Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Four Books

Quiet time by the harbour in Hong Kong

I was recently among the people tagged by A Changing Life's a. for this meme. I found her blog entry on this subject to make for interesting reading and can but hope that mine will prove to be the same to at least some of this blog's visitors.

Four childhood books

Like many others who was born and spent the better part of her childhood in a British Commonwealth country, I read tons of Enid Blyton. However, for added interest (and since I've already previously blogged about them), am going to refrain from naming any books by her or the two other favorite female authors from my younger days. Which makes things a bit difficult, seeing as that eliminates so many works! Additionally, these days, I find myself once again residing in a different part of the world from the bulk of my personal library. Still, here goes:-

  • Winnie-the-Pooh - A. A. Milne. The edition I got in London came complete with original illustrations by E. H. Shepherd, and I'm going to take this opportunity to state how much I prefer those original depictions of Pooh and Piglet to their Disneyfied versions.
  • A Child's Garden of Verses - Robert Louis Stevenson. Funnily enough, I never ever managed to get into Stevenson's more well known Treasure Island and Kidnapped but I adored this poetry collection, with particular favorites among them including the one about Leerie the Lamplighter (even if also belatedly realizing how ethnocentric some of the others in the collection were!)
  • Swiss Family Robinson - Johann David Wyss. When I read the English translation of this classic book, I was bemused to find that there are some Malay words in it!
  • King of the Wind: The Story of the Godolphin Arabian - Marguerite Henry. My favorite of the many horse books I read during my "horse" phase that also included the same author's Justin Morgan Had a Horse, Mary O'Hara's My Friend Flicka and, of course, Anna Sewell's Black Beauty. :)
Four authors I will read again and again

I'm going to take this category to mean authors who I've got more than one book of (rather than just authors of books I read again and again). Again, have made things more difficult for myself -- but, hopefully, more interesting for regular visitors -- in that rather than repeat
what I've previously written on this blog, I'm going to go for some more 'new' (at least for this blog) names here...

  • Sara Paretsky. The latest crime fiction novelist whose books I've become hooked to.
  • E. M. Forster. And for the record, my two favourites of his books are Howard's End and Maurice. Incidentally, very much dislike the film adaptation of the former but am fine with the latter.
  • Ulf Hannerz. One of the sadly too rare contemporary socio-cultural anthropologists whose theories and observations make sense, and can write well.
  • E. L. Braithwaite. I have to admit that I've only ever read and know about two books by him (i.e., To Sir With Love and Paid Servant) but believe you me when I say that I'd like to get my hands on more books by him!
Four authors I will never read again

Figuring that I might as well go for the big rather than obscure names here...

  • Jane Austen. I know she has many fans but I tried to read Northanger Abbey and then Sense and Sensibility and couldn't make it through more than a few pages of either! And this from someone who's been to Bath and even visited Winchester Cathedral, where she lies buried.
  • Jostein Gaardner. Sophie's World started off alright but at some point, I'm afraid that it all got too complex and 'meta' for me.
  • Fyodor Dostoyevsky. I get the feeling that a lot of the quality got lost in translation and since I doubt that I'll be picking up the Russian language any time soon...
  • Homi K. Bhabha. Not so long ago, I was obliged to read more than my fair share of post-structuralist, meta-critical theory tomes. Am I glad that those days are now gone! (And for those who don't know what I'm talking about, here's a real example of Bhabha's babblings: If, for a while, the ruse of desire is calculable for the uses of discipline soon the repetition of guilt, justification, pseudo-scientific theories, superstition, spurious authorities, and classifications can be seen as the desperate effort to “normalize” formally the disturbance of a discourse of splitting that violates the rational, enlightened claims of its enunciatory modality.)
The first four books on my to-be-read list

I'm going to take this category to refer to books I already bought copies of but have not yet gotten to reading...

  • Becoming Madame Mao - Anchee Min. I got much out of reading her Empress Orchid and am looking forward to see her imaginative take on another notorious historical Chinese personality.
  • Last Princess of Manchuria - Lilian Lee. I've viewed several film adaptations of this author's works, including Rouge, Green Snake, Temptation of a Monk, Dumplings and Kawashima Yoshiko: Last Princess of Manchuria. It'll be interesting to see whether I like her prose as much as many of those movies.
  • Whispers and Moans: Interviews with the Men and Women of Hong Kong's Sex Industry - Yeeshan Yang. I viewed Whispers and Moans the movie earlier this year and still would rank it among my top five Hong Kong films of 2007. It'll be interesting to see how much the Herman Yau helmed work did in fact take from this non-fiction book.
  • Fire Sale - Sara Paretsky. Like I wrote above, I've become hooked to this crime novel series that centers on Chicago private investigator V.I. Warshawsky.
The four books I would take to a desert island

Three of these books I love and read many times; one of these I've yet to finish but like enough of what I've seen thus far -- and since I figure I ought to bring something to a desert island that's new to me along with old favorites...

  • Return to Laughter: An Anthropological Novel - Elinore Smith Bowen (since revealed to be the nom de plume of Laura Bohannan). The book that I made sure all my "Introduction to Cultural Anthropology" students read whenever I taught that course (which, I will still maintain, actually can have practical relevance and utility in this increasingly interconnected world of ours).
  • The Last Star of the East: Brigitte Lin Ching Hsia and Her Films - Akiko Tetsuya. Yes, well... and it's not just to gaze at the pictures of my favorite actress of all time (aka The Great One) either! ;)
  • The Importance of Living - Lin Yutang. At the very least, a book with a great title! ;b
The last lines of one of my favourite books.

This is the city
with a history


This is Hong Kong --
my city

of poetry.

Agnes Lam
20 April 2003
Hong Kong in spite of SARS (severe acute respiratory


-- From Michael Ingham's Hong Kong: A Cultural and Literary History.

As for tagging: I'd like to see the following four's take on the Four Books meme:-

...but only if they are inclined to go for it. Really. :)


Glenn, kenixfan said...

you are throwing down a book challenge to an English Lit grad?

okay, get ready.

I should ask why you didn't like Howard's End (the film)?

I liked it quite a bit at the time -- saw it some 10 times in the theaters in DC even -- but now have almost zero interest in it.

I recall that the film of Where Angels Fear to Tread was better overall.

And I enjoyed Forster without ever having to read him in college -- read on my own -- but did not enjoy Journey's End (is that it?) at all.

Glenn, kenixfan said...

On Pooh: I grew up on Disney films as a kid and when I got older and read the actual works, felt that I had been cheated in many ways.

Disney had Disneyfied complex works like Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland.

But with Pooh, I think the Disney version -- the original ones with Sebastian Cabot narrating -- is pretty good.

In fact, I'll go out on a limb, and say that those are to date the best Disney adaptations out there.

Sebastian Cabot's narration of those films and his voicing of the panther in The Jungle Book film really captivated me when I was about 3 or 4.

So now I have this weird love/hate with those Disney films -- cheated out of ever being able to read Peter Pan without seeing those images in my head.

And Bambi is a FAR better book than the Disney film (which I admittedly think is a kind of masterpiece).

YTSL said...

Hi Glenn --

Think invitation, not challenge! ;b

Re "Howard's End": Because it left out my favorite quote of the whole book "Only connect..." Also, there's no Royal Albert Hall scene -- the one where the Schlagel's personalities get revealed by their different reactions to Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony. :S

Re Pooh: Actually, I specifically meant that I prefer the non-Disney illustrations themselves. As for the Disney films' general execution: Yeah, it's okay, I suppose but my favorite Walt Disney movie actually is "Robin Hood"! ;)

Glenn, kenixfan said...

Right, the film of Howard's End had that concert scene early on but it only introduces the characters without any details about their feelings.

The line is indeed missing, though, even as the filmmakers tried to convey the meaning otherwise.

I think Robin Hood was one of the last first run Disney features I saw as a kid -- everything else was a re-issue of a classic or something I was too old to enjoy.

In those days, it was a big deal because the features only came out every 7 years -- no video or cable of course.

I fondly recall playing this Robin Hood record over and over -- I remember that more clearly than the film.

Madara said...

Oh, come on, YTSL, read "Pride and Prejudice" for heaven's sake! And then watch the 1940 movie of it starring Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier. You won't regret it.

YTSL said...

Hi again Glenn --

Actually, the film substitutes the concert scene for a lecture in a smaller setting. As for the absence of "Only connect...": Dammit, it's the line that sums everything up! Still, "Howard's End" is not the worst film adaptation of an E.M. Forster book that I've seen. Instead, that "honor" goes to "A Passage to India".

Hi leo86 --

Sorry but I don't trust you enough on such matters with regards to the "you won't regret it" promise! ;(

Oh, and somehow your comments got me remembering another famous author whose books I've tried more than once to enjoy but find that I can't: Charles Dickens!

Glenn, kenixfan said...

Yeah, the Pride and Prejudice with Greer Garson is a great Hollywood film but has little to do with the actual book.

I mean, I like the Ronald Colman Tale of Two Cities but it still pales mightily next to the actual book.

Same with all film versions of Dickens that I've seen -- all good films but none as complex as the actual novels.

As I said on my blog, Grapes of Wrath was the only film that I thought was better than the original novel.

A. said...

So sorry to have been so late to get over here. It's been a particularly arduous time at work, and I'm coming home and collapsing. I'll be back shortly when I've had time to "study" your list:) but I'm already shouting to myself "Oh how did I forget that one"!

YTSL said...

Hi again Glenn --

More re Dickens: I find that if I read a page or two at a time of his writings, I enjoy them but the entire books are just too much. OTOH, I'm quite okay with George Elliot and very much enjoyed the gigantic "Middlemarch". So go figure? ;S

Hi A. --

No need to apologize and thanks again for tagging me for this meme! :)

A. said...

I'm back, with my thoughts at least partially collected :)
Winnie the Pooh, I don't know why I didn't think of it , and I couldn't agree more about the illustrations.
Jane Austen never will be read again - how could you! I have to say I much preferred Pride and Prejudice out of them all.
Sophie's World - it was one of those books that made me feel I ought to be taking notes. The whole thing was quite weird.
Whispers and Moans - I've heard of it but it doesn't appear to be available as a book in the UK. It looks as though there will be a DVD next month though.

I've really enjoyed reading your selections, and now off to look at the people you've tagged :)

alejna said...


Sorry to be so slow to comment. I'm a bit overloaded these days...

Anyhow, I'll gladly participate. What with NaBloPoMo, I'll be needing regular inspiration.

And I totally, heartily, completely agree about the classic Pooh illustrations being superior to the Disneyfied ones.

YTSL said...

Hi again A. --

Hmmm... there seems to be quite a few fans of Winnie the Pooh, and Jane Austen, among this blog's readers! ;D

The DVD of "Whispers and Moans" is already out over here in Hong Kong. Maybe you might wish to buy it from a Hong Kong/Asian online video store?

Hi Alejna --

Yeah, I read your "overloaded" posts... so am doubly glad that you've decided to participate in the meme. :)

Willow said...

I've never read Winnie the Pooh. Perhaps I shall.

I've read all of Anchee Min's works. Princess Orchid and Becoming Madame Mao are the best, imo. Sa Shan's Empress was pretty good. It's like a Princess Orchid.

I also couldn't get into Charles Dickens which was tough bc my grade school English teacher had us studying his novels.

YTSL said...

Hi Willow --

If you like children's books (especially those involving animals,
"real" and nursery ones), then "Winnie the Pooh" should worth checking out even now.

Re Anchee Min: "Becoming Madame Mao" seems to be highly recommended. It might have to wait a bit since after reading a book called "Chinese Lessons", I now feel compelled to read more about Mao himself first... :)