Alec Ash, editor of The Anthill, a literary hub for stories and images relating to China, provides insight into his reading habits.

The book that has the greatest sentimental value to me is a ridiculously travel-worn volume of Keats I’ve had since I was 16, complete with adolescent scribblings in the margins that no one else will ever see if I can help it.

I pretend that I have read Journey to the West, even though I haven’t really. It’s on my shelf in six volumes to impress people, and that makes me a horrible person. I’ve watched the TV show though.

My bathroom reading is a book by Evelyn Chao, which is a brilliant collection of colorful Chinese words. It has been next to my loo since I got it in 2009, and is now so well-thumbed, water-splashed and generally crusty that it looks about as scatalogical as it reads.

My favorite book from childhood is The Earthsea Trilogy by Ursula le Guin. I can’t wait for someone to give this a proper film treatment. Hayao Miyazaki’s son Goro did a film loosely based on the trilogy once, but it was just wide of the mark.

The book I’m saving for old age is Journey to the West. I’d love to read it, but I just don’t think it’s going to happen.

The last book I read was Mr. Ma and Son by Lao She, which is set in 1920s London and is a gripping read.

The last book I bought was Apologies Forthcoming by Xujun Eberlein, who is a writer I really rate. She was born in Chongqing, now lives near Boston, and just won the non-fiction contest in The American Literary Review.

I’ve never judged a book by its cover, but I judge people by their appearance all the time.

The book I’ve brought with me on my latest travels is an anthology of travel writing snippets and other miscellania, called The Tao of Travel, edited by Paul Theroux, which is perfect for dipping into on long distance buses or short hop flights.

My favorite line or quote from a book is “I cannot remember the books I’ve read any more than the meals I have eaten; even so, they have made me,” by Ralph Waldo Emerson, a good quote about reading.

The character from a book I’d like to meet is the genie in A Thousand and One Nights. There’s something I want to ask him.

A book that had a profound effect on my life is Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck. It was a chance find as a teenager, and the first book that got me hooked on how good writing can make a reader see through your eyes, plus Steinbeck’s wanderlust is infectious. In one way or another I’ve been going down that rabbit hole ever since.

Sample Alec’s curating skills at work at

Correction: In the magazine edition of this article we listed Alec's website as, where in fact it is This has been amended for the online edition.

Image: Courtesy of Alec Ash

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