Shelf Obsession: Ching Chuan Chiu

You’ve been invited to dinner at someone’s home. Your host is busy in the kitchen and you wait in the living room. What do you do to pass the time? Admit it: you snoop around their bookshelves don’t you? We know you love shelf snooping just as much as we do, and now you can check out all sorts of bookshelves via the ABC blog.

Ching Chuan Chiu is a regular contributor to Do You Read Me? She shared her overflowing bookshelves with us.

Your rambling, free range bookshelves will give some of our readers palpitations, but I can see some order in it. How do you organize your collection?

I’ve sort of sorted them according to genre – there’s fantasy on the topmost shelf, Christian, martial arts and other random books on the second shelf, even more fantasy and other fiction on the third shelf and Harry Potter related stuff on the fourth and fifth shelves. However, now I’ve got too many books to neatly fit them into the bookcase so I sort of stick the books wherever they will fit. And of course, now I’ve got piles on the floor…

Tell us about your large collection of Harry Potter books. Do you have them in Chinese too?

Yes, all seven of them! Parts five and seven were split into two books. I can’t read them, though.

I was a huge Harry Potter fan when I was in high school, so I bought quite a lot of books about Harry Potter (books like The Ultimate Guide to Harry Potter – it’s not in the picture but that’s because I’ve loaned it to someone). The best companion books that I’ve got about Harry Potter are The Ivory Tower and Harry Potter, a book with essays on Harry Potter, and The Plot Thickens – a book with fan’s  theories about Harry Potter and what fans speculated would happen next in the books. Most, if not all of those theories were inaccurate but it’s a great reminder of what the fandom was back then.

And of course, I can wholeheartedly recommend What’s a Christian to do with Harry Potter? to everyone who’s had trouble with pastors and people from the church about the elements of fantasy and other things that are considered evil in the books.

My über-Harry Potter fandom didn’t stop there; I also decided to collect the books in different languages. So I’ve got the standard English ones, Dutch (not all of them, they’re too expensive!), French, German, Italian, Spanish,  Swedish. And also Japanese, Hebrew, Turkish, Japanese, Ukrainian and more. The Ukranian one has the most beautiful cover. I try to get one copy of each language, preferably the first book, so I can try to read it. In  some languages I’ve got more volumes because I either want to learn the language, or because someone gave me the entire series as a gift.

I still collect them but now I’m also spending money on books that I can actually read. 🙂 Apparently, the books have been translated into 65 languages and I currently own 17 of them, so that’s a long way to go.

Which book would you save from a fire?

I don’t have many books that can’t be replaced. Some books, like my foreign Harry Potters, are hard to replace but I wouldn’t risk my life for them. I think I’d either rescue my Bible because it’s full of notes, or my 5th edition British Chamber of Secrets. I found it in a goodwill store in the UK. Okay, the 5th edition isn’t worth anything, but it’s better than the 50th edition, isn’t it?

What was the last book you read?

The last book I actually finished was Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. It was a great book, but did you notice that the falling person, whose picture is used quite often in the book, is missing a head? I’m currently struggling through Pandora’s Star by Peter Hamilton. I’d read all my books while on holiday so I borrowed a book from someone else but it’s boooooring.

Has your taste in books changed over the years?

A little bit. There’s only one real change. I used to hate books written in the first person  – I thought they were childish –  but now I don’t mind anymore.

There are some genres that I don’t really read anymore. It’s not that I don’t like the genres themselves, but more that I can’t find any well-written books in those genres.

An additional problem is that I’ve start to recognise translation errors now that I’m a translator myself. That’s really annoying because I can hardly bear to read Dutch books anymore. Not even the Dutch translations of the Wheel of Time. It’s awful, I had to put it away after a few pages, which I rarely do, even if the book is extremely boring. There were so many weird sentences and anglicisms in it. This problem also applies to almost all Christian fiction – I can’t stand it. Some sentences are literal translations of the original, including weird sentence structures with ‘zouden kunnen willen worden’ or another attempt at breaking the record of putting as many verbs as possible in one sentence. Sometimes they use old-fashioned words that are weird or just plain wrong. Come on, it isn’t that difficult to use proper and readable Dutch, is it? I admit, I’m not that good at English, that’s why I translate from English into Dutch. But I think the most important asset of a translator is knowing their target language.

If you could give one author eternal life so that they could write forever and ever, who would it be and why? (You can resurrect a dead author too if you like.)

That’s a very difficult question. I loved the HP series but it shouldn’t be any longer than it is now. I tend to like books more than their authors. I do respect them very much for sharing their art with us, but I don’t necessarily like everything written by one author.

If I’ve really got to pick someone: perhaps George R. R. Martin should be given eternal life so he can actually finish his beautiful saga? I hope he gets to finish it in time :).

How many books do you think you have altogether?

I’ve got a spreadsheet, which I sometimes update. The last time I checked, last year, I had about 240 books. But back then I didn’t have any piles on the floor so I think it’s closer to 260 now.

What do yo do when your books start to become too numerous? Do you weed them out or add more shelves?

I pile them on the floor! I think I’m going to weed them out when I move out – there are some books that I’ll never read again and it’s a waste of space to keep them. On the other hand, it’s nice to have a big library of thrillers and so on, for when someone needs a nice book or for my future children. So I’ll probably keep them all as long as possible.

What would your dream bookcases look like?

I’d like to have a big wall filled with books, and perhaps a few smaller bookcases to showcase the books I like most. As for content, I’d like to have a lot more books on Christianity (they’re so expensive) and I’d like to have more fantasy books in fancy hardback editions. Usually I can’t wait to read the next book in a series so I always buy the cheaper paperback – but it would be so nice to have rows and rows of big huge hardcover books. And I want to own the entire The History of Middle Earth series.

What are the three best books in your bookcase?

De uitzonderlijke belevenissen van Lola Galley by Kit Whitfield (published in English as Bareback). It’s still the best fantasy novel I’ve ever read. Okay, the ending is a bit of a letdown, but the world, the writing – pure awesomeness. You should really read this book if you haven’t.

Disappointment with God by Philip Yancey. I think I also listed it in the ‘best books I read last year’. It’s a book I wholeheartedly recommend to every Christian – even if you don’t agree with it, Yancey offers a very interesting view. (I don’t think it’s really interesting for non-Christians :))

Peoplewatching by Desmond Morris. This is not a novel but a really interesting book. It’s not a ‘guide to body language’, rather, Mr Morris tries to convey his amazement at human behaviour as he describes all kinds of aspects of body language. I like the way he writes about it, his love for the subject – and of course, it’s always nice to be aware of certain traits and habits… 🙂 It’s a bit like reading a biology textbook but then about humans instead of cells/animals.

Which book from your childhood do you remember best? Do you still have it?

Jip en Janneke / Pluk van de Petteflet / Floddertje — all by Annie MG Schmidt. My mother always read them to me and my sister. I still have them but I don’t really reread them…

What do you think your collection says about you? Would it be telling the truth?

I don’t think it really says something about me, apart from the fact that I’m a Christian who likes fantasy and a lot of other genres.Perhaps it also shows that I’m never afraid to try an unknown writer, if the books aren’t too expensive. However, to really know who I am, you probably need to get to know me in person. Or maybe read this interview.

Do you have any awful books in your collection or books you regret having bought?

I regret buying some thrillers. Like The Appeal and Hold Tight. They’re good books but I probably won’t read them again. I could have spent that money on better books…

Awful books: The entire Left Behind series (it’s on top of my bookcase, next to the Celtic cross) but I didn’t really buy them, someone gave all of them to me for a symbolic amount of money. The first book is nice but as the series progresses, it gets really unrealistic. It’s still enjoyable but I wouldn’t say that it’s good writing or something… But I don’t regret buying them, it’s nice to have all of them and to be able to lend them to people who’d like to read them 😛 The only books I’d rather not have bought are the books that I’ll never read again.

I buy a book because it was either so good that I’d like to own it/support the writer etc, or because I think it’s going to be so good that I’ll re-read it and those books were an error in judgment…

Which books are at the top of your wishlist?

Two books that I absolutely would like to have have as soon as possible:

Shadow’s Edge by Brent Weeks – This book really blew me away. It’s great! It’s fantasy in that ‘personal’ writing style like Trudi Canavan and Karen Miller and those other Australian writers but then with more depth, character development and plot twists!

The Warrior Prophet by R. Scott Bakker – you should really really really read his books if you like well-written fantasy. I strongly recommend him because he’s so original and he writes really well, His characters are really alive but he has also got this ‘atmosphere’ to his writing, something that other writers (even George R. R. Martin) don’t have. It’s nothing like Brent Weeks – his writing has a ‘voice’ that I’ve never seen before. It’s great!

If you’d like to show off your shelves, e-mail If we use your bookcase, we’ll give you a €10 American Book Center gift voucher to say thank you!