Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Summer reading

I'm not sure why certain books are considered summer reading versus non-summer reading but let's just call these what I managed to get through over the summer.

1. Arlington Road by Rachel Cusk
2. Mitford series by Jan Karon
3. Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes
4. Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood
5. China Road by Rob Gifford

Rachel Cusk's Arlington Road about one day in the lives of four women was riveting even though nothing really “happens”. This is truly the most remarkable example of what my writing professor always advised: “Show not tell” and through the events of the day, and how the women react to them, Rachel Cusk was able to show us their personalities and biases. I had this recommended via Half Changed World who unfortunately isn't blogging as much anymore.

The first four books in the Mitford series were enjoyable. (I bought the pack.) I kept having this strange nagging thought though: What if “terrorists” did not come from the mountains of Hindu Kush but from from places like Mitford, and instead of saying “God is Great” they would say “Peace be with you”.

Frances Mayes' Under a Tuscan Sun was disappointing though it's hard to say what I was expecting. Her tale of renovating a house in Tuscany and all the obstacles that came up were delightful yet it is difficult to say how really difficult it is – is language really that tough a barrier? From what I can tell it can't be all that difficult otherwise the renovation would have been even harder. In all the book left me feeling rather flat. Perhaps I'm just not as enchanted with Tuscany as I thought I would be.

Penelopiad was funny in parts (she calls Odysseus a liar) and enjoyable (and it was short!)

China Road is the only book I've read so far on China's transformation and it was extremely interesting. I had heard some of Gifford's podcasts/broadcasts on NPR and knew that he was a fluent Mandarin speaker. (I had caught the segment where he stands in for a preacher in a small town and delivered the Sunday sermon in Mandarin.) His travels across China and his recounting of his experiences were very well written. The only issue that I had was his very Western perspective on the plight of Uyghurs. While its true that the Uyghurs are being assimilated at an increasing rate – in order to move socially within the Han Chinese society, as well as due to Han immigration into traditionally Uyghur towns, their plight really isn't that much different from what happened to the Welsh or the Scots as Gifford points out. Yet why does he feel that the Uyghurs are being oppressed by the Chinese but the Welsh or Scots are not oppressed by the British or the Anglo-Saxons (or whatever?) What does he think of immigrants who begin to 'lose' their culture as they assimilate into the population of their host country? In many ways, I thought that his take on the Uyghurs was not so much an appreciation of these issues but more of a way to criticize the Chinese government.

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