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Born in California to Chinese immigrant parents, Tan is the author of six novels, an essay collection and two children’s books. Her best-known novel, The Joy Luck Club, has been translated into 35 languages. Tan, 61, is married and lives in Sausalito, California.
Who is your perfect reader?
The ghosts of my mother and my grandmother. They’re the ones who check me for honesty. The other is my editor, who is legendary.
Which books are on your bedside table?
[US Supreme Court justice] Sonia Sotomayor’s My Beloved World. I recently had lunch with her and reading her book is much like a continuation of the conversation we had. I’ve also got Weights and Measures by Joseph Roth and some poetry on my iPad.
Which book changed your life?
In a very strange way it was a book high up on my father’s shelf, called Psychopathia Sexualis. It fascinated me. When I was caught reading it, the minister was called in to talk to me. He said I’d be a sexual deviant. What it actually did was always make me want to read banned books, and be who I want to be, write what I want to write.
When did you know you were going to be a writer?
When I was published, aged 37. But I didn’t quite believe I was going to be able to do this for a living.
What music helps you write?
I listen to movie soundtracks because they are written for scenes. My favourite at the moment is Alexandre Desplat’s from Lust, Caution.
Which literary character most resembles you?
I would say the young Jane Eyre, before she goes off to be somebody’s wife and caretaker.
Who would you most like to sit next to at a dinner party?
Somebody funny, like Oscar Wilde. Or Emily Dickinson – she could look at a banjo and come up with something, come up with an insight.
How do you relax?
I like to go somewhere where I learn something I didn’t know before, like the Dry Tortugas between Florida and Cuba. It’s a small island that you can circumnavigate on foot in 10 minutes.
What is the best piece of advice a parent gave you?
To not let others determine who I am.
What would you change about yourself?
I’d like to be more forgiving. There are times when I’ve had a hard time forgiving people who have betrayed me.
If you could own any painting, what would it be?
An Albert Bierstadt. He was a landscape painter of the 1800s Hudson River Valley School.
What book do you wish you’d written?
I don’t. The books I’ve written are the ones I’ve had to write. I wish I could write with the language of García Márquez or Nabokov but to say I wish it is to wish not to be me.
What are you most proud of writing?
I would say my first book. I showed my mother; she said I understood.
Amy Tan’s latest novel is ‘The Valley of Amazement’ (Fourth Estate)