Hua Hsu teaches in the English Department at Vassar College. He is currently finishing his first book, A Floating Chinaman, about a circle of China-watching writers and artists during the 1930s and 40s whose works were animated by both a shared interest in transpacific politics as well as strange, often petty interpersonal rivalries. He was on the editorial board of A New Literary History of America (http://www.newliteraryhistory.com/) and currently serves on the board of the Asian American Writers Workshop (www.aaww.org). His work has appeared in the Atlantic (for whom he formerly blogged), Artforum, Daedalus, Grantland (for whom he is a staff writer), New York, Slate and The Wire. You can follow him on Twitter @huahsu.
Here are Hua’s first five…
“My web-browsing usually begins the moment I awake. The alarm rings on my iPhone and I check my email, Twitter and Facebook on my iPhone, usually before putting on my glasses. Between the three, I assume I will be alerted to anything especially awry in the world. About forty-five weeks out of the year, I also scan the Guardian’s Football page from bed. I watch a lot of soccer and I consult the site for news, but I also love the breathy, sardonic style of the “Rumour Mill”. It’s a daily-ish masterpiece of clever, bored writers spinning baseless whispers and sub-sub-subplots into these meticulous, allusion-filled, art-for-art’s-sake little narratives. I grew up reading imported British music weeklies like NME and Melody Maker, so maybe I just like a kind of unembarrassed, hyperbolic style that you rarely get in the states. I like the Guardian’s political coverage for a similar reason; it doesn’t really sound like the New York Times or whatever its American equivalent would be. As a writer, I’m fascinated by how others can revisit cliché ideas and overfamiliar tropes in new, challenging ways—in this case, it’s like Guardian’s football writers are merely challenging themselves to make hack work interesting.”
“Full disclosure: I’m on the board of the Asian American Writers Workshop in New York and I helped map out our new website, which consists of three different publications: Open City (which features a team of writing fellows producing stories about various overlooked New York neighborhoods), The Margins (a general politics and culture magazine) and Culturestrike (a magazine for artists and activists concerned with immigration). I don’t contribute much to the day-to-day operation of any of the sites; these days, I’m just a fan. We set out to create a suite of publications that were a bit sly about the notion of “Asian Americanness” and I think our editorial teams and writers have done an amazing job of taking that vague mandate and running with it. The Margins showcases an intriguing mix of political/city reportage and cultural criticism, and they did some fantastic coverage of Hurricane Sandy’s effect on Chinatown. The writing fellows who make up Open City have done some astonishing work. They’ve written about the “undistinguished Americans” who keep the city running, from Chinatown bus drivers to local fabulists to the struggling restauranteur whose cheap dumplings insure him a healthy following on Yelp (only he has no idea what “Yelp” is).”
“When I was blogging for the Atlantic, I would check my RSS reader a few times a day. I subscribed to about 300 feeds—mostly music and sports sites, advertising/branding blogs, a few political bloggers I liked. I haven’t opened my reader in months and I’m terrified of the thousands of items waiting for me. Being on the Internet can be very stressful in this way, this sense that there is knowledge (or just pure data) you’ve intentionally sought out and marked as useful and then never returned to. But I spend a lot of time on YouTube because it provides the opposite sensation. Rather than the anxiety of marking things as “read” there’s just this endless drift of allusions and associations. It’s a k-hole of one’s own making, as some random curiosity about some rapper’s cameo in another’s video might land you, hours later, to an amateur documentary about the Illuminati or some full episode of Firing Line from the sixties.”
“I don’t check in as often as I used to, but I’ve spent whole chapters of my adult life on Soulstrut, an online forum devoted to record collecting (hip-hop and its soul, funk, disco prehistories, mostly). It’s a great place to learn and debate about records. And anything else, really—politics, films, what it’s like to work in an adult bookstore, etc. I’ve always been skeptical of the notion of online “communities” but during moments of crisis like Hurricane Katrina and the earthquake in Haiti, Soulstrut came together in a pretty honorable way. Hoarders and lovers of surplus stock sacrificed some amazingly expensive records for a site-wide auction in order to raise money for relief work. It was a minor gesture but one that tried to enact the kind of utopian values at the heart of so much great, transcendent music.”
“Depending on the day and my level of procrastination, I’ll spend time on Vulture, the Chronicle of Higher Education site, Wired, Boomkat (to keep tabs on new music), Dat Piff (ditto) or Grantland (where I’m a contributor). But for my fifth, I’ll say Tumblr. I like the interface and its balance of writing, visuals and tricked-out design solves one of the problems of that brief era when everyone I knew had the same, boring-looking blog layout. But where blogs seemed generally to strive for transparency, Tumblr plays around with notions of identity. I don’t know the authors of half the Tumblrs I follow, even if I probably actually know them in real life.”
P.S. You can click on the images to go to the site…