HIGHLY recommended. Fiona gave me this book to me for my birthday. Instead of looking at the Chinese people through a study of Confucius, or the class...moreHIGHLY recommended. Fiona gave me this book to me for my birthday. Instead of looking at the Chinese people through a study of Confucius, or the classics, which really tell us little about the Chinese as a people and the beliefs they base their day to day activities off of, she looks at the great wealth of occult practices that Chinese engage in, from ancestor worship, to ghost marriages (!), fortune telling, medium intervention, and so on. Most of her examples come from Hong Kong, where she seems to be based, and Taiwan, as one of the last strongholds of traditional Chinese culture, expelled by the Communists (this book was written 30 years ago--but that's true to this day!). A lot of her observations seem right on, beginning with the first sentence of the first chapter, entitled, "The Invisible People": "The Chinese outnumber everyone else on this planet and they are also the most widely distributed ethnic group on earth, but they are perhaps among the least-known and least-understood people in the world too." There are chapters on Feng Shui (from how ugly factory buildings can cause school shootings, to how well-placed burial mounds can foster success for the future generations of that family), chapters on Chinese beliefs of spirits and ghosts (fascinating!), a chapter on spells, mediums, moon almanacs, healing, food & drink. Some chapters were misses--some too anecdotal, some too focused on the occult. Usually her examples are well drawn, and if sometimes exceptional, rarely are they sensationally drawn, and she never tries to make an outlandish conclusions. In total, the reader gains a wide appreciation of Chinese belief in regards to the unseen world, and if anything, makes one want to learn more.
This book reminded me of Strange Tales of a Chinese Studio, which would be the classical touch-base for this book of folk tales that draws the same kind of picture of the common--not aristocratic, not modern--Chinese. (less)
I've been meaning to read Bel Canto for years and years and only recently got a chance, after listening to Ann Patchett interviewed on the radio and t...moreI've been meaning to read Bel Canto for years and years and only recently got a chance, after listening to Ann Patchett interviewed on the radio and thinking she sounded like she had interesting things to say. I swung by a library and picked up this book of hers. Despite the novel being about a rather large dinner party group being taken hostages in the Vice Presidential Palace in some un-named South American Country, the tone of the novel is very dreaming, nostalgic--romanticized. One of the main characters is Gen whose talent is languages. In this dinner party of many influential men and women, representative of numerous countries and languages, he immediately assumes importance. The hostage crises continues for 4 months or so. Romances form between the hostages and the terrorists. Chess games are played. Meals are cooked. Gardens are weeded. That same dreamy tone, pervades every part of the novel. A sentence reads, "Guns were pointed and commands given." Not your gritty hostage novel. There is a good ending--I think. And the dreamy narrative supports the ending--though for the first 3/4 of the book I was put off by the tone of the narration. Once bonds are formed, through music and love, mostly, and the situation seems intractable on both sides, there is no end that anyone can imagine to the situation. And so no one imagines the end. The most powerful emotions that they've ever experienced are happening in this closed community. Why would they want to leave? But it does end. Lives are lost. Because of the pervading dreamy quality of the novel, I began to play with the idea of a group of people stuck in a house together for months and months. I guess some people could go crazy...that's how most novels would go. Since, however, there is this opera singer, who after a month or so, begins to sing every day--there is a transcended quality to the seclusion. Rather more like a monastic retreat from the world. Unlike Gen, who speaks almost all languages--the hostages and terrorists begin to rely on Roxana, who speaks music, which transcends language. Then--well, because they are in a beautiful house, and they seem to get enough from the outside world to live moderately comfortably--it reminded of the impromptu situation of life in college. You live with your peers--intense romances are form--intense emotions are felt--you can't imagine the end--and yet it ends. So the novel, I suppose, was rich in imagination, detail, and feeling. A good book, worthy of reading and contemplation.(less)
The first novella -- The Haunted Monastery -- held little interest for me, and I only enjoyed the sense of Judge Dee being stranded in a Taoist temple...moreThe first novella -- The Haunted Monastery -- held little interest for me, and I only enjoyed the sense of Judge Dee being stranded in a Taoist temple in the mountains with only his one sidekick and his three wives. Usually in most of his novels, Judge Dee is too busy solving crimes, but here there are one or two scenes with his wives which softens his character. The book also thematically dealt with the differences between Confucianism and Taoism, and to a lesser degree, Buddhism. The second novel -- The Chinese Maze Murders -- must be one of the best Judge Dee books I've read. Besides the usual three cases he has to solve, in this instance he must restore order to the boarder town he has been assigned to, foil a Khan-led plot to siege the empire, and also discover the murderer of the previous magistrate. However, I was enamored, more than I usually am, by the material richness of the narrative; attention to flowers, strange creatures, architecture, calligraphy, painting, and poetry all figure in to the mysteries themselves and their solutions. Plus the themes are many -- besides the reprised theme of the differences between Confucianism and Taoism, the story strikes upon attitudes concerning Chinese vs. "barbarian" cultures, principals of ethical/moral leadership (and their failings), as well as frank and explicit narrative concerning torture, sapphism, sex, and views of women. Moreover, the book meanders between the bravado of a western tale of implementing justice, and the dark, self-doubting sensibility of a noir. Robert Van Gulik even places an ingenious dues ex machina in the form a Taoist recluse living in the mountains, and in the end, the greatest mystery is the one Judge Dee must solve for himself, the implication of the lines:
There are but two roads that lead to the gate of Eternal Life: Either one bores his head in the mud like a worm or like a dragon flies up high into the sky.(less)
I seem late to be getting to "Dao De Jing" but now I can approach it in the Chinese alongside the English, which is what I did with this translation t...moreI seem late to be getting to "Dao De Jing" but now I can approach it in the Chinese alongside the English, which is what I did with this translation that has the Chinese alongside of it, albeit scribbled, with beautiful photographs. I like this poetic simplicity of this translation which is really the easiest way to get at the "sound" of the Chinese language, besides a literal translation, which would be pretty difficult to make any sense. I read this alongside another translation, "The Way of Life" translated by R. B. Blakney, which included a scholarly, historical essay in the beginning, mixed with his musings on mysticism of eastern and western traditions. Besides his more readable and comprehensive translations of the chapters, he also added a prose account and explanation at the bottom of each page, which is similar to what many Chinese editions would have as well. He gave the poems a border and a context, explained that they could be seen as addressed to a king, "a Wise Man," where as in the Jane English edition they each seem like Zen moments of transcendent expression.
I do like the photographs in the Jane English edition...their plays with light and shadows...their emphasis on nature but not with exclusion from a sense of human presence: all seem to fit the material of Dao De Jing. (less)
I read this book because I'm interested in the layering-over of stories told in different ways: comics that then become movies, or in this instance, a...moreI read this book because I'm interested in the layering-over of stories told in different ways: comics that then become movies, or in this instance, a film that has become a Shakespearian-style play! The "Shakespearian-style" bit should give you pause. I was hoping that instead it would merely be an iambic pentameter take on the film, rather more like a epic; and I wouldn't mind it to read as a serious endeavor. There were too many pot-shots in this rendition--mostly recreating/quoting well-known Shakespearian dialogues. Too labored with "nay"s and "thy"s. Because my interest is more scientific in character, I would rather have the more control-test read, simply to get the effects of changing the story from film to verse. You do get some hint of the difference--sudden interiority to the Imperial guards, which usually comes across as humorous banter, non-sequitors, and meta-narrative ironies, wherein one is made to consider the cheesy movie plot conventions, like when Doescher gives the conversation of two Imperial guards as they discuss why they didn't decide to shoot the escape pod (which has the two druids) because no life-forms were detected. They have the conversation in the film, but here it seems slightly hilarious. (less)
I was interested in the mythical sense of this trilogy. It meant a lot to the people of my parents generation and so I would hear folks talking about...moreI was interested in the mythical sense of this trilogy. It meant a lot to the people of my parents generation and so I would hear folks talking about terms in the book or places with a sense of deeper meaning. Having seen the films before reading the books also lends a sense of life beyond the page. Tolkien is responsible for at least all of the chronology and history and language that he puts into his fantasy, describing a completely different world, complete on its own. For how much the books have inspired I was surprised how shy he was of descriptive language. How little we know of Gandalf, say, or any of the Fellowship, but how long they stick in the mind!
I was intrigued most by the second to last chapter when the hobbits return and come into their own "matured" and have to run out the men who took over the shire in their absence. It was the most fulfilling part of the book. Often battles are described by a lesser character, a hobbit say, or in one case, the dwarf, and the sense is that we have a fly's perspective on these awesome events that both are charged with a sense of greatness and of something that doesn't quite have anything to do with us. After all, the hobbits are mostly fighting for the legacy of men. The final chapters really show the characters in their own word, doing their own deeds at their inspiration, not guided by a wizard or fate. I'm not sure I could have read a whole book of the hobbits in Hobbiton, but I felt that it gave me perspective on the rest of the trilogy. (less)
I've only ever read The Fellowship of the Ring from Tolkien's cannon and, oddly, parts of The Simerillion (sp?). I was inspired to read The Hobbit aft...moreI've only ever read The Fellowship of the Ring from Tolkien's cannon and, oddly, parts of The Simerillion (sp?). I was inspired to read The Hobbit after the film mostly because I was curious as to what exactly were liberties and what existed in the original text. The film seemed very fluent and congruent of that world that Jackson created for his first trilogy but included things I would have been surprised were in the book. The white goblin on a big white wolf who long has a feud with Thorin? The brown wizard? The necromancer? A conference at Rivendell with Elrond and the White Wizard? Going back to the original book I wasn't necessarily surprised that all of these complexities couldn't be found, but I was surprised at how simple the story really is and doesn't really give too much of a precedence for these characters or creatures. Description is spare when it comes to the folks inhabiting this book. He describes the cloaks the dwarves wear (but mostly that this one had a blue hood and gold belt and that one a red hood and a silver belt), but he doesn't give the readers any insight to what elves or goblins look like. Elves seem more aligned to tricksters, cousins to sprites and fairies. Gandolf, brought so roundly to life in the films, is here a simple and only slightly mysterious character. I also felt the narrative was too obvious, and was shocked out the novel ended, with a wink and a nudge it seemed. (less)
I had read two of these stories for college and only just decided to finish the several others I had missed, re-reading the other ones as well. Like E...moreI had read two of these stories for college and only just decided to finish the several others I had missed, re-reading the other ones as well. Like Enlightenment writers he is attracted to themes of insanity (The Marquis of O--, and The Power of Music) and also about the fallacy of a too literal subscription to the presence of the Divine in the affairs of men (The Earthquake in Chile, The Duel). Sometimes, he simply confronts the horrors of human kind (Michael Kohlhass, The Betrothal in Santo Domingo, The Foundling), and the supernatural, (The Beggarwoman of Locarno.) There is a little bit of risque in his writings. In several stories, passages of guns shoved into mouths to execute suicides, and where shards of skull had to be taken from the plaster of the wall afterwards, or scenes of sexual promiscuousness, albeit in style of the early nineteenth century. He's also an interesting writer because he could also been seen as an early romantic. The political fire of Michael Kohlhaas has some vibrations of the French revolution; a great narrative of the ambiguous nature or "justice" and "revenge" (I'm pretty sure a western was made from this tale, about two horses unjustly kept as "toll" and returned as hags from being worked too hard in the fields, which turns a man, Michael Kohlhaas into a vigilante intent upon getting justice.) And the Earthquake in Chile imagines a world in nature. He is interesting to read, especially because of his intermediary status between two great periods in literature and thought. It's nice to read stories that remind you that such classification are not always so easy to make. (less)
A book I removed from the bookshelf in the teacher's lounger where I work (a Waldorf school) for my own continuing education on the subject. I appreci...moreA book I removed from the bookshelf in the teacher's lounger where I work (a Waldorf school) for my own continuing education on the subject. I appreciate the broadness and flexibility of Steiner's outlook as it is presented here that takes the whole human child into account and looks at physical changes (the loss of baby teeth for example) as demarcations of other spiritual and internal forces. Temperaments are also taken into account (choleric, melancholic, phlegmatic, and sanguine) when considering how to approach a lesson for all the children. Like everything else in Steiner's system, these temperaments align with other phenomenon, such as physical appearance, nutrition, health, and learning problems. An interesting philosophy presented with some degree of range in this book. I haven't read enough to tell whether or not this is to be considered a seminal book in what is Steiner inspired education. It was good--just not great. (less)
Given to me 2011, April 22nd and only now finished, it helped me work out the kind of environment I wanted for William to grow up in and helped me rea...moreGiven to me 2011, April 22nd and only now finished, it helped me work out the kind of environment I wanted for William to grow up in and helped me realize the parent I wanted to become. It's also a good look at what Waldorf home life is like---it doesn't go too deeply into the philosophical aspects of a Waldorf education (thankfully, I guess) but it provided lots of reasonable, gentle advice and parenting wisdom! (less)
Too loose. I enjoyed the muskrat and the cave by the ocean. Otherwise, the comet coming was too weird and foreign to the gentle home-y-ness of the ser...moreToo loose. I enjoyed the muskrat and the cave by the ocean. Otherwise, the comet coming was too weird and foreign to the gentle home-y-ness of the series.(less)
Apparently a book that we read when I was young but nothing I remember. This book struck me similarly as the pleasurable read of Wind in the Willows s...moreApparently a book that we read when I was young but nothing I remember. This book struck me similarly as the pleasurable read of Wind in the Willows several years back. It casts a similar nostalgic, middle-class materialistic view of animals, or animal-like creatures in this case, living as animals (or animal-like creatures do) in the wild, with their nick-nacks and their simple lives. It is compelling--the child-like simplicity of the implied philosophical stance on life. In one story a dragon is found, and then let go; a father dares to discover the true nature of Hattifatteners and realizes his "veranda life" is good enough; and so on. She has a wonderful sense of prose and style. It also strikes me that it is unclear, the names she gives, Moomintroll, Gaffsie, and so on describe what the creature is or is in fact their name. Jansson seems to switch back and forth between saying, "the Fillyjonk" and "Fillyjonk." It is an interesting conceit that one's name describes one's nature, form, shape, attitude, and spirit--not simply a tag but an intrinsic descriptor of the thing. Also it is interesting to consider the "animal-like" quality of her creatures, or should I say, "human-like". After all, humans are simply "animal-like" creatures and it seems to me that this is the heart of Tove Jansson's concern while writing, in the immense Finnish emptiness of nature, of loneliness, and of beings' natures, of people's place in the cosmos, not after all animals, but something stranger, more fickle and complicated altogether. (less)
These short stories--the conceit is that they are case studies of various robots that a retiring robopyschiatrist, Dr. Susan Calvin, recounts to a rep...moreThese short stories--the conceit is that they are case studies of various robots that a retiring robopyschiatrist, Dr. Susan Calvin, recounts to a reporter--are more in the pondering "what if...?" mode that often science fiction takes. However, unlike other notable science fiction short story collections that are held together by one thread ("The Illustrated Man" comes to mind) these don't hold together as a piece of thoroughly enjoyable fiction for its own sake. Isaac Asimov, indeed, is actually a professor and the stories take the drama of billard balls knocking around the table. Beginning with simple assumptions--this hits that will hit that--one nevertheless runs to keep up and figure out where all the balls will end up. And his stories are satisfying in that sense. Several tropes, however, are not. For example, he discribes Susan Calvin as having "frosty pupils" 3-4 times throughout the book, which, for an author that rarely gives any kind of description was notable.
The stories do become mind-boggling though--when they don't just simply stretch plausibility. For example, as the robots become more and more advanced they begin building smarter and smarter robots, which is an analogy to the technological age, I suppose, which when he had written this did not exist as visibly as it does today. However, in any case, it takes on a Frankenstein-like verve, a Blade Runner type ambiguity of what a robot is. Rather, what a human is. Thus the title, "I, Robot" which I assume has its roots in one story that begins to ponder its very existence (it doesn't believe the humans, weaker and stupider than itself could have made it) and riffs Decartes, "I think, therefore I am." But where Blade Runner makes the question sublime, changing it to not, "are robots human," but, "are humans simply robots?" here the emphasis on the three laws that they program into all robots, beginning with the command that no robots may ever let humans come to harm, is the vision's weakest point. Certainly, Asimov explores the holes and subtleties of the three laws, but one begins to wonder, as the robots become more and more complex, emotionally and so on, what that really means. How could it be the core of a robot? How could you program something like that into a robot, with all the varieties of language and grammar? How does it exist in their mind?
An academic, a poet, two magistrates, a chan monk, and a poetess with a turbulent past convene during the Autumn Moon Festival for feasting and discus...moreAn academic, a poet, two magistrates, a chan monk, and a poetess with a turbulent past convene during the Autumn Moon Festival for feasting and discussions on poetry. I enjoyed the setting, the emphasis on fox-magic, the addition of a Chan monk (a rarity in a Gulik novel), being within an elite circle of Chinese literati, and even some memorable characters, such as Magistrate Lo who also seems a very capable detective. However, much of the mystery was wrapped up in events of the past, which frankly there wasn't much hard evidence for--the murderer simple gives himself away in the end. So there wasn't a lot of first hand gathering of information and interviews as is usually in Gulik's detective novels. So, I enjoyed the atmosphere, down to poets composing tribute stanzas off the tops of their heads or showing off calligraphy after already having had imbibed plenty of drinks, especially the pilgrimage to Emerald Cliff, where they sit around eating dumplings in the mist and moonlight. The story ends with Gulik and the monk sitting next to eat other gazing off into the night, pondering life and madness.(less)
It's so good to fall back into a good Judge Dee detective mystery. Unlike a Christie novel, or a Holmes' novel, or a Father Brown novel, where the com...moreIt's so good to fall back into a good Judge Dee detective mystery. Unlike a Christie novel, or a Holmes' novel, or a Father Brown novel, where the complexity of the crimes bog the story down, and one can no longer be entertained by the question, "who done it?" Gulik raps his mysteries in exotic locales in the customs of an ancient time, where one is thrilled half by the mystery, but also by discovering Judge Dee's medieval Chinese world, bit by bit, with descriptions of wall paintings, costumes, customs of the powerful, and bits of Chinese philosophy and martial arts thrown in. Judge Dee is a modern detective as well--he's not so abnormal as Holmes, not as queer as Father Brown nor Christie's famous Dutch detective. He holds a position of a magistrate. He has a family (three wives!) He is neither too young to be distracted by recklessness nor too old to not be indifferent to the women around him. He is neither a poor fighter (he's displayed in this novel in several instances of martial excellence) nor is he a distractingly excellent fighter (he retains two body guards.) He seems merely very good at what he does, which is an excellent portrait. He is not too perfect nor too inhuman that one isn't able to relate to him, time after time. I'm looking forward to the next time I can read more Gulik. (less)