Chapter #11: When a Night Owl Attempts to Become a Morning Reader
Plus, an interview with Lunar Love’s Lauren Kung Jessen.
Feeling My Shelf is a bi-weekly newsletter about books, life, and well, life with books. Grab your favorite caffeinated beverage and get comfy.
People Person by Candice Carty-Williams
Truly one of the most unhinged and hilarious novels I’ve ever read. Set in London, five siblings are practically strangers—the only thing they have in common is shared DNA courtesy of their deadbeat but charming father. After an unfortunate event involving a common pantry staple (yes, you read that correctly), they’re forced to come together. Some parts were a bit unbelievable, but it was incredibly heartfelt and kept me laughing.
Lunar Love by Lauren Kung Jessen
Lunar Love follows a young woman who becomes the new head of a Chinese zodiac–based matchmaking business founded by her grandmother. Exciting right up until she learns that there’s a new dating app on the market also based on the Chinese zodiac. As if that’s not bad enough, the man behind the app that could destroy her family’s legacy is L.A.’s most-eligible bachelor. It’s a slow-burn enemies-to-lovers romance that also explores Chinese culture and traditions. According to author Lauren Kung Jessen, if you love “to laugh and cry,” you’ll love Lunar Love. More from Lauren in a bit!
Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin
Spanning 30 years, this book follows two childhood friends who bond over playing and eventually designing video games. Together they navigate love, loss, fame, jealousy, and more. It’s weird because I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t love it either. I found the two main characters to be very annoying at times — they claimed to love each other but were needlessly cruel. Yet, I couldn’t stop reading. I found myself laughing and smiling at some parts. And wanting to hurl the book across the room at others. Hmm. That’s pretty much all I can say.
A night owl through and through, it’s not unheard of to find me reading (or scrolling on my phone) into the wee (wee!) hours of the morning. Only to hit snooze nine times the next day and slowly rise out of bed mere minutes before my first meeting of the day.
Not good. Not good at all. My aging body deserves more than five hours of sleep every night, which is why I’ve decided to become a morning reader.
The first step in making this happen was establishing a morning routine. I was very dedicated to my nighttime routine, particularly skincare, but before now, my mornings never saw that kind of effort. No more jumping out of bed and diving straight into work. I wake up at the same time every morning (even on weekends!), do my skin things, and maybe go for a quick walk followed by breakfast while I read. Feeling like a real adult now!
I've been choosing books wisely, because all books aren’t equal when it comes to holding attention. I’ve found that twisty thrillers have made the best morning reads. The desire to figure out what’s happening keeps the story at the top of my mind, and the book practically shouts “pick me up” the second my eyes open.
Most importantly, I’m keeping books out of my bedroom. My bed is for sleeping not reading. Kind of like how some people keep their phones out of their room so they won’t mindlessly reach for them instead of counting sheep. Still working on this one though. It’s hard!
We’re only a few weeks into this practice, but already there’s some highlights like:
Fewer distractions. Trying to read mid-day or in the evening only results in me being interrupted by phone calls, text messages, and Slacks from coworkers. Early in the morning, it’s just me, my book, and occasionally a neighbor’s barking dog.
I retain info better. Keeping up with character names and arcs is so much easier when you’re well-rested and sipping caffeine vs laying down in dim lighting. Speaking of which…
No drooling on the book. Yup, we’ve all done it after a long day. The pages of my books stay safe, not wet and wrinkled.
If you are a morning reader and have any tips to share, reply to this email or comment below!
Lauren Kung Jessen is a mixed-race Chinese-American writer with a fondness for witty, flirtatious dialogue and making meals with too many steps but lots of flavor. Her debut novel Lunar Love is out now. We chatted* about reading routines, accurate representation, and more!
What was the inspiration for Lunar Love?
I grew up learning about the Chinese Zodiac, and I love it as a language for understanding not only ourselves but also the people around us.
I’m in the year of the horse, and I found that I related so much to the traits of the horse: independent, stubborn, and adventurous. In the Chinese Zodiac there are 12 animals in a cycle, and they all have different personality traits. I thought it would be fun to have this matchmaker who is pairing people based on these traits—something that's been happening for a long time, especially in China—and opposing it with online dating, which is how I met my husband. I was inspired by You've Got Mail and how there's this big bookstore coming in and threatening the legacy and life of Kathleen Kelly's bookshop.
I often hear authors say that there's always a bit of themselves in the characters they write. Would you agree?
It's funny because my husband is a bit more like Bennett, and I am a little bit more like Olivia. She takes things to the extreme sometimes, and this is because she's a horse and also because she has this legacy to maintain. When she takes over Lunar Love from her Pó Po and her auntie, she takes it seriously. A big part of her stubbornness and why she cares so much is because she doesn't feel like she's enough, and a lot of that has to do with her being mixed race. [As a horse] when we have goals, we'll do anything to accomplish them. My actions are just a little bit less extreme.
Aside from romance, food and family both played big parts in the story. Why were these elements important for you to incorporate?
I took things that I wanted to see in media growing up, like mixed-race representation, as well as a supportive family. I come from a supportive family, so I thought that was important to show for Olivia because she does have this legacy. Her Pó Po is passing down this legacy. And while her whole family doesn't necessarily believe in the Chinese zodiac to the extent of marrying someone compatible, they are still supportive of her.
I also love food, and I have had a food blog. I went to culinary school. I've worked in restaurants, and I have just always gravitated toward food. I think that food serves so many different purposes. You can make it together. So there are a lot of scenes in the book where Olivia's making food with Bennett. You can also pass down recipes through the generations. It's like another form of tradition and legacy. And I think for the characters food is an accessible entry point. I know it is for me. It's the predominant way now that I learn about my cultures.
Who would you cast in a Lunar Love film?
I love this question, and I wish I had a better answer, but I think it brings up the important topic of representation. So often, I wish I could put up a poll and be like, who is your dreamcast for these characters? And there would not be that many answers. There's maybe a couple people [that come to mind], but even then, are they Chinese? I'd love to see the representation be accurate. And I hope that as more and more books about mixed-race characters come out, we can give more mixed race actors work, more writers, work directors. Hopefully, one day this can be a movie and can be the start of that change.
What's your reading routine like?
When I am not drafting, I mostly read at night. Generally I try to wake up really early to get a little bit of work done. But I do love the idea of reading in both the morning and not. Like starting your brain off with nonfiction and ending with fiction.
What are some of your reading essentials?
I need a lot of things when I read. An herbal tea and I like to have a blanket. I need tabs, a pen, a pencil, a notebook and lip balm. (laughs) It's hard to read with dry lips.
What are you currently reading?
I am currently reading Constance Wu’s Making a Scene.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to read more this year?
I like to keep a stack of books on my desk so that I can visually see what I'm reading now and what I'm reading next. I don't tend to set goals because I feel like that makes me a little more anxious. Following bookstagrammers and book newsletters like yours (😊) is always a great way to get ideas. Block off time to prioritize it. Lately, with posts about Lunar Love, I've seen a lot of people doing buddy reads, where people read the book together and then text about it. I love that idea, and I think that could be a really fun way to integrate more reading into your life if you have a friend to do it with. It holds you a little bit more accountable.
*edited for length and clarity
A big thanks to Lauren for chatting with me for today’s chapter! And as I mentioned above, Lunar Love is on shelves now. ✨
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Got questions? Need to vent about something you read? Reply directly to this email.
I used to do the same thing, but last year I changed to a morning reader! I really wanted to have time to myself before I started work to separate my work/life a bit more now that I'm fully remote, and taking time to make a slow cup of coffee or tea and read for even just 30 minutes helps me start my day out so well. Also, don't put pressure to make it like 3 hours—start with just 20 minutes or something and a few times a week, and I found I started to look forward to it and naturally it became a habit!
Great interview! Just got Lunar Love from my library - can't wait to read it :)