fb-pixel Skip to main content

Reading Chinese authors, and trying to learn Mandarin

Mystery writer Tess Gerritsen.
Mystery writer Tess Gerritsen.DAVID EMPSON

It didn’t take Tess Gerritsen’s thrillers long to land on the bestsellers list once the former physician hung up her stethoscope for the life of a writer. There they have remained. Among her many books are the Rizzoli & Isles series about a female cop and medical examiner in Boston, which was adapted into a TV program on TNT. She teams up with Massachusetts mystery writer Gary Braver for her newest book, “Choose Me,” a thriller set on a college campus where a promising student is found dead. Gerritsen lives in Camden, Maine.

BOOKS: What are you reading?

GERRITSEN: “The Committed” by Viet Thanh Nguyen. His sentences are dazzling. I’ve been reading Asian writers because I feel like I haven’t read enough of them. Also this book is about what it’s like to be an outsider, and I can identify with that. The other one I’m reading is “Snow Flower and the Secret Fan” by Lisa See. She tells the story of these two women in 19th-century China so beautifully.

BOOKS: What else have you read by Asian authors?


GERRITSEN: This is totally different, a book about the history of food in China, “Slippery Noodles,” by Hsiang Ju Lin. I picked it up because my father was a chef in a Chinese restaurant and my Chinese mother was an excellent cook so we grew up eating fantastic food.

BOOKS: Why haven’t you read more by Asian authors before now?

GERRITSEN: Other than having read Maxine Hong Kingston in my 20s, which was a real turning point, and Suyin Han, who wrote “A Many Splendored Thing,” you didn’t see much in the way of Asian writers when I was growing up. Now there’s so much more.

BOOKS: How would you describe yourself as a reader?

GERRITSEN: Half my reading is nonfiction. I’m curious about the natural world, food and archeology. I loved Colin Tudge’s “The Tree.” I’m surrounded by trees but had no idea about how they help each other out. I also loved Jennifer Ackerman’s “The Genius of Birds,” which is about all their survival strategies.


BOOKS: Who are you favorite Maine authors?

GERRITSEN: There’s a nonfiction book called “After the Eclipse” by Sarah Perry. When she was 12 her mother was murdered. Years later she goes back to find out who killed her mother. It’s riveting and true.

BOOKS: Who are your favorite mystery writers?

GERRITSEN: I fall back on this trio of women, Lisa Gardner, Lisa Unger, and Lisa Scottoline. I also love the Canadian writer Linwood Barclay. He’s a fantastic domestic suspense writer.

BOOKS: Have you read a novel that captured the medical profession well?

GERRITSEN: The best medical stuff I’ve read is nonfiction. “The Perfect Predator” by Steffanie Strathdee is a fascinating story about how her husband got desperately sick in Egypt, and how she managed to find a treatment that saved him. It’s like a Hollywood movie.

BOOKS: What’s on your to-read stack?

GERRITSEN: I have “The Stray Cats of Homs” by Eva Nour, which is a novel about a kid in war-torn Syria. It’s not part of the world I usually would read about but my Turkish friends recommended it. I also have “Clark and Division” by Naomi Hirahara on my nightstand. It’s a mystery set in the era of the Japanese-American internment. You rarely see books set then.


BOOKS: Do your reading habits change in the summer?

GERRITSEN: My reading habits change depending on what I’m working on. Right now I’m working on a spy novel so I’m reading about the CIA and Russian intelligence, things like that. There is a wonderful book about spies called “Life Undercover” by Amaryllis Fox, who was a covert op in the CIA. You get to understand how spies think differently.

BOOKS: Were your parents readers?

GERRITSEN: My dad was not a reader. My mom read books in Chinese but she was always trying to improve her English so she had Readers Digest Condensed books. Those were my intros to adult fiction. I remember reading Mignon Eberhart, who wrote romantic suspense, which I loved as a kid. My parents knew how important reading was so were always pushing books on us.

BOOKS: Can you read in Chinese?

GERRITSEN: No. This is so embarrassing. I’m on Duolingo trying to learn to speak Mandarin. It is hard. Learning to read it would even be harder.

Follow us on Facebook or Twitter @GlobeBiblio. Amy Sutherland is the author, most recently, of “Rescuing Penny Jane” and she can be reached at amysutherland@mac.com.