Along with a few other independent booksellers and librarians, Karl Pohrt—owner of the amazing Shaman Drum Bookshop in China for the Beijing Book Fair, where he’ll be giving this speech on independent bookselling in America.
Additionally, he’s writing a daily blog about the trip, which we’ll be running here. Click here for the January 7th entry.
January 8, 2008
“Be united, alert, earnest and lively.”—Mao Zedong
Fortunately, today turned out to be what Beijing citizens call a Blue Sky Day—the sun was out, temperatures were mild, and pollution levels seemed low at midday.
Allison Hill, Rick Simonson and I took the subway (price: 30 cents) to Tiananmen Square this morning. We walked through part of the Forbidden City and across the Square. The open space here is extraordinary. There is nothing like it that I know of in the West, except maybe the Mall in Washington (but that hardly comes close). We arrived at the Chairman Mao Memorial Hall at noon, which is when it closes, and missed the chance to view Mao’s corpse. I purchased a Chairman Mao watch from a street vendor at an inflated price.
We took another long walk south of the Square, eating lunch in a small neighborhood restaurant where the food was excellent and our waitress seemed amused by our presence here. For the rest of the afternoon we walked through the Temple of Heaven complex in Tiantan Park. This is another staggeringly large public space with beautiful and strange buildings. We watched groups of people folkdancing, singing, playing card games and smoking. Everyone seemed to be enjoying each others company. Allison commented that she didn’t see anyone using cell phones.
Rick, who had visited Tiananmen Square and Tiantan park yesterday with Paul, was our guide, for which I am deeply grateful.
This evening we attended a banquet in a fine restaurant near our hotel organized by our sponsors, Madame Ou Hong, editor-in chief of China Publishing Today, and a gentleman I took to be the owner of the Xinhua Company. At this point, I was starting to flag a bit, although I did manage to successfully offer a toast to friendship between the Chinese, American and British peoples. I was seated next to “Cindy” and “Julie” (“These are our American names”) on my left and three men on my right who worked for the Xinhua Bookstore Co. and didn’t speak any English. This resulted in a kind of whiplash effect—I had to turn left to “Cindy” who translated what my new pals on the right were saying (“They say you are very good with chopsticks!”). It was great wacky fun and the food was terrific.
The last five days of the eleventh-century Icelandic politician, writer of sagas, and famous murder victim Snorri Sturleleson (the Norwegian spelling, Snorre, is preserved in the book) make up Thorvald Steen’s most recently translated historical fiction, The Little Horse. Murdered. . .
We all know Paris, or at least we think we know it. The Eiffel Tower. The Latin Quarter. The Champs-Élysées. The touristy stuff. In Dominique Fabre’s novel, Guys Like Me, we’re shown a different side of Paris: a gray, decaying. . .
One hundred pages into Birth of a Bridge, the prize-winning novel from French writer Maylis de Kerangal, the narrator describes how starting in November, birds come to nest in the wetlands of the fictional city of Coca, California, for three. . .
At 30, the Mexican writer Valeria Luiselli is already gathering her rosebuds. Faces in the Crowd, her poised debut novel, was published by Coffee House Press, along with her Brodsky-infused essay collection, Sidewalks. The essays stand as a theoretical map. . .
Fantomas Versus the Multinational Vampires: An Attainable Utopia (narrated by Julio Cortázar) is, not disappointingly, as wild a book as its title suggests. It is a half-novella half-graphic novel story about . . . what, exactly? A European tribunal, Latin. . .
Marie NDiaye has created a tiny, psychological masterpiece with her Self-Portrait in Green. In it she explores how our private fears and insecurities can distort what we believe to be real and can cause us to sabotage our intimate relationships.. . .
Reading a genre book—whether fantasy, science fiction, crime, thriller, etc.—which begins to seem excessively, stereotypically bad, I have to make sure to ask myself: is this parodying the flaws of the genre? Usually, this questioning takes its time coming. In. . .
The Sicilian Mafia has always been a rich subject for sensational crime fiction. The Godfather, Goodfellas, and The Sopranos worked the mob’s bloody corpses and family feuds to both entertainment and artistic value. Giuseppe di Piazza’s debut novel attempts this,. . .
Antoine Volodine’s vast project (40 plus novels) of what he calls the post-exotic remains mostly untranslated, so for many of us, understanding it remains touched with mystery, whispers from those “who know,” and guesswork. That’s not to say that, were. . .
It hasn’t quite neared the pitch of the waiting-in-line-at-midnight Harry Potter days, but in small bookstores and reading circles of New York City, an aura has attended the novelist Elena Ferrante and her works. One part curiosity (Who is she?),. . .