Things I’ve been reading

I know, I seem only to post about books here now. Sorry, but real life is fairly dull.

Markus Zusak, The Book Thief. When given this by my mother (whose taste in books rarely overlaps with mine) I read the first few pages, groaned, and abandoned it. The story of a girl in Nazi Germany, told by an (intentionally?) clich├ęd Death, in that sort of naive-outsider voice that Kundera and Vonnegut use. The chances of me enjoying this were slim.
Fortunately insomnia, book-shortage, and sashagoblin‘s recommendation made me pick it up again. The annoying bits diminish pretty quickly: Zusak lets Death fade into the background, narrating mainly through the girl (and abandoning her, too, when it’s important). The war-and-holocaust background is basically a cardboard cutout, since we never see inside the head of anybody sympathetic to the Nazis. And it’s a quick and fairly addictive read.

Douglas Coupland, Shampoo Planet. sashagoblin‘s fault again; also because Uwe (who reads far more English-language fiction than I do) was throwing it out. First Coupland I’ve read; enjoyable enough, but not nearly as good as I’d been hoping. Tyler, self-consciously ‘modern’ young man tries to insulate himself from the grimy hopelessness of his hometown; treks to Europe and California while dreaming of business; eventually learns to accept flawed friends and small-town corniness. Some interesting observations, but far too many unfunny fake brand-names and too many flat characters. Tyler’s Parisian ice-queen girlfriend, in particular, never moves beyond stereotype. I can’t figure out if this is intentional.
Regardless, I’ll probably read Microserfs or Generation X at some point; I can easily believe that Coupland can do better than this.

Joshua Ramo, The Beijing Consensus. Every ambitious young pundit has a book out about China by now – short, written in a hurry, desperate to find some new angle or catchphrase. I can’t help myself reading them, however much I know they’re going to be deeply unsatisfying. Ramo has at least learnt the language, and read some of the Chinese-language scholarship, so this essay is less empty than most. Also read his Brand China, which is much less interesting. Never mind; one day I’ll kick the habit and either ignore China or read something more in-depth and less pundity about it.

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