China Shakes the World

“Let China sleep, for when she wakes, she will shake the world,” so said Napolean, and so true it remains hundreds of years since. The allure of 1.5 billion consumers driving companies in to sell their products, only to find that other local merchants have already arrived to sell to the tiny market share that has disposable income. The interesting comment that the Chinese billions can never act like Americans because there aren’t enough resources to support such wanton and wasteful actions.
China’s inescapable thirst, the need to create 24 million new jobs annually to appease the population. Importing oil, metals, etc, and driving up the costs. The strange marriage of Communism with capitalism, the ever present corruption, the need for bribes, the double books– one for external eyes and one true one.
The counting word for people is “mouth,” rather than say “how many people are in your family?” you would say “how many mouth-people do you have?”
Ages of environmental neglect wreaking havoc on China today. Not enough resources. The drying up of the Yellow River. The black market one third the size of the official market. The idea that Chinese can copy, but not invent. China’s nebulous relations with America’s enemies of Iran and Venezuela.
Great book for someone trying to gain a foothold of knowledge about China’s recent explosion of growth, and what that might mean for the rest of the world.

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Will Oldham and David Maisel at Marin Center for the Arts

Last night was a rare treat- Will Oldham answering questions and sharing new songs he’s worked on during his 2+ month tenure in the Marin Headlands, as artist in residence at the Center for the Arts. One of the questions was about his pseudonym (Bonnie “Prince” Billy), which he revealed to be his alter-ego, necessary because no normal person can play the same songs night after night after night on tour while being a real person whose story arc is moving along a linear path. By creating an alter-ego, he becomes Bonnie, who, like a superhero, battles the same villians day in and day out. Will had taken a year off from being Bonnie, with no concerts (except last night was “cheating, only it’s a presentation, not a concert”), and is set to resume touring next month.
Being an artist in residence at the Center for the Arts gave him space to work out several “problems” (as he defines songs that are not yet finished), he found it incredibly helpful (his “fantasy working environment”) to walk out his front door, “work the glutes” as he walked up and around the hillside of the gorgeous national park to reach his studio. By the time he got to the studio, he had gotten some exercise, but more importantly, had allowed his head to think of solutions to those music problems.
Someone asked if it was easier for him to work in a rural environment versus a city. Will’s answer was that he got nothing done in a city because his whole day was consumed with justifying and thinking of reasons he would put up with being among so many people in such a dirty crowded space.
His inspiration for coming out to the Artists in Residence program was his friend Thomas Campbell, who was a prior “AIR” and who raved about the program before he went, while he was there, and after he got back.
A couple in Seattle emailed to ask him to play their wedding, so he Googled them, found their MySpace page, and created a song about them. Still not sure if he’ll make the wedding due to scheduling issues.
The evening began with a slideshow from another AIR, David Maisel.

His work explores the beauty of industrial scarring of the land, a lot of aerial work shot with a Hasselblad and amazingly the colors were not retouched. The image in this post is from the work he did in an Oregon psychiatric hospital, photographing the remains of patients left in copper cans for decades, called Library of Dust. He got there by way of a conversation at a cocktail party that left him with someone’s favorite blog sites scribbled down on a napkin. Months later, he looked up and one of the stories that day was about the remains being opened up to the public.

Water for Elephants

Are circus books preternaturally good? I’m thinking of Geek Love, and this one, but I’m sure there are others. So yeah, this book that everyone has been buzzing in my ear to read, it’s a quality story. Jacob is a 93 year old man reliving his glory days when a circus sets up shop right beside his retirement home.
Studying to become a vet in 1931 at Cornell, Jacob learns his parents are killed when their car is run off the road, 6 days before finals. He blankly looks at the final test, then takes a blisteringly long walk, ending up jumping onto a passing train to get back to town and finds himself having hitched a ride on the circus express.
Jacob befriends a few other workers, Camel who becomes paralyzed by drinking “jake” and whom Jacob cares for, the dwarf Walter, and a few others who have his back. Jacob is taken on board the circus as the Ivy-League trained vet, and begins his complicated relationship with August and Marlena.
Title of the book comes from something a fellow retirement home patient brags about, that he used to carry water for the elephants back in the day. Jacob calls the man a liar, since no one carried water to the elephants since they drank so much.
One of the only artistic touches of the book was the repetition of the beginning scene where August is murdered, only later it is told with the details of which person did the killing (Rosie the elephant, not Marlena as we’re lead to believe).
The circus eventually takes Jacob back, in his frail and elderly frame. He’s a legend, having been on hand during the stampede of 1931.

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The Story of a Marriage

As an indication of how desperately parched my reading throat was, I consumed this book in a few hours last night. I just couldn’t stop myself, reading and whirling in the characters’ Ocean Beach fog, tensely waiting to see what Holland would do– would he choose his old lover over his wife and son?
“We think we know the ones we love.” With this first sentence, Greer has me hooked, and I’m lapping up the story of Pearlie Cook, who meets her husband as a stranger twice; once in Kentucky, where they were sweethearts, and once as she passes by him on the beach in San Francisco where she’s gone to work for the war effort and where he comes home after his tour of duty.
The way Pearlie drops hints along the way, the breadcrumbs to lead us deeper into her story, just beautiful. “For me, it came in 1953.” “It was 1953. It was a Saturday.” “In 1953, nothing had changed.” “It was 1953. It was a Saturday.” Simple repetition, driving the suspense forward.
Read it, read it, read it. It’s breathtakingly beautiful.

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Delightful novel filled with unique female characters: Ruthie the narrator, her little sister Lucille who starts to care what other people think of her, Aunt Sylvie who swoops in to become their guardian after their grandmother passes. Their mother Helen dropped them on the grandmother’s porch eons ago before suiciding into the lake where her father drowned when his train came off the bridge and sunk into the icy depths.
The book has an ethereal beauty, such strange scenes unfold in the fog and rain of Idaho. The bridge a symbol of change, leading away from Fingerbone. Sylvie’s fit of housekeeping which doesn’t prevent the town from trying to take Ruthie from her. Lucille’s fit of normalness, picking out patterns and trying to fit in with the other girls, running away to the teacher’s house. The flood that overtakes the lower floor of the house, the leaves crunching in the orchard, the lake always beckoning. Lucille & Ruthie’s fishing trip turned camping trip. Sylvie and Ruthie’s rowboat excursion (stolen from a man who took pains to hide it from Sylvie) to the abandoned house.
It’s still sinking in, but I recommend.

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About the Author

Ate it up. Then licked the spoon. And wondered where to get more. I like the four part format; each section not too long to plow through, each section with a definite ending. Great writing, engaging plot (which sometimes wandered into the unbelievable, but I’ll suspend my disbelief for any good writing).
Cal Cunningham is a struggling writer in NYC who boozes & womanizes his way through procrastination, then comes to find his roommate, Stewart, has taken Cal’s tales and woven them into a perfect novel. Fate intervenes, Stewart killed in a bicycle accident, Cal publishes the novel as his own, “after all, the stories were mine.” Breadcrumbs of trouble begin to appear, FedEx bills showing a duplicate copy of the novel was mailed to a girlfriend the morning of his accident. Cal hastily flees to the girlfriend’s house, where he finds the unopened package, awaiting her return from abroad. Manuscript burnt, he then woos and marries the girl, Janet, who was unaware of Stewart’s posthumous package.
More breadcrumbs of destruction appear when Les arrives at Cal’s doorstep to blackmail him; she’d stolen Stewart’s laptop a few months prior to his death. Extorting $25k with $1k monthly additional, Cal’s life begins to come apart. Snapping under the strain, Cal begins to alienate Janet, who then has a brief affair with Les. High drama with Canadian smack drug run via canoe. Les presumed dead, pops up again a few days later. Cal leads her abusive ex-boyfriend to her hiding place, Les & Tommy attack each other, Cal arrives to grab the laptop and calls 911 to save Les. He’s later arrested as the double homicide killer, but his manuscript saves him along with Les’ testimony.
In a completely cheesy moment, Janet forgives him because of the manuscript, which she finds lovely.
Reco’d by Genoveva, who is chock full of great recommendations

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North to the Night

I love these kinds of adventure tales that turn me into an armchair traveler. And by “these kinds”, I mean the ones that don’t overplay the maudlin or overemphasize the dangers or weave meaningless strands of spirituality into the mix. Simon’s tale kicks off in the tropical seas, promising his wife Diana that they’ll head back to the US and abandon their nomadic wandering in favor of setting up house. Upon arriving into the Florida waters, Alvah immediately decides he needs to make that Arctic trip after all, and they begin the year long preparation, selling their wooden boat to get a more suitable steel cruiser, buying up canned goods, fuel, and other necessities.
They spend a test winter anchored in the outer edges of Maine, and the following spring head north for the Arctic circle. By September, they’re anchored in Tay Bay, awaiting the ice that will freeze them in. Diana learns that her father has been diagnosed with cancer and has few months to live. Grief-stricken, she makes plans to be evacuated out to go home to New Zealand and care for him in his final days. That leaves Alvah alone on the ice, as I suspect he wanted all along.
Through total darkness and below 60 degree weather, Alvah survives the winter with radio contact from a man he’s never met, and with the company of their cat, Halifax. Sometimes sleeping 24 hours straight, Alvah goes blind then recovers his sight, nearly freezes to death in the cabin, but somehow always pulls out alive. Diana joins him mid-way through, and they watch the ice melt and the spring overtake the Arctic.
Plenty of bear encounters, fox sightings, and birding delights. Most engaging book I’ve read in months.
Reco’d by The Max, pulled from his pile of boaty books

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