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Books Jonathan Sun: ‘I can only control so much in my life, and the rest will come as it happens’

Jonathan Sun

Alexander Tang

Jonathan Sun is a designer, an engineer and a playwright, among other things. On Twitter, where his account @JonnySun has almost half a million followers, he's Jomny Sun, the same name that graces the cover of his whimsical and beautiful new book, everyone's a aliebn when ur a aliebn too. Originally from Calgary, Sun is a graduate of both the University of Toronto and the Yale School of Architecture, and is currently a PhD candidate at MIT in the department of urban studies and planning.

Why did you write your new book?

It was impossible for me not to. Usually, I feel the extreme need to write when I have an inordinate amount of other things going on that I'm supposed to be doing instead. I started working on this book in the first year of my PhD program, where I had been feeling overwhelmed, anxious, alone and stupid. Figuring out this story was the only thing that made me feel like things were going to be all right. I wrote it to help me understand myself, to help me figure things out and to give meaning to my life.

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What's the best advice you've ever received?

At many points in my life, I've ended up being stuck wondering if I should 'be a writer' or if I shouldn't. During one of my visits back to see her, my old high-school drama teacher told me: 'If you can live and be happy without being a writer, then you should, because it's a difficult life. But if you can't, then you will know and it will find you.' It was the best advice I've ever received because it helped me realize that I can only control so much in my life, and the rest will come as it happens.

What scares you as a writer?

Everything about being a writer scares me. Writing is terrifying. It's hard. You constantly have no idea what you're doing. But that's what makes it so rewarding and exciting – that sometimes you're able to discover, through writing, an idea or a piece that feels true to you. I think I'm most scared of not being able to accurately put on the page what I imagine I would like to say. I'm constantly worried about that translation. Also, I'm scared that I'll die before I have the chance to figure anything out! Ha ha ha!

Which book do you think is underappreciated?

In general, I think all books are underappreciated. But for this question, I would specifically say blank ones, notebooks. Every person should have a blank notebook around, wherever they are, or else how would you be able to imagine that you could fill it? If you can make the act of jotting down ideas and thoughts a natural, almost passive act, you're one big step closer to getting to where you need to be. I think notebooks are underappreciated because we so easily create this wide distance between readers and writers, and if we are able to close some of that gap by understanding that the first step to writing is simply starting, that might help. Show me any writer or artist's notebook and I'll be fascinated for hours.

Which books have you reread most in your life?

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David Ives's collection of one-act plays, All in the Timing, taught me everything I know about comedy, concept and finding the human in the absurd. I am very fond of Tom Gauld's collection of illustrations, You're All Just Jealous of my Jetpack. Every collection of Calvin and Hobbes. But, in terms of actual, sheer amount of times I've had to reread it, one of my engineering classes in undergrad was taught using a textbook called An Introduction to Quantum Physics. I spent the entire semester reading and rereading every page, trying to understand it, getting nowhere and just about failing the class. I wrote a lot of comedy that semester, though, so it wasn't all lost time.

What's the best sentence you've ever written?

'I'm in love with you.' But it wasn't for a book or creative piece at all. I'm just happy I sent that text message.

Funding for school libraries in Canada is woefully inadequate and children at high-needs elementary schools are paying the price. Read Between the Lines, a documentary produced by the Indigo Love of Reading Foundation, captures the importance of early literacy and the challenges we face in Canada by underfunding school libraries.
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