Reading Around the Globe: Safiyya in China

(Last Updated On: June 19, 2019)


Welcome to Reading Around the Globe, a series here on Reader Voracious Blog geared at fostering a culture of understanding in the bookish community about access to books in various countries around the world. Each post in the series highlights a full interview with one international reader. You can read more about this series and catch up on previous interviews on the master post.

    1. What is your name? Safiyya
    2. Blog URL?
    3. Twitter handle? @PhantomPaper
    4. Where do you live? The Middle Kingdom. Lol, China! The former sounds cooler though.
    5. Do you find that there is a culture of reading where you live? If not, tell us a bit how you came to be one! Yes, I think a reading culture exists here, although I can only speak for the upper tier cities (basically, the more modern/popular ones like Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, etc.) We have libraries, bookshops (both online and offline) and I’ve seen people reading articles on the metro. Although I don’t think this had much to do with instigating my love for reading.
    6. What kinds of books do you enjoy reading? I enjoy a wide variety. Dystopian, Sci-fi, YA, Mystery, Contemporary, Action/Adventure, the list goes on. It’d be quicker if I just named those I didn’t read. I do have an inexplicable thing for books with robots, apocalypses, dystopias and time-travel.
    7. Have you always been a reader? YES. I would even read the backs of cereal boxes when I was a kid! I read the entire newspaper bundle whenever we got them at the age of 12. I was the type who read the coming year’s English Lit and Drama books before school started. Because they’re basically novels, right? But I had a dry spell a few years back (I blame my smartphone) and then bounced back since I redirected my blog to book reviewing but now I feel overwhelmed with all the ARCs and it’s putting me off reading.
    8. Do you also read books published in your native language/published locally to you? If so, tell us a bit about what kinds of books are published in your country! No, I don’t actually. It was only 5 years ago when I started teaching myself how to read Chinese (Don’t look at me like that! I’m only half Chinese), so English comes to me more naturally, reading-wise. I’m also not that interested in the local popular genres, like WuXia, Ancient Palatial stories and Contemporaries.
    9. Are there libraries where you live? If so, what kinds of books can you find there? Are you able to get the books that you want? We do have public libraries in most top-tiered cities. I only know about Beijing’s and Guangzhou’s. Recently, I looked into the Guangzhou one and was GIDDILY AMAZED by the amount of English novels they had!!! Much better stocked than the Beijing library. They have a few Leigh Bardugos, Ready Player One, Agatha Christie, Horowitz, Diana Gabaldon, Sarah Maas, Sabaa Tahir, and many more. As an example of how updated they are (not comparable to the western world): they have Circe by Madeline Miller and that was published in mid-April last year. They’ve even got books you don’t usually see in local bookstores! Like S. J. Kincaid, Laura Ruby and Jonathan Maberry. But there’s this one weird thing that they sometimes do, which is skipping certain installments in a series. Like, they’ll have the 2nd and 3rd book but not the 1st. The library’s free though! You only need a deposit, plus, it’s open to foreigners.
    10. How prevalent are English published books where you live in bookstores? (For example, books printed by HarperCollins.)  When it comes to buying books, there are quite a few in Beijing at varying price points. The variety’s not bad but most of them consist of the uber-popular titles like Twilight, Agatha Christie, Harry Potter and the like. New and fresh voices don’t usually make much noise in the Chinese market. I don’t know why but it’s like they don’t veer away from the trending or previously trending books. For some reason books with movie adaptations make great waves here. Gawd, I have so much to say on books in China! I’ll have to say that, personally, the English books here are usually out of my budget. Books online are cheaper but the variety’s the same.
    11. Do you use NetGalley or Edelweiss to request electronic galleys for review? If so, what kind of success rate would you estimate for you personally? THANK GOD for NG and EW! Because of them my reading picked up pace after a lull (as I couldn’t afford purchasing at the time). I was able to gain access to upcoming books that would’ve taken forever to get to a decent price here. Amazon China’s decently fast in listing them but the prices are off-the-roof when they’ve just debuted! I digress. As for success rate, I joined after NG cut off international readers (I wasn’t aware of this at the time) but mine has been pretty good. Approximately 74% on both NG and EW, with NG a few decimals higher. Say, what?! I didn’t even know they were so close until I calculated it for this answer! I’m thinking my practice of properly writing an answer to the ‘Why are you requesting this title?’ box when you’re requesting on EW is the reason why my approval rate is good.
    12. Do you experience hurdles or barriers to access for the kinds of books that you read? Please explain if so. Yes and no. Yes, because sometimes either I can’t find the book I want or it’s too costly. New books take longer to enter the market and paperback versions even longer. And no, because there are plenty of books I haven’t read yet so I can manage with backlist books.
    13. If you could make one change to the publishing landscape, what would you do? Can I say 2? A) For the publishers to look out of the box for new and fresh genres or one that come from/are on other countries. The entire WORLD is reading books that are Western-centric, with a strong emphasis on the US. How is that inclusive or relatable? My high school years weren’t that dramatic or toxic as portrayed by our American counterparts. B) Don’t shut out the international reviewers please. We make up a large part of the reading demographic and yet we rarely get to have physical ARCs. Why not send out ARCs printed in China to other parts of the world, have it as another base? It’s closer to other countries than the US or UK. Or, provide a small amount of ARCs to int’l readers. They have access to an audience in their own countries, and that’s a whole new market for your books.
    14. Help other international bloggers out… What resources do you use to obtain the books that you want to read?  (Note that some of them have regional restrictions.) Wattpad, Smashwords &, Kobo app – for amateur, self-published and occasionally the 1st book in a series by a published author (Wattpad only) – a couple of books and longer excerpts each month to read for free online. Books are from SimonTeen! It’s where I read Scythe and Dry by Neal Shusterman! – a book or two for free online. This one’s more regionally restricted than Riveted.
      – Book Tours, NetGalley, LibraryThing and Edelweiss – You probably already know about them but one tip I recommend to improve your approval rate on EW is to fill that box for the ‘Why are you requesting this title?’ It shows your enthusiasm and genuine interest, and makes you shine amongst the sea of requests. (this is only for China) – they sometimes have unbelievable deals(recently I got a hardback copy of Illuminae for US$4.5!!!) Their kindle books section also has a bunch of books for 1-2 dollars, too. And they’re not just self-published, The Paper Magician’s selling for $1!
      – Local bookswaps, second-hand selling and charity book sales – Once you make peace with selling books that you’re not going to re-read it gets addictive to the point where you start not caring too much about owning a whole truckload of books. Plus, it’s cheaper! You get to use the money to buy MORE BOOKS.
      – Author newsletters – sometimes they give excerpts, sneak peeks and giveaways. And occasionally a free book incentive for signing up! I got All Rights Reserved by Gregory Katsoulis in this way.
      Book Depository and Better World Books – the prices are slightly higher than Amazon but shipping’s free.
      Flapping Pages – an ARC swapping program hosted by the interviewer herself, Kaleena! It’s still in its growing stages but it’s such a GENEROUS and INCLUSIVE endeavor! It still needs donators and if you don’t have the money, you can always spread the word. It helps more than you think it can!
      ProjectGutenberg – free classic novels. Once you get the hang of the archaic English it’s quite enjoyable. There are plenty of other sites like this, just google it. Austen, Bronte, Arthur Conan Doyle and Jerome K. Jerome are some of my favorite classic authors.
      – Story apps – these are plentiful on the Google Playstore and most have good writing.
    15. Do you have any other experiences as a reader around the world that you would like to share? 
      • The book covers for China are quite different. They’re boring and one-dimensional.
      • China’s notorious for fake stuff and books haven’t been spared either. One way I check for the authenticity of a novel is to see if there’s a faint line on the cover of the book closer to the spine where you can bend it. It’s a binding style and the cover is usually glossy. This is a fake copy. The 2nd thing I look for is to see if there are any Chinese characters above the ISBN, which also denotes it as a fake.
      • Which takes me on to the next thing: Chinese people are so used to their high-printing quality that many of them suspect imported mass-market paperbacks as fake because of its lower paper and printing quality, and small size!
      • Chinese novels and non-fiction are priced substantially lower than imported books. You can get a crochet book with around 20 patterns for US$4.50 and below, and that’s with high-quality, glossy white paper!
      • I used to read pirated books as I couldn’t afford them, but that was before I realized how wrong it was. Some people say that this is okay to do if you’re poor. I disagree. That’s basically like saying you can steal whatever food and belongings you want because you’re poor. Don’t try to blindfold your conscience.
      • Set a limit to the number of ARCs you request based on how many you can read in a month, paying attention to the publishing date. It can easily get out of hand and before you know it you have a mounting backlog of books to be reviewed! And that, in turn, leads you to a reading slump. You start questioning your reading habits and enter an existential crisis, it’s a whole domino effect! Too much of anything is bad for you.

Please note that all experiences reflected in the interviews are personal and are not meant to generalize what reading access is like in each country. If you are interested in participating please DM me on Twitter.

💖 If you like the work that I do here at Reader Voracious, consider fueling my pumpkin spice latte and black tie addiction by buying me a ko-fi! ☕

spacer_wLet’s go on another adventure together!


  1. Kelly | Another Book in the Wall

    February 9, 2019 at 11:20 AM

    Lovely post! It’s so wonderful to meet Safiyya! And that’s awesome how the Guangzhou library has so many titles that you want to read! <3

    (Also, pssssst, Kaleena! THE NEW BLOG THEME IS GORGEOUS! LOVE IT! <3 )

    1. Phantom Paper

      February 10, 2019 at 3:18 AM

      Why thank you, Kelly! I’m truly glad you liked my experience! 😄 And I finally paid the library a visit and it was AWESOME!

    2. Kaleena @ Reader Voracious

      February 11, 2019 at 10:48 AM

      Thank you so much for the compliment, Kelly! I am glad you like it! Still tweaking around but overall I am quite pleased. And thanks for reading Safiyya’s post!

  2. Isabelle @ BookwyrmBites

    February 9, 2019 at 1:09 PM

    I would also read the upcoming books for class early! though they usually wouldn’t tell us until after the school year started – so for me that meant reading it in 1-2 days after I got the book to bring home 😅

    Chinese is such a difficult language to learn; I went to Chinese school since before kindergarten to the end of eighth grade and I’m still not great at it, even though I speak a mishmash of Mandarin and English with my parents! (I’m Taiwanese-American.) so major props to you – and I’d love to pick your brain for some extra resources on this front, since I’ve been trying to do some reviewing on my own. (I love Duolingo for other languages, but I grew up with traditional Chinese and theirs is simplified, so while I can usually figure it out it’s definitely not ideal 😕)

    1. Phantom Paper

      February 10, 2019 at 3:42 AM

      Hahaha, wow!! You too??! Idk HOW you could’ve managed reading them in 1-2 days! That’s superhuman!!

      Lolll, it sure is! Especially when the learner wasn’t exposed to it from a young age. And omg, you’re a half-half, too?! I’m Chinese-Sri Lankan 😜 I only know Simplified Chinese…😁
      Haha, you flatter me so! But argh, I don’t think there was too much effort on my part in reaching my current level…What tips I CAN help you with is that you have immerse yourself in the language, surround yourself with it. Whenever you come across it, try to read it. Watching subtitled TV shows/movies also helps in the pronunciation area. Also, when I was consciously acknowledging the Chinese characters on packaging/billboards/websites I noticed that a lot of the time similar looking words are also pronounced similarly! Take ‘少'(shǎo) and ‘炒'(chǎo), do you notice the similarities? 😁 Same goes for ‘考’ (kǎo) and ‘烤’ (kǎo). Although this pair’s pronounced the exact same way! Another e.g.: ‘交'(jiāo) & ‘饺'(jiǎo). I’m noy sure if this applies for Traditional Chinese though!

      Because I’m in China I use apps in Chinese regularly and it makes a noticeable difference. My younger sister’s Mandarin wasn’t too good and now it has improved significantly after 2-3 years of using the online shopping app, TaoBao 😂

      I hope this helps! I can’t blve you can understand traditional Chinese, it looks so complicated!

      1. Isabelle @ BookwyrmBites

        February 10, 2019 at 7:37 AM

        well, I didn’t really do anything besides homework and read until high school/college, so I had too much time on my hands 😅

        the similarities between characters are definitely also a feature of traditional Chinese! I grew up writing traditional, so it’s really all I know, haha. thanks for the tips 💕

        1. Phantom Paper

          February 22, 2019 at 12:03 AM

          Loll, that was a good use of free time!! And you’re most welcome😄!

  3. Phantom Paper

    February 10, 2019 at 3:15 AM

    Oh hey, it’s me! Haha, THANK YOU, Kaleena, for the feature!! It was an honor 😁

    1. Kaleena @ Reader Voracious

      February 11, 2019 at 11:00 AM

      Thank YOU for taking the time to share your thoughts & experiences with us!

      1. Phantom Paper

        February 22, 2019 at 12:04 AM

        😁Aww, shucks, Kal!

  4. Clo @ Book Dragons

    February 10, 2019 at 3:46 AM

    This was an interesting read for sure, hearing Safiyya’s experiences. Particularly about how you go about checking the book, to see if it’s a fake. I’m so glad you’ve been able to find resources though to fulfill your reading needs Safiyya! Oh and I totally agree with you on how books focus on Western culture, with a focus more so on US. In the UK whilst it’s still Western, from my experience in school, the cliques shown in books weren’t nearly as bad in my school.

    *tips hat to Kal for doing this feature <3*

    1. Kaleena @ Reader Voracious

      February 11, 2019 at 11:02 AM

      I enjoyed learning about how they determine if a book is a fake or not, too! I’ve known about the fake movies that come out of China but didn’t realize it happens with books, too. (which is silly.)

      Thanks so much for your comment, Clo! *tips hat back at you*

        1. Kaleena @ Reader Voracious

          February 24, 2019 at 10:05 AM

          Like bad copies/bootlegs of movies. Bootleg would probably have been a better word to use LOL

          1. Phantom Paper

            March 3, 2019 at 3:43 AM

            ohhh, loll. Man, I remember those!

    2. Phantom Paper

      February 22, 2019 at 12:10 AM

      I’m really glad you enjoyed it!! And right??! Highschool, for me, didn’t have any nasty mean girl drama(although I can’t say the same for general drama! 😁). I’d hear about stuff that happened in other grades/classes but, luckily, mine was filled with better people.

  5. TheCaffeinatedReader

    February 10, 2019 at 12:17 PM

    This is honestly my favorite feature so I got school-girl excited seeing there was another one of these. I can only imagine how awesome Safiyya’s library experience was when she saw the amount of English novels the Guangzhou library had…but..I’m also super curious was that a huge library? What does it look like???

    1. Kaleena @ Reader Voracious

      February 11, 2019 at 11:18 AM

      😭😭😭😭 your comment about fangirling for this post/series makes me so happy omg, THANK YOU!
      and I agree… I want to hear more about the Guangzhou library!

    2. Phantom Paper

      February 22, 2019 at 12:17 AM

      NINE stories-high, baby!! Although, only one level is for foreign books(including English) 😁. It’s a modern building and they’ve got maybe 20 bookshelves of English books. I took some pics, you can check them out on my twitter(@PhantomPaper)!

      1. TheCaffeinatedReader

        February 22, 2019 at 12:23 AM

        I’m scooting toward your twitter, holy cow!!!!

  6. Sophia (Bookwyrming Thoughts)

    February 10, 2019 at 12:36 PM

    AHHHHHHH I’M SO HAPPY TO SEE THIS POST, KAL. I can agree with the upper tier cities, at least according to my mom since she’s from Shanghai. It’s super cool to see there are some authors that are popular, though I’m a little sad to hear about newer and fresh voices not making much noise. I’m assuming that may be the case business wise because they know full well popular authors will make more noise and will be picked up more often? I’m definitely not the right person to say that for sure.

    1. Kaleena @ Reader Voracious

      February 11, 2019 at 11:23 AM

      Aww yay, I am glad you enjoyed this post, Soph!

  7. Truly Booked

    February 10, 2019 at 12:55 PM

    Omg, I think it’s hilarious that they’re used to higher quality printing that real books seem like fakes. That’s amazing. Do you have any pictures of the fakes? I’m so curious now.

    1. Kaleena @ Reader Voracious

      February 11, 2019 at 11:24 AM

      I am also curious about this! I have a friend that would bring back bootlegged movies when she would come back form visiting her parents in Shanghai, and in that respect at least the fakes were obvious. I’d love to see a photo of a book comparison, though!

      1. Truly Booked

        February 11, 2019 at 4:19 PM

        I was thinking the same thing! Bootlegged CDs and Dramas and Movies were always so, so obvious. But the books it switches around? Maybe it’s that the covers are better? Our paperback covers are pretty flimsy.

  8. Jennifer Pletcher

    February 11, 2019 at 12:35 AM

    I am so happy to always read these since I am doing the Read the world challegen. Love learning about actual people from the countires!

    1. Kaleena @ Reader Voracious

      February 11, 2019 at 11:42 AM

      Awww, thank you so much that means a lot to me! And I need to pick up my Reading Around the World Challenge too, I kind of stopped about 10 months ago.

  9. Laurie

    February 11, 2019 at 4:01 AM


  10. sheilagoicea

    February 11, 2019 at 12:20 PM

    This is such a wonderful series! I love reading about everyone’s experiences and how they all differ. Thanks for sharing!

  11. Callum McLaughlin

    February 11, 2019 at 12:29 PM

    What a lovely idea for a series!

    1. Kaleena @ Reader Voracious

      February 12, 2019 at 8:12 PM

      Thank you so much, glad you like it!

  12. Adriana (@BooksOnHerMind)

    February 11, 2019 at 12:30 PM

    I’ve gotten crazy with ARCs in the past and it truly does put you into a reading slump. I want to read all my backlogged NetGalley books because they are shaming me. However, there’s no problem doing it slowly and requesting one or two odd new ARCs. As long as your ARC tbr list doesn’t go crazy.
    It was interesting to read about possible fakes and the genres that are popular in China. I’m glad to see you are able to access a free library.

    1. Kaleena @ Reader Voracious

      February 12, 2019 at 8:13 PM

      I also have the ARC obligation shame, I do my best to mood read and keep up with most of them but some slip through the cracks. I hope to be better about it though! I was also really interested in the difference between fakes and authentic books.

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