1. How do you know what books you want to read next?
Book reviews I’ve saved and friends’ recommendations. I enjoy keeping up with favorite authors and being introduced to new ones. I usually like a mix of genres.
2. Did you enjoy reading when you were growing up?
Yes. My mom took me to the public library regularly. I was in first grade when I was given my first library card. Later I rode my bicycle downtown to the check out books. During the hot summers in Central California I spent time reading in a tree in our front yard. My mother could look out the kitchen window and see one of my legs hanging down from the tree.
3. Where is the most unusual place you have read?
Probably riding a unicycle around the tall light pole and circle of grass in the center of the cul-de-sac in front of our home or taking the mail to the post box at the end of the street.
4. Did your dad read as much as you and your mom?
Because my dad lost an eye in an accident, my mom read to him at night. They both enjoyed Robert Massie’s Peter the Great. He also kept a thick one-volume encyclopedia and a large dictionary on book stands next to the kitchen table so he could easily look up anything.
5. How did your love of books help you choose your home thirty years ago?
When we walked in the front door we saw built-in bookshelves on one wall of the living room. My husband and I asked ourselves at that time whether that was a good criterion. The rest of the house was better than what we desired, but that was the clincher.
6. How do you organize your books?
In the living room, the left shelves are literature organized alphabetically by author and the right shelves are travel and nature books as well as souvenirs. Another room has books used for research for children’s history from prehistory through the Middle Ages. Upstairs books about Chinese history, world history, the Bible, spiritual life, etc. are in two different rooms.
7. Did you always enjoy history?
No. When I was in high school I disappointed my father by not having a sense of a timeline in my head.
8. Why are you a historian of China?
I became friends with Chinese scholars at UCLA in the early ‘80’s just as they were starting to come to the USA. I wanted to learn more about their history in order to better understand them.
9. Which historian had the greatest influence on you?
Barbara Tuchman. She advocates writing chronological narratives.
10. What aspects of history attract you?
How to reform societies. I especially enjoyed the Michigan State class, “Reform in Antebellum America” (before the Civil War), because it helped me understand the difficulties in bringing change to a society.
11. Which archive have you spent the most time in?
The Buhr Building at the University of Michigan. It has primary documents about Chinese students in the 1910s/30s, including Tsinghappers, the yearbooks from Tsinghua School in Beijing.
12. What section of Perspectives, the American Historical Association’s monthly magazine, do you always read?
The obituaries. I learn about historians who have written books outside of my field. My heart is warmed to read about their influence in their departments and with their students. Here is a quote from the February 2021 issue:
Frank A. Kafker, historian of France (1931-2020), often quoted Voltaire:
“Only among people of good can friendship exist, since the perverse people only have accomplices, the interested people have partners, the political people have supporters, the people of royalty have courtiers, only good people have friends.”
13. What is the most important history lesson you’ve learned?
Steve Turner, an English journalist, writer on rock music, and poet, summarizes it well.
History repeats itself.
14. What books did you take with you for your husband’s sabbatical year in Madrid?
Friends who had lived in Spain suggested two great introductions: John Hooper’s The New Spaniards and John Crow’s Spain: The Root and the Flower.
We also took Rick Steves’ Spain for sights and walks in major cities, and Eyewitness Travel Spain for a broader view and tours by car. Once there, we bought a map book that included “green roads” or scenic drives.
15. What are your favorite genres of books these days?
Mysteries set in other countries, historical fiction, nature writing and espionage with historical background.
16. What are your favorite children’s books?
E.L Konigsburg, The View from Saturday; Lois Lowry, Number the Stars; Madeline L’Engle, The Arm of the Starfish; Anne Holm, North to Freedom (also called I Am David); C.S. Lewis, The Chronicles of Narnia series; Chaim Potok, The Chosen.
17. Do you keep a list of books you have read?
Yes, I’ve kept a list each year since 1996 so I don’t have to remember.
18. Have you ever binged on a series by the same author in a short time?
During 2012, I read twenty books by Patrick O’Brian about the friendship between Jack Aubrey, an English sea captain, and Dr. Stephen Maturin, an Irish-Catalan ship surgeon and spy, set during the Napoleonic Wars. The movie, Master and Commander (2003), is based on the early books in the series.
In the summer of 2016 I read twelve mysteries by Craig Johnson. I became homesick for the big skies and mountains in the West when reading about sheriff Walt Longmire in a small town in Wyoming.
19. Books or movies?
I try to read the books first so I can imagine the setting and people. Then I enjoy seeing how directors retell the stories with the limitations (and advantages) of film.
20. Was there a time in life when you did not read much?
Yes, when I was on the swimming team in high school each spring semester. After graduating from college, I was talking to a friend who said she had read this book and that book. When I asked her when she had time, she replied, “In high school.” At the time, I thought I’d never catch up, but I gave up worrying about that long ago.