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Books have the power to cause a shift in world view, create a catalyst for personal growth or provide a source of valuable inspiration. In honour of World Book Day on April 23, The Style Sheet asks four Hong Kong-connected authors to share the books that changed their own lives in a meaningful or profound way.

The End of Vandalism, Tom Drury, 1994

Duncan Jepson, Award-Winning Director, Writer and Producer

Book: The End of Vandalism, Tom Drury, 1994


‘I’ve never been to the Midwest, but for much of my life, I’ve been eager to visit. Its vast landscapes of thirsty flat dirt, massive rocks and big sky, occasionally broken and cleaved by roads, rivers, towns and wide agriculture filled my head with endless journeys away from my own experiences. Growing up in the narrow, rolling undulations of the Yorkshire Dales, where people live aside each other in only momentary seclusion, I couldn’t comprehend lives in what seemed an empty geography at the heart of America. It also became my romanticised escape from a city like Hong Kong.


My cliché of the Midwest, the imaginings of an ignorant foreigner inspired only by film, was corrected with Drury’s story. Instead of lone brooding figures, content to wrestle with themselves, Drury described warm and intimate relationships between people living in small towns and in the solitary homes between them. His crisp, humorous writing gives his characters, all 68 of them, flesh, ambition and hope as they live, leave and return to each other. His writing makes me want to write and create my own characters on the page that I’m pleased to carry with me as I go about my day. I left Hong Kong for Singapore, and left there, the place of my mother’s birth, to return to the West to spend more time with my father as he battles terminal illness. I’ve spent many hours in the intervening few years driving with him throughout the Dales, and often thought of Drury’s characters coping with their lives of long silences, away from the white noise of a city, where they can hear and remember each heartbeat clearly.’

The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil, Philip Zimbardo, 2007

Libby Lam, children’s book author & illustrator

Book: The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil, Philip Zimbardo, 2007


‘Since my university years, I’ve been fascinated by Philip Zimbardo's groundbreaking research in examining how normal people turn bad. As much as it challenged me to reflect on my own behaviours, being young and green, I held my doubts about how situational forces and group dynamics could overtake the senses of good people and make them commit evil deeds. After enriching myself with corporate and parenthood experiences in the 12 years that followed, I revisited this topic by reading The Lucifer Effect, which gave a first-hand detailed account of the Stanford Prison Experiment and the prison abuses at Abu Ghraib in Iraq. I found myself enlightened, for the second time.


And this time around, I have no more doubts about how strong the dark side of humanity can grow in situations that suit. As disturbing and frightening as the theory may sound, I saw it come into play in the everyday world — not only on the newspapers but also in the office. Becoming a parent gave me new perspectives in seeing how the hidden evil would show its face in young children in situations that facilitate greed (for more sweets), abuse of power without oversight (“I’m the eldest in here”), and blind obedience (newbies need to fit in). I believe it’s important for parents to discuss with kids the dilemma of turning into angels versus devils very early on in their lives. This led me to write my third children’s book Crispy Children — an illustrated interpretation/commentary of The Lucifer Effect — to springboard such conversations between parents and children and to help them find the courage to choose their own paths.’

Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage, Alice Munro, 2001

Mishi Saran, novelist

Book: Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage, Alice Munro, 2001


‘When I'm stuck in my work, I turn to the poets. A random selection from my bookshelf's gallery of shamans includes Seamus Heaney, Ted Hughes, Dom Moraes, Lu Xun, Kabir, Ocean Vuong, Anna Akhmatova, Imtiaz Dharker, Dylan Thomas, Nicholas Wong and a 1967 Hong Kong University Press edition of One Hundred and One Chinese Poems gifted to me in 1989.


As regards the more quotidian act of prose, I am indebted to many, but it is an old Canadian fox who most often restores me, because her chiselled sentences fall onto the page, inevitable like gravity. She knows the million silent ways humans affect each other, sometimes without speaking, sometimes without knowing. Her bladed pen slices open the beat of a moment, half-said words, apparently innocent goodbyes at the door, an unexpected kiss, a single, tiny, redemptive rebellion. Sure, all this happens inside a bland Canadian landscape, but she imbues it with terror. Yes, I'm talking about Alice Munro. My favourite book? Possibly Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage, but I have commitment issues.


I know that when she won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2013, all day I carried a dazed, happy feeling of rightness. All was well with the world, there was golden sunlight all around; and justice, after all.’

The Illuminatus! Trilogy, Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson, 1975

Howard Wong, graphic novel author

Book: The Illuminatus! Trilogy, Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson, 1975


‘The Illuminatus! Trilogy challenged me as a reader and helped me develop as a writer from its complex multilayered storytelling and plotlines. The book is a little over 800 pages, with a plot consisting of two New York City detectives investigating a missing magazine editor, leading them on a global adventure that sees the end of the ultimate eternal battle between the Discordians and the Illuminati. The complex, bizarre story unravels through a revolving change in characters and point of views, multifariously connected secret societies and conspiracies within conspiracies, and convoluted cover-ups.


I read this tome years ago, as I commuted to and from work, which led to interesting conversations on the subway with strangers who read or were reading it. Unbeknownst to me at the time, these conversations with strangers would influence how I develop stories for work and creator-owned properties years later. The other element from the book that changed my life is its complex use of ever-changing points of view and characters, sometimes within the same scene. When I started to take my writing seriously, this awareness of points of view and characters’ voices helped me better understand how to use them to shape the story I wanted to tell.’

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