Shelf Reflection is a monthly series where we delve into the reading habits of interesting Australians. This month’s reflection comes from musician, performer and installation artist Chun Yin Rainbow Chan.
What are you currently reading?
Tao Lin’s Bed, a collection of short stories about 20-something year olds, boredom and the absurdity of modern life. Last night, I read his story ‘Sincerity’ in bed under three layers of quilts – by my side, a cup of camomile tea and iPhone with Instagram notifications on – quietly sobbing to myself. I didn’t expect to be so moved by his description of life as a gentle, drawn out beating, characterised by a ‘soft and generous worthlessness.’
Borrowed or bought?
Bought. I do judge a book by its cover and this edition caught my eye with its beautiful minimal design. I am a little late to reading Tao Lin’s works, but I spent some time working, performing and meeting new people in Taiwan last year and I wanted to explore writers with Taiwanese heritage. Tao Lin identifies as American–Taiwanese – what’s interesting and relatable to me are the diasporic undertones in his writing that creep up not as a narrative device or points of dramatic tension, but, simply, as a part of daily existence.
What kind of reader are you?
I always have a few things going at any one time because I’m currently doing an MFA. A majority of what I read is research articles and Cultural Studies texts. You’ll always see me reading with a pencil because I love annotating and dog-earing interesting pages. If you borrow any book of mine, I’m worried you might see straight into the window of my soul!
If you borrow any book of mine, I’m worried you might see straight into the window of my soul!
For a while, I struggled to read fiction as I felt they belonged to the ‘sometimes’ section of the food pyramid, you know? Like my limited reading time should be dedicated to productive reads – non-fiction, critical theory etc. After a while though, I just felt depressed and overwhelmed by the dry pessimism within them. Now I have a much better balance and have learnt to enjoy fiction again. I like taking my time with sentences that resonate with me, massaging each word slowly, over and over again, to feel the full weight of its meaning.
As an aside, I also enjoy reading the Instagram captions of different cat profiles. I know they are not technically texts, but I find the cat persona and the development of its voice across multiple posts really cute and fascinating!
What does your book collection look like?
My book shelf is organised two ways: aesthetic and genre. If a book belongs to a series (say Penguin Classics) that will take precedence over the genre because I’ve always been drawn to colour coordination (my wardrobe is colour coded.) The rest of the book collection is loosely categorised into sections such as musicology, art theory, critical race theory, fiction, and then there’s the ‘I’ll eventually get there’ section – Chinese language texts. I’m in the process of reading Haruki Murakami in Chinese very, very slowly.
I like taking my time with sentences that resonate with me, massaging each word slowly, over and over again, to feel the full weight of its meaning.
If you had to pick one book to live in for the rest of your life, which would it be?
Bliss by Peter Carey. I studied it in first year uni and I distinctly remember it was the book which started my love for reading. I haven’t touched it in almost ten years so I am not sure how many things still hold up. But for the sake of this question, I’ll say that I would live in the nostalgic recollections I have of the book and be one of the Yellow Box Eucalyptus trees planted by Harry for Honey Barbara.