Sunday, January 30, 2011

GWEILO: MEMORIES OF A HONG KONG CHILDHOOD by Martin Booth



THE GIST:

An Englishman writes about his childhood in Hong Kong in the early 1950's. He gets to know the locals and has serendipitous adventures in old Hong Kong. The American edition is called GOLDEN BOY: MEMORIES OF A HONG KONG CHILDHOOD.

THE VERDICT:

This is a great book to read while you're in Hong Kong, or if you've ever been here before. The author provides vivid descriptions of the city at a time when foreigners were less common, coolies still patrolled the streets, and the opium dens still operated in the vanished Kowloon Walled City.

The book captures the joy of a childhood spent exploring a new place. There is a sense of openness and optimism that will appeal to the childlike adventurer within. The one drawback is that the author spends a bit too much time portraying his father as a nasty piece of work. At times he allows a lifetime of mature resentment to tarnish a lovely and innocent account of his early years.

Hong Kong has changed a lot in the last 50 years, but the flavor of places like Mongkok and Tsim Sha Tseui is still very much the same. I recognized so much in this book, even though some things are gone forever. Read this book if you want to know how Hong Kong feels.

THE LINK:

This author did not seem to have a website before he passed away in 2004. Here is a link to his Guardian obit: Martin Booth.

THE COST:

I borrowed this book in paperback format from a friend, so it didn't cost me anything. The Kindle edition is listed for $11.45.

THE QUESTION:

Why does Hong Kong draw people in such an irresistible way? What do you think is special about this city?

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Bookspotting: Week 1



Hong Kong doesn't seem to have a big reading culture. I rarely see people reading books on the MTR, and even in coffee shops people are far more likely to be working than reading. There are few bookstores, English or Chinese, considering the size of the population. This is a city that has been very quick to embrace technology, so it is far more common to see people playing and working on their cell phones than reading on their commutes. I've only seen three other Kindles in the last five months.

So what are people reading around here? This week I spotted a middle-aged Western man reading a John Grisham novel and a young Chinese guy reading The Da Vinci Code. I caught sight of another book that looked like a Ted Dekker paperback from far away. There were two people on the MTR this week reading Chinese books, and that was it.

What are people reading in your town this week?

Friday, January 28, 2011

UNDRESS ME IN THE TEMPLE OF HEAVEN by Susan Jane Gilman



THE GIST:

A travel memoir about two na├»ve Brown graduates who decide to go backpacking in China very shortly after the country opens up to foreigners. They are unprepared for the food, cultural differences, etc. and definitely can’t handle the pressure.

THE VERDICT:

This woman can tell a story. I was constantly frustrated by the selfishness and stupid mistakes of the two girls, but I still couldn’t put the book down. The writing is immediate and sometimes lyrical. This is a great example of storytelling that keeps your attention until the dramatic end. The best part about the book is that the story is true.

One of the most interesting themes this book raises is the difficulty of maintaining your identity when you are completely removed from your own culture. It is easier for a person to forget who they thought they were when their assumptions and values have to stand against a sea of differences. It’s a good read for any young person abroad from the perspective of a writer who has become much wiser for her experiences.

It’s almost too obvious to say that China has changed dramatically in the last twenty years. This is a great look at what travel there was like for a foreigner not too long ago. As a young woman living in Hong Kong, this reminder is particularly pertinent.

THE LINK:

The author's website: http://www.susanjanegilman.com/

THE COST:

 $9.99 from the Kindle Store

THE QUESTION: 

To what extent do you think travelers should be willing to adapt to the values and practices of another culture?

THE SCARLET LETTER by Nathaniel Hawthorne



THE GIST: 

Often required reading in high school English classes, THE SCARLET LETTER tells the story of Hester Prynne’s disgrace following adultery in a Puritan community and the moral anguish of her partner in sin. She wears the famous red letter and does good deeds, while he wastes away under the care of a sinister physician.

THE VERDICT:

This is one of those books that I just haven’t gotten around to reading before now, but I was surprised by the relevance of its themes. The book is really about the young minister and his rapid decline as the weight of his guilt increases. Hester is a bit too perfect, despite the obvious, and the truly reprehensible people are the “good” folks in the town.

A particularly interesting theme is the strong connection between the characters’ moral and physical states. As Hester atones for her actions by helping the poor and generally doing everything right, she appears even more beautiful. As the minister carries around his dark secret while pretending to be a spiritual leader, he becomes even more ill. As the physician carries out his physical and psychological revenge he becomes even more ugly.

The moral themes in the book are fairly straightforward, but the execution of the story is excellent. The sprightly child provides an odd but welcome juxtaposition with the somber mood of colonial Massachusetts. The pressure builds to a satisfying conclusion and prompts an examination of hypocrisy and the debilitating effects of guilt.

THE LINK:

Nathaniel Hawthorne does not have an author website. Try this site for more information: http://www.online-literature.com/hawthorne/ 

THE COST:

Free e-book from Amazon

THE QUESTION:

Do you think the confession of the minister is inevitable?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

A Book Blog

Welcome to my brand new book blog! "A Kindle in Hong Kong" will feature short and sweet reviews of whatever I happen to be reading. I'm an English major living in Hong Kong, so I read a lot of classics and travel memoirs. I also read contemporary novels, interesting non-fiction, and anything else that jumps out at me. I always have a list of books in my head that I've been meaning to read, and this year I'm doing my best to read as many of them as possible.

So here's my plan: I'll try to post at least two reviews per week, and I'll only post about books I've finished very recently. I'll also include bits and pieces about Hong Kong. I think it's always better to talk with people about the books you read, so I would appreciate comments, too!

Here's my review format:

The Gist: What is it about? The quick and dirty details that identify the book.

The Verdict: What do I think? My opinion of the book, with comments on the author's style.

The Link: Who is the author? I love reading authors' websites, so wherever possible I'll include links to their blogs and websites.

The Cost: What did I pay for the book? English books in Hong Kong are very expensive (and so is space), which is what makes my e-reader so wonderful. I'll try to give you an idea of which books I can read for free, which ones I have to buy, and which ones I can still only find in good old paper book format.

The Question: What do you think? As a former Humane Letters teacher, I'll have to include a discussion question or two for each book.

Let me know if there are any books you want me to review!


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