Book Passage of the Week (11/20/2016) – from The 50th Law

From The 50th Law, by Robert Greene and 50 Cent:

You do not wait for things to get better—you seize this chance to prove yourself. Mentally framing a negative event as a blessing in disguise makes it easier for you to move forward. It is a kind of mental alchemy, transforming shit into sugar.

 

No matter how much money or resources you have accumulated, someone will try to take them from you, or unexpected changes in the world will push you backward. These are not adverse circumstances but merely life as it is.

 

What you must do instead is accept the fact that all events occur for a reason, and that it is within your capacity to see this reason as positive. Marcus Aurelius compared this to a fire that consumes everything in its path—all circumstances become consumed in your mental heat and converted into opportunities. A man or woman who believes this cannot be hurt by anything or anyone.

If you buy the book (and I recommend it, because it’s great), then go for the paperback. Not only is it easier to make notes, but did you see the Kindle price? $14.99? Do they secretly want people NOT to buy the ebook?

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Announcing my new book: Kale & Jason. Only $2.99!

In a world ruled by eleven great wizards, two orphans dream of becoming warriors.

Jason is raised as a warrior’s apprentice. He feels his master is holding him back, and when he hears news of a murder committed by a great wizard, he prepares for his coming glory.

Kale is raised by his uncle, tutored on occasion by a wandering swordsman. A standing void blights the earth close to his village, remnant of an ancient enemy. Kale dreams of using the Masamune, an ancient sword, to repel enemies from the void.

When raiders attack Kale’s village, when war erupts between the great wizards, Kale and Jason will find out if the life of a warrior matches their dreams.

Listen to me read from Kale & Jason

Read the first chapter

Read the second chapter

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intReview: The Corpse Walker, by Liao Yiwu

I met Travis Lee on a cool November morning in 2016. He was waiting for the library to open, and I noticed he was holding a book. I decided to ask him about it…

W: What are you reading?

T: The Corpse Walker, by Liao Yiwu. I just finished it.

W: What’s it about?

T: This guy went around over the years interviewing people in China. This is a translation of some of his interviews.

W: What kinds of people?

T: The book’s subtitle is ‘Real Life Stories, China from the Bottom-Up’, and I guess you could say that’s true. These are all ordinary people. A lot of his interviews skew towards those who have been mistreated by the Chinese government.

W: Maybe it doesn’t skew; maybe it’s normal.

T: I’ve thought about that too. Of course, Liao Yiwu is a dissident writer. The introduction to this book makes that clear, with a good deal of mythologizing.

W: Mythologizing?

T: In the introduction, Wen Huang, the book’s translator, relates the story of Liao Yiwu’s birth: he was born when the Great Leap Forward was launched. During the famine, he nearly died from edema. According to Huang, Liao’s mother took him to an herbal doctor in the countryside who held him over a wok that contained boiling herbal water. The herbal steam miraculously restored him.

I like the use of the word ‘restore’ rather than ‘cure’. ‘Cure’ denotes serious weakness. Restore? Temporary weakness. Liao Yiwu wasn’t afflicted, not really, and the steam allowed him to return to his previously strong state. Pair it with ‘miraculously’, and a myth is born.

So, during a famine that killed 45 million people, we are to believe that Liao Yiwu was “miraculously restored”, a presumably divine act that would allow him to later live on the lam as a dissident writer, barely known in his own country. But there’s nothing “miraculous” about it; hydrotherapy is a well-known alternative treatment for swelling.

Throughout this book I had to wonder, is this true? Am I reading what people actually said?

Let me give you another example: The Human Trafficker. Now, according to the introduction, Liao gained these people’s trust. He interviewed this guy in prison and says that he could not take any recording equipment inside.

W: As you’d expect.

T: Right. He had to write up the interview from memory, but what is he remembering? What happened or what he wanted to happen? Take the ending. After the Human Trafficker expresses no remorse over conning young women into sexual slavery, Liao Yiwu claims he said this:

“If it were the judge, I would first cut off your tongue as punishment. It deserves to be cut off.”

I don’t doubt that Liao feels this way. But did he end the interview like that? Did it say it at all?

W: Does it matter?

T: It doesn’t ruin the book for me. It is interesting to contemplate though; what was lost or added?

W: You called him a “dissident writer”. Did he conduct these interviews illegally?

T: According to the introduction, most of his works are banned in China. Liao himself was arrested after Tiananmen Square for recording a poem dedicated to the victims of the massacre, among other things.

The introduction states that he has spent most of his career on the run.

W: Do you consider that more mythologizing?

T: Oh yes. He’s a renegade writer who was “miraculously restored” during one of the worst famines in history, remember? And now, the government fears him so much they will do anything to silence him.

W: It makes sense. From what I’ve, the CCP is quick to silence any dissent, however small.

T: True. Look at Liu Xiaobo. The Hong Kong booksellers. I don’t think he or his supporters are lying, but they are using it to craft a narrative. I don’t think anyone can deny that.

W: In his interviews, is Liao crafting a narrative?

T: When it comes to government reprisal, few in this book go unscathed. Let’s get the obvious out of the way first: The Tiananmen Father. Have you heard of the Tiananmen Mothers?

W: No.

T: The Tiananmen Mothers are a group of friends, relatives and parents of the victims. They demand that the Party acknowledge the massacre, name the dead, compensate families of the victims and punish those responsible.

W: I hesitate to ask how their efforts are coming along.

T: Ding Zilin, the group’s founder, is under house arrest.

W: How about the Tiananmen Father?

T: He’s a Sichuanese man whose son was murdered in the protests. The government did not let him take his son’s body home for burial. They let him view it, before hastily burning it along with the other victims’ bodies.

It’s a moving interview. Let me tell you how he ends it:

“Our life is too hard right now. We live on two hundred yuan a month. We have to raise our granddaughter and support her education. She is our only hope. She is the only thing left after the loss of my two sons. Despite this, we don’t want to bother Professor Ding [leader of the Tiananmen Mothers]. It doesn’t matter if we live or die. Professor Ding has to live. She is the one who helps keep the issue alive. It’s been sixteen years since the June 4 massacre happened. Sooner or later, justice will be done. We probably won’t live long enough to see the day. Whatever happens, we can’t let the Communist Party get away with the bloody debt owed to families like mine.”

W: Next year will mark twenty-eight years. No acknowledgement seems to be forthcoming.

T: I lived in China for the twentieth anniversary in 2009. People were scared. Perhaps they still are. The thing is, the Party is in power. All they need to do is wait. Sooner or later, all those pesky eyewitnesses will die, leaving rumor and hearsay.

W: There are records too.

T: Records can be altered. Destroyed.

W: History is written by the winners.

T: There are no winners here. In 1989 everyone lost.

W: Were there other stories that caught your eye?

T: The interviews near the end were weak. Some of what the interviewees said, such as the prison stories. There are about three people who were sent to Chinese prison, and they were tortured and sexually assaulted by the other inmates.

W: Are you saying it didn’t happen?

T: I’m saying the events seem exaggerated, yes. “Needlessly dramatic”, might be the right words.

W: How do you know it didn’t happen?

T: I don’t, but I suspect they’re dramatizing.

W: You hope they are?

T: Yeah, sure.

W: You’ve talked about exaggeration. Was there anything in the book besides the Tiananmen Father that you didn’t doubt?

T: It’s not that I doubt every interview in the book. Only that some statements, from the interviewees and Liao Yiwu himself, seem farfetched. I mean, the Street Singer claims that his blind father drowned in a river. The Street Singer was supposed to be watching him, but why was a blind man swimming in the first place?

What doesn’t seem farfetched is what we know happened. Tales from the Anti-Rightist movement, the Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution.

Liao Yiwu interviews a former Red Guard. He, the former Red Guard, has no remorse over what he did. They bullied, harassed, tortured and killed people, all in the name of Mao Zedong. If you want to see the power of a cult of personality, forget North Korea. Look at China, 1966 to about 1975. Mao Zedong knew he was on his way out, and he was determined to make his country pay.

W: You seem more inclined to believe people who were hurt by the government.

T: Even their stories don’t escape the narrative trap. The basic events…I mean, someone’s father was a landlord. They were persecuted. I’ll believe that before I believe that a leper’s wife was burned alive and no one did anything about it.

W: Some of the stories are more rooted in well-documented history, it seems. Did you enjoy the book overall?

T: I did. For all the questions it raises, it tells you a lot about China and the Chinese people.

This book is abridged, by the way.

W: How so?

T: Straight from the introduction: They selected twenty-seven stories that they felt were representative of his work and of interest to Western readers. I’m interested in reading the whole book, not what someone has decided would interest me.

W: That might explain the skewing towards people who’ve been mistreated by the government.

T: Perhaps. I want to read the whole book to find out.

W: Would you recommend The Corpse Walker to others?

T: Yes, as long as you know what you’re getting into. Read the introduction carefully. The translator’s acknowledgements too, where he treats you to this:

“Following his release from a Chinese prison, Liao Yiwu asked a blind fortune-teller to forecast his future. The fortune-teller felt around Liao’s face, inquired the date and time of his birth, and told Liao that his future would start to look promising because he would be assisted and blessed by several guiren, or noblemen.”

The translator than goes on to thank several people who helped bring the book to life. Without them, we wouldn’t have The Corpse Walker.

W: Seems that fortune-teller had a point.

T: I know, right? Who am I to doubt him?

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The Corpse Walker is available on Amazon. Check out more of my reviews here.

 

Expressions I Can Live Without

wow just wow — see also: wow. Just…wow Use the ellipsis when you want to emphasize just how speechless this week’s fashionable outrage has made you.

I can’t even — often combined with wow just wow for a tag-team of shit.

This — used emphatically when sharing links that reinforce your biases. See also: This. Just…THIS. People have an attraction to the word the word ‘just’ followed by an ellipsis.

It is what it is — Good. I was worried it might be something else.

fur mommy/daddy — ultrasounds for dogs? doggie daycare? It seems fur parents and their money are easily parted. Associated term: fur babies. When someone talks about their fur babies, I wonder how many homeless family members they have.

White dude — used in a derogatory way. If you’d like to be completely unoriginal, try using the -bro suffix.

People/Person of color — such a sterile expression. I don’t mind it when used sparingly, but some people feel the need to use it in a Ralph Wiggum-esque repetition, even when an alternative would fit better. See also: PoC. I’ve yet to see POC. They don’t drop ‘of’ completely and use ‘PC’ because ‘PC’ is too well associated with Politically Correct or Personal Computer.

however comma — Know what I like more than however comma? When people pause, to indicate a comma and then say the word comma.

More to come, I’m sure…

Book Passage of the Week – from Suttree, by Cormac McCarthy

Suttree and A Death in the Family are the two famous Knoxville novels. They even have similar openings; Agee’s book gives us Knoxville: Summer of 1915 and McCarthy gives us:

Dear friend now in the dusty clockless hours of the town when the streets lie black and steaming in the wake of the watertrucks and now when the drunk and the homeless have washed up in the lee of walls in alleys or abandoned lots and cats go forth highshouldered and lean in the grim perimeters about, now in these sootblacked brick or cobbled corridors where lightwire shadows make a gothic harp of cellar doors no soul shall walk save you.

Seven un-indented paragraphs of that, introducing us to Suttree’s Knoxville.

I’m in the middle of reading Suttree. I can’t say I enjoy the book — my favorite remains The Road  — but there are some nice passages:

In the long days of all they went like dreamers. Watching the sky for rain. When it came it rained for days. They sat in groups and watched the rain fall over the deserted fairgrounds. Pools of mud and dark sawdust and wet trodden papers. The painted canvas funhouse walls and the stark skeletons of amusement rides against a gray and barren sky.

And:

A dim world receded above his upturned toes, shapes of skewed shacks erupted bluely in the niggard lamplight. The rusting carcass of an automobile passed slowly on his right. Dim scenes pooling in the summer night, wan inkwash of junks tilting against a paper sky, rorschach boatmen poling mutely over a mooncobbled sea.

And this, from a fever dream. Shades of The Road?

By the side of a dark dream road he’d seen a hawk nailed to a barn door. But what loomed was a flayed man with his brisket tacked open like a cooling beef and his skull peele, blue and bulbous and palely luminiscent, black grots his eyeholes and bloody mouth gaped tongueless. The traveler had seized his fingers in his jaws, but it was not alone this horror that he cried. Beyond the flayed man dimly adumbrate another figure paled, for his surgeons moved about the world even as you and I.

While you’re here, check out Yelping with Cormac. My favorite is The Apple Store.