Yee's Novel Promo of Hong Kong's Beaches

In one of those coincidences that should have made kismet, I happened upon the Yaddocast (Episode 8) about Janice Y. K. Yee's 2002 stay at Yaddo on the same day that The New York Times Sunday Book Review published a review of her debut novel, The Piano Teacher.  In spite my dislike for copycat titles (it's not like Elfriede Jelinek's wasn't a significant book!--surely they could have come up with something else?) there were several elements that made me think that the novel might suit my book club:  the Hong Kong setting (we like to voyage through reading), the 1950s/1940s timeframe (including the Japanese invasion, about which we collectively probably know less than a thimbleful), and that book club bull's eye:  a lover with a complex past.  Plus it's not too long (one of my bookclub members tries to keep us to 300-pagers).

So, Viking, you've got potential sale here, to a 9-member book club whose word-of-mouth influences other book clubs across the country.  I'm sniffing around the buzz, but I just need a little more to push me to pick it up in a bookstore or check out reader reviews online, and the NYT Book Review hasn't quite done it.

Proxy, and More Proxy
I go to Yaddo's podcast, the only one I can find about Lee (that I found it at all was an accident).  An unidentified male speaker (never named in the audio itself) recites the author's bio:  born in Hong Kong, Harvard grad, magazine career in NYC, and baby and novel gestated at Yaddo.  Yee sounds like she'd make an interesting live inteviewee, but all we get are some old interview quotes read by the guy.  There's some puffery about Yaddo's impressive first-novel fecundity (Capote, Highsmith, O'Connor, Eugenides), and then at Minute 4 another guy reads an excerpt from Yee's book which he demarcates by saying "quote" and "endquote."  It's all a bit remote and stuffy.  I know the Yaddocast budget is probably modest, but couldn't they at least get the author on the phone?

Next stop is Powells.com to skim some reviews, and I'm shocked to find a YouTube video of Yee embedded on the book's page!  She sets up the book with b&w photos of 1940s Hong Kong and several pretty junks, and talks to us from what looks like home and current touristy backdrops.  Not exactly what I was looking for (my favorite author interviews are more like Barnes & Noble's Steve Bertrand's and KCRW's Michael Silverblatt's, where you get craft-chat mixed in with book-chat, and which I can load on my iPod and listen to whenever I get a chance).  I also have this stubborn preference for audio-only because it's more like reading--you hear a voice speaking in your head;  but I can't really complain that Viking hasn't done its job (or whoever produced the video promo), because there's the author, in her own voice, talking about her book.  So what if there's more harbor and skyline and beach than plot hints and piano lessons?

Did this sunset-soaked author promo convince me to buy?  Nope.  But I will make a point of skimming some pages next time I'm in my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

I'm not suggesting that the personality of the author should matter when you read the book, much less the author's backyard view, but sometimes hearing the voice of the author flavors how you hear the text, which is why I like podcasts.  I've had this experience with authors whose speaking and writing style are idiosyncratic, viz Junot Diaz and Anne Enright--once you've heard them speaking, their written style develops more "body" in your ear.

Yaddocast, Episode 8: [Two Men Talking About] Janice K.Y. Yee, 9.24.2008, 8:50 (also available on iTunes)
YouTube Video:  The Piano Teacher:  Janice Y. K. Lee [herself], 7.15.2008, 3:09


  1. Touché for your critique of the Yaddocast ! These podcasts needs to give rightful credits to all the Talented Individuals who participated in the production.

    These podcasts are actually spin-off products of "Yaddo: Making American Culture", a large historical Exhibition about the Yaddo Retreat presently held at The New York Public Library at 42nd Street & 5th Avenue until February 15th 2009, organized and curated by Cultural critique Micki McGee.

    This is the link:


    There is also a great exhibition catalog edited by McGee:


    The Exhibition is free of charges and the $20.00 bucks for the book is really worth your reading pleasures.

  2. I love the title of your blog but thought a little punctuation might add spice, Lita,go-go.