You can call me Hal.

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Reading List
I find myself in an intake period right now, where I want to just read and watch and consume and cogitate for a bit, before I get back to my WIPs and essays and projects. I want to add more variety to my reading and maybe you do too. If you have a few minutes, please recommend two books: one non-fiction and one fiction. Here are mine:

Non-fiction: The Geography of Thought : How Asians and Westerners Think Differently...and Why by Richard Nisbett
I'm interested in the brain and thought and I found this book really illuminated just how deeply thought patterns can differ between societies. More than anything else, it expanded the boundaries of my ignorance and showed me just how much I assume that other people think the same way I do. The specific studies and theories will be especially useful to Westerners who are involved with Asian culture in some way (like, oh, all the fans of Japanese pop culture on my flist) but, really, I think it's extremely valuable for anyone, whether or not you agree with the "...and why" part of the book. I wish I'd been able to read it before I read a lot of other books about thought and the brain.

Fiction: A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews
Nomi Nickel is a 16 year old girl living in a small Mennonite community in Manitoba (Canada), longing to move to New York but realising that she's more likely to end up slaughtering chickens at the Happy Family Farms abbatoir. I don't want to say too much about the plot, but the book is very well-written, with the most brilliant characterization I've seen in a long time. When I finished, I didn't know whether I wanted to start reading it again right away to soak up the craft or never read it again, because it broke me. It's not a heavy, dark book, though, and the narrative voice is ironic and entertaining. I wish I could write one-quarter this well.

What are your picks?

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Weird Colonial Boy, Paul Voermans. Have I told you to read this before? I tell lots of people to read it, but then most people haven't. It's black comedy about an alternate Australia where the convict camps never went away. It's also a little bit like The Phantom Tollbooth. And it has good prison sex.

For non-fiction . . . I just bought The Medieval Kitchen, by Odile Redon and some other people, which is translated from French and has nifty recipes (translations of the medieval ones, plus modern versions) and lots of background about stuff like medieval techniques and vegetables. And some colour illustrations from old manuscripts, and it was something like $12.

Non-fiction: The Dialogic Imagination by Mikhail Bakhtin, because absolutely everyone should read this. It's literary theory, all about the shapes of stories and characters and language. In particular, the ideas about how every word/sentence/story balances somewhere between the new-meaning-invention and the common-meaning-reference aspects of language is just fascinating. You don't actually have to have read either Rabelais or Dostoevsky to understand it, either.

Fiction: Either The Curse of Chalion or Vor Game by Lois McMaster Bujold, depending on whether you're in the mood for fantasy or sci-fi. Lois wins at everything.

Fiction: Case Histories by Kate Atkinson
It's a murder mystery, a British comedy, and a family drama; it can flow seamlessly from bleakness to hilarity to gruesome violence in the course of a page. A straight plot synopsis would make it sound incredibly dark even though it didn't feel that way reading it at all. Not the End of the World is by far my favorite Atkinson book (I recommend that one too), but this one is a very earned second.

Nonfiction: Madame Sadayakko: The Geisha Who Bewitched the West by Lesley Downer
It's a bit too adoring and speculative to have full credence as a biography, but it's a hugely enjoyable read about fascinating people (totally worth it for the bit in which Sadayakko and her husband ditch debt collectors and depression by fleeing to a little boat and bouncing from coastal village to coastal village as traveling performers). And there's some fascinating stuff about Japanese high society during the Meiji Era, and the effects that Japanese theater and US/European theater had on each other and how theatrical performances shaped their perception of each others' cultures.

Fiction: The Vintner's Luck by Elizabeth Knox.
A young French soldier from Napoleon's army comes back to his home and meets a fallen angel.

Non-ficiton: Courtesans and Fishcakes: the consuming passions of Classical Athens by Jameds Davidson. Sex, food and leisure in ancient Greece.


Nonfiction: Geisha, by Liza Dalby. The only foreigner ever to become a geisha. Even though it was written in the seventies, it still provides a lot of useful information about geisha culture. Good stuff.

Fiction: City of Saints and Madmen by Jeff Vandermeer. This man is one of the most brilliant authors I've ever read. In this book, he weaves a series of short stories together to provide a picture of a city called Ambergris (which is quite a bit like a character all on its own). I could praise this book to the skies, and it still wouldn't be enough. XD

Non Fiction: David Christian - maps of time, an introduction to big history; I found it a fascinating approach to history, and I loved the way that it combines science and history and shows how their not at odds with each other.

Fiction: Have you ever read Terry Pratchett? An especial favourite is night watch, but he's written quite a few others, and most of them can either be taken as oneshots set in the same universe, though there are a few sequel sections that revolve around a specific set of characters.

Non-fiction: The Lunar Men by Jenny Uglow is good if you like history. It's about this particular club of men who were interested in science and all sorts of things and they had really interesting lives and it's really interesting to look at the way that people used to think of science (it was a hobby and they had little to no training and they wrote their treatises on their new discoveries as poetry and they still managed to do things that affected the entire shape of modern science!)

Fiction: Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury because the language is simply gorgeous. It's a horror novel only it doesn't really feel like one (in my admittedly imexperienced opinion) and it's one of my favourite books ever.

That first book sounds veeery interesting. I have read bits about that everywhere and, well, I am experiencing it n my flesh and brain everyday, but it'd be nice to have some more background knowledge. I am craving more for non-fiction than for fiction these days, and I too am very much interesting in how the mind works.

About fiction, I barely read, I must admit, and the last I have tried is the saga of "A Song of Ice and Fire" by George R.R. Martin. If you haven't read them, maybe you'd like to give them a chance. They can be angering or disturbing at times, but they read sooooo well. And have some unforgettable characters.

Anyone But England by Mike Marqusee,an outsider looks at English cricket.An American has taken to cricket,and gives his views filtered through his left-wing viewpoint.It makes me think about what I had assumed,so helpful in that.
The Harsh Cry Of The Heron by Lian Hearn,the 4th in the Otori series.Set in Medieval Japan,the first 3 books showed the life and times of Tomasu,a peasant boy with odd abilities,renamed Takeo,adopted into the nobility but rising to become an enlightened ruler on his own abilities.I find the whole thing,with its prescribed boundaries of behaviour,completely absorbing.

Nonfiction: A Natural History of the Senses, or Deep Play (either one) by Diane Ackerman. Amazing things about how our minds and bodies work, written so a non-scientist like me can be in awe.

Fiction: The Grand Sophy, by Georgette Heyer. Excellent characterization, complex plot, and great dialogue. Lots of fun.

White Goddess, by Robert Graves.

Everything by Terry Pratchett.

Asians and Westerners really think differently ? I dunno ... *ponders* Probably I'm a freak, then, somewhere in the middle. *scratches head worriedly*

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