As one would expect with such a project, the quality of the writers varies a bit. There isn't a bad one in the bunch, but to my estimate it ranges froAs one would expect with such a project, the quality of the writers varies a bit. There isn't a bad one in the bunch, but to my estimate it ranges from competent to excellent. But the one writer who I think has been consistently great through both seasons is Ian Tregillis, who has delivered a brilliant piece full of great atmosphere, crips dialigue and fresh, striking imagery with each installment of his.
And Aftermath is no exception - while I usually burn through each episode, turning pages quickly to find out what is happening next, those by Ian Tregillis I force myself to read slowly, to savour his wonderful prose. Admittedly, that usually only lasts until about halfway point, then I get carried away by events and keep gulping down the rest, but even so... Tregillis is an outstanding writer who I really need to read more of....more
Classical Chinese literature obviously does not consist solely of the Six Great Novels, and I wanted my reading project to also include some shorter (Classical Chinese literature obviously does not consist solely of the Six Great Novels, and I wanted my reading project to also include some shorter (but not necessarily minor) books. Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio was my first attempt at a canonized work which is not a several thousand pages long, and overall I enjoyed it, if not quite as much as the novels, which I strongly suspect is due to more getting lost in translation.
Pu Songling’s work is written in “classical” Chinese as opposed to the “vernacular” of the novels. Not knowing any Chinese at all, I have not the faintest clue what the implies, but according to the translator of the edition I have read, John Minford, the former is highly elliptical and allusive, while the latter is much more straightforward. The tales in this volume often rely heavily on references to other works, and are often oblique in their allusions – a Chinese gentleman reader of the 17th century would probably have caught them easily, but a modern day Western reader is quite lost and has to rely on annotations. John Minford thankfully supplies a generous amount of those (as well as a highly informative introduction), but it still is not quite the same – the whole situation is rather reminiscent of Plum in a Golden Vase – and in fact, Strange Tales shares another trait with that novel, namely that it is very frank about sexuality; the sex is not as explicit, but it occurs rather more often.
When I was starting with this, I was expecting a Chinese version of Sei Shonagon’s The Pillow Book, but what I got instead was a Chinese version of Hebel’s Kalendergeschichten with added supernatural elements (and more sex). Which, as I hasten to add, is not a bad thing at all. The stories in this volume (104 in all, a selection from the original) are all short to very short (I don’t think there is a single one above twenty pages) and vary in nature, from didactic morality tales over ghost stories to reports of strange occurrences like you’d find them in the Miscellaneous section of your newspaper (if it was published in 17th century China, that is). And there is, of course, cannibalism – I guess no piece of Classical Chinese literature would be complete without it. Some tales I found delightful, some left me scratching my head, some were amazing, some plain bizarre, some I got, some left me baffled – in short, this collection is very much like the notorious box of chocolates, you never know what you will get.
Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio is best read one or two tales at a time, so that each piece has space and time to unfold its own peculiar charm. Another trait this collection shares with chocolates is that too many ingested at once will spoil your stomach, and that while they are delicious, they are not particularly nourishing. Only maybe half a dozen stories felt like they’d make any lasting impact, the rest, while a pleasant diversion, also seemed somewhat shallow. Which may be because of the shortness of the tales, but I’m more inclined to blame it on them being translations. John Minford’s translation does appear to be a good one (as far as i can tell not knowing the original), but translations can only do so much; and if a work which depends as much on nuances and wordplay (not to mention the occasional double entendre) as Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio appears to do, then it will unfailingly be bound in its original language and any translation, no matter how good, will only give a blurry, washed-out reproduction of the original’s splendour. Even so, just for the glimpse it grants us, it is well worth reading translations. And who knows, readers might find themselves motivated to actually learn the language of the original…...more
Jack Kerouac's first, at least semi-autobiographical novel, and the first one by him which I have read. Everyone mentions how much this owes to ThomasJack Kerouac's first, at least semi-autobiographical novel, and the first one by him which I have read. Everyone mentions how much this owes to Thomas Wolfe, and they are entirely correct, at least for the part that takes place in the town of the title, the fictive Galloway, Mass. The novel undegoes a distinct change of tone once it moves into the city, the emphatically not fictive New York and starts to take on what I assume is Kerouac's own voice as a writer.
Kerouac seems to be thinking that he has some wisdom to impart to his readers, which I at least rather doubt he has - if one wanted to be grumpy about it it is all fairly trite and commonplace, and even if one takes a more receptive stance the novel's ulterior message seems to vacillate indecisively between "Follow your dreams" and "Stick with your family". Even so, I found myself enjoying The Town and the City considerably more than I was expecting to, and this was almost entirely due to Kerouac's writing which I found immensely powerful, possessed of a strong forward drive that pulls readers along. Whether he is doing Wolfean pastiches or searching for his own voice, there always is a very strong sense of rhythm to his prose, a (I feel I have to apologise for this) steady, lively beat that pulses in this family tale and keeps it moving along even as not much is happening in terms of plot.
Kerouac's reputation appears to have dimmed somewhat in recent years, but going by this debut novel I wonder whether that is deserved. For my part, I'm quite eager to finally read On the Road....more
Almost halfway through the season, this is the guest author contribution. I've only known Fran Wilde as author of second-world Fantasy before, so thisAlmost halfway through the season, this is the guest author contribution. I've only known Fran Wilde as author of second-world Fantasy before, so this seemed a somewhat surprising choice, but it is obvious throughout the installment that the author was having lots of fun with this, and even appears to have some done research (or maybe just happens to know Prague well), going by the extensive name dropping of street and place names.
In short, another enjoyable episode, in a second season that so far I'm enjoying even more than the first: things come to a first crisis here as almost everyone of any relevance is converging at a boxing match, and complications are piled upon complications. Like in Season One, the plot is a mess but it seems a far more focused mess as the various intrigues actually are related to each other (even if most of the players are at this stage unaware of that). Utterly delightful....more
Even though this is titled a "small" history of China, it still amounts to over 400 pages - which is not really a surprise, considering that it spansEven though this is titled a "small" history of China, it still amounts to over 400 pages - which is not really a surprise, considering that it spans several thousand years. As is to be expected, Vogelsang's book is very compact, more of a blueprint of history than a colourful picture, but as a (comparatively) brief overview it is excellent.
I don't know much about Chinese history.... or rather, I used to know next to nothing about Chinese history before reading this book, so I cannot judge its accuracy and how closely it agress with current received opinion or not. But I do feel a lot better informed after reading it, not just about the bare historical facts - Vogelsang makes a determined, and to my layman's eyes quite convincing attempt at structuring his subject, organising it around the question of how over the course of its millenia-long history China's rulers have tried to wrestle unity from the countrys fundamental diversity. As it turns out, they have come up with quite an array of possible ways, and also some surprisngly similar ones - similar not only through the various periods of Chinese history, but also in the context of world history: Again and again, Vogelsang points out that the problems China had to cope with were not all that different from what Europe was facing at the same time.
I also liked that Vogelsang gives a lot of space to the 20th century and beyond up to 2013, and he is not afraid to step on both Chinese and Western toes in his depiction of recent events, not trying to hide his own position, but still giving a balanced account. The same author also wrote a "big" history of China which now I would very much like to read; unfortunately it is not available as an ebook, and with the luck I've been having recently with handling hefty tomes I will probably skip it until it is....more