It’s Book Week, apparently…

At least it is here in Oz. Book Week is a product of the Children’s Book Council of Australia, but I have decided to use it as a pretext for a post even if my choices may not exactly be junior reading.

In fact I read a great deal. After all, what else is a septuagenarian to do, eh? But I rarely bother to review or even list what I am up to, unlike some years past when books tended to be a bit of a mainstay on my blog. I’ve decided my reading is essentially my business, for my pleasure or edification even. Much of it too is of e-books, particularly free ones — I am after all a pensioner. But there is also Wollongong Library, and it is, I have to say, excellent.

My current batch includes this:


Yes, Chinese. Very topical lately. Very impressive, given 1) I rarely read science fiction and 2) this is apparently not his best novel. He has impressed quite a few though:

Both Barack Obama and Mark Zuckerberg have curated or shared lists of their favorite reads. That such lists usually serve some PR or political strategy is boringly obvious: an elite is never not political….

There is however, a work of fiction that they both have on their lists . It’s a much-feted epic science fiction trilogy from the Chinese writer Cixin Liu….

Fascinating right now to have a Chinese novel that includes among much else these scenarios:

Still, there are incredible moments in the novel, like Chen and Yun’s trip to a derelict Soviet research facility or the hints of Chinese anxieties about conflict with the US (the last portion of the novel is about a war with an unnamed “enemy,” though their vessels all bear the names of well-known ships in the US navy). Liu’s fourth novel in English demonstrates that Chinese science fiction, the world’s largest such market, is an important archive for scholars and readers alike. Let Ball Lightning be the fifth column of a Chinese science-fiction invasion.

In Paris Review a translator, Amanda DeMarco, is quite critical about Ball Lightning.

We’re here for one thing and one thing only: Liu’s ideas. (Actually, the misogyny matters. I can’t enjoy Liu’s work fully because of it, but that’s another essay.) His books are propelled by the fascination of scientific discovery, in which the mysteries of existence unfold around the reader. In Liu’s hands, everyday reality reveals itself to be composed of marvels, and the results are nothing less than mind-blowing. For example, as one character explains in Ball Lightning: “In the briefest period after the Big Bang, all of space was flat. Later, as energy levels subsided, wrinkles appeared in space, which gave birth to all of the fundamental particles. What’s been so mystifying for us is why the wrinkles should only appear at the microscopic level. Are there really no macroscopic wrinkles? Or, in other words, are there no macroscopic fundamental particles?” From this single intriguing question, Liu extrapolates a series of ramifications that ripple through human existence, from defense and politics to the nature of the soul and the afterlife. Liu’s visions of the future are so vivid and near at hand because he presents them as extensions of reality around us. Another dimension is available to us within the world we know, accessible through human ingenuity; just because something is invisible to us now doesn’t mean it won’t soon materialize. To join Liu in this perspective is to recognize the most fantastic aspects of our reality.

This immanence and imminence of possibility felt true to the fabric of my experience of China, the not quite benign magic of the unexpected. The only predictable aspect was my reaction when enchantment eventually gave way to exhaustion. On our final day in Beijing, I dumped Cixin Liu’s books in a trash bin on our hutong—they were too bulky to carry back, and we didn’t know anyone who would want to read them in English. I feel a bit cowardly admitting it: the future is nice to visit, but I’m not sure I would want to live there.

Hmmm. I didn’t register the misogyny so strongly, rather being taken with the science and imagination, as well as the sense of what felt life in the PRC may well be like. And I do want to read more. Wollongong Library, it appears, can oblige,

Other books in my current swag (all book links to Goodreads) include Sarah Rainsford, Our Woman in Havana: Reporting Castro’s Cuba, Stan Grant, The Tears of Strangers: a Memoir, and Stephen Markley, Ohio: a Novel. All good. The last is a first novel and took me a while to get into, but once I did I found it again gave that sense of felt life in a particular time and place that I value in what I read.  In this case, given Dayton, it was most topical. My old friend Ernie Tucker had been there before me, I notice.  The book, that is, not Dayton.

….the novel is loaded with events and the pace is skilfully controlled and gathers like one of those terrible storms that devastate the mid-West as the shocking secret crimes are revealed and the rain pelts down on all the living and the dead.