Sunday, February 27, 2011

What I'm Reading

Faithful Place by Tana French. It's on a few best lists for 2010. It's a murder mystery set in Dublin over a span of 20 years. My brother tells me it is the third in this author's books about a cop in Dublin, Ireland.


Gilead. Started it twice, determined to finish it. I hate to dis a Pulitzer prize winner, but besides from some beautiful prose, the novel went nowhere. She did quote the fourth verse from a beautiful Isaac Watts hymn, O God Our Help in Ages Past.

Time, like an ever rolling stream,
Bears all its sons away;
They fly, forgotten, as a dream
Dies at the opening day.

Country Driving by Peter Hessler--Hessler lived in China when he was a Peace Corps volunteer right out of college. After teaching in a town on the Yangtze River for two years he became the Beijing correspondent for the New Yorker magazine. His first book River Town was about his Peace Corps experience. It was a book I enjoyed. Country Driving may be even better. It is an account of the monumental changes sweeping across China as they move from farm to factory. The first section is about a road trip he takes paralleling the Great Wall. Before taking off hefirst he had to pass a Chinese driving exam. Here are a couple of excerpts from the study book.

After passing another vehicle, you should
a) wait until there is a safe distance between the two vehicles, make a right turn signal, and return to the original lane.
b) cut in front of the other car as quickly as possible.
c) cut in front of the other car and then slow down.

When overtaking another car, a driver should pass
a) on the left
b) on the right
c) wherever, depending on the situation

There are 429 multiple choice questions in the study book and 256 true/false questions, i.e.
In a taxi, it's fine to carry a small amount of explosive material

The conversations with the car rental company he uses are hilarious. It was a very well written book, recommend.

I got pulled in to another Ken Follett novel, Fall of Giants, when my brother loaned it to me a a few weeks ago. It is amazing how fast 985 pages can go. I do have to say that I considered buying some kind of reader after holding this 4 pound book. The book covers the build up to WW1 and the changes that happened in Europe after the war. It was an interesting period, but I didn't like it as much as Pillars of the Earth and World Without End. Fall of Giants is the first in his century trilogy. I'll likely read the others too. I have an idea he will use some of the same characters.

Factory Girls by Lesley Chang. The author, Peter Hessler's wife, takes a look at the young women in China who leave their homes in small villages to come to factory towns in southern China. The book was fascinating from a social science perspective. China is experiencing a huge wave of migration as well as an industrial revolution. I think the author tried to cover too much territory. I would have preferred that she write solely about the women who "go out" rather than weaving her own family's narritive into the book.

The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman. This is a very different book, really a collection of vignettes about the staff of an English language newspaper in Rome. It is very cleverly written, and many of the stories have an unexpected twist. It's the best fiction book in the bunch.

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