Compare to my answers in 2017.
1/ Who are your favourite writers?
Jane Austen, William Shakespeare, Lev Tolstoy, Murasaki Shikibu, Cao Xueqin, Vladimir Nabokov, Herman Melville, Gustave Flaubert, Emily Bronte, Edith Wharton, Ryunosuke Akutagawa, P. G. Wodehouse, Hàn Mặc Tử…
2/ Who were your favourite writers when you were a teenager? Which of them do you still like?
Late teens: Haruki Murakami, Elfriede Jelinek, Milan Kundera, Franz Kafka, Isabel Allende, Patrick Suskind, Toni Morrison, F. Scott Fitzgerald, J. D. Salinger, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Phạm Thị Hoài, George Orwell, etc.
Early teens: Charlotte Bronte, Marc Levy, Guillaume Musso, Aziz Nesin, Nguyễn Nhật Ánh, Nguyễn Ngọc Thuần, Paulo Coelho, etc.
I wasn’t a precocious reader, no.
Kafka I still like. Not sure what I’d think about Fitzgerald, Salinger, Marquez, Orwell, and Toni Morrison now, to whom I haven’t come back for a while. I have complex feelings about Charlotte Bronte.
3/ Which writers have most influenced you?
Tolstoy, Nabokov, Jane Austen.
4/ Which writers do you wish had not influenced you?
Can't think of anyone.
5/ Which writers are you embarrassed you used to like?
Dan Brown, Marc Levy, Paulo Coelho. I can’t stand Murakami anymore but I’m not embarrassed I used to like him.
6/ Which writers did you expect not to like, but did?
Jane Austen and Cao Xueqin. I didn’t like them at first.
7/ Which writers do you think you will still read, and like, for the rest of your life?
Jane Austen definitely, as she’s the author closest to my heart. Tolstoy. Shakespeare. Nabokov. Perhaps Melville—at least Moby Dick will always have a special place in my heart. Perhaps Murasaki Shikibu and Cao Xueqin.
8/ Who are your favourite prose stylists? Or your favourite writers on the sentence level?
Melville, Nabokov, Wodehouse, Robert Louis Stevenson. Virginia Woolf in her essays. My favourite writer on the phrase level is Shakespeare.
9/ Who are your favourite writers of characters?
Tolstoy, Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Cao Xueqin, Edith Wharton. George Eliot is great at characters but her moralising narrator should be out of the way. I’d name Flaubert for Madame Bovary and Nabokov for Lolita.
10/ Which writers, alive or dead, would you invite to dinner?
11/ Which writers, alive or dead, would you like to know personally? And think you could be friends with?
Jane Austen, Emily Bronte, Edith Wharton, Shakespeare, Nabokov… I wish to have known Murasaki Shikibu but don’t speak Japanese. I don’t think I could have been friends with any of them.
12/ Do you personally know any published author?
This time, I won’t do any name-dropping.
13/ Which writers do you like/ admire but generally avoid, for some reason?
Flaubert, because of his misanthropy and pessimism. Nabokov and Melville, because they’re challenging and intimidating and I have to be in the right mindset. Henry James, because of his knotty sentences. Dostoyevsky, because obviously.
In 2017, I also mentioned George Eliot, but for the time being, I think I’m acquainted enough with her works and will read other authors before returning to her.
14/ Which writers do you like as critics/ essayists but not as novelists?
Woolf. I like Joan Didion as an essayist but haven’t read her novels.
15/ Which writers have changed you as a reader?
Tolstoy and Nabokov, in shaping my tastes and aesthetics. Murasaki Shikibu, in changing my perspective on the history of literature.
16/ Who do you think are overrated?
Murakami is the obvious answer—Japan’s greatest writer is Murasaki Shikibu, Japan’s greatest modern novelist is Natsume Soseki, not Murakami. Other overrated writers: Harper Lee, Alice Walker, Joyce Carol Oates…
As “overrated” doesn’t mean “bad” or “mediocre”, just “considered better than they are”, I’d say F. Scott Fitzgerald is also overrated. The Great American Novel, to me, is not The Great Gatsby—my vote goes to Moby Dick, and my second choice is Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man.
I’m also tempted to mention some important writers I read recently, but it may be my shortcoming and I would have to read more of their works.
17/ Who do you think are underrated and should be more widely read?
Edith Wharton, Carson McCullers, Natsume Soseki, Akutagawa.
I wouldn’t say Cao Xueqin and Murasaki Shikibu are underrated—they are not rated because they are not read—I think Hong lou meng and The Tale of Genji are two of the greatest novels I’ve ever read, on par with the finest works of Western literature.
18/ Who do you think are the best living writers?
I’m not very knowledgeable about contemporary literature to have an opinion.
19/ Which writers do you go to for comfort?
20/ Which writers do you go to for amusement?
Wodehouse is always the answer. I also like Daphne du Maurier.
21/ Who are the greatest writers that you don't personally like/ that you just don't warm to?
George Eliot, Henry James, Dostoyevsky. Over time, I’ve come to like James more, so perhaps one day he’d be one of my favourite writers.
I’ve only read one novel from each but doubt that I would ever warm to Balzac or Zola.
22/ Which writers do you strongly dislike?
Stephenie Meyer, E. L. James, Gayl Jones, E. L. Doctorow, Joyce Carol Oates, Viet Thanh Nguyen.
23/ Which writers are you prejudiced against?
Hemingway, Knausgård, Naipaul, Ayn Rand, Michel Houellebecq, Bukowski.
24/ Which writers do you feel you should have read by now?
This would be a very long list.
25/ Which writers from your country would you recommend to a foreigner?
In a way, I’ve lost my roots, so my recommendations are limited: Nguyễn Du, Phạm Thị Hoài, Nguyễn Huy Thiệp, Nam Cao... Nguyễn Du’s Truyện Kiều (The Tale of Kieu) is considered Vietnam’s greatest literary work. Do not read Timothy Allen’s translation (Penguins).
26/ Which writers do you recommend to everyone? Every serious reader?
All of my favourite writers. Also Dostoyevsky, Henry James, George Eliot, Soseki, Sei Shonagon... However, over the past few months, the writers I promote the most are Murasaki Shikibu and Cao Xueqin, because they’re barely read and discussed in the West.
27/ Which writers do you wish you could write like?
I will not answer this question.
28/ What is your favourite language to read in?
English. However, I would read Chinese literature in Vietnamese translation, not English.
29/ Which foreign-language writers make you wish to learn their language in order to read them in the original?
Russian, because of Tolstoy, Gogol, Leskov, Chekhov, Turgenev… French because of Flaubert.
However, I’ve got Nguyễn Du, Hàn Mặc Tử, Bùi Giáng… and I’m glad I can read Shakespeare in the original.
30/ Who is the best writer you've discovered recently?
Murasaki Shikibu and Cao Xueqin. Most recently, I re-discovered Shakespeare, and he is magnificent—as people have always said.