This was a good reading month so this is a longer post than usual.
Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China by Ezra F. Vogel
I started this biography and Chinese history book in May when I was actually in China. I had already read eleven books, but they were all fiction. I thought it would be fitting for me to read a nonfiction book about China.
Since I read this on Kindle, I didn’t realize how long it was until I really started. I think it is about 1100 pages in actual book form. The subject was fascinating to me right away. I was able to cover the first 40% of the book when I was there, but I basically found it hard to finish it when I got back. I wasn’t as into the subject anymore, and it felt so right to me when I right it there. Since I got back to China, I have read it little by little. Fitting of an academic work, the last 30% of the book are notes and references.
This is one of the best biographies and history books that I’ve read in recent memory. It is incredibly well researched. It is very academic and it reminded me about all my university texts, but better. In fact, I did my graduate dissertation was on China covering much of the period discussed in this book.
I would highly recommend this to anyone wanting to know the history of China in the twentieth century. It covers mostly the political and economic history; however, Vogel includes much of the context on what China is today including its culture and even medieval history. It’s packed with information yet easy to read too. It is still a topic about Deng Xioaping, the Communist Party, and China so if you have no interest in these topics, it would be difficult since the book is very long.
I found it worthwhile because I learned quite a bit on subject I have studied before. I’m also proud that I was able to finish it and it was my major nonfiction book of the year.
Read May 28, 2014 to November 2nd, 2014 on Kindle.
Why We Love: The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love by Helen Fisher
I would consider myself a romantic. Perhaps more practical and analytical than some others, but one none the less. This is not the first book I have read on the scientific and anthropological reasoning behind romance, love, and sex.
I quite enjoy anthropology and social science books. Indeed, I did some of my graduate work on social epidemiology. This book is a bit outdated as it was published in 2004, and in the world of science, it’s not news. There is a lot of interesting information about the science of our brains when we are in love or when we are rejected in love.
The author has an easy and understandable style. She uses a lot of literary quotations and examples which other bibliophiles would appreciate. It’s not a self-help book by any means, but from the studies, the author and the reader does consider how to best deal with a heartbreak and try again.
For those with an interest in romance from an anthropological and sociological perspective, I’d recommend this book.
Read Dec 1-2, 2013.
Naked by David Sedaris
I prefer listening to Sedaris, but I could not track down the audiobook for this at the library. Now that I’ve read most of his collected works, I do think I prefer the later ones. This one was still good and it made me fascinated again with the character of Sedaris’s mother Sharon.
A lot of Sedaris’s stories are really strange, but I feel they are stranger than fiction. It’s hard to make some of this up, and I can see some weird and nasty side of people when reading these stories.
I would not recommend Sedaris for everyone. Actually, I am becoming less snarky as I get older it seems. I am still amused by his way of looking at the world and in the later stories, he is quite genial and mellow compared to the younger version of himself.
Still think he is a unique humorist and a good reader to boot.
Read September 8-9th 2013.
Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin
I enjoyed Rubin’s first book The Happiness Project. I’ve taken this book out more than a couple of times this year, but have been able to find time to read it before it’s due by at the library. Finally, I sat down to read it this past weekend and nicely, I find out she started her new project in September.
Rubin uses a lot of quotations in her writing which I like:
“The true secret of happiness lies in taking a genuine interest in all the details of daily life.” – William Morris
She and I are quite similar in some ways and I like how personal her writing is. She is a researcher by nature like myself and she likes using various books and methods to learn about human nature. Like her, I believe that there is no definitive way to be happy. I see happiness as broad concept myself and as a way to make my life better for myself and those around me. I really think her tips, experiences, and recommendations inspire me to think about it more.
“Happiness is neither virtue nor pleasure nor this thing nor that but simply growth, We are happy when we are growing. “- William Butler Yeats
Rubin is an introspective writer which is why I enjoy the work. It’s a not self-help book, and in some ways, her books are memoirs like. I use the various ideas she puts forward. Her blog is also very engaging.
I would reread these books as a way to help with my own “happiness projects” or just prompts and things to consider for the future and personal development and growth.
Read July 7-8 2013.
Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris
This is a holiday themed collection of Sedaris essays and short stories. I’m not as keen on Sedaris’s short stories as his essays except his animal ones.
This series has the classic “Six to Eight Black Men” and a couple of other funny Sedaris essays I’ve read before. The first one in the collection was new to me. It was fantastic essay on Sedaris’s experience as Christmas elf at Macy’s Herald Square. I was horrified and amused by it as I usually am with some of Sedaris’ unique experiences.
Other than that essay, this work may be redundant for Sedaris fans, but it is a very slim read though.
Read August 11th 2013.
Through the Children’s Gate by Adam Gopnik
Paris to the Moon is one of my favourite memoirs about a place so I was quite excited to read this book on New York before my trip.
I found this book difficult to get into. I really like Gopnik when he is being very personal about himself and family. The first two chapters did not have much about them. The personal stories intertwined with life and observations about New York are the best ones.
This book covered September 11th, 2011 as well, and it probably has a lot about the early aftermath mood of the city. As always Gopnik offers a lot of history of the place, but also observations about life. After witnessing a proposal at Rockfeller Plaza:
I love you forever really means Just trust me for now, which is all it ever means, and we just hope to keep renewing the ‘now,’ year after year. – p. 154
I am glad I read it mostly after my trip. I always feel more connected to a setting in books when I am in those locations or just after. Even though this book was written more than ten years ago, a lot of the work still applies and it’s funny to read about the fads and trends of children a decade ago.
There were a couple of chapters that I did not feel engaged with, but overall, I thought it was a nice personal memoirs and one about New York.
Read July 8-28, 2013.
The Last Train to Zona Verde by Paul Theroux
I enjoyed Theroux’s Dark Star Safari some years ago. Whenever I encounter his travel writing, I do like it. I don’t always necessarily share all his political views on Africa, but he does have some valid concerns with foreign aid. I really like his writing because he is a traveler and has an exploratory spirit.
He was 70 when he did this tour which is probably his last travel of Africa. This last travelogue has him travelling through South Africa, Namibia, a bit of Botswana, and finishing it Angola. He writes about how Africa has changed in the fifty years since he first stepped on the continent.
The book has a fascinating anthropological bent especially when discussing the Bushmen of Namibia. Africa is not always a happy or light topic. Theroux is an honest and candid author this way, but this book was a bit dispiriting at times. After he reached the almost inhospitable Angola, Theorux would ask himself “What am I doing here?” Not a question any traveller should ask themselves often when travelling really.
Overall, I would recommend Theroux’s writing to someone who really wants to read about contemporary Africa. It may not be an easy read, but his experiences on the road says a lot about the continent world. It definitely speaks more than the news (or lack there of) we get about it.
Read July 6-7 2013.
Cooked by Michael Pollan
I was excited for this book because I was a big fan of Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Pollan and I have a similar view and philosophy regarding food. In this book, he explores the history that humans have with four processes of cooking: roasting meat (fire), boiling/braising (water), baking bread (air), and fermentation (earth).
I loved this book at its introduction:
Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops by Jen Campbell
If you like books and bookstores, you should read this. It’s funny.
Ok, a more proper review then: As someone who has worked in retail or customer service, none of this stuff surprises me. People often live in their own bubbles which can show how ignorant and sadly entitled they are. Both the “Parents” and “Customers Behaving Badly” section of this book shows that. There is something depressing stuff about society in here. All we can do is better customers ourselves, and laugh about these unique moments in time:
Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris
I am going through my Sedaris kick especially his audiobooks. It’s rather difficult to review his books and essays as you either get his sense of humour or you don’t. This one is even more family oriented than the others of his I have read. I’m actually less partial to his family stories, but they are still amusing and elicit some gems.
I do laugh while listening to his essays. He is a great reader. One of my favourites was “Six to Eight Black Men” which Sedaris performed live. I always like listening to live things and it feels you’re laughing along to others. I just think I like listening to other people’s laughs.
Sedaris is a strange man who has an interesting mind. He writes things which most people would not ever put to words or speaking, but I often suspect we all have strange tendencies. It’s a quirky way of looking at people and the innate humour of life.
Listened to on audiobook June 5-9, 2013.
Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris
Another humorous book of essays by Mr Sedaris. I first read Sedaris’s books in 2008 with his When You are Engulfed with Flames. He appears in the Best American Travel Writing series a lot, but reading one of his books is different altogether as you get immersed with his worldview and humor. This was my fourth or fifth of his books that I read, and I bought Me Talk Pretty One Day, but had to leave it in England with all the rest of the books I bought there (save my Completed Works of Shakespeare). I wish I had kept it because I think the aforementioned are two of my favourites of his.
There are always at least a couple of gems in his collected essays. I am wondering if Sedaris is getting more and more grumpy as he ages. He was in town two years ago, but I didn’t manage to go at the time and I was turned off by the idea that he was going to be crowded. It was from photos I saw of the event, but I regret not going because as written in this book and in interviews, Sedaris is very engaging to his fans.
This was the first of his books that I heard in audiobook form, and I’m surprised again why I hadn’t done this sooner. He has been Grammy nominated for a reason. I’ve already put in a library request for another of his books on CD.