Friday, May 24, 2013

COUNTRY DRIVING by Peter Hessler

By the road in Nevada where our tire shredded 50 miles from the nearest town


An American journalist acquires a Chinese driver's license and explores the back roads, villages, and factory towns of a changing country.


COUNTRY DRIVING is a work of narrative non-fiction divided into three parts. The first section deals with a long road trip along the Great Wall and into the remote parts of western China. Part two is about Hessler's acquisition of a little house in a village outside of Beijing and his relationship with a small family there. The third part follows the life of a bra ring factory in a boom town. Hessler's ability to drive himself around China (in rented cars) makes each section of the story possible and provides a new take on the China travelogue, which so often features train travel. Driving enables him to reach previously inaccessible areas and to experience China's rapid change literally at street level.

I've done several Great American Road Trips (two loops around the West and NY to AZ), and it was interesting to compare those experiences to COUNTRY DRIVING. In the first section of the book in particular, you get the same sense of vastness from Hessler's account of driving across China as you do when driving north through the empty center of Nevada. On the other hand, when Hessler drives into factory towns he witnesses constant change and growth, destruction and rebuilding. In the US, I encountered town after town a generation or two removed from its most recent boom period. The shuttered warehouses and silent mining communities scattered across the countryside must once have felt like the brand new industrial complexes in China, though on a much smaller scale.

Peter Hessler's ability to take the massive subject of China's booming industry and scale it down to a personal level is what makes this book worth reading. If you've been around this blog for a while, you'll know I'm a big Peter Hessler fan. His work is always detailed and well-researched, but it's his understated writing voice that is particularly appealing. He describes the people he meets in China in a respectful and warm manner. He builds friendships with his subjects, and gives human faces to the sometimes staggering statistics associated with modern China.


Here's my review of RIVER TOWN from two years ago and my account of when I shared a taxi with Peter Hessler on the way to his HK International Literary Festival event.


The Kindle edition is $9.99.


How does driving alter your experience of a place compared with walking, taking the train, riding the bus, etc.?

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Bookspotting and Thunderstorms

Today was my first black rainstorm experience in Hong Kong. Throughout the night, thunder overwhelmed the city noises that usually make their way into my windows, and I awoke to flashes of lightning more than once. When I got up this morning, the thunderstorm still raged and the Black Rain signal had been raised by the HK Observatory, meaning that school and my day job were cancelled. I spent the day editing essays for the Expat Women in Asia anthology in my pajamas and having lunch with my fiance in one of my favorite cafes. I've been busy with a lot of little tasks lately, and it was glorious to slow down and focus on the project I am most passionate about at the moment.

Last week I attended the launch party for Nothing Gained, where I got to meet Phillip Y. Kim, get my copy of the book signed, and chat with some cool HK publishing people. In other bookspotting news, I saw a boy on the train reading Matilda last week. Yesterday, I spotted two people reading textbooks, one with a red cover on the MTR and one with a yellow cover in a cafe. I saw two commuters reading Chinese books, one schoolgirl carrying an English paperback with a blue cover, and one Kindle-bearing woman.

I also finished Peter Hessler's Country Driving yesterday, so you can expect a review soon! What are people reading in your town this week?

Monday, May 6, 2013


Sorry for the title, folks. I could not resist.

The buzz around Hong Kong this week is all about the floating rubber duck exhibit in Victoria Harbour. I took the Star Ferry to see it on Sunday...

When we pulled up to the dock, I could see the crowds.

They lined the harbor and the top of Ocean Terminal.

And the duck gazed down on them.

I'm not sure what to say about it. I like it. I've read that the installation is meant to promote camaraderie and good feelings. Despite the crowds packed in around me, I suppose I did feel good looking at the duck. No one was pushing or shoving, which is very unusual for this corner of Tsim Sha Tsui. My fellow gawkers seemed both bemused and cheered by the sight of the big floating toy in the harbor. 

When I made my home later that night, the crowds were just as big, and seemingly just as happy.

I'm not sure what to say about it, but I think the duck is worth a visit.

Have you been down to see the duck yet? Do you think it's cute? Gimmicky? Dumb? Inoffensive? Inspiring? How did it make you feel?

Friday, May 3, 2013

Bookspotting and Selections

Over the past few weeks I've been hard at work on a few editing projects. I sent my initial selections for the Expat Women in Asia anthology to the publisher for approval. With his input, I finalized the selections and sent out notifications to all the authors. (If you submitted a piece and didn't get an email from me in the last 24 hours, please contact me!) It was a tough process because we received so many great submissions. I could have easily put together two full manuscripts, and there were some pieces that were very difficult to turn down. Nevertheless, I now have a file of moving and varied essays by 26 terrific expat women, and I can't wait for you to read them (the anthology comes out next spring).

Despite my recent blog silence, I've been spotting books along the way. There's a woman who often crosses the platform at Mongkok station with me in the morning carrying books. Recently, she was reading A Thousand Splendid Suns. Today, I spotted the Chinese gentleman with the fancy white shoes again, and he had a white Chinese paperback. I saw two people reading Kindles on the MTR and three people carrying Hong Kong guidebooks around Central. I heard from friends about how they're reading Sophie Kinsella, Hugh Howey, and Robin Hobb. In my own reading, I've been on a fantasy kick lately. After the final Wheel of Time book, I read Brandon Sanderson's Elantris and The Emperor's Soul, and I just started Hobb's Liveship series. I also read the YA book Beautiful Creatures and saw the movie. I'm finishing up Country Driving by Peter Hessler and expect to post a review soon.

What are people reading in your town? Do you read more than one book at a time?

Also, has anyone seen the rubber duck in Victoria Harbour? I haven't had a chance to get down there yet.
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