Reading Around the Globe: Safiyya in China
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.
- What is your name? Safiyya
- Blog URL? http://phantompaper.wordpress.com
- Twitter handle? @PhantomPaper
- Where do you live? The Middle Kingdom. Lol, China! The former sounds cooler though.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 & Free-ebooks.net, Kobo app – for amateur, self-published and occasionally the 1st book in a series by a published author (Wattpad only)
– RivetedLit.com – 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!
– ThePigeonHole.com – 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.
– Amazon.cn (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.
- 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.
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