Paul Sun-Hyung Lee is looking forward to 'making reading cool' on Canada Reads
The Canada Reads 2021 panellist spoke with Jonathan Pinto on Sudbury's Up North
Canada Reads will take place March 8-11, 2021.
Hench is a novel about Anna, a woman who pays the bills by doing administrative work for villains. But when an incident involving the world's most popular superhero leaves her injured and gets her fired, Anna realizes what happened to her isn't unique — and she might have the means to take down the so-called hero who hurt her. How? With every office worker's secret weapon: data.
"Hench is a novel that reminded me of why I started reading for fun in the first place. It's fantastic storytelling, with relatable and complex characters, razor sharp wit and smart dialog, and with themes that run deep and resonate long after the book is done," Sun-Hyung Lee said on the Canada Reads reveal on q.
"The way Walschots spins her tale, weaving in the reality of office politics, personal struggles and dealing with the injustices of life with the world of superheroes is utterly believable and infinitely readable."
You virtually met all of your fellow Canada Reads panellists. What was that like?
It was great. What a great group of human beings, very articulate, very intelligent, very passionate about their book choices, very friendly. I'm looking forward to it. It's got a great group vibe.
Tell me about Hench, the book you're championing.
Hench is the first novel by Natalie Zina Walschots. It takes the superhero genre and flips it on its ear. The main protagonist is named Anna. And Anna is try to find work to make a living. She ends up getting employment crunching numbers for a supervillain. During the course of working there, she gets injured by the superhero of the story. She loses her job and ends up having to recover and is left alone with her bitterness and her anger at her situation. She starts to do a deep dive into the actual 'good' that the superhero does in terms of human years lost because of collateral damage.
It is a lateral way of looking at the way we unquestioningly believe that all superheroes are intrinsically good and that they do no damage.
She finds out that the superhero actually does a lot more damage than the supervillains. That starts her on the path of trying to reconcile the idea that superheroes are actually doing good. It is a lateral way of looking at the way we unquestioningly believe that all superheroes are intrinsically good and that they do no damage.
What do you like about Hench?
I loved it. This book reminds me of why I started reading for fun in the first place. It's a genre book. I think genre books get the short end of the stick. For whatever reason, they're not considered to be worthy because they're not literary enough. Hench rises above all of that. It was a joy to read and it dealt with themes that were a lot deeper than one would expect from a genre book.
I think a lot of genre books actually do go deeper. They just have a reputation. The idea that enjoying a book somehow makes it less is ridiculous. I loved Hench. The characters are compelling, the themes are deeper. It spoke to me as a nerd, as a geek, as someone who loves a really, really good story.
You met the author of Hench, Natalie Zina Walschots. What was that like?
It was fantastic. When you meet somebody who is like-minded and is as much of a nerd and a geek as you, it's a joy and pleasure. I was so thrilled to meet her because I did really, really love her work. Sometimes you're afraid to meet your heroes because they might disappoint, but she did not. Natalie's down to earth. She's very smart and very funny. She has a razor-sharp wit and shares a lot in common with the main protagonist in the book. I was delighted to meet her.
What are you looking forward to with this Canada Reads experience?
I'm looking forward to making reading cool again. I used to read voraciously when I was younger. It was a great form of escape and a great way to ground myself and explore different worlds. I have gotten away from that as I've gotten older, with the advent of smartphones. It became easier to consume something that was held in my hand. I could flip from games to different apps to different articles or different news sites. I lost the ability to sit down and relax. That's what reading does for me, and I think reading is a lost skill.
It spoke to me as a nerd, as a geek, as someone who loves a really, really good story.
We could all learn to hunker down a bit, take a breath and and learn to enjoy the pleasure of reading a well-told story. I'm wanting to champion not only a book, but the idea that reading books is really cool and very, very good for you.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
- Rosey Edeh champions The Midnight Bargain by C.L. Polk
- Scott Helman champions Two Trees Make a Forest by Jessica J. Lee
- Devery Jacobs champions Jonny Appleseed by Joshua Whitehead
- Paul Sun-Hyung Lee champions Hench by Natalie Zina Walschots
- Roger Mooking champions Butter Honey Pig Bread by Francesca Ekwuyasi