Philip Guo (Phil Guo, Philip J. Guo, Philip Jia Guo, pgbovine)

Ten Stories From My Childhood

Excerpts from On the Move

In 2007, I worked with a small academic press to publish On the Move, a memoir about my early childhood. That book was the culmination of a writing project that I started as a kid, so I was happy to get it out the door. However, On the Move never took off, which didn't surprise me as a first-time author with an unknown publisher. Judging from my paltry royalty checks, it sold at most 1,000 copies. After a few years, I decided to put the full text online, where it got a few thousand more readers. It was a fun personal project but didn't have any lasting impact.

In 2012, memories of this experience prompted me to eschew traditional publishing and directly self-publish my second memoir, The Ph.D. Grind. To my pleasant surprise, it went viral on Hacker News and similar nerd sites within a week of release. In the past two years, around 500,000 people have either read it online or downloaded the PDF. There was no feasible way that I, as an outsider without any connections in the publishing industry, could've reached that many readers with a paper book.

A major reason for the dramatic 100x difference in readership between On the Move and The Ph.D. Grind is the subject matter. Not that many people want to read about the first twelve years of my life, but a far larger number are either pursuing a Ph.D. or know someone who is. Another likely reason is length. On the Move is 200 pages, while The Ph.D. Grind is just over 100, which means that a reader can finish it in one sitting.

Thus, to make On the Move more accessible to casual readers, I've extracted and lightly edited ten excerpts to turn them into self-contained stories. Each story takes only five to ten minutes to read and links to the enclosing book chapter for more details. Here they are in chronological order:

  1. My Early Education
  2. A Chinese Restaurant in Switzerland
  3. Learning French in Switzerland
  4. Learning English at an Inner-City School
  5. Wishing I Were White
  6. Subtle Racism
  7. Chinese vs. American Flags
  8. Chinese School in Church
  9. The Delivery Man
  10. Summer of Gluttony

Happy reading!

Created: 2014-07-25
Last modified: 2014-07-25