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50 Books: 1-3

Updated: Aug 23, 2021

I managed to finish three books this past week in my drive to complete fifty before the end of 2021.

The first was Dutch Mandarin: The Life and Work of Robert Hans van Gulik by C.D. Barkman and H. de Vries-vander Hoeven. I'm a fan of van Gulik's Judge Dee mysteries, so I was excited to see this biography translated into English. Robert van Gulik was a scholarly Dutch diplomat who mastered dozens of languages and became fascinated with Asian, particularly Chinese, culture. He became an expert Chinese lute player and an acknowledged authority on a number of esoteric topics, publishing and lecturing widely on subjects like Ming dynasty erotica, the place of the gibbon in Chinese art, and Indonesian hand puppets. Today he is best remembered as the author of a series of mystery novels featuring the Tang Dynasty magistrate Judge Dee, which I recommend.

The second book was Uncomfortably Happily by Yeon-Sik Hong. This was a retirement gift from the staff at the library where I worked. They knew I had become hooked on South Korean television dramas during Covid lock-downs, so I think it was a bit tongue in cheek, but I enjoyed it. It is a visual narrative of the attempt that the author and his wife make to escape the noise and bustle of Seoul and live in an old farmhouse high on a mountain. Hong captures his emotional journey, the highs and lows of trying to survive as a artist on a meagre income in an unfamiliar environment. The novel received good reviews in Korea when it was first published and was given the Manhwa Today Award. I read the English language version published by Drawn & Quarterly.

Lastly, I decided to reread a book I had enjoyed many years ago, Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen. I first read the book after seeing the movie starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford. I remember being a bit disappointed, because although the movie took the title from the book, the movie plot was drawn mainly from recently published biographies of the main subjects, rather than Dinesen's writing. Still, I remember being captivated by her writing style and thought I would give it another go. The writing is still just as beautiful as I remembered, though it's hard to read it with the same uncritical eye as I did back in my early twenties. The world has changed, and so has our outlook, but it's still worth reading. I may tackle Seven Gothic Tales as part of my fifty books.

Three down, forty-seven more to go.


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