Welcome to Shelf Life, ELLE.com’s books column, in which authors share their most memorable reads. Whether you’re on the hunt for a book to console you, move you profoundly, or make you laugh, consider a recommendation from the writers in our series, who, like you (since you’re here), love books. Perhaps one of their favorite titles will become one of yours, too.
Sex and Vanity is just the latest of Kevin Kwan’s novels to get the big screen treatment, with movie rights sold to Sony last July. The first in a trilogy (its paperback edition is out this week from Anchor) riffs on E.M. Forster’s Room with a View with Capri—a Kwan favorite summer destination—subbing in for Florence and East Hampton for the English countryside. No doubt you’ve heard of the author’s Crazy Rich Asians, which was translated into 39 languages. Its 2018 movie adaptation featured the first all-Asian cast since 1993’s The Joy Luck Club and was the highest-grossing romantic comedy in a decade. The rest of the New York Times-bestselling trilogy, China Rich Girlfriend and Rich People Problems, are in pre-production.
The L.A.-based Kwan grew up in Singapore and moved to Texas with his family, which can trace its history to the year 946, at 11. His grandfather was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II, and a great uncle advised on the formulation of Tiger Balm. One of Time’s 100 Most Influential People, he interned at Interview and worked at Martha Stewart Living, was an answer to a Jeopardy! clue, and was spoofed on The Simpsons with a book titled Crazy Rich Aslans. Likes: watches, tea, New York Society Library, Cotton Citizen T-shirts, photographer Candida Höfer, and airplane food. Dislikes: Being late, bean sprouts, anything with visible logos.
He’s currently at work on a one-hour drama series about a powerful family in Asia for STX Entertainment, TV and film projects for his own production company, and the second book of the trilogy, which will be set in London. Still, he’s never too busy to read.
The book that:
…I recommend over and over again:
The Stranger’s Child by Alan Hollinghurst. It is pure genius.
…I read in one sitting, it was that good:
Lost Horizon by James Hilton. A magically transporting, page-turning adventure told with such style.
…currently sits on my nightstand:
…I’d pass onto a kid:
The complete collection of Tintin comic books.
…I’d gift to a new graduate:
Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion. It’s a collection of essays that prepare you for life.
…made me laugh out loud:
The Windfall by Diksha Basu. It so superbly captures the mishaps of a social-climbing father.
…I’d like turned into a Netflix show:
Lurkers by Sandi Tan. The characters are so quirky and original, I’d love to see who they cast to play each of them.
…I first bought:
The Neverending Story by Michael Ende. It’s the first book I remember buying with money I’d saved up and remains one of my most cherished possessions.
…has the greatest ending:
The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles. “How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, some afternoon that’s so deeply a part of your being that you can’t even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four or five times more, perhaps not even that. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless.”
…should be on every college syllabus:
Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club.
…I’ve re-read the most:
Dominick Dunne’s People Like Us. Scathingly satirizes New York high society.
…I consider literary comfort food:
The Custom of the Country by Edith Wharton. So smart, so entertaining and so relevant today.
…everyone should read:
Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino, because it inspires you to dream.
…surprised me in some way:
Empress Dowager Cixi by Jung Chang. A riveting portrait of the much-misunderstood woman who ruled and transformed China.
…I’d want signed by the author:
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.
…that holds the recipe to a favorite dish:
Rigatoni with broccoli and sausage from Six Seasons: A New Way with Vegetables by Joshua McFadden with Martha Holmberg.
Bonus question: If I could live in any library or bookstore in the world, it would be…
Atlantis Books in Santorini, Greece. It’s situated in a white-washed house with heavenly views of the Aegean sea. What more could you ask for?
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