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Happy Chinese New Year!

February 19, 2015 by Reader's Connection

goat2The Year of the Ram (or Goat or Sheep, if you will) began on February 19th, and Lawrence Library’s Xiaolin Lin has once again written a book review to help us welcome in the year. First we have the review in Chinese, then in English.

The Chinese translation of the book will soon go on order.

這本書中國翻譯將很快去訂購。

寻路中国
作者:何伟
美国作家Peter Hessler,中文名何伟,曾任《纽约客》驻北京记者,以及《国家地理》杂志等媒体的撰稿人。从2001年到2010十年间,他先后写作了三部关于中国的著作,分别是《江城》,《甲骨文》和《寻路中国》。今天要向大家推荐的是三部曲中的最后一部《寻路中国》。
2001年的夏天,何伟考取了中国驾照,在此后的七年中,他驾车漫游了中国的乡村与城市。这七年也正是中国汽车工业高速发展,桥梁道路建设突飞猛进的时期。《寻路中国》有几条不同的线索,它首先叙述了作者从东海之滨沿着长城,一路向西横跨中国北方的近万里行程;另一条线索讲述了一个因中国汽车业的高速发展而发生巨变的乡村。作者特写了一个农民家庭由农而商的变化经历;最后则是中国东南部的一个小城的生活场景,书中描述了小城由农而工而商,乡村变城市的发展过程,这也正是中国自1978年改革开放以来所发生的最重要的变化。
《寻路中国》在中国非常受欢迎,2011年分别入选由网易主办的公民阅读和由新浪主办的中国好书榜前十名。
作家何伟本人也被《华尔街日报》赞为“关注现代中国的最具思想性的西方作家之一”

 

Country Driving: A Journey Through China from Farm to Factory

American writer Peter Hessler, Chinese name HeWei, had been a New Yorker correspondent in Beijing as well as a writer for National Geographic. From 2001 to 2010, he has authored three books on China: River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze, Oracle Bones: A Journey Through Time in China, and Country Driving: A Journey Through China from Farm to Factory. I would like to introduce Country Driving.

The summer of 2001, Hessler got a Chinese driver’s license. During the next seven years, he roamed the rural and urban China by car. This was a period of rapid growth for the Chinese automobile industry and for roadwork construction. Country Driving takes several lines of narration. The book first follows his physical journey starting from the East Coast, following the Great Wall, going to the West spanning thousands of miles. It also follows the dramatic change to the countryside as a result of the rapid development of China’s auto industry. He documents close-up a peasant family’s transition from agriculture to business. Finally, the book describes a small southern city’s shift from agriculture to industry and commerce. This is a profound change in China brought about by reforms and the “opening up” of China that started 1978.

Country Driving is very popular in China. In 2011 it was in the top 10 books judged by Sina China. Hessler himself was named by The Wall Street Journal as “one of the Western world’s most thoughtful writers on modern China.”

Country Driving is also available as a downloadable e-book.

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Farewell to the Horse

February 18, 2015 by Reader's Connection

The Hearts of Horses

Tomorrow is Chinese New Year. Today is the last day of the Year of the Horse. I reviewed Falling from Horses, a new Molly Gloss novel, back in January, and now, as a way of honoring the closing of this year, I’ve cantered back to Gloss’s 2007 novel The Hearts of Horses.

During World War I, many of the young men have left eastern Oregon, and more are bound to go, so it’s not all that strange for a woman to ride into town, ready to do “a man’s work.” Nineteen-year-old Martha Lessen is a “horse gentler.” She thinks that horses can be made manageable without breaking their wills or their bones. People soon see that Martha is good at this gentling thing, so she is hired by several ranchers and farmers.

There is a lot to like about this book, and what I like most is the way Martha “circles” her horses as a way of getting them used to having riders. She mounts a horse at one farm, rides to the farm of another customer, leaves that first horse there and takes another horse to the next farm, and so on. Each horse stays at a different farm every night. Martha doesn’t foresee that this circling, the constant changing of homes for the horses, will lead to changes for her. Her dream is to be a wandering cowgirl, but she is drawn into the life of this community.

All the journeys–Martha’s daily circles, and her inadvertent journeys into the lives of others–are satisfying.

The Hearts of Horses is also available as a downloadable audiobook.

Got a carrot or an apple? Red Splendor is preparing to depart. Click him for a look at our year-long horse festivities.

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The Michael Jackson of the 19th Century?

February 14, 2015 by Reader's Connection

Song of the Shank

 

Thomas Wiggins was born into slavery in 1849. Born blind, and considered mentally incompetent, he astonished everyone with his musical talent. His piano-playing became a community novelty, and then, in the hands of various managers, Tom became a traveling celebrity. His performances were a sort of freak show, and various manipulators made a great deal of money. (It was author Ishmael Reed who came up with the Michael Jackson comparison)

 

 

The Best American Short Stories 1982Jeffery Renard Allen’s novel about “Blind Tom,” called Song of the Shank, is its own sort of astonishment. The story leaps around in time, transports the reader geographically, and is written sometimes in the present tense and sometimes in the past tense.

In his introduction to The Best American Short Stories, 1982, John Gardner complained about the fashion in present-tense fiction.

When Faulkner wrote fiction in the present tense, it was startling . . . But present-tense narration has now reached plague level . . . No one denies that a passionate writer can use the present tense to set the page on fire, but most writers who adopt this style do not make burning pages their primary goal.

Jeffery Renard Allen is out to set every page on fire, whatever the tense of his narration, and I think he does wonderfully. Yes, it can be hard to return to the book, once you’ve set it down, just as it’s hard to return to an encampment surrounded by flames. I had to skip ahead, at one point, and then circle back. But I’m grateful for the whole experience. Allen’s story–which encompasses pre-Civil-War secessionists (Tom’s owner was one of those), the war, the 1863 New York City draft riots (from which Tom had to flee) and the “strays” (freed slaves with nowhere to go) in the war’s aftermath–is a fireworks display, with some great explosions and some slow sizzlers, and with Blind Tom providing the accompaniment.

The Ballad of Blind Tom
There is a nonfiction account of Wiggins’s life, The Ballad of Blind Tom by Deirdre O’Connell, but thus far I’m only checking its index for characters from Allen’s novel. The publisher’s note on Song of the Shank‘s cover claims that Allen “blends history and fantastical invention,” and I’m occasionally curious as to which is which. (To me the word “fantastical” seems misleading.)

Here is Allen’s account of one of Tom’s recitals. We are in the mid-1850’s and Tom is between five and eight years old. A party-crasher named Perry Oliver, who hasn’t a musical bone in his body but who will become Tom’s first travelling manager, is at the home of James Neil Bethune, Tom’s pro-secessionist, pro-war owner. Oliver has crashed the party simply because Bethune is a powerful man.

Bethune’s wife makes an announcement: “This is our prized attraction for the evening, Mary Bethune said, our boy, Tom.” Tom begins to play, and Perry Oliver can’t believe it.

It went on this way, Tom fingering one song after another. Perry Oliver could not recognize any of the melodies let alone the titles because he knew little about music. His entire life he had been uncomfortable with sounds. He knew this much: the disparate lines of the party–the chattering, the laughter, each guest’s clever or stupid remark, every grace and gesture, the shoes and clothing made of the simplest materials or the most fancy, the attendees in all of their perfections and defects–took pattern and form in the melodies, chords and rhythms of Tom’s piano. the more Tom played, the more frenzied he became. He turned his blind eyes and face to the audience and shouted “Look at me!” or “How about this?” or “Let’s see you do that!” or “Straight now!” or simply “Hey!” Perry Oliver may have been mistaken, but he would have bet money, and plenty of it, that Tom was expressing the comments for Perry Oliver’s ears alone.

With a great rising, waving, and falling of his hands, Tom closed a song and immediately stood up from his stool and took a stagy sort of bow. All of the objects in the room returned to their customary place, piece by piece, as did the various layers of Perry Oliver’s skin. (A week later, two weeks, he could still hear the music buzzing softly at the back of his skull.) The audience greeted the finale with a standing ovation that caused Tom to begin bowing again and again, like some well-oiled or broken machine.

I’d like to reprint Allen’s account of another of Tom’s performances, during which he sings in (I think) German, a language he has heard for the first time a few minutes earlier. (He’s repeating a song, note for note and new-language word for word.) But this post is already too long. Like Tom, I don’t always know when to stop.

You should take the whole tour. Song of the Shank.

Song of the Shank is also available as a downloadable e-book.

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Emily Gray Tedrowe at IUPUI March 5th

February 12, 2015 by Reader's Connection

The Rufus & Louise Reiberg Reading Series for Spring 2015 begins with a visit from novelist Emily Gray Tedrowe. Her first novel, Commuters (2010), was named a Best New Paperback by Entertainment Weekly, and her new novel, Blue Stars, comes out this month.

Emily Gray Tedrowe
Thursday, March 5, 7:30 p.m.
University Library Lilly Auditorium
755 West Michigan Street

Commuters

Well into their 70s, Winnie McClelland and wealthy Jerry Trevis have fallen in love, causing consternation among their extended family. Jerry’s daughter, Annette, in particular, feels financially threatened when her newlywed father moves from Chicago to a small town in New York State, where he’s purchased the largest, most ostentatious house in Hartfield for his bride; worried that her inheritance might go to Winnie’s family, Annette sues to freeze her father’s assets. Meanwhile, Winnie’s daughter, Rachel, has asked her new stepfather for a sizable loan to help deal with her ill husband’s overwhelming health-care bills. Annette’s son, Avery, a recovering drug addict and promising young chef, is also looking to Jerry for the resources to start up his own restaurant. Further conflict arises from Winnie’s plans to cut down a historic tree for a new front-yard swimming pool, a move that threatens to alienate the entire town. Tedrowe . . . shows great promise in her compassionate, nuanced depiction of love–among the old and young alike–and her confident handling of alternating, multigenerational narrators. — Publishers Weekly

 

Blue Stars

Ellen–an English professor in Madison, Wisconsin, longtime widow, and Edith Wharton expert–would never have met Lacey, a personal trainer with a wild streak, living just outside New York City, if men in their lives hadn’t gone to war in Iraq. [Ellen is] shocked and frightened when Mike, whom Ellen took in when he was a homeless teen, joins the marines . . .  Lacey, a single mother, married army officer Eddie in the hope of a more stable life, but instead she is lonely and still poor. When Mike and Eddie are seriously injured, they end up at Walter Reed Hospital, where Ellen and Lacey, characters of gratifying moxie and complexity, find themselves struggling with fear, sorrow, upheaval, infuriating bureaucracy, and deplorable accommodations. Tedrowe, a deeply perceptive observer of family dynamics complicated by social and moral concerns, offers staggering insights into the struggles of military families and the ghastly conditions at Walter Reed that erupted into scandal in 2007. — Booklist

 

All readings in this series are free and open to the public. Visitor parking is available in the North Street Garage, 819 W. North St. and the Vermont Street Garage, 1004 W. Vermont Street. For parking information on the IUPUI campus, visit http://www.parking.iupui.edu/Visitors/VisitorHome.aspx. For more information about the series, contact Terry Kirts at (317) 274-8929 or tkirts@iupui.edu.

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Do you have a favorite Indiana author?

February 9, 2015 by Reader's Connection

Nomination time is here. I have nominated an author for the Eugene & Marilyn Glick Indiana Authors Award, and sticking up for this wonderful writer has filled me with a sense of well-being.

If there’s an Indiana writer who in your opinion should be recognized as a national, regional or emerging author, nominations will be accepted through March 20th.

Click on our blissful gnome, so happy in his reading, for guidelines and a link to the nomination form.

May the most deserving Indiana authors win! And may all of them go on writing!

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