Recently in Books Category
Have not blogged in half a week, but I doing it here to publicize Expozine, a small press, comic and zine fair. It is going to be at the Église Saint-Enfant-Jésus, on the corner of Laurier and St-Dominique. Will be there to help man the Spacing Montreal kiosk.
Unrelatedly, but not quite so, I was very tempted to buy this month's Urbania, a really cool hipster magazine. Radio-Canadian Émilie Dubreuil wrote an article criticizing life in Montreal without knowing French. It is bizarre, but such is the reality of hipster ghetto, the Plateau (ironic). There are those trying, and those not trying too much. For some reason, many friends/acquaintances who don't speak much French all very much like Jean Leloup and Ariane Moffatt (who are two of my fave local artists - even have the latter's "L'autre Gala de l'ADISQ" poster, w/ an excellent pic by John Londono).
Ok, I'm going for a walk to the supermarket, munching on a bar of dark chocolate bar.
At this point in my life, I think that The Chinese In America was the most important book that I could read. I picked it up almost at random, because I thought I read a review of it a couple of months or years ago. The book itself is written like a story, from the mid-19th Century, when the first Chinese immigrants ventured to California in search of Gold Mountain, pushing into present day, with the arrival of immigrants from HK and Taiwan, and the rise of the PRC.
The last chapter is the most powerful one, where the author exposes the same conclusions or ways to "respond" to the phenomenon of looking foreign in a land that you call your own. They are the principles of individual choice, and that of responsibility-taking. The latter, I consider that I've tried to go into that direction, wrt my involvement with the Chinese Family Service at various levels this past few months. As for the former, it has been a seemingly right answer to attitudes that displease me in the society I live in.
The book might have its problems, critics, but I say that it is good enough for me, as I wouldn't remember all the facts, and would only remember that the Chinese, or any other visible minority, was not treated fairly by those in power at certain moments in history. The exclusion act, in the US, but also in Canada, is a dark moment of our history that I did not know about until last year, when former PM Paul Martin apologized for the head tax during the 2006 winter election.
I've rarely finished voluminous non-novel books (I read most of it when I was still working full-time, too), and The Chinese In America is an easy read if you consider the topic to be of some importance.
Woaw, like really really thick books were shipped to me from Amazon.ca. How the hell can they find so much to write about Ajax, which name was coined only last year, and which concept has been put into application only like 2-3 years ago? Even the PHP book is less thick, which is a total mystery.
I think I'm a slow reader. I am easily distracted, or am slow. Either ways, the end result is that I start many books I end up not finishing, or worse, buy a lot of books I don't actually read. The Indigo/Chapters and Amazon monsters are making a lot of money off me. Anyways, here's what I am currently on...
1- Eleanor Rigby, by Douglas Coupland. I read 20-something pages on the bus bound home, and it's really in the pop, sarcastic tone. It's about a lonely woman, her musings on loneliness, and her something marvelous sending her life into a higher orbit: the re-discovery of a long lost son. GG sent it to me by mail all the way from Victoria. He really crunches books like that. There was "Varieties of Romantic Experiences" by Cohen, which he gave me in mid-January the last time he came to Montreal. We love to commiserate on, how do you put it, the wilting of romantic pursuits.
2- Les Fleurs du Mal, par Charles Beaudelaire. Ha-ha, really.I started reading Le Spleen de Paris first. There is something so appealing in what's writing, and not at all undecipherable academic stuff from other French authors of the 19th century who we studied and overstudied at school. I'm one of those students who remember that Baudelaire was gay with some other author (he was bi, in fact), but can't recite any poem or anything.
3- Chansons pour elle, par Paul Verlaine. This time I actually bought it along with the previous entry, but I must've borrowed it before, in the summer of '04 at the McGill lib, when I was studying Chinese, not that it had anything to do with it. I was getting other books by French authors (smut by Apollinaire - pretty entertaining shit), so this was in the same section. Also got a Lao She play from the library on that same stroll (b/c I was studying Chinese, after all :D).
4- Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond. Most good. The origins of human civ, and why are white folks dominating the Earth, explaining in this thick best-seller.
5- Apache Cookbook (O'Reilly). omg, and other books from the company's bookshelf, and web. Sometimes I wish wifi was city-wide and that portable computer devices were affordable. But then no, for the same reason my father refuses to have a cellphone, even if his boss paid for it.
Extra: I should look for François Cheng. He's Chinese, but naturalized French, lived there since the end of wwii I think, and part of the Academie Francaise. My boss, a Frenchman, recommended that I get "Le Dit de Tianyi", which is a love story with the events of the Mao era in background, and basically a lesson of history for the uninitiated. I know a bit on the Cultural Revolution beyond its neutral-sounding name (in Quebec, we had a "Tranquil Revolution", around those few years), but I can afford to know a bit more. Coming from a French Chinese? ... would be intriguing.
I was going to say that The Gate of the Heavenly Peace, which I saw last year in HK around June 4th, would have a bit the same effect of giving details on an otherwise overpublicized event. What is the massacre anyways? Not just pro-democracy uprising crushed by an evil empire, but a complex power struggle, extremism on both sides forcing the tragedy of 6/4. After seeing that film, I do feel that it was a majority of reasonable people, who knew when to stop, but a band of few who wanted something spectacular to happen. You know, how as young people, we are restless and do something irrational just to "see how it's going to turn out"? (I'm thinking of Le Mauvais Vitrier in the Spleen).
Woaw, I never did this... But I wrote a long-ish entry, and then *close* the window w/o even attempting to click on the submit button...
Basically, a summary of what I wrote was that I saw petronia the other day. She gave me a copy of a fan publication of one of my favourite shorties ever, illustrated by Wen and friend, the "One Sugar Dream" collab. basically, upon seeing the cover image (if even her artwork), I could associate the name "Wen" to it. Style is very peculiar, although I can't clearly describe it, and why I thought so quickly about her art, even if I've only seen it a handful of times.
As for the short story... Ok, another time, I must've recounted it many times already.
Murakami's On seeing the 100% perfect girl one beautiful april morning is candy for idealists (and another sappy love song for anyone else). It's exactly like Miss Saeki and the dead boy in Kafka on the Shore, and Naoko and that other dead boy in Norwegian Wood. I guess that to be perfect, it had to be tragic; and b/c it was so perfect, it became a tragedy (the good old celestial order theory); which makes Murakami a God for idealistic people. The protagonists of 'On seeing the 100% perfect girl' lost memory of each other (as fictionalized in the fiction); and both Miss Saeki and Naoko lost their minds and died, while their former boyfriends had become reincarnated memories, or worn by the narrator (who was the best friend of the boyfriend, and who always had a crush on Naoko - eventually acting on it, provoking the chain of events that is the story, or part of it, b/c the part with Midori is really really the pop sweet). Anyways, why do I suddenly see some connection with that novel yesterday? :\
So I forced myself downtown to attend my boss' husband's novel launch (he's an U Ottawa academician), in a chic biblio cafe on the Plateau called "Salon B" on St-Laurent (just past the Parc des Amériques, corner Rachel). The right choice: perfect blue skies, and somewhat warm in the dark white-stripped zipper sweater I wore. I strolled from the McGill campus through the ghetto, stopped at the Metro in the Galeries du Parc to get myself some healthier snacks (sultana raisins, roasted corn kernels), and then at my grandma's who lives nearby. Then I bussed up, and got there right on time, stood there for a few long minutes (my boss + colleagues weren't there yet) watching the crowd of lit people happily chat in the white-walled small room with hardwood floors that is the upper section of Salon B (we never saw the footbridge they said they would deploy).
They served a delicious bruschetta with a vertically-aligned thin crisp piece of bacon, and pita bread with a hummus dip. After the presentations, they served panini bread with brie cheese and mango or apple, and two simple salads, one Greek (cubes of feta, red onions, tomatoes, the usual), and the other Italian (basalmic vinegar, what seemed to be dried game meat).
The underlying themes of the novel remind me a lot of Murakami's latest. Oedipian thematic (in this novel, father and son also don't get along, father dies -the premise to story-, and he ends up sleeping with his mistress), and general exploration of death (characters dying, finding their "spirit"/influence passed on through other characters).
Finished the evening walking down St-Laurent, getting a green tea + ginger ice cream from Ripples (which just reopened for the summer) - and I quickly note that ginger in ice cream is such a delight, gently spicy as it melts on your tongue - and hung out at Wee's for 30 mins, and finally walked back down on Parc, and commuted back home hard asleep, masterfully waking up at the right moments.
I can't describe what made that book so extremely entertaining to read. Was it the fact that it was about twenty-something Canadian-Chinese (or Chinese-Canadian?), or was it b/c their drama was so ordinary-seeming that it felt so interestingly refreshing?
The experiences related in the novel seemed so normal that one could probably deduce that it was an autobiography with a multiple personality disorder (the novel was told from the five "Banana Boys'" perspective). By chance, I came by an award-winning essay on responsability written by the author of the book, where he mentionned his life in small town Ontario, and which was a starter for two of his main characters. But an autobiography is probably too simplified of a conclusion. The experiences of the Banana Boys at times seemed so similar to mine and of other banana kids around. Growing up not knowing whether you're Chinese or Canadian - whether you can identify as both, or neither (the latter probably being the closest to a real answer, says one of the characters).
I've not read the last chapter of the book yet (more an epilogue). It's a book I prescribe to all Canadian-Chinese (or Chinese-Canadians, w/ or w/o the hyphen, etc), b/c it's not everyday that you find a Canadian-Chinese writing about Canadian-Chinese, especially Canadian-Chinese who *love* drinking hole talk.
I just heard now that one of my friends/colleague had an operation for a peritonitis this weekend. Yikes!
Haruki Murakami's Kafka on the Shore was one of the books I took with me last year (and subsequently didn't read). I finished it in a bit more than a week, which is quite a personal achievement for a 400-something pages book. I forgot all about the synopses I've read, and it was for the best: the review simply told too much about the story to come, just b/c it is simply so hard to describe an initial situation from the first few chapters of the book. Does it make sense? Some reviews on the official author website in North America went as far as using story elements from the 3rd quarter of the book! I won't even go into details about the main characters - best is to take the book without prior knowledge about the story, except that the boy at the beginning took "Kafka" as a name. The book takes you for a hell of a ride, a bit like Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, which I actually borrowed during my 2002 trip to HK, and read on and off without ever going past the first few chapters.
No jazz bar, but yes, some student protests. It's Murakamesque - reality intertwined with portions of dream. Some characters live in the same realm of logic as the reader; others just indiscriminately bend along with the bending reality.
More on this later. But just that the characters were eating a paella, I was scheduled to eat a paella later today. Now one of the character is drinking coffeeshop coffee, and I think I need one to wash down the paella...
By chance, I saw this newly translated Murakami short story in the magazine shop, and bought the issue.
Starts off by introducing the main character, a newly-wed woman who would forget her own name. And what is it with these newly-wed w/o kids characters?
A book on HK Tramways. ^^; Only 100HKD if you get it directly at the HKU Museum bookstore (instead of the 35USD on Amazon...).
My pic (tramway coming in the opposite direction in Wan Chai):