Thursday, January 10, 2013

More On Books-The Asia Years

More On Books-The Asia Years

There are always numerous postings on social networking sites about books and the critical role they play in many of our lives. While my love of books began in childhood, it continues to morph until this day, with my preferences changing with every stage in life.

During my years living in Asia, I was exposed to authors that might not have otherwise resonated with me. My preference at that time was more towards British, South African or expatriate American authors.

I do not necessarily depend upon the opinions of critics when I choose a book to read. Frankly, one’s preference for books rarely synchronizes with any particular critic. As with beauty, the value is in the eye of the beholder.

During this period I loved sweeping historical fiction such as those wondrous books written by Noel Barber. “Tanamera”  swept me away while I was living in Asia, but the story of World War II and its effect on Singapore is less interesting to me now- 20 years after repatriating to the USA. 

It is the same with the novels of James Clavell – who at various times has been criticized by the intelligentsia. During my late 20’s and early 30’s while I was living in Taiwan and Hong Kong, his books spoke to me because I could understand and appreciate the minute insider details about the way Gweilos/foreigners were perceived by the locals. (not with a high degree of respect). I could appreciate the observation that an American millionaire could step off a plane and understand the smell of money permeated the air. It did. It likely still does; but being away from the environment has changed my perception of the book.  But at the time I was enveloped with Tai Pan, Noble House and Shogun. (ok – though I carried the multi pound tome around the world twice, I never actually read “Gai Jin”.)

Time, place, the people with which I am sharing experiences, and my history all impact the way I look at a book.

During that time while I was living in a British colony the books written by Susan Howatch fascinated me. I loved her historical novels; but it was her Starbridge series on the history of the Church of England that enthralled me. I think it was my search for spirituality that resonated at the time.  I was struggling with life with an alcoholic spouse and searching for something less judgmental than the Catholic Church in which I had been raised and thought that perhaps the Anglicans, aka “Catholic Light”, might have the answer. Howatch’s stories about the struggles of very human clerical characters resonated with me.  I would recommend that anybody looking for a good read who has an interest in the Church of England and its conflicted relationship with Catholicism try the first 3 books of the 6 books series, Glittering Images, Glamorous Powers, Ultimate Prizes, which start during the 1930s.  I’ve been bereft she hasn’t written in years.

It was also during this period that the international nature of the book clubs to which I belonged introduced me to authors such as Australian author Morris West, William Boyd who wrote “A Good Man in Africa”, Sri Lankan-Canadian writer Michael Ondaatje who wrote “The English Patient”, and Kazuo Ishiguro’s “The Remains of the Day”.

I am grateful for the international group of women I met that introduced me to reading experiences beyond those I would have discovered on my own in my local bookstore – 

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