Canada Reads·In Conversation

Why books were a form of escape for Canada Reads author Lindsay Wong

The Canada Reads author discusses what mat her a reader, and then a writer.

'When you're a child and things are hard at home, you want to be able to be on your own.'

Lindsay Wong is the author of The Woo-Woo, which will be defended by Joe Zee on Canada Reads 2019.

Lindsay Wong is a Vancouver-based author. Wong's first book, The Woo-Woo, is a darkly comic memoir about her dysfunctional family who blames their woes on ghosts and demons. 

The Woo-Woo was a finalist for the 2018 Hilary West Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction and was defended by Joe Zee on Canada Reads 2019. 

Wong spoke with CBC Books about being a writer and a reader.

Congrats on being a part of Canada Reads 2019! What has your experience been like?

Being part of Canada Reads has been surreal! It's like I'm having my own out of body experience. My book was rejected so many times, so whenever someone says something nice about it  — and they like it — I don't believe them!

Just to even be on the Canada Reads longlist was a huge prize. Then it was a shock when I learned from my publisher that someone wanted to champion it.

What made you become an author and overall book lover?

I didn't actually start reading until eight years old. My mother says I taught myself how to read and I was slow at reading. I remember being very embarrassed about it when I was in Grade One.

Books were a way of escape when I was younger. When you're a child and things are hard at home, you want to be able to be on your own. I think the first book I read was J. R. R. Tolkien's The Hobbit. That was one of the books that got me inspired with reading.

Books were a way of escape when I was younger.


I also loved reading the Boxcar Children series. They represented kids who are independent and they were not afraid of anything. I remember reading the whole series. I also read The Baby-Sitters Club series, which I didn't quite enjoy. I was like, "Why do people want to babysit children?"

But I read it anyway. It was available.

When did you start reading books you loved, then?

I actually didn't love reading until undergrad, I think. That's when I started thinking about myself as a writer. I started to see how books could influence me. I began to read memoirs specifically. 

I was inspired by Augusten Burroughs's 2002 memoir Running with ScissorsRunning with Scissors is so funny, but the material is crazy. My book is about my crazy Chinese family, so I was able to see how he wrote about his crazy family, how framed it and made it funny.

I loved reading David Sedaris's memoir writing for the humour. And I loved Mary Karr's memoir The Liars' Club. She's brilliant. So much goes on in those pages.

Where do you get your books? Do you have a favourite bookstore?

I love going to Pulpfiction Books in Vancouver. It's a cute, independent bookstore. But when I'm travelling, I use an e-reader. I like to read on the plane.

What books inspired you to write The Woo-Woo?

When thinking of memoir as a genre, I'm always looking for a really strong voice. And so I was inspired a lot by Junot Diaz. He doesn't write memoir but he was able to craft that personal voice with books like The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.

When thinking of memoir as a genre, I'm always looking for a really strong voice.

Doretta Lau's short fiction book How Does a Single Blade of Grass Thank the Sun? has a great voice as well. That book was inspiring to me.

And I love anything by John Green. I just finished Turtles All The Way Down. It dealt with mental illness and that resonated with me. He wasn't afraid to explore issues that most people are afraid of.

Who your favourite author and where's your favourite place to read?

I like to read in bed, curled up on the couch. And I have to have my snacks! I'm a reader and an eater.

"There are so many authors I love! I just can't narrow it down to one. But I think there are so many great Canadian authors right now. Carrianne Leung, Catherine Hernandez and Vivek Shraya. These are people who are doing some very exciting things. I'm looking forward to seeing what they do next.

Lindsay Wong's comments have been edited and condensed.


The Canada Reads 2019 contenders