Why Interior Chinatown might offer the name Karen some image rehab and more thoughts from NBA winner Charles Yu

Seija Rankin
·2 min read

Tina Chiou; Penguin Random House

What's the first thing you do after you win the National Book Award? If you're Charles Yu, you come straight to Entertainment Weekly to answer our burning book questions. The author received the 2020 honor for his novel Interior Chinatown, a searing (and searingly funny) take on Asian stereotypes, capping off a wonderful year — professionally speaking, of course. Now he's sharing his wisdom with us: Like the breakfast sandwich that fuels his writing habit and his favorite thing about his award-winning book. Oh, and we'll address the Karen in the room, too. Read on for more.

What is the first thing — ever — that you remember writing?

When I was in fourth grade my class took a trip to Yosemite. I wrote poems while I was there. I don’t remember much, except that they were about nature. Leaves and waterfalls. My teacher, Mr. Cott, found out about them and contacted the local newspaper, Culver City News, and they printed the poems. My mom and dad were really proud — my mom has copies of the article.

What is the last book that made you cry?

Born A Crime by Trevor Noah — although they were tears of laughter.

Which book is at the top of your current To-Read list?

The Fractalist: Memoir of a Scientific Maverick, a memoir from Benoit Mandelbrot, a pioneering mathematician who uncovered fascinating features about the world.

Where do you write?

Either in the living room (which has a built-in bookshelf) or our guest bedroom. Once in a while, if temperature permits, in my car, parked in the garage.

Which book made you a forever reader?

Grimms’ Fairy Tales.

What is a snack you couldn’t write without?

My wife Michelle makes these egg sandwiches — scrambled, on wheat bread with a very thin layer of Kewpie Japanese mayonnaise. Delicious.

If you could change one thing about any of your books, what would it be?

Cut out the excess words.

What is your favorite part of Interior Chinatown?

The physical object! Both hardcover and paperback. The people at Pantheon and Vintage make such beautiful books.

What was the hardest plot point or character to write?

Karen. She’s the love interest and the secret hero of the book (she’s loosely based on my wife, which is tricky on many levels!). Also, I’m hoping the character might recuperate the name “Karen” which has had a rough year.

Write a movie poster tag line for Interior Chinatown:

Be more.

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