News & opinion on Greater China and the even Greater Beyond: by Biff Cappuccino.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Prologue to letter below: I get the feeling that I'm going to learn about Chinese history, not by limiting myself to the study of Chinese history and plowing my way through the banal output of various Sino-experts, but instead by locating competent books in other fields and applying the heuristics I find therein. And, if there are any decent books on any given subject they're going to difficult to find here in Taiwan given the low standard of partisan scholarship (in this case Chinese) and the few English works to choose from. It wouldn't surprise me if my jerkwater college in Canada has more English works on China (it has a shocking number actually) than can be found in the libraries of all of Taiwan's schools put together and yet my alma mater doesn't even have a department of East Asian studies.
Hi T: moving back to North America is indeed tempting, and I would take the idea seriously if only I had a notion of what I would do moneywise. Do you have any suggestions for what options would be available work-wise in the South or South-West for someone like myself? Clearly there's freelance translation here and there. But does anything else come to mind, other than Walmart?
As to reading, for me it's still difficult to find books worth the time, that actually have something to say and/or are presented in a captivating manner. The more I read and write, the more I find that style is not about style but more about content and it's intelligent presentation. At the moment, I'm mostly reading academic tomes in preparation for grad school here in Taiwan. Most of these tomes appear to be built around a few core ideas, usually filched, which are then worried to death and filled out with 300 or more pages of facts and figures which offer little insight into anything other than that the author read an impressive bibliography without really learning anything. The more I think about grad school, the less it appeals to me. I have a hard time imagining that I would agree with much of what my professors had to say after a few months of performing my own research. I have an even more difficult time imagining that the graduate students would be able to test my ideas and help me weed out the bad ones that, based on my experience, constitute at least 75% of my ideas overall. Darryl is already encountering various issues and I can only imagine his situation would be magnified several times over in my case.
On the other hand, sticking with the writing of fiction and essays gets me going, gets me out of bed in the morning, makes me feel good about myself and makes me feel like I'm doing something worthwhile. At first I couldn't stand writing fiction, then I got to see there was some room for fun with it, and now I'm into doing it wholehog.
Dr. Howard (i.e. T.S. XXX) was very generous and gave me NT$100k to sponsor my master's studies. But since cracking a few jokes about me being a cheap whore, I've come to realize that the metaphor is sticking a bit faster than I might like. The problem is I'm having second thoughts about going to grad school and I'm not going to take the good doctor's money and run. And yet that 100k has had a significant impact on my book purchases and so forth. This is part of the reason I'm poring through these academic tomes that I was complaining about above. Sometimes I feel like I should just give him the money back and get on with my writing life. Other times, I figure I should take the doctor's advice and do grad school because I'll be getting paid to do what I want to do anyway. Decisions, decisions, decisions.
By the way, came across a writer yesterday who you might also appreciate, Rick Bragg and his memoir: All Over but the Shoutin'. It's written in a sort of Mark Twain fashion, with lots of metaphors that work and a pace that keeps those with short attention spans in their seat. I've only read the prologue and a bit of the first chapter so far, but it appeals to me quite a bit for a variety of reasons. He gives a presentation as part of his book tour on C-SPAN:

If you're a fan of Norman Mailer:

Stay in touch,

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