Friday, 12 September 2014

Reading, what am I reading now...

I have several books waiting to be read either in paperback or on Kindle. I am a slow reader by nature and will often leave a book and then pick it up again a few days later. Of course there are books you cannot put down and those I will read and often reread again. I had bought in May, The Good Earth by Pearl Buck written some 80 years ago, it is or was a bestseller and she won the Nobel Prize for Literature I only got around to reading it this past August and then read it in 3 days.  I enjoyed the story about a Chinese peasant in the last decades of the Empire before the revolution of Dr. Sun Yat Sen, his family, the land and the role of women in China in those days. Though Pearl Buck was an American citizen, the child of Christian missionaries in China. She captures all the flavours of China and its people. The story now read some 80 years later with our knowledge of what happened in the decades afterwards with the Japanese invasion of China, the Second World War, the Civil War and the Communist take over, you can appreciate the complexity of the story and of the people it represents, their complicated relationship to each other and their humanity.

This book is well known and I had heard of it for decades, it is often quoted as an example of life in China before 1925. It also always reminded me, I do not know why, of a movie made in the 1950's entitled Love is a many splendored thing about a women Eurasian doctor (Jennifer Jones) and an American reporter (William Holden) in ChungKing, the Provisional Capital of the Nationalists nowadays called Chongqing.  The period is the Civil War between the Nationalist of General Chiang Kai-Shek who have the total support of the USA despite the fact they are hopelessly corrupt and loosing the war, the Americans really know how to choose sides, against the Communists of Mao Tse Tung.  I know that the book of Buck and the movie have no relations but nonetheless it was an association for me.

Come to think of it, Canadian Foreign Policy towards China was also largely influenced by Canadian Christian Missionaries who convinced the Political Establishment in Ottawa, i.e. the Liberal Party in the era of Pearsonian Diplomacy that Canada should recognized the People's Republic of China in 1969. Rooms in the Embassy of Canada in Beijing are named after them, Chester Ronning, Arthur Menzies, John Small and Ralph Collins, three of them served as Canadian Ambassadors to the PRC in the 1970-1980 period. What I did not know and maybe should have, given I served in China (2004-2007) was that the One China Policy was a Canadian Idea, a compromise of sort, devised by Pierre E. Trudeau which allowed us to recognize the PRC in 1969. He argued that since the mainland represented one third of the population of the planet Earth, it was silly to not recognize them. Taiwan on the other hand was a nasty dictatorship with a population of a few million people. Taiwan was no more democratic than the Communist PRC. In the geopolitic sphere the People's Republic had more weight and Canada should open up to this new relationship. Thus the problem of the Chinas was solved by recognizing the greater number of Chinese instead of the lesser number. Then other countries of the world, including the USA with Kissinger as Foreign advisor to the President, simply followed suit and did the same thing.

Man reading by Farr

Another book I read recently is The Once and Future King: The rise of Crown Governments in North America by F.H.Buckley is an interesting comparison between systems of governments in Canada, USA and UK. All three have their peculiarities on their development and practices and the central idea from which they evolved. There have been several books lately on how democracy is evolving towards ever greater powers being given to a single person, either the Prime Minister or the President. In Canada Executive system, Cabinet which is the composition of various ministers and the Prime Minister around a table come to a consensus on political decisions and it is or was a collegial affair. Nowadays it's a one man rule, the Ministers are informed later or are a simple rubber stamp. The same is true of Parliament, where matters like the Budget are voted on without much discussion and most Members of Parliament do not bother to read the thousand page document.

It made for an interesting read except that I found that much of what was said about Canada needed revision given the style of our current PM Harper who has taken us down the road of one man rule.

I am now reading in French, L'art d'avoir toujours raison by Arthur Schopenhauer (the art of always being right). I do not know if anyone still reads Schopenhauer. An interesting book on conversation and how to present arguments and either get your opponent to agree with you or deflect his arguments. I can see how this is done in French but in English I do not think I would be able to do that. An interesting read nonetheless.

I am also reading all of Aesop's Fables which I never read before, it is highly entertaining and something everyone should read, if for no other reason that it is amusing.

But that is not all, I still have 3 other books to start on various subject, one being how modern archeology was invented just 300 years ago, another on Stalin, a river of blood, Hitler looks like a boy scout in comparison and yet another on the diseases that killed famous authors or at least made their lives miserable, sort of a mystery novel, since in many cases no one knew what they were suffering from.

So as you can see it is a very mix bag of topics and not one airport bestseller in the lot.


  1. The only one of those I've read is Aesop's Fables. Great reading list!

  2. I have never read The Good Earth and need to do so. Thanks!

  3. At last count I have 23 books on the 'to read' list. And it keeps growing when I find a new one to fancy, or kind souls give me one (oxox) Then work and the internet get in the way. I am supposed to be a card-carrying member of the clerisy and I am woefully negligent.

  4. Does Schopenhauer's book give examples of techniques to employ or is it purely philosophical?

    1. He does give clear example of how to counter and how to respond. Rather clever when you read how easy it is to do.

  5. An eclectic mix of books as befits a Renaissance Man of your stature. And knee breeches and white stockings are a good look for you, though the red shoes are a fashion risk.

  6. Well if truth be known, I do have a pair of plum colour slippers.