Bookish Asia is a wonderful site I’ve recently discovered; it features book reviews and author interviews focussing on books about East Asia categorised by country, or region. Here one of the founders, John Grant Ross, provides a profile of the site.
Running a book review site is immensely rewarding; it’s like owning a bookstore but without the hard work, stress, and almost inevitable bankruptcy. Not only do you have an excuse for copious amounts of reading (and have that reading experience enriched by the need to read more deeply than usual), but there’s also the tremendous satisfaction of helping authors spread the word. And that’s very much needed in today’s flooded, fragmented market, where so few of the wonderful books coming out get the attention they deserve.
We review both fiction and non-fiction, new and old. I especially enjoy introducing readers to talented young writers: the likes of Shawna Yang Ryan (Green Island), Alec Ash (Wish Lanterns) and Quincy Carroll (Up to the Mountains and Down to the Countryside). It’s also fun to bring forgotten works back into the light; Lionel Davidson’s thriller The Rose of Tibet (1962) is a perfect example of a former bestseller that has fallen into obscurity.
Our book reviews are mostly positive: why spend time reading and then writing about books you dislike when there are so many good ones to choose from? But we do offer constructive criticism, and from the point of view of editors/publishers, so I think it’s very useful for writers.
There are three people behind Bookish Asia: Michael Cannings, Mark Swofford and me. We’re all Old Taiwan Hands and hopeless bibliophiles. Frustrated by the lack of English-language books about Taiwan, we founded a small publishing house called Camphor Press in 2014. As the only work-from-home guy of the trio (“slurp”) I have a more flexible schedule (“Where did that bottle go? Damn evaporation!”) and I happily handle most of the reviewing. I’ve always loved books. I was a keen reader from an early age, and became a fanatical bookworm after a bad accident at the age of nine meant a prolonged recovery at home. I lost myself in the world of Biggles, Willard Price’s Adventure series, and other such escapes, and, thankfully, I’ve never really found my way back to reality.
I first had the idea for Bookish Asia in July 2012 when The China Beat blog shuttered its doors after a magnificent six-year run of articles, commentary and book reviews. (The site, which was founded by Kenneth Pomeranz and Jeffrey Wasserstrom is still up.) Although there was an obvious need for a replacement, the three of us were involved with launching Camphor Press, so it wasn’t until 2015 that we had sufficient time to start Bookish Asia. Mark came up with the name.
“We need something bookish.” I told him.
“Why not use 'bookish'?” He replied.
Michael also suggested trying our luck with a new suffix, “.asia” rather than “.com” and it has worked out well.
Bookish Asia is a non-profit site; we neither pay nor receive money for reviews. Likewise, we are not part of any affiliate program so we receive no money from the publisher sites that we link to. We don’t even feature reviews of our own Camphor Press books. Our only self-promotion takes the form of a few banner ads for some of our titles. When we started Bookish Asia, we didn’t want to duplicate the coverage of the Asian Review of Books. We decided to stick mostly to East Asia, and to write longer pieces. As well as reviews, we also have author interviews. Once again, these are long-form and often running over two thousand words.
Choosing books to review is equal measures being contacted by authors and us contacting authors. Because we understand the great expense of sending out review copies, we are happy with digital editions.