Book Review: The Silent Traveller: A Chinese Artist in Lakeland by Chiang Yee


Author: Chiang Yee
TitleThe Silent Traveller: A Chinese Artist in Lakeland
Publication Info: London, Country Life; New York, Transatlantic Arts [1949] (first published in 1937)
Other Books Read By Same Author: The Silent Traveller in London, The Silent Traveller in San Francisco, The Silent Traveller in Boston, and The Silent Traveller in Dublin.
Summary/Review:

Long ago I discovered the travel books of Chiang Yee, a Chinese-born writer who left China in the 1930s and over the next several decades published his observations of visits to various places in Europe and the Americas.  Unlike the typical travel writer who is an adventurous go-getter, Chiang quietly observes and reflects in his writing, poetry, paintings, and calligraphy (hence, “Silent Traveller”).  This is the first of his travel narratives based on a two-week visit to the English Lake District in 1936.  He’s more opinionated here than I recall in other books, comparing the Lake District scenery unfavorably to China. His writing style hasn’t developed yet either, as this reads more like a daily journal than a composed travel narrative.  But there are flashes of humor and warmth that are Chiang’s trademarks, as well as disconcerting glimpses of the political situation in Europe and Asia at that time that would explode into the Second World War.
Favorite Passages:

“…I am a man of curious temperament who prefers on most occasions to be dumb.  When I was obliged to talk I found my tongue grow curling and painful.  None of my friends realised my predicament, for I made efforts to talk easily in case they would drop their friendship with me altogether.  It is a selfish trait in my character which I try to master.  Whenever I walk or travel I am generally silent; I like to observe the scenery closely, and sometimes I lose all consciousness of myself in it.  At such times there is no room in my mind for the external trimmings of history or romance.”

“My friend was surprised and a little shocked to see so many pieces of land enclosed and marked ‘Private,” protesting that in China we should never find the public forbidden a free employment of scenery.  I acquiesced, and admitted that it seemed money could buy even Nature!”

“We reached the landing-stage at Bowness only to find a long queue of people waiting for the boat; it was at least a quarter of an hour before our turn came.  In the meanwhile I watched these holiday-makers with great interest, hurrying, scurrying, everyone in haste and eagerness.  I remind myself that never could such a scene be found in China; in the busy West it seems that even merry-making has to be done in haste nowadays!”

Rating: ***

Book Review: Who Was Louis Armstrong by Yona Zeldis McDonough


Author: Yona Zeldis McDonough
TitleWho Was Louis Armstrong
Publication Info: New York : Grosset & Dunlap, c2004.
Summary/Review:

The life of musician and icon Louis Armstrong is explored at a kids level, focusing mostly on his early life up to the 1930s.  Armstrong grew up in poverty in New Orleans and spent time in a reform school although he claimed that it saved him as it introduced him to the cornet.  Armstrong is celebrated both for his musical talent and innovation and for breaking down barriers for black people.  It’s an interesting book about a fascinating person, and it doesn’t shy away from some of the nuances of race such as when critics called him an “Uncle Tom.”

Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: Lost in a Good Book by Jasper Fforde


Author: Jasper Fforde
TitleLost in a Good Book
Narrator: Emily Gray
Publication Info: Penguin Audio (2011)
Other Books Read by Same Author: The Eyre Affair, Shades of Gray, The Last Dragonslayer, The Song of the Quarkbeast, One of Our Thursdays is Missing, and The Eye of Zoltar.
Summary/Review:

Rereading the Thursday Next series has its surprises in remembering what basic concepts of the Nextian universe have and have not yet been introduced.  Lost in a Good Book is a workhorse of a second novel introducing Jurisfiction, Mrs. Havisham, and Aornis Hades, among other things.  After the “relaxed” pacing of The Eyre Affair it’s also the first book in which Thursday has to jump among threats from Hades, Goliath, the Book World, Spec Ops, and the impending demise of the world.  There’s even a joke in which Thursday is quoted in her memoir remembering the first time she saved the world from destruction which is hilarious in retrospect.  A good follow-up in a great series and Emily Gray provides excellent voice work for the narrative.

Here’s my review and favorite passages from when I first read this book in 2003:

The second book in the Thursday Next series, and like <i>The Empire Strikes Back</i> is better than its predecessor and a stand-out in the series. It also begins a story arc that continues in the next two books. Of course, you should just read them all. The Thursday Next series is just one of the best examples of fantastic, alternative historic, time traveling, satirical, police procedural, and humorist writing out there today.

“Growth purely for its own sake is the philosophy of the cancer…” (p. 97)
“My father said that it was a delightfully odd – and dangerously self-destructive – quirk of humans the we were far more interested in pointless trivia than in genuine news stories.” (p. 141)

Rating: *****