A Few Bookish Questions With Bonnie Tsui

Bonnie Tsui is a woman who is irrevocably drawn to water. As a journalist, she wanted to uncover why. Tsui explored the question not only for herself, but for those people throughout all of time who have been entranced by bodies of water. Why are we attracted to it? Why do we propel ourselves through this blue-hued liquid? Why We Swim is not only a journalistic account, but also a warm and inviting personal inquiry. Naturally, Tsui is also a reader! I was thrilled to be able to ask her some questions about her reading and the books that have impacted her.

1. An obvious one to start with: do you have favorite books set on or heavily featuring the sea/water?

I just started reading Fathoms, by Rebecca Giggs, a beautifully written cultural examination of whales — her description of a whale fall is stunning. Another recent read is Swimming Back to Trout River, a novel by Linda Rui Feng, which I really enjoyed. And an old favorite is Waterlog, by Roger Deakin — it's a British nature writing classic that has just been published for the first time in the U.S. I love it so much I wrote the introduction.

2. What would we find you reading in your off hours (if those exist!)? Do you have a favorite genre or author?

When it comes to books, I almost exclusively read fiction unless I'm researching something. I'm not picky on genre — as long as it's a good yarn, I'll read it. Recent favorites include My Year Abroad, by Chang-rae Lee; These Women, by Ivy Pochoda; Outlawed, by Anna North; and Libertie, by Kaitlyn Greenidge. So good.

3. Are there authors/journalists who have particularly influenced your writing — in terms of structure, style, etc. 

Isabel Wilkerson, for scenic detail and unbelievable depth of research. Taffy Brodesser-Akner, who makes every topic lively. Katherine Boo, whose epic Behind the Beautiful Forevers floored me. I didn't know journalism could be that novelistic.

4. You recently published a fantastic children's book, and you wrote a thoughtful piece on reading Charlotte's Web with your son. Can you share some children's books that have stuck with you? Your kids' favorites? Those that you're excited to share with them?

Thank you! I loved writing Sarah and the Big Wave, and I also loved writing that essay about reading Charlotte's Web with Teddy. Children's books can really change us, even when we're grown. I loved Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume when I was growing up. When it comes to the classics, my kids love Roald Dahl, especially The Witches, and Shel Silverstein's poetry, and Frog and Toad. Newer books they love include the Wild Robot books — but really anything by Peter Brown is terrific. Jerry Craft, Jon Klassen, and Gene Luen Yang, too. 

5. What are you reading and enjoying now? What's next on your list? (I did see your recent tweet about your continued aquatic reading!) 

I just read Donna Freitas' The Nine Lives of Rose Napolitano — it's a great read, thought-provoking and absorbing. I'm thinking I might like a good, transporting thriller or sci-fi novel next. 

6. Do you have any all-time favorite books that have especially stuck with you and/or shaped your thinking over the years? Books that you think about a lot? Fiction, non-fiction, whatever it is. 

Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse has stuck with me since high school. Her writing does so much to elucidate our inner lives, and what it is to think about things. Stephen King's On Writing is a steadfast companion. And Atul Gawande's Complications — his writing is intelligent, clear, curious, compassionate. I will read anything he writes the moment it is published.


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Thanks so much for reading!

-Jeremy