Elizabeth Lim on reading folklore and fairy tales, to nourish her own writing



MIL: I read “The Golden Thread: How Fabric Changed History” by Kassia St. Clair. It’s been really interesting so far. I read non-fiction when I’m working on a book because my brain needs to settle somewhere else during my downtime. Sometimes I find treats in these non-fiction books that could magically make this my own book, which is so cool.

BOOKS: What are some of your favorite non-fiction books?

MIL: I don’t know if I have favorites because I read random things. I read “Empire of Pain” by Patrick Radden Keefe. I wouldn’t call it a favorite because I haven’t read it all but it was really interesting. I had no idea what the Sackler family had done.

BOOKS: When you are not writing, what are you reading?

MIL: I love reading what my friends have written in YA, so I try to follow them but it’s not easy. I like romance, historical fiction and fantasy. The only books I avoid are horror and thrillers.

BOOKS: Who do you read for historical fiction?

MIL: I’m always drawn to the authors I loved when I was a child. One of my favorites was Juliette Marillier, who has this beautiful mix of fantasy and historical fiction. She wrote “Daughter of the Forest”, which is a retelling of the fairy tale “The Six Swans”. It is strongly steeped in Celtic folklore. I also like Stacey Lee, who does a lot of historical fiction for young Asians. She has done a wonderful job of exploring different eras of American history through an Asian American lens.

BOOKS: What were your favorite fairy tales when you were a child?

MIL: My parents tried to go to Asia every year to visit family. While there, they purchased collections of Chinese and Japanese folk tales and picture books that were not readily available in the United States. I loved “The Cow Herder and the Weaver Girl”. It’s about a cow herder who falls in love with a celestial maiden, and when they’re caught, they’re separated by the Milky Way. I thought it was very romantic. I had a Chinese Cinderella picture book, Ye Xian. It was interesting to compare her to the Cinderella of the West. There is no fairy godmother. A goldfish keeps him company. And there is no happy ending.

BOOKS: How do Chinese fairy tales differ from Western tales?

MIL: The stories emphasize different values. Many Chinese fairy tales place more emphasis on respecting your parents. In Westerners, the goal of the princess is to marry the prince. That’s not what Chinese fairy tales are about.

BOOKS: Do you read classics?

MIL: When I was a kid, I spent a summer trying to go through a list of classics. I don’t think I’ve read them very well but enough to give a summary of the books. In high school, I skipped the war sections in “War and Peace.” I haven’t really read any classics lately but I like to tell about classics or Greek mythology. I love Madeline Miller’s tales of the myths of Achilles and Circe. As a musician, I find her phrases very rhythmically constructed and lyrical. She adds a lot of nuance to those stories that people already know, and she makes those myths very accessible.

BOOKS: What are you reading next?

MIL: So my next read will be Alexandra Bracken’s new YA novel, “Silver in the Bone”, which will be out in the spring. Now that my children have started school, I think I will have more time for myself. I use it to write now, but eventually I might start reading more again. I’m excited for this.

The interview has been edited and condensed.

Follow us on Facebook or Twitter @GlobeBiblio. Amy Sutherland is the author, most recently, of “Saving Penny Jane” and can be reached at [email protected].

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