What I’ve Been Reading

1. China: Fragile Superpower: How China’s Internal Politics Could Derail Its Peaceful Rise by Susan Shirk. Shirk was a lead diplomat to China for the United States in the Clinton administration. This is an excellent overview of the political state of China. She argues that the insecurity of China’s leaders might derail its rise. Prosperity and stability are inversely correlated so long as the current governing structure is in place. The richer China gets, the more freedoms the people demand, the more the govt tries to crack down on such expressions of freedom…and the pot is boiling. What I liked about this book is it avoids the breathless hype about how China is going to take over the world and instead offers a nuanced and comprehensive insider’s look on what’s happening and what will likely happen over the next several years.

2. A Sorrow Beyond Dreams by Peter Handke. A classic book about death and mortality by the German Handke. It is an account of his mother’s illness and subsequent suicide. Saddening and moving. Some experimental aspects of the prose also make it interesting.

3. Metaphors We Live By by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson. This is an older, academic book probably only of interest to those studying the formal elements of rhetoric. It’s a good albeit dry explanation of how metaphor underpins much of our language and conception of reality.

4. The Body by Jenny Boully. This is a highly experimental book. The entire text lies in footnotes and the body of each page is blank. So each page consists of a blank main section and a few footnotes at the bottom. I found it a maddening reading experience — inventiveness by itself doesn’t make a good book. Still, if the notion of an all-footnote book with lots of different plot threads (often out of order) intrigues you, check it out.

5. Coast of Dreams by Kevin Starr. This is a contemporary history of California by the State’s leading historian. I’m half-way through it and deciding whether to plow on. Each chapter is short and filled with facts and nuggets about California happenings the past couple decades. What I’m missing is some overarching narrative. I want him to wax poetic on the state of the frontier. I want some deeper analysis of the place that promises everything and only sometimes delivers. Basically, I want fewer footnotes and news stories and instead a richer, slower perspective. This is not a bad book — I’m sure it will be a valuable resource for historians in the future — but it’s not scratching any itch of mine at the moment.

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