I had never heard of the Koch brothers before starting my “WTF, USA?” reading project, and I’d wager that they are generally not well-known outside of the US – maybe not even inside, at least not until fairly recently. And that is the way they’d no doubt prefer it, because, as Jane Mayer’s book Dark Money shows in meticulous, occasionally exhausting, but always relevant and enlightening detail, there are more than a few things fishy about their decades-long drive to move American politics to the far, far right. Hopefully soon everyone will know their name when they are pulled out of the cozy darkness of their anonymity into the glaring light of public scrutiny and uncomfortable questions – Dark Money certainly makes a large contribution to that end, and as it apparently was a bestseller (and really should be read by any USian entitled to vote) there may be some ground for hope.
The more things change, the more things remain the same: This is particularly true for Dutch author J.J.Voskuil’s monumental novel of office life, Het Bureau (“The Office”) of which this is the fifth. It brings us and our protagonist Maarten into the 80s, where things supposedly change: money is becoming scarce and financial cuts loom over all public institutions. There are even persistent rumours of the newly renamed A.P. Beerta Institute being shut down and you’d expect the Institute’s employees to roll up their sleeves and start working on preventing that.
Half a Crown is the final instalment of Jo Walton’s Small Change trilogy which is set in alternative history Great Britain in which England arranged itself with the Nazis, which led to Germany winning the Second World War and Britain starting a slow slide into fascism.
The Plum in the Golden Vase or, Chin P’ing Mei is another of the Six Classic Chinese novels. It was written in the 16th century, that is about two hundred years before The Scholars and is considerably longer – the English translation spans five volumes of about 800-1,000 pages each, and while there is a lot of editorial material in each volume, I’d estimate it comes to at least 3,000 pages total. “Lanling Xiaoxiao Sheng” apparently means “The Scoffing Scholar of Lanling” and is an obvious pseudonym; the author remains unknown to this day, although the editor of my edition (on which later more) has a theory about who may have written the novel. I even have a theory of my own, as it happens (on which more later).
What it says in the heading. Supposedly there are six of those (as we’re talking canon here, this should probably taken with several grains of salt), and I am planning to read all of them and hoping that I’ll manage a post on each. Here’s the list, with links to what I have so far:
Shi Nai’an: The Outlaws of the Marsh (14th century)
Luo Guanzhong: Romance of the Three Kingdoms (14th century)
Wu Cheng’en: Journey to the West (16th century)
Lanling Xiaoxiao Sheng: The Plum in the Golden Vase (16th century) – Post here
Wu Jingzi: The Scholars (18th century) – Post here
Cao Xuequin: The Story of the Stone (18th century)
And as a bonus, some related stuff:
J.J Voskuil: Het Bureau (neither Chines nor a classic – yet -, but the novel which inspired me to embark on this project, and also, I think, a 20th century continuation of the tradition) – Post on volumes 1-4 here, on volume 5 here.
More Chinese novels which are not among the six Classics
Raise the Red Lantern (Chinese film, because Leander insisted on it)
Considering the incredibly large amount of books that she has published, one would expect the works of Joyce Carol Oates to be mostly bland and streamlined, as easy to consume as they are (presumably) to write. And maybe some of them are, but everything I have read by her so far (a volume of Selected Stories, the novel Childwold and now this novella) have swerved very far from the middle of the road and offered challenging, exciting reading experiences. I’ll likely bump into a dud one day, but that day has not yet arrived.
I caught a bad case of the summer flu recently and as that tends to make somewhat unfocused, I looked around for some light reading that would not require too much attention to get me through the period of sickness. I eventually hit on Daniel Abraham’s Fantasy series The Dagger and the Coin which, as it turned out, did its job quite nicely, keeping me pleasantly distracted from my frequent bouts of coughing and sneezing. And I even got a bit more than I bargained for, as you will find out if you manage to make your way to the end of this overlong post.