BOOK’D| SHARLENE TEO

It was such a pleasure to interview Sharlene Teo, author of the novel, Ponti. Ponti “traces the suffocating tangle of the lives of four misfits, women who need each other as much as they need to find their own way”. But, before she was a writer, Sharlene Teo was a reader and honestly, I don’t know how she finds all the wonderful books she still reads! Fans of literary fiction are in for a treat with this interview.

Ponti Sharlene Teo - Afoma Umesi

The author shares what she values even more than style in writing, some of her favorite authors including Helen Oyeyemi and the book that is “EVERYTHING” in her opinion. Sharlene’s love of books shines so bright. She writes “I am an enthusiastic and fangirlish reader first and foremost, a hungry writer second” and in my heart I respond, yes Sharlene, yes, me too. Enjoy this witty interview and make a note of every single recommendation.


1. What are you currently reading? Do you usually read more than one book at a time?

In Our Mad and Furious City by Guy Gunaratne and The Story of Lucy Gault by William Trevor. (Both excellent so far) Yes, I read 2-3 books at once!

2. Have you always been a reader? What is the first book you remember ever reading? What drew you into reading/why do you read?

I have been a reader for as long as I can recall. I think it was Maurice Sendak- Chicken Soup and Rice with delicious illustrations to match.

Yes, I read everything: product labels, warning signs, and medication booklets. It is an essential part of life to me. I read to enliven and enlarge my understanding of the world.

I read everything: product labels, warning signs, and medication booklets. It is an essential part of life to me. I read to enliven and enlarge my understanding of the world. - @treebirds Click To Tweet

3. What is your philosophy on reading? (for example, some people have to finish every book they start)

Try and see the good in every piece of writing, even if it’s not to my immediate taste. That being said, I don’t need to finish everything I start, life’s too short. Sometimes I dip in and out of books and take ages to finish them.

Sharlene Teo author of ponti interview

Author Sharlene Teo's reading philosophy? Try and see the good in every piece of writing, even if it’s not to my immediate taste. Click To Tweet

4. How often do you read? And how do you fit it into your day?

I read every day. Mostly on buses and trains, or just before bed, or at lunchtime.

5. Where do you like to read? Where’s the weirdest place you’ve ever read a book?

See above! Weirdest place, probably a ledge overlooking the gray-green glimmering sea in Santa Barbara, in the shadow of the ostentatiously grand mansion owned by the big boss of Beanie Babies. (A lot of alliteration in that sentence.)

6. What makes a good book, in your opinion?

Empathy and originality. Real substance over style, please.

Ponti Sharlene Teo - Afoma Umesi

What makes a good book? @treebirds says Empathy and originality. Real substance over style, please. Click To Tweet

7. Who are your favorite authors to read?

Dorthe Nors, Suzanne Ushie, Carson McCullers, Bae Suah, Shirley Jackson, May Lan Tan, Deborah Levy, Miranda July, Mary Gaitskill, Elizabeth Strout, Katherine Mansfield, Helen Oyeyemi, Rowan Hisayo Buchanan, Ottessa Moshfegh, Jenny Diski.

8. What is a book or who is an author you wish more people knew about/read?

All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews. It is EVERYTHING. It finds the light, humour and consolation in the darkest and saddest subject matter.

9. E-book, audiobook or paper? How do you feel about making notes/highlighting books?

Paper all the way. I fold the bottom corner of a page when I find something stunning.

10. Fiction vs Non-fiction?

Fiction, though I’m going to say I am veering toward non fiction as well to try and sound more clever.

11. What happens to you when you read a good book? (at the beginning, during and after the experience?)

I feel comforted, consoled, envious, enraptured, inspired, revved up, I want to talk about it and rave about it to everybody. I am an enthusiastic and fangirlish reader first and foremost, a hungry writer second.

12. Do you reread books? Why?

Only if they are really, really good. To confirm that they are really, really good.

Author Sharlene Teo

I am an enthusiastic and fangirlish reader first and foremost, a hungry writer second. - Author Sharlene Teo @treebirds Click To Tweet

13. What book do you wish you could experience again for the first time?

Light Years by James Salter and The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers. Two favourites. Interesting to see how I’ll parse them at this point in my life, vs. in my early twenties when I first encountered them.

14. What was the last great book you read?

America is Not the Heart by Elaine Castillo. It is a masterpiece and delivers all the epic drama, warm humour and life you’d want out of a giant book.

15. If you had to choose three books that everyone should read, what would they be?

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, Light Years, Love in the Time of Cholera.

16. What book(s) are you embarrassed to have read? What books are you embarrassed to still not have read?

I’m not embarrassed to have read anything, not really. Too many books I’m embarrassed to not have read. Finnegan’s Wake. In Search of Lost Time. Any Knaausgard.

17. How do you feel about ‘classic’ literature?

I’m too contemporary in my tastes and I’m trying to set a reading programme for myself of alternating one living and one dead writer. I feel like I have a lot to learn from the greats, but tweet-sized patience, like a millennial cliché.

Ponti Sharlene Teo - Afoma Umesi

I’m too contemporary in my tastes and I’m trying to set a reading programme for myself of alternating one living and one dead writer. I feel like I have a lot to learn from the greats, but tweet-sized patience, like a millennial cliché. Click To Tweet

18. How do you feel about book clubs?

I think they are great, although I’m not a member of one.

19. What book(s) have remarkably changed your perspective on a given subject or life in general and how?

Every good book accomplishes this in some small way.

20. How do you choose books to read?

Instinct and mood.

21. What books are currently on your to-be-read list?

An Ocean of Minutes by Thea Lim, Mirror, Shoulder Signal by Dorthe Nors, My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh, What it Means When a Man Falls From the Sky by Lesley Aneka Arimah, Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata, Sight by Jessie Greengrass (I have a spider sense it will win the Bailey’s Prize), The Mothers by Brit Bennett, What We Lose by Zinzi Clemmons, The One Who Wrote Destiny by Nikesh Shukla, The Cost of Living by Deborah Levy.


Author Sharlene TeoSharlene Teo was born in Singapore in 1987. She won the inaugural Deborah Rogers Writer’s Award for Ponti, her first novel, published in April by Picador (UK) and September by Simon & Schuster (US).

Connect with Sharlene

Twitter: @treebirds

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book’d is a weekly bookish interview series seeking to foster conversation on books and reading. Read our last interview with literary, podcaster, blogger and researcher Zahrah Ahmed (bookshybooks) here.