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.
Randall Jarrell once argued a point that I will now paraphrase and, in doing so, over-simplify: As a culture, we need book criticism, not book reviews. I sort of agree, but let’s not get into all of that. Having finished. . .
Like any good potboiler worth its salt, Fuminori Nakamura’s The Gun wastes no time setting up its premise: “Last night, I found a gun. Or you could say I stole it, I’m not really sure. I’ve never seen something so. . .
Heiner Resseck, the protagonist in Monika Held’s thought-provoking, first novel, This Place Holds No Fear, intentionally re-lives his past every hour of every day. His memories are his treasures, more dear than the present or future. What wonderful past eclipses. . .
If you’ve ever worked in a corporate office, you’ve likely heard the phrase, “Perception is reality.” To Björn, the office worker who narrates Jonas Karlsson’s novel The Room, the reality is simple: there’s a door near the bathroom that leads. . .
I recently listened to Three Percent Podcast #99, which had guest speaker Julia Berner-Tobin from Feminist Press. In addition to the usual amusement of finally hearing both sides of the podcast (normally I just hear parts of Chad’s side. . .
Let’s not deceive ourselves, man is nothing very special. In fact, there are so many of us that our governments don’t know what to do with us at all. Six billion humans on the planet and only six or seven. . .
“Rambling Jack—what’s that?”
“A novel. Novella, I guess.”
“Yeah, it looks short. What is it, a hundred pages?”
“Sorta. It’s a duel language book, so really, only about… 50 pages total.”
“And this—what. . .
Many authors are compared to Roberto Bolaño. However, very few authors have the privilege of having a Roberto Bolaño quote on the cover of their work; and at that, one which states, “Good readers will find something that can be. . .
In Josep Maria de Sagarra’s Private Life, a man harangues his friend about literature while walking through Barcelona at night:
When a novel states a fact that ties into another fact and another and another, as the chain goes on. . .
César Aira dishes up an imaginative parable on how identity shapes our sense of belonging with Dinner, his latest release in English. Aira’s narrator (who, appropriately, remains nameless) is a self-pitying, bitter man—in his late fifties, living again with. . .