Thursday, March 8, 2012

Books I've Read Recently

I am trying to get back into reading more consistently, at which so far I have had rather checkered success. However, hope springs eternal, and so I am trying again. Here's the list of books read this year to date:

January 5th: In Defense of Food, Michael Pollan. My thoughts on the book are here; it was well-written but  terribly helpful for its target audience in some respects; he also had not thought through all of his ideas fully. Grade: A-

January 7th: China Mountain Zhang, Maureen McHugh. My review is here; it featured an interesting and intellectually provocative universe (always important for a science fiction book). I also enjoyed the Chinese cultural aspects. The premise is fundamentally ridiculous, and sometimes the character development was lacking. Overall I enjoyed it a lot. Grade: A-

February 21st: Diary of a Taxi Driver: Tales from Singapore's Most Educated Cabdriver, Cai Mingjie. This is a true-life story about a university professor with a PhD from Harvard forced into cabdriving in Singapore after losing his research job. He is not a good writer but his stories are fascinating. Also very illuminating about life in Singapore.  Grade: B

March 5th: Tales of Old Singapore: The Glorious Past of Asia's Greatest Emporium, Iain Manley. A fluffy book, heavy on pictures and interesting colonialist anecdotes, light on actual content. A fairly fun read but suffers from pro-British colonialism bias (to the point it can be awkward to read) and lack of rigorous thinking. Grade: C-

March 6th: The Friend in Shanghai, Pamela Tan. A collection of short stories about life in post-Cultural Revolution China, spanning the time period up to the Tiananmen Square incident/massacre (depending on one's political views). Like pretty much all Chinese literature, the worldview is fundamentally pessimistic/melancholy. I am interested in the time period and the plots/characters were well done, but I struggled to finish this (short) book, as I found it rather dull and lacked an emotional connection to the stories. Grade: B-

March 7th: The Brooklyn Follies, Paul Auster. Novel about various members of an eccentric family living in Brooklyn, New York. It was an enjoyable read and quite humorous. The male characters were quite well done, especially the narrator Nathan Glass. However, the female characters were in general dreadful: one dimensional and infused with the worst kind of sentimentality. This might have been partly an authorial choice, as Nathan is himself someone who does not understand women and is unable to have genuine relationships with them, but given the plot choices (in particular the life story of Aurora Wood) I think it's also a problem with the writer himself. This aside, I enjoyed the book. Grade: B+

Not an especially impressive total. I am trying to do better. Next up: finish my books about 1. the Spanish conquest of Mexico and 2. the brain development of young children.

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