A new reading list, and some incomplete reviews (14/6/09)
Well, my resolution to read and review the three books on my list has been a complete failure, as I’ve now abandoned all three of them midway through. It’s a nasty reading habit I’ve developed, but there it is. I’ve figured life is too fleeting to spend reading things I don’t feel like reading. So here are my incomplete reviews of the three:
The Coffin is Too Big for The Hole by Kuo Pao Kun
This is a book of plays by a Singaporean (though Chinese born) playwright. The introduction was boring, and I’m sorry to report that it was a foretaste of things to come. I guess I don’t know a great deal about drama, but I know what I like, and it isn’t this.
Dusklands by J. M. Coetzee
I was on a roll reading Coetzee after Youth and Disgrace, but this one (his first) proved too obscure for my liking. The first part was about a guy writing a report about Vietnam, or something. I found this nowhere near as readable as his later work, although it’s probably true that I didn’t apply myself to the ask as well as I might have.
Sounds of the River by Da Chen
I usually gobble up memoirs by Chinese writers greedily, but this one left me (on page 78) bored. Apparently it’s the second part in a trilogy of memoirs, but there didn’t seem to be anything of great interest to report (country boy goes to Beijing in the eighties to study). Compared with, for instance, Ma Jian’s Red Dust, this seems rather minor fare. Perhaps it gets better in the second half.
Fresh from these failures, I’m moving on to four very promising looking titles I picked up today in the new secondhand bookstore/coffee shop in Northam. I think it might be called ‘Two Stories’ but I’ll have to check up on that.
Confucius: The Golden Rule by Russell Freedman
You could say that the three philosophical schools in China, roughly speaking, are Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism. Daoist thought has had a major influence on my thinking (particularly the writings of Chuang Tzu [Zhuangzi in pinyin]) but Confucius generally leaves me cold. I have tried to get through The Analects, without success, but I am aware that my ignorance in these matters leaves a massive hole in my learning. Thus, I was glad to find an illustrated, 48 page hardback where seems to be a kind of summary of Confucius’ thinking! Even I can get through that.
The Middle Kingdom by Andrea Barrett
More stuff on China. This appears to be a novel (memoir?) about a Western woman’s travels in China in the eighties. Sold.
Soviet Women Writing by I. Grekova (editor?)
I haven’t really taken an interest in Russian writing in the past, except for a couple of fascinating memoirs: one on Chernobyl (Voices from Chernobyl), and the other on random drunkenness (Russia Through a Shot Glass). I did read and enjoy Solsenitzyn’s Cancer Ward and A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich when I was younger too. So I get the idea that I might take to Russian, and perhaps specifically Soviet-era literature. This seems as good a place to start as any.
The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett
I used to steer well clear of the Crime shelves in bookstores new and old. Twelve months ago I could probably say truthfully that I’d never read a novel of crime fiction through to the end in my life. Then I started reading Raymond Chandler. I am still skeptical about modern crime fiction, but I figure that seeing as I like Chandler, I might like Dash Hammett too.
Okay, no promises this time. I think it’s highly likely that I’ll have read Confucius: The Golden Rule within the next day or two, however. Whether it’s worth me reviewing it, I’m not sure.