I have been a very poor reader of fiction these past, oh I dunno, ten years of my life, and much of it I blame on the experience of what I call “reading for a living,” or being a college/turned masters/turned Ph.D. student. But as my husband pointed out the other day, traveling can sure turn one onto reading. And given that we traveled a lot this summer, and both picked up shiny new Kindles, we’ve both been doing a bit more of it (he still blows me out of the water with the way he sticks his nose in a book…and totally ignores me, by the way!).
I’m proud to report that I’ve read four books this summer- two old-school, and two on the Kindle. (It’s funny, by the way, how treasured English books become here in China, where one cannot get easy access to them. We ex-pats tend to hand them off, rather reluctantly, as priceless gifts to one another.) Anyway, here are my brief book reports!
1. Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie: I picked up this little treasure in a bootleg bookshop in Yangshuo, when my husband and I were there in May, and recently passed it onto a friend here. It’s a whimsical tale of a time when foreign literature was banned, and a few boys who were shipped off to the countryside to be reeducated. Balzac, the philosopher, becomes one of their muses, as well as a little seamstress, and it speaks to the power of print to make our imaginations and our consciousness come alive. It’s a quick, enchanting little read, that a little like Pan’s Labyrinth or Life is Beautiful, brings mystery and life to a darker time.
2. Oracle Bones: A Journey Between China’s Present and Past by Peter Hessler: My friend Andrew left this one with me after our travels through Vietnam and Laos, and I thoroughly devoured it while in Nanjing. Nanjing was an appropriate backdrop for Hessler’s jam-packed take on the complicated country that China was, is, and is becoming. At first I wasn’t sold on the way Hessler wove archeological digs and historical vignettes in between his contemporary experiences, but soon it became clear that tales of the past had a present all their own. This one is only for those who truly long to know China inside out, but I learned some fascinating things about Chinese characters and archeology.
3. Anne’s House of Dreams by Lucy Maud Montgomery: I found this book for free on Amazon for Kindle, and decided to return to my roots. I forgot that I’d never read the fourth in the Anne series (with this I skipped to the fifth), but nevertheless, it was as good as I remember like coming home to old friends, and I realized what an excellent role model Anne is for young girls!
4. The Dirty Life: On Farming, Food, and Love by Kristin Kimball: I’d bought this book as a birthday gift for my friend who lives in the north country, and who drives by this farm often. She loved it, and so I bought it for myself, and read it on my kindle, which I have to say, seemed all too sterile, given the dirt Kimball talks about finding under her fingernails, the sweat of the animals, and the everyday grittiness of farm life! I loved this book, reading it feverishly, salivating at the simple dishes Kimball talks about conjuring from the harvest, and dreaming of someday, when I’m in one place (not China) for more than six months, joining a CSA!
Not a single boring read in the bunch- if I’m only going to read a couple, I guess I chose well, and I recommend them all. I’m heading out Lijiang all next week, so I’ll likely make some progress on the two that I’ve currently got on my Kindle- The Language of Baklava by Diana Abu-Jaber, and Private Life Under Socialism by Yunxiang Yan (rereading this one for research, not so much for fun, although I get excited about it, dork that I am). I keep track of what’s on my nightstand on the left side of this blog if you’re ever interested.
What did you read this summer, and what do you recommend?