The October Book Plan

For about half a year or so, I wrote book reviews devotedly for books I read, but then I felt that I didn’t really enjoy doing that. I guess the main reason is that it feels like I’m still in school, trying to come up with something to say while worrying that what I am going to say is not going to be considered popular or correct or acceptable.

I like books without meaning just as much as I like books with a meaning, probably even more. This is my opinion: existentialism should be applied to books as much as our own life–existence over essence. Live and let live, exist and let exist. Anything more smells like a secret agenda to bend the world to a certain way. I would be happy with a combination of existentialism and Taoism.

My favorite book review is probably like this, “this book has no meaning but I just like it as it is.” Of course this will be an unacceptable book review. This may sound weird. However it will not be so weird if one considers that things we grow up thinking indisputable can be and will be disputed. For example what will be the future of work ethics when AI and robots become prevalent, and most people lost their jobs and will never be employed? Being an immigrant has prepared me for this kind of thing. Being an immigrant means that what you considered to be an unquestionable existence suddenly becomes very questionable or even nonexistent in another culture.

And now before this dismal robotic dictatorship arrives, let’s enjoy our life–by reading the following books for October. I know I will not finish several of them, hate at least two of them, pretend to like Shakespeare even if I don’t, insert a bad romance book even if I won’t admit that I or anybody else can love a book so vulgar. Well, plans are made so that unplanned events may happen.

  • Finishing “The Barbarians are Coming” by David Wong Louie. He writes so well and I love his writing, but his perpetual praise of French cuisine and his contempt for greasy low dig food, Asian food included here, are depressing to read. I think the problem is that the author doesn’t really understand Asian food. (He passed away at the young age of 63. Otherwise I would not say this for fear of hurting his feelings.) Just because his own parents cook greasily, he thinks all food, represented by his parents’ Asian face, are greasy. Just because the Asian restaurants he visited are greasy, he thinks all Asian food are greasy.
  • Finish “Hog Pilots, Blue Water, Grunts” by Robert D. Kaplan. There are so few good books about Asia that I have to dig into military books to find solace. In military books, Asia and Asians are not treated as sidekicks or decorations. Instead there are solid contents, serious descriptions, attention to historical facts. I like the author’s “Asian’s Cauldron” and want to read more from him. Unfortunately, he’s very much into the details of a ship or a boat or a plane or a deployment setting that I am not interested in.
  • Read “Where The Past Begins” by Amy Tan. I’ve had this book for a while, but I haven’t liked her later books as much as I like “Joy Luck Club”. So I was afraid of getting disappointed. I really enjoy her writing in “Joy Luck Club” even though she portrays Asian cultures as exotic oddities. I often imagine myself writing with her style about Asians as non-exotic normal ordinary people. I scanned through several pages of “Where The Past Begins” and felt that it is much better than “Valley Of Amazement”, a book I really tried to like but couldn’t.
  • Read W. H. Auden’s “Selected Poems”. I don’t think I will finish this book. I started it several years ago, but still it is there, unread and unattended to. I bought it because I encountered his poems “In Memory of W. B. Yeats” and I thought it’s so good. I had to order a book of his. However when it arrived, I flipped through the pages and couldn’t feel a connection with any of the poems. I don’t know why. Probably because I’ve no background information about him, his era, his circumstances, his life style. I don’t know what he’s talking about in his poems and I can’t relate. Also I am too lazy to do some research on him.
  • Read “The Marlowe Papers” by Ros Barber. I’ve never read a novel in verse before and this is my first one. If I like it, I may proceed to other similar verse book, but judging from the first several pages of it, I am not too enthusiastic about the format. I don’t know if Lord Byron’s Don Juan is qualified as a verse novel or a long epic poem or whatever other literary terminology it wears as an outfit. I like it very much. I listened to the audible book, but I’ve always wanted to listen to it while reading the text to enjoy both the beauty of the sound and the pleasure of the reading.
  • Listen to the audible book Vol. 1 of Anton Chekhov’s Complete Stories. This is a free book from audible plus.
  • Listen to the audible book “If I understand you, Would I Have This Look On My Face” by Alan Alda. I bought this book on discount. I just can’t handle my stupid impulse of overbuying whenever there’s a sale. My closet is full of discount clothes that I never even wear twice in my life. Same with books. Bad habit is very hard to get rid of.
  • Continue “Sailing Alone Around The Room” by Billy Collins.
  • Watch “Merchant Of Venice” 1996 (YouTube) and 2004 (amazon) and read the play and watch one lecture (YouTube)
  • Listening to “Modern Love” by Daniel Jones.

The Cauldron

There’s always this table, on which books pile up high, in one of the local grocery stores, the ShopRite of Edison township. Sometimes one or two precariously perched books on top would fall off when an inattentive shopper passes by and inadvertently brushes against the table. I’ve seen the books forever but never noticed them until the pandemic started. Isn’t it strange that when something as seismic as the lockdown happens, one’s mind starts to view things differently than before and see things one hasn’t seen for a long time? Is our brain shaken up and reframed? One day after a fruitless search for vinegar and rubbing alcohol, I stopped at the table and examined the books. I thought they were all unsuccessful romance books that nobody would care to buy, but that’s not completely true. Half concerns romance but the other half is about politics and military. I don’t really like military books but it’s the only genre that includes a lot of stories about Asia–WWII Pacific theater, Korea, Vietnam etc. Thus I have no choice but to read them since there are not so many good books on Asia or about Asians written in English. It gradually becomes my habit and now I know a lot more about wars than I had ever wished to. The strange thing is that the more one knows about wars, the less one likes wars, but still due to one’s habit one can’t stop reading about them. How weird? I wonder if one can ever really know or understand oneself.

The book is covered by a picture of two planes, which is a good start, but the title is incomprehensible “Hog Pilots, Blue Water Grants”. What does it mean? As a non-native speaker of English and non-slang comprehender, I have no idea what it means. Flipping through the first several pages, I saw Thailand and Korea, each occupying one chapter, and maps of Pacific. That’s enough for me to buy it. Coming home, I searched Amazon for other books of the same author and discovered “Asian’s Cauldron”, which instinctively attracted my attention. It’s exactly the kind of book I want to read, given the current global political circumstances.

“Asian’s Cauldron” is such a good book and the author is such a skilled writer. The author Robert D. Kaplan traveled to all these countries and he offered such spirited description of each country’s characters. It was published in 2014 and now the world is completely different. I think the author belongs to the previous generation of strategic thinkers since he’s almost retirement age now. The younger generation who are making strategic proposals right now think differently from him.

I am not very interested in the description of military buildup although I know some of my friends would love it–planes, missiles etc. I am very interested in the history of south and north Vietnam, the ethnic and religious conflicts in Philippine, and the condition of Sabah province of Malaysia. I wish he could talk about these anthropological aspects more, but that’s too much to wish for in such a book. I had a book before “Sylvia, Queen of the Headhunters”, which I only read a little since I’m too unfamiliar with the history of Malaysia to be able to enjoy it. However just such a little bit of reading makes the chapter of Sabah more comprehensible and the condition of Philippine, Malay, Chinese, Indians more clear to me.