Tuesday 23 June 2020


Countries across the globe are currently enforcing various types of social restrictions to help reduce the infection rate of Covid-19. Under these bizarre circumstances, it is easy to feel distant and isolated from friends and family. Perhaps more than ever before, this is a time when it is important to celebrate community.

With this in mind, Asian Books Blog has decided to launch a new series entitled Bookworm. We will be interviewing different members of the Asian-books-loving community to delve deeply into their relationships with Asian literature. We hope that hearing from our Bookworms will help strengthen the sense of shared passion amongst our readers and will also provide inspiration for taking on new literary challenges. We aim to interview a diverse group of people, spanning all different sorts of identities, and living all over the world.

Shelley Herman works on data analysis in the defence industry, and currently lives on the Eastern Coast of the US, in New Jersey. She is our very first Bookworm!

Shelley at Gyeongbokgung Palace in Seoul
Asian Books Blog: Hi Shelley, thank you for taking the time to share your love for Asian books! How long have you been interested in Asian literature? What sparked your passion?

Shelley: Although I grew up in the US, I’ve been learning Chinese since I was 6 years old. My elementary school began teaching us early and I continued right on through college. I’ve always loved the language and culture, so I started doing my own reading in addition to schoolwork.

Asian Books Blog: Language is such a rewarding way to enter into study of regional literature. Is there any one Asian work that stands out to you as particularly impactful on your view of life? How so?

Shelley: I’d probably have to say The Vegetarian by Han Kang. The book’s main character Yeong-hye becomes a vegetarian after an intense dream. She ends up starving herself, striving to become vegetation rather than human. The book isn’t told through her voice, but the voices of those around her who try, but fail, to really understand her. To me, it’s about how those closest to us often try to interpret our choices. Ultimately, they fail and end up silencing us through their own narratives. By rejecting humanity, Yeong-hye is rejecting the ugliness that comes with it, exposing the human nature of those around her. It’s had such an impact on me because I can’t help but think of this novel every time I hear a judgmental comment or ultra-political opinion. We can’t begin to try to understand a person by silencing the subject herself.

Asian Books Blog: Did you read The Vegetarian in English? Do you have any thoughts on reading books in the original language vs in translation?

Shelley: Yes, I did. I think English versions are fine replacements, but so much nuance is lost in translation. I’d love for my Chinese to be proficient enough to read complex Chinese texts in their original language.

Asian Books Blog: Have you traveled in Chinese-speaking areas? If so, how did this interact with your passion for Asian literature?

Shelley: Traveling in China let me interact with the texts so much more. By experiencing the culture in which the author lives, you can connect so much more with the literature. For example, I’ve read and researched about the Nanjing Massacre a lot throughout the years. But nothing compares to being in Nanjing, walking through the memorial, and really understanding the impact of it all.

Asian Books Blog: Sounds like a very powerful experience. What is one Chinese or Asian work you are really looking forward to reading this year?

Shelley: One of my very favourite books is Pachinko by Min Jin Lee. It’s written in English but based in Korea and Japan. Lee has another book that was written 10 years prior to Pachinko called Free Food For Millionaires, which is about Korean immigrants in New York. It’s not technically a new book, but it’s on the top of my to-read list.

Asian Books Blog: What an intriguing title! Our final question today is: when is your favourite time of day to read?

Shelley: Love this question! I can never find time to read between work and everything else. I started reading on my lunch break and it’s now my favourite part of the day. It’s absolutely become part of my routine and I look forward to that quiet hour by myself every day!