Over at The Guardian the most recent entry to their “Top 10 Book Lists” (which is exactly what it sounds like—top 10 lists selected by famous authors, critics, musicians, etc.) is Catherine Sampson’s list of top 10 books on Beijing. As she mentions, many of these books are “rich in satire, and in metaphors for political oppression. Most of them are written by Chinese writers who have chosen to live abroad in order to write freely about their country.”
There are a number of recent titles on the list that have gotten a lot of play recently, including Beijing Coma, Serve the People! and I Love Dollars, but the whole list looks pretty interesting, and the brief description she provides for each book is really useful.
Here’s the complete list:
1. Beijing Coma by Ma Jian
2. Please Don’t Call Me Human by Wang Shuo
3. A Thousand Years of Good Prayers by Yiyun Li
4. The Uninvited by Yan Geling
5. The Crazed by Ha Jin
6. The Last Empress by Anchee Min
7. Serve the People! by Yan Lianke
8. I Love Dollars by Zhu Wen
9. The Dragon’s Tail by Adam Williams
10. Beijing Doll by Chun Sue
We’re a little late on this, but The Guardian’s World Literature Tour made its latest stop in Germany.
But I’ve realised something: when I think about the great novelists translated into English from other languages, disproportionately few of the names I come up with are women’s. For every Isabel Allende there’s a raft of José Saramagos, Gabriel Garcia Marquezes, Mario Vargas Llosas and Pablo Nerudas. Hardly any of the familiar names of pre-war European fiction belong to women: the odd female contender like Colette is barely even visible among the clamouring ranks of male giants like Tolstoy, Flaubert, Kafka, Proust, Mann and Dostoevsky.
Generally overshadowed by The Master and Margarita, A Dog’s Heart sounds really interesting, especially in Meek’s description of an underground reading that was infiltrated by secret police informer:
The bulk of the audience seem to have hoped that Bulgakov’s new novel, A Dog’s Heart, would similarly mock the rickety state of affairs that Vladimir Lenin’s heirs had inherited. It did. Bulgakov’s tale of a professor who implants the sexual organs and pituitary gland of an evil man into a good mongrel, creating a loutish man-hound who fits with ease into communist society, went down well. The anonymous informer’s outraged report to his masters describes how one passage, where the professor complains that the Russian revolution coincided with the theft of galoshes from the communal hallway, provoked “deafening laughter”.
Of course, this was all reported to the authorities, and Bulgakov’s publisher refused to publish the manuscript, which was then stolen in a raid, returned in 1929, and finally published in 1987.
On the face of it, A Dog’s Heart looks like an act of extreme courage, if not recklessness. Bulgakov was exposed. He was a member of the officially reviled bourgeois class. His foppish dress by Bolshevik standards – the bow ties, the monocle – didn’t help. The voice of his published writings was of a patriot who believed Russia had taken a wrong turning in 1917, and believed it was his duty to do something about it. He was aware that the Soviet authorities had heard him, knew that they were being mocked and did not like it. If The White Guard offered the comfort to the Kremlin of representing an elegy for the death of middle-class tsarist Russia, The Fatal Eggs and A Dog’s Heart seemed to propose terminal flaws in their own, communist project.
At The Guardian, Ben Myers has a posting today about Billy Childish’s The Idiocy of Idears, 300 copies of which were hidden in London bookstores:
Entitled The Idiocy Of Idears, a book of jottings by “schoolboy Gustav Claudius”, it had no ISBN number and no barcode. Nor was there any indication of who the real author was. So it rather stuck out amongst the racks of books packaged like blockbuster DVDs or breakfast cereals.
More important, though, was the lack of a price, for The Idiocy Of Idears was being given away entirely free of charge – and without store’s permission. In other words, someone – possibly its author – has sneaked a stash of books into the store and strategically placed copies onto the shelves.
This isn’t the first time someone’s done such a thing, but I agree with Myers—I think it’s funny . . . in part because I’m sure some cop-like Waterstone’s managers were perturbed by this odd, undocumented book hanging out in their travel section.
I don’t know about you, but I find this minor act of mischief-making funny. It’s a prank or a deception with no victim: book browsers get a mysterious book for free, the shops lose no stock and the author gets his or her work read and distributed thanks to an existing customer base. It’s much like deciding to smuggle a baguette into Prêt a Manger in silent protest at their over-priced, over-salted crayfish and rocket sandwiches. It is, in essence, reverse stealing.
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