Lu Yu’s time, tea was the second most popular drink in the world. He set out to find the universal through the particular of tea. I find it amazing—thrilling even—that so much of what he wrote still resonates today.
Visit Lisa See's website.

--Marshal Zeringue