Buy Generously IV

by Maria on December 30, 2004

Following my thoughtful and inventive co-bloggers, here’s a list of 2004 recommended reading with links to the Amazon Associates programme and my promise to match and forward any fees to the Red Cross for tsunami disaster relief. It may take a day or so for my Associates registration to work out, so please be patient. But now that I’ve finally set an account up, I promise to match and forward any Associates fees I receive in 2005 to the ICRC.

First off, Inventing Japan by Ian Buruma was a short and sharp introduction to Japanese history. It’s full of interesting asides and sweeping generalisations, but in a good way…

I overdosed on Harukai Murakami a few years ago, but always wanted to get my hands on a copy of Underground: the Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche. It’s a set of eyewitness accounts of a disaster that was the precise opposite of last week’s tsunami; insidious and unnoticed at first, an abomination perpetrated by a disaffected elite. The book’s structure and form recall an undistinguished morning amongst many, and what seems a lack of affect in the victims’ emotional responses. The overlapping perspectives with their corroborations and divergences reminded me of the whole set of vaguely post-modern fiction that tries to recreate the voices of many, such as Geoff Ryman’s enjoyable 253.

New by Haruki Murakami is a collection of others’ short stories called Birthday Stories. I bought this for two people this Christmas when I really wanted to keep it for myself.

A good one I robbed from Henry’s office shelf was Global Political Economy: Understanding the International Economic Order by Robert Gilpin. Apart from a slightly rusty appreciation of trade policy, I’d no background at all in the area and found this an excellent introduction to the topic. Skipping the first few chapters that situate the book and indeed the entire field of international political economy, I went straight for those on trade and the international financial system. Great book for anyone who’s always wanted to read the finance and economics sections of the Economist but thinks it might as well be written in Greek.

On the fiction side, I finally read Bulgakov’s The Heart of a Dog. Alongside Neal Stephenson’s Snowcrash, Heart of a Dog captures most perfectly what I imagine the internal monologue of a dog to be. Forget babytalk. Dogs are funnier, wittier, probably think they’re human and just want to be loved and fed. Or fed and loved:

“”Whoo-oo-oo-oo-hooh-hoo-oo! Oh, look at me, I am perishing in this gateway… I am finished, finished. That bastard in the dirty cap – the cook of the Normal Diet Cafeteria for employees of the People’s Central Economic Soviet – threw boiling water at me and scalded my left side. The scum, and he calls himself a proletarian!”

Continuing the Russian theme, I robbed one of the two copies of Natasha’s Dance: A Cultural History of Russia that my Dad got for Christmas, and raced straight for the wonderful chapter on Akmatova, Mandelstam, and Tsvetsayeva. There’s not as much on Bulgakov as I’d like, but there are also wonderful bits about Kandinsky and Chagall and what it meant to them to be Russian. This is a superb book if you have various favourite Russian writers and painters and want to understand better where they fit. Or have a hankering to comprehend the unknowable Russian soul in under 500 pages.

My bedtime reading these days is Anna Akhmatova: Selected Poems, which tells more about love and loss than I ever wish to experience first hand.

One I dipped into all year long (and another I whipped from my Dad) is Age of Extremes: the Short Twenthieth Century, 1914 to 1991.

Science fiction I’d recommend includes Pattern Recognition. I think it doesn’t work very well as a thriller, but the ideas and world Cayce Pollard stomps through in her CPUs are instantly recognisable and also very strange. I also read Darwin’s Children, the sequel to Greg Bear’s Darwin’s Radio does what science fiction does best; takes a skewy viewpoint in another reality to comment on the world we live in. The treatment doled out by the USG in Darwin’s Children to a frightening but helpless minority group is frightening, and only a couple of degrees beyond the reality of the Patriot Act.

Greg Bear’s quality is anything but uniform, though. Another of his I read this year, Dead Lines is absolutely wojus – a clumsy and predictable thriller/horror that might have worked better as a short story. For a much better story about what it’s like to see and speak to the dead, Sean Stewart’s Perfect Circle. One of the Amazon reviewers puts it best: “Perfect Circle is a book about ghosts, about loss, about grief, about responsibility, about family, and about coming to terms with one’s lot in life. It is a fantasy novel of sorts, in that it expresses ideas that fall outside the “natural” laws we accept today, but it is a fantasy novel bearing the dark edge of reality.”

I know there are loads more I’d love to recommend, if only I could remember them. For the week that’s in it, I’d like to mention Susan Sontag’s Illness as Metaphor and Aids and its Metaphors. It’s the first book I read that really made me see the way we think about seemingly concrete things can determine outcomes as well as experiences. Another superb book on the social construction of disease, which I actually read and blogged about in late 2003, is Andrew Solomon’s The Noonday Demon: an Atlas of Depression

{ 1 comment }


kitt 12.31.04 at 8:21 pm

Some have mentioned giving $$ to Oxfam, Catholic Charities, etc., rather than the Red Cross because of the b.s. that happened after 9/11 and all the monies flowing into their coffers that ??….??? I know it left a bad taste in my mouth. I’ve given to Mercy Corps, Oxfam, and Catholic Charities and you can designate where you want your $$ to go as well.

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