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“Uncharted Territory”


It’s summer. All kinds of summer reading lists are out. You see them at the bookstores, in the libraries, on the papers. I saw this interesting summer reading list on NPR website. It caught my attention because it claims to to be an “off-the-beaten-path” one—pun intended. Books about maps or related to maps.

Understories by Tom Horvath. Never heard of this author. It’s a collection of short stories.

Astoria | John Jacob Astor and Thomas Jefferson’s Lost Pacific Empire: A Story of Wealth, Ambition, and Survival by Peter Stark. This one sounds intriguing: In 1810, John Jacob Astor sent out two advance parties to settle the wild, unclaimed western coast of North America. More than half of his men died violent deaths. The others survived starvation, madness, and greed to shape the destiny of a continent.

The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet by Reif Larsen. I love maps and love exploring places beyond my comprehension. When twelve-year-old genius cartographer T.S. Spivet receives an unexpected phone call from the Smithsonian announcing he has won the prestigious Baird Award, life as normal-if you consider mapping family dinner table conversation normal-is interrupted and a wild cross-country adventure begins, taking T.S. from his family ranch just north of Divide, Montana, to the museum’s hallowed halls.

Into Thick Air: Biking to the Bellybutton of Six Continents by Jim Malusa. Sounds interesting not not my cup of tea. Not too into books that cover so many locales.

Death of a Unicorn by Peter Dickinson. British mystery. It has nothing to do with unicorns or fantasies. Worth a read by the pool.

The Glass Sentence by S.E. Grove. Boston, 1891. Sophia Tims comes from a family of explorers and cartologers who, for generations, have been traveling and mapping the New World—a world changed by the Great Disruption of 1799, when all the continents were flung into different time periods.

More Asian Literature

I spent all week reading Yukio Mishima’s Forbidden Colors, which I consider a paramount accomplishment since it’s an arduous read. Mishima’s style is formal, and his prose is filled with tucks and pleats like texture of sculptures. The autobiographical novel explores how a closeted gay married man’s callousness strains the barriers between the two worlds until his exposure seems inevitable. He only finds freedom in conformity.

After Mishima, my interest in Asian literature has not subsided. A glimpse at the English translation section at Kinokuniya affords a full list of books that I want to read, in addition to the Hong Kong list.

King Rat by James Clavell
The time is World War II. The place is a brutal prison camp deep in Japanese-occupied territory. Here, within the seething mass of humanity, one man, an American corporal, seeks dominance over both captives and captors alike. His weapons are human courage, unblinking understanding of human weaknesses, and total willingness to exploit every opportunity to enlarge his power and corrupt or destroy anyone who stands in his path.

Falling Leaves: The Memoir of an Unwanted Chinese Daughter by Adeline Yen Mah
Born in 1937 in a port city a thousand miles north of Shanghai, Adeline Yen Mah was the youngest child of an affluent Chinese family who enjoyed rare privileges during a time of political and cultural upheaval. But wealth and position could not shield Adeline from a childhood of appalling emotional abuse at the hands of a cruel and manipulative Eurasian stepmother. Determined to survive through her enduring faith in family unity, Adeline struggled for independence as she moved from Hong Kong to England and eventually to the United States to become a physician and writer.

The Red Chamber by Pauline Chen
I have mentioned this one because this is a takeoff of the Chinese classic, The Dream of the Red Chambers. Set against the breathtaking backdrop of eighteenth-century Beijing, the lives of three unforgettable women collide in the inner chambers of the Jia mansion. When orphaned Daiyu leaves her home in the provinces to take shelter with her cousins in the Capital, she is drawn into a world of opulent splendor, presided over by the ruthless, scheming Xifeng and the prim, repressed Baochai. As she learns the secrets behind their glittering façades, she finds herself entangled in a web of intrigue and hidden passions, reaching from the petty gossip of the servants’ quarters all the way to the Imperial Palace.

Dreams of Joy by Lisa See
Reeling from newly uncovered family secrets, and anger at her mother and aunt for keeping them from her, Joy runs away to Shanghai in early 1957 to find her birth father—the artist Z.G. Li, with whom both May and Pearl were once in love. Dazzled by him, and blinded by idealism and defiance, Joy throws herself into the New Society of Red China, heedless of the dangers in the communist regime.

Everything Asian by Sung J. Woo
This is supposed to be very funny. Sung J. Woo’s debut novel, Everything Asian, chronicles a year in the life of David (aka Dae Joon) Kim, a teenage emigre from Korea, and his family in small-town New Jersey. Set in the early 1980’s, chapters that focus on David’s struggles with the cultural and generational divide in his new home alternate with vignettes from the viewpoint of other characters, such as his sister Susan, his parents and fellow shop owners in their central N.J. stripmall.

The Song of Everlasting Sorrow by Anyi Wang
I have mentioned this one a while back except I couldn’t secure a copy until now. The book is about nostalgia in both its constructive and destructive forms. The romance of old Shanghai, a world of class, taste, and style . . . but also a world of sexual exploitation . . . yields to the vulgarity and coarseness of a new and more democratic world. It follows Wang Qiyao, a former beauty queen whose life has gone sadly awry. Wang Oiyao, comes together with people, only to drive them away in the end, unaware of her impact on others as her country is on its people.

Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok
Through Kimberly’s story, author Jean Kwok, who also emigrated from Hong Kong as a young girl, brings to the page the lives of countless immigrants who are caught between the pressure to succeed in America, their duty to their family, and their own personal desires, exposing a world that we rarely hear about.

City of Tranquil Light by Bo Caldwell
Will Kiehn is seemingly destined for life as a humble farmer in the Midwest when, having felt a call from God, he travels to the vast North China Plain in the early twentieth-century. There he is surprised by love and weds a strong and determined fellow missionary, Katherine. They soon find themselves witnesses to the crumbling of a more than two-thousand-year-old dynasty that plunges the country into decades of civil war.

A Consolidated List of 100 Novels

Sometimes I can be a “web-fly” who searches the inernet for interesting poll results. My favorite lists, indubitably, are lists of books. Since they can be very subjective matter, just like the “listmania” that users can compile on Amazon, I try to ignore lists that reflect sheer personal whims. I came across this post that has generated a list of 100 novels by merging 10 different top 100 lists from the UK. How authoritative does that sound! Only one book appears in every list, and it’s in first place on this consolidated list.

Read/Want to Read/Don’t Care/Never Heard of It


1. Nineteen Eighty-Four George Orwell
2. The Great Gatsby F. Scott Fitzgerald
3. The Grapes Of Wrath John Steinbeck
4. The Catcher in the Rye J.D. Salinger
5. Catch-22 Joseph Heller
6. One Hundred Years Of Solitude Gabriel García Márquez
7. Gone with the Wind Margaret Mitchell
8. Ulysses James Joyce*
9. On The Road Jack Kerouac
10. The Lord of the Rings J.R.R. Tolkien
11. To Kill a Mockingbird Harper Lee
12. Pride and Prejudice Jane Austen
13. Wuthering Heights Emily Brontë
14. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe C.S. Lewis
15. Great Expectations Charles Dickens
16. War and Peace Leo Tolstoy
17. Lolita Vladimir Nabokov
18. Animal Farm George Orwell
19. Crime And Punishment Fyodor Dostoyevsky
20. Anna Karenina Leo Tolstoy
21. Lord Of The Flies William Golding
22. Brideshead Revisited Evelyn Waugh*
23. Midnight’s Children Salman Rushdie
24. Love In The Time Of Cholera Gabriel García Márquez
25. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Douglas Adams
26. Jane Eyre Charlotte Brontë
27. The Hobbit J.R.R. Tolkien
28. To the Lighthouse Virginia Woolf
29. Middlemarch George Eliot
30. Rebecca Daphne du Maurier
31. Dune Frank Herbert
32. Brave New World Aldous Huxley
33. A Prayer For Owen Meany John Irving
34. Watership Down Richard Adams
35. The Sound and the Fury William Faulkner
36. Little Women Louisa May Alcott
37. Invisible Man Ralph Ellison
38. Anne Of Green Gables LM Montgomery
39. Emma Jane Austen
40. Memoirs Of A Geisha Arthur Golden
41. Beloved Toni Morrison
42. Of Mice And Men John Steinbeck
43. The Heart of Darkness Joseph Conrad
44. Les Miserables Victor Hugo
45. The Wind in the Willows Kenneth Grahame
46. The Da Vinci Code Dan Brown
47. Tess Of The D’Urbervilles Thomas Hardy
48. Winnie the Pooh A.A. Milne
49. Birdsong Sebastian Faulks
50. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin Louis de Bernieres
51. Slaughterhouse Five Kurt Vonnegut
52. Life of Pi Yann Martel
53. A Clockwork Orange Anthony Burgess
54. The Count Of Monte Cristo Alexandre Dumas
55. A Passage to India E.M. Forster
56. Moby Dick Herman Melville
57. A Suitable Boy Vikram Seth
58. The Stand Stephen King
59. Possession A.S. Byatt
60. Madame Bovary Gustave Flaubert
61. A Tale Of Two Cities Charles Dickens
62. The Trial Franz Kafka
63. I, Claudius Robert Graves
64. The Handmaid’s Tale Margaret Atwood
65. The Secret History Donna Tartt
66. His Dark Materials Philip Pullman
67. The Harry Potter Series J.K. Rowling
68. The Brothers Karamazov Fyodor Dostoyevsky
69. Don Quixote Miguel de Cervantes
70. Sons and Lovers D.H. Lawrence
71. The Pillars Of The Earth Ken Follett
72. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man James Joyce
73. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Mark Twain
74. The Kite Runner Khaled Hosseini
75. An American Tragedy Theodore Dreiser
76. Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland Lewis Carroll
77. Bleak House Charles Dickens
78. The Time Traveller’s Wife Audrey Niffenegger
79. A Fine Balance Rohinton Mistry
80. The Sun Also Rises Ernest Hemmingway
81. Nostromo Joseph Conrad
82. Under the Volcano Malcolm Lowry
83. The Golden Notebook Doris Lessing
84. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter Carson McCullers
85. The Stranger Albert Camus
86. Native Son Richard Wright
87. Gravity’s Rainbow Thomas Pynchon
88. The Poisonwood Bible Barbara Kingsolver
89. Perfume Patrick Süskind
90. Things Fall Apart Chinua Achebe
91. David Copperfield Charles Dickens
92. Charlie And The Chocolate Factory Roald Dahl
93. Pale Fire Vladimir Nabokov
94. Persuasion Jane Austen
95. Atlas Shrugged Ayn Rand
96. The Tin Drum Gunter Grass
97. Vanity Fair William Makepeace Thackeray
98. Atonement Ian McEwan
99. Light in August William Faulkner
100. The Secret Garden Frances Hodgson Burnett

It’s bovious that many of these titles have stood the test of time and tenured on reading lists in high schools and colleges, a few make this list only because of the popularity at the time of poll, like Memoirs of a Geisha. I’m appalled that The Brothers Karamazov is ranked below The Harry Potter Series.

Reading Pile on Nightstand, Reading List

Look at my new Book Worm mug! Isn’t it cute? It was thoughtfully given to me. My last gift mug (the one I’m still using at home) is the “Is is Friday yet?” mug. To get ready for fall, I went through all my new books and singled out the ones I’ll most likely read in the next two months. The happy affair with Jane Austen, as I have confessed in The Sunday Salon, will continue with the reading Sense and Sensibility and Persuasion. These are the books on my nightstand:

Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance by Atul Gawande
Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Suskind
Asylum by Paul McGrath
Trauma by Paul McGrath
The Teahouse Fire by Ellis Avery
David and Jonathan by Cynthia Voight
The Savage Garden by Mark Mills
Fahrenheit 451: A Novel by Ray Bradbury
Middlemarch by George Eliot [Chunkster Challenge selection]
Coming Storm by Paul Russells
The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards
The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood [Man Booker Challenge selection]
The Debut by Anita Brookner
The Sea by John Banville [Man Booker Challenge selection]

I am keeping my eye on several books that are either soon to be released or rare/out-of-print:
What Happened to Anna K. by Irina Reyn
Landing by Emma Donoghue
Pilcrow by Adam Mars-Jones
The Birds Fall Down by Rebecca West

Jessica at The Bluestocking Society is hosting a Lit Flicks Challenge, which runs from September 1, 2008 to February 28, 2009. Read 5 books that have been made into movies and watch at least 2 of the movie adaptations of the works you read. Easy and fun huh? Check it out and sign up. I need to compile my list for it. I’ll re-read Blindness in preparation for the movie that opens up on September 11, and Marley and Me, the story of the naughtiest puppy ever lived.

What is your reading plan for fall? Do you plan to venture in a reading challenge to spice up your reading?