The Red Chamber (Book Acquired, Some Time Like Two Weeks Ago Maybe)


A review copy of Pauline A. Chen’s The Red Chamber arrived at Biblioklept World Headquarters like maybe two weeks ago, but my wife snapped it up immediately and then I neglected to look at it until today. Publisher Random House’s blurb:

In eighteenth-century China, the beautiful orphan Daiyu leaves her home in the provinces to seek shelter with her mother’s family in Beijing. At Rongguo Mansion, she is drawn into a world of sumptuous feasts, silken robes, and sparkling jewels—as well as a complex web of secret rivalries and intrigues that threatens to trap her at every turn. When she falls in love with Baoyu, the family’s brilliant, unpredictable heir, she finds the forces of the family and convention arrayed against her, and must risk everything to follow her heart.

Based on the epic Dream of the Red Chamber—one of the most famous love stories in Chinese literature—this novel recasts a timeless tale for Western audiences to discover.



Ben Marcus/Victor Segalen/George Saunders (Books Acquired, 2.01.2013)


I went to the bookstore on Friday afternoon to drop off some trade-ins and order a few books for my wife and kids for Valentine’s Day. I had no intention of buying anything, but a bit of random browsing led to me leaving with Ben Marcus’s collection Notable American Women (how could I resist that blurb?), a collection of George Saunders essays, and René Leys by Victor Segalen—the NYRB edition stuck out, and then the blurb sold me on this tale of a Westerner trying to access the Forbidden City of imperial China.

I’m reading Ben Marcus’s The Flame Alphabet right now, along with some short stories by Yoko Ogawa, as well as Lars Iyer’s latest, Exodus; I’m pretty sure René Leys is on deck after one of those.


Please Vote for Me (2007 Documentary About Chinese Democracy and a Grade School Election)

The Dao of the Military (Book Acquired, 8.27.2012)



The Dao of the Military: Liu An’s Art of War is new in translation by Andrew Seth Meyer from Columbia University Press. Their blurbs:

The Dao of the Military makes a welcome addition to the growing literature on early Chinese strategy. The translation is exacting and felicitous. It should serve well for those interested in the history of Chinese thought and Chinese military thought.” — Victor H. Mair, University of Pennsylvania

The Dao of the Military summarizes and reflects on many aspects of the theory and practice of warfare developed in the Warring States period. It incorporates much of the theorizing of several traditions of military thought not well represented in the Seven Military Classics, and it is an important and valuable treatise that enriches our understanding of the history of Chinese military theory, the military tradition, Chinese intellectual history, and early China studies.” — Robin D. S. Yates, McGill University

The Dao of the Military is a valuable addition to the body of early China’s military texts available in English. Meyer’s learned introduction and admirably readable translation provide new and fascinating insights into the intellectual world and the military thinking of ancient Chinese philosophers. It is an essential read for everyone interested in how the Chinese tradition has understood warfare.” — Nicola Di Cosmo, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton University


Books Acquired, Some Time Last Week (Plus Some Garden Shots)


Josh Ritter’s Bright’s Passage is out in trade paperback, featuring a Q&A at the end with Ritter and some guy named Neil Gaiman who used to write comic books or something. Here’s my write up from last year, wherein I quote some guy named Stephen King:

Bright’s Passage is the début novel from songwriter/musician Josh Ritter. This slim novel tells the story Henry Bright, a man who returns to the hills of West Virginia after the trauma of World War I only to have his wife (who is also his first cousin) die in childbirth. Bright buries her body and sets fire to their cabin, which sparks a massive forest fire. Bright then takes his infant son and flees, both from the fire and his unstable father-in-law, “The Colonel,” a vet of America’s adventures in the Philippines who still wears his uniform. The Colonel and his crazy sons pursue Bright, who is guided on the lam by the angel who talks to him—yeah, an angel directs Bright; in fact it was the angel’s idea that Bright marry his cousin, burn down his cabin, and run . . . also, the angel swears that Bright’s son is going to be, like, the new Messiah. Also, Bright’s horse talks. Ritter moves the action between Bright’s flight, his ordeal in WWI, and his youth in simple, concrete, declarative prose. There are echoes here of Chris Adrian’s angel stories (The Children’s Hospital and A Better Angel), and perhaps something of a Cormac McCarthy-lite vibe. Here’s an excerpt from obscure author Stephen King’s review in the Times

At its best, “Bright’s Passage” shines with a compressed lyricism that recalls Ray Bradbury in his prime. When Henry, his talking horse — a kind of holy Mr. Ed — and the Future King of Heaven leave the woods and enter a small town, Ritter writes: “It seemed a tidy place of dappled white houses and American flags. . . . Even the trees here seemed to have a kind of deep green and prepossessing prosperity that the trees of the forest could have no share in.” Recalling his mother’s death, Henry remembers “a windstorm that made the trees bow to one another like ballroom dancers.” More striking still are Henry’s memories of life in the trenches, some of which compare favorably to the prose in Mark Helprin’s “Soldier of the Great War”: “Artillery passed high above their heads in singsong trajectories that merged and lifted with one another into strange musical chords, like cats crossing pump organs.”

And here’s a tomato from my spring garden:



Nice cover on China Airborne, a book about the rise of Chinese industry by James Fallows. Pantheon’s write up:

More than two-thirds of the new airports under construction today are being built in China. Chinese airlines expect to triple their fleet size over the next decade and will account for the fastest-growing market for Boeing and Airbus. But the Chinese are determined to be more than customers. In 2011, China announced its Twelfth Five-Year Plan, which included the commitment to spend a quarter of a trillion dollars to jump-start its aerospace industry. Its goal is to produce the Boeings and Airbuses of the future. Toward that end, it acquired two American companies: Cirrus Aviation, maker of the world’s most popular small propeller plane, and Teledyne Continental, which produces the engines for Cirrus and other small aircraft.

In China Airborne, James Fallows documents, for the first time, the extraordinary scale of this project and explains why it is a crucial test case for China’s hopes for modernization and innovation in other industries. He makes clear how it stands to catalyze the nation’s hyper-growth and hyper- urbanization, revolutionizing China in ways analogous to the building of America’s transcontinental railroad in the nineteenth century. Fallows chronicles life in the city of Xi’an, home to more than 250,000 aerospace engineers and assembly workers, and introduces us to some of the hucksters, visionaries, entrepreneurs, and dreamers who seek to benefit from China’s pursuit of aerospace supremacy. He concludes by examining what this latest demonstration of Chinese ambition means for the United States and the rest of the world—and the right ways to understand it.

Some not-quite-ripe blackberries from my garden:



 I like the cover on this one too, a historical mystery by Robin Blake called A Dark Anatomy (and I know someone who might like this book for a present). From Blake’s site:

Mid-Georgian Preston was one of England’s ancient self-governing charter towns, pleasantly and strategically located in the heart of Lancashire, with a thriving agricultural market, and a significant concentration of craft workers amongst its stable population of below 5,000. In the 1600s the town gradually became Lancashire’s prime social and legal centre, and remained so until industrialization transformed and disfigured the town at the end of the century, turning it into the grimy and overcrowded manufactory that Charles Dickens called Coketown, the setting for Hard Times.  Today hardly anything pre-Victorian remains except the medieval street-plan around the central area: the three principle streets of Church Gate (now Church Street), Friar Gate and Fisher Gate,  leading away from the focal point of the flagged market and the site of the old timber-framed Moot Hall, where a 1960s office block of remarkable ugliness now stands.

Politically, like most other borough towns, Georgian Preston was an oligarchy. The council’s 24 members (or burgesses) appointed each other and parceled out the senior offices, including the Mayor and two Bailiffs, annually between themselves. Charter towns like this were virtual city-states where (in Tom Paine’s scathing words) a man’s “rights are circumscribed to the town and, in some cases, to the parish of his birth; and all other parts, though in his native land, are to him as a foreign country”.  These communities reserved the right to run their own affairs, and keep outsiders away at all costs.

I take a few liberties with details of local administration, not least in the Coroner’s office. In historical Preston the unusual custom was for the annually appointed  Mayor to sit as Coroner ex officio. But I wanted my investigator to stand apart from local politics, so I have imposed the more usual model whereby the Coroner was a Crown appointment with life-tenure, and independent of the Corporation. My other inventions in A Dark Anatomy include Garlick Hall, the nearby village of Yolland, and most of the cast of characters.

And here’s a white eggplant from my garden:


Baby, We Were Meant for Each Other — NPR’s Scott Simon’s New Memoir in Praise of Adoption

If you listen to NPR, you’re likely familiar with Scott Simon, host of Weekend Edition. In his new memoir Baby We Were Meant for Each Other, Simon shares his own experiences adopting two girls from China, his daughters Elise and Lina. In addition to sharing his own story, Simon highlights moving tales from a dozen other families, including sportswriter Frank Deford and Freakonomics author Steve Levitt. Simon mixes pathos and humor and his detailed, unflinching narrative is deeply emotional without ever coming across as maudlin or mawkish. While an argument for adoption seems to be relatively common sense, Simon reveals that the process is declining in America, largely because of advances in fertility science. He also makes an impassioned case against China’s one-child policy as a human rights crime against women. In a recent profile at Bookpage, Simon said “The Chinese permit an astonishingly small percentage of orphaned and abandoned children to be adopted. To me, that is absolutely flabbergasting. The government policy on adoption is addressing political, economic and social goals that have almost nothing to do with the best interests of children. Now that we have two little girls from China who are part of our family, we need to speak out about it.” At first glance Simon’s memoir will likely resonate mostly with those who’ve experienced adoption first-hand, but a closer look reveals a narrative that taps into an experience that we all share–what it means to part of a family. Baby, We Were Meant for Each Other is new in hardback from Random House.