Travels of August

Since the Run for Nancy was only a few days ago I am still on a high from not only running four miles, but running four miles without pain. No pain whatsoever. The pain is so gone it’s as if I imagined the whole thing. Weird. Weird. Weird. As for books, since I don’t have any other running plans in the near future:

Fiction:

  • The Best of Everything by Rona Jaffe – in honor of August being Chick Lit month.
  • The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay – in honor of Courtenay’s birth month being in August.
  • Daring to Dream by Nora Roberts – in honor of August being Dream Month (hey, I read it somewhere).
  • Niccolo Rising by Dorothy Dunnett – in honor of Dunnett’s birth month being in August.
  • The Case of the Missing Servant by Tarquin Hall – in honor of Rajir Ratna Gandhi’s birth in August.

Nonfiction:

  • A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains by Isabella Bird – in honor of Colorado becoming a state in August.
  • Eurydice Street: a Place in Athens by Sofka Zinovieff – in honor of the Dormition of the Holy Virgin.
  • A Season in Red by Kirsty Needham – in honor of the Double Seven festival in China.

Series continuations:

  • The Big Bad City by Ed McBain – to continue the series started in July.

If there is time:

Fiction:

  • Under the Snow by Kerstin Ekman – in honor of Ekman’s birth month.
  • Crazy Jack by Donna Jo Napoli – in honor of Fairy Tale Month.

 


December Books

I opted out of the cutesy title for this blog because…well…I simply wasn’t in the mood to come up with anything clever. What was December all about? For the run it was a 5k that I finished in “about 30 minutes” as my running partner put it. I also ran a mile every day (from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day). I think I’m satisfied with that accomplishment the most because I ran even when we were traveling, even when we were completely swamped with other things going on, even when I didn’t feel like lifting a finger. Despite it all, I still ran at least one mile.

Enough of that. In addition to running I read. Here are the books finished in the month of December. For some reason I surrounded myself with some of the most depressing books imaginable:

Fiction:

    • Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild – read in two lazy afternoons
    • Fay by Larry Brown – devoured in a week (super sad).
    • Doomsday Book by Connie Willis (AB/print) – confessional: I started this the last week of November fearing I wouldn’t conquer all 600 pages before 12/31/17 but I did. (again, super sad book).
    • Wanting by Richard Flanagan (really, really sad when you consider Mathinna’s fate).
    • Between the Assassinations by Avarind Adiga (sad).
    • The Beach by Alex Garland (again, sad in a weird way).
    • God Lives in St. Petersburg and Other Stories by Tom Bissell (the last of the sad books).
    • Nero Wolf of West Thirty-fifth Street: the Life and Times of America’s Largest Detective by William Stuart Baring-Gould.

Nonfiction:

  • Iron & Silk by Mark Salzman – read in three days. The only real funny book read this month.

Series continuations:

  • Mrs. Pollifax and the Hong Kong Buddha by Dorothy Gilman – read in the same weekend as Ballet Shoes.

Early Review for LibraryThing:

  • Brain Food: the Surprising Science of Eating for Cognitive Power by Lisa Mosconi (started).

For fun:

  • Hit Reset: Revolutionary Yoga for Athletes by Erin Taylor.

Mrs. Pollifax and the Hong Kong Buddha

Gilman, Dorothy. Mrs. Pollifax and the Hong Kong Buddha. New York: Doubleday & Company, 1985.

Reason read: to continue the series started in September in honor of Grandparents’ Day.

When we left Mrs. Pollifax after her African safari she and Cyrus Reed had just started a new romance. Now ten months later they are newlyweds living in a house they bought together. He’s off in upstate Vermont somewhere on a bird-counting expedition and Emily is overseeing renovations on their house when who should stop by for a visit, but old friend (and CIA man), Bishop. Of course, he needs Mrs. Pollifax for a delicate assignment and, but of course, there is no time to waste. If she agrees to take the case she doesn’t even have time to contact the hubby or pack properly (although she does remember to grab a snazzy hat). In an era when you could leave strangers in your house, Emily pops off a note to Cyrus and leaves the handymen to work unsupervised. Mrs. Pollifax’s new mission is a trip to Hong Kong to find missing agent Sheng Ti (a character from a previous story I didn’t read). Here’s the thing about Mrs. Pollifax – she will talk to just about anyone so the characters she meets run the gamut. She blithely shares information with double agents, gangsters and psychics alike. You could call this an adventure with just the right amount of silliness boiled in. There is death and violence and the threat of terrorism but take, for examples, the agents’s “secret” language, “…should be arriving you-know-where in fifteen minutes…” (p 128). I’m surprised the statement wasn’t followed by a wink-wink.
Mrs. Pollifax gets herself in a pickle but now she has a secret weapon to help save the day, her lovable husband, Cyrus!
Author fact: According to the back flap of Mrs. Pollifax and the Hong Kong Buddha, Dorothy Gilman lived in New Mexico and Nova Scotia. That sounds like the best of both worlds.

Book trivia: My copy of Mrs. Pollifax was peppered with highlighting. It was if someone had been using it as a vocabulary primer for words like shrubbery and ensconced were marked.

Nancy said: Nancy called Emily Pollifax a “dithery elderly woman with a penchant for unusual hats” (p 98). I would agree with that.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the simple and to the point chapter, “Hong Kong” (p 97).


Iron & Silk

Salzman, Mark. Iron & Silk. New York: Vintage Departures, 1990.

Reason read: Mark Salzman was born in December. Read in his honor.

Funny. You would not expect a memoir about a cello playing martial arts master in China for the purpose of teaching English to medical students a funny book and yet it is. It is very funny and eye opening. Salzman’s adventures are, truth be told, a string of essays laced with tongue-in-cheek wit and culture. You cannot help but laugh out loud at some of his exploits as he tries to make his way through Chinese bureaucracy and customs. Take for example, his attempt to receive a package containing medication for athlete’s foot. It’s so maddening you almost think he’s making the whole thing up. But then you remember, in South Central China, there is a regulation for everything real or otherwise.

Author fact: Salzman wrote The Soloist which I have already read. There are three other Salzman books on my list which I cannot wait to read.

As an aside, look Salzman up on YouTube. You won’t be disappointed. His interview in a phone booth is great.

Book trivia: I wish Salzman had included photographs…or is that asking too much considering it was made into a movie in 1990 starring Mark Salzman as himself?

Nancy said: In both chapters Iron & Silk is mentioned Pearl just describes the book.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in two chapters. First in the chapter called “Dewey Deconstructed: 900s” (p 77) and again in the chapter called “Mark Salzman: Too Good To Miss” (p 194). As an aside, the first chapter shouldn’t include Iron & Silk. Nancy was mentioning Salzman was a companion of Stuart Stevens when Stevens traveled to China.


Life and Death in Shanghai

Cheng, Nien. Life and Death in Shanghai. New York: Grove Press, 1986

Reason read: Best time to visit China is in September or so I have heard.

At one time Cheng’s husband used to be a diplomatic officer for the Kuomintang government. Due to the entrance of the Communist army, his appointment soon led him to a career with the British Shell International Petroleum Company. Upon his death, his widow, Nien Cheng, became the assistant to the new general manager. Cheng’s bilingual skills were invaluable to the organization and she soon filled in for the general manager. In addition, she had many international friendships and relationships. All these facts were seen as disloyal during the Cultural Revolution. Ultimately, she was accused of being a spy and imprisoned for six and a half years where she was treated to inhumane conditions and sometimes tortured. Despite everything, Cheng was able to use her fast thinking wit to turn Mao teachings against her captures as they tried time and time again to get her to confess to being a spy.

Quotes to quote, “The cacophony told me that the time of waiting was over and that I must face the threat of the Red Guards and the destruction of my home” (p 70). Can you imagine? You are powerless to stop what violence is yet to come.
Another quote, “When one tries to show emotion one does not genuinely feel, one tends to exaggerate” (p 275). True.
Last one, “Back doors in America only lead into people’s kitchens” (p 538).

Author fact: Cheng died of renal failure.

Book trivia: Life and Death in Shanghai does not contain any photographs which is sad, because I think a picture of her daughter would have been a nice tribute.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “China Voices” (p 55).

 


Ocean of Words

Jin, Ha. Ocean of Words. New York: Vintage International, 1996.

Ocean of Words is made up of twelve short stories, all centered around Chinese soldiers on the brink of war with Russia in the early 1970s. In every story there is a Chinese soldier wrestling with suspicion, loyalty, individualism and power. They all wave weaknesses or flaws that render them human above all else. Each character possesses a depth of personality that leaves the reader thinking about him long after the story has ended.  I particularly liked the title story in which the “ocean of words” is a dictionary indexed in Chinese, Latin and English.

In order, the short stories are:

  • “A Report”
  • “Too Late”
  • “Uncle Piao’s Birthday Dinners”
  • “Love in the Air”
  • “Dragon Head”
  • A Contract”
  • “Miss Jee”
  • “A Lecture”
  • “The Russian Prisoner”
  • The Fellow Townsmen”
  • “My Best Soldier”
  • “Ocean of Words”

My favorite quotes, “Once you’re conquered by foreigners, you’ve lost everything” (p 27), “History is a mess of chances and accidents” (p 77), and “Mind modeling is more important” (p 174).

My favorite stories: “A Contract” and “Ocean of Words.”

Reason read: Celebrating Ha Jin’s birth month.

Author fact: Ocean of Words is Ha Jin’s first fiction.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called, “China:the Middle Kingdom” (p 61).


Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress

Sijie, Dai. Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress. New York: Random House, 2002.

This is the story of two Chinese teenage boys exiled to a remote mountain village for “re-education” during the 1970s; during the Cultural Revolution. In Part I in between bouts of grueling hard labor in the mines they meet the beautiful daughter of the local tailor. She is “the little Chinese seamstress” of the title. In Part II Luo and the unnamed narrator have a friend they call Four-Eyes. A myopic boy who has a mysteriously suitcase full of banned books. When Four-Eyes begrudgingly gives them a decrepit copy of Balzac the boys are hooked. Luo takes the forbidden story to the Little Chinese Seamstress and woos her with words. In Part III the boys grow careless with their knowledge of the forbidden books, the little Chinese seamstress becomes pregnant and life for all three changes.

Quotes that grabbed me, “The flirtation turned into a grand passion” (p 110), “After all, how could I die now, without having known love or sex, without having taken free individual action against the whole world…?” (p 114) and “The medical intervention was a success” (p 173).

Reason read: According to a bunch of travel sites September in China is beautiful. In honor of beautiful China in September…

Author fact: Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress is Dai Sijie’s first book.

Book trivia: Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress became a national bestseller and in 2002 it was adapted into a movie.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “China Voices” (p 54).