He Zhiwu, Cop 223: If memories could be canned, would they also have expiry dates?
If so, I hope they last for centuries.
Director Wong made a strong international impression with his loosely linked tales of two cops looking for love in Hong Kong. The first cop, played by Takeshi Kaneshiro, pines for the woman who recently dumped him, setting himself a deadline to find a new love that he measures by the expiration date on cans of pineapple. He is attracted to a mysterious woman in a blond wig who seems to be involved in drug dealing. But just as we think we will follow this couple, another take the stage. A second cop (Tony Leung) eats at the same lunchstand as Kaneshiro every day, called the Chungking Express. There he meets a waitress named Faye (the amazing Faye Wong), who longs to be part of his life. So much so that when the opportunity arises she steals his keys and starts sneaking into his apartment; cleaning and even redecorating. As astoundingly inattentive as the cop is not to notice this invasion, we know Faye will eventually get caught. The director’s intensely kinetic style, which quick cuts, bursts of color, and occasional sudden jumps, might be unsettling to those who want a traditional linear story. Not so much about story as about emotions, mood, and character, Chungking Express nevertheless manages to give vigilant viewers a stylishly enjoyable ride, giving up more of its secrets with each viewing.
Check the BPL catalog for this title: Chungking Express
The feminists had divined that, who once, when she rose to speak at a meeting, had hissed and cat-called, assuming her crowning glory to be the seductive and marketable product of an inhumanely tested bottle.
With luck, once in a lifetime a novelist can take all the pieces and fit them together and come out with an absolutely wonderful work. Possession is one of those rare books. There is beautiful storytelling as each scene works in itself, drives the fast-moving plot forward toward solving a mystery, and reveals an extraordinary understanding of literature and ideas. It begins when two young academics discover secret love letters from a long-dead Victorian poet. There are amazing characters, including a brilliant professor who has spent a career studying that poet and has produced the definitive biography, proving that here was a great man who surely lived up to his own lofty ideals. On the side, the professor has a hobby of stealing anything he can get his hands on from the poet’s life. There is also poetry and interwoven tales that expand the inner hopes and thoughts of the characters. Most of all, it is the result of a life-long appreciation of the beauty of great writing and the joy of discovery, and also of the emptiness and cruelty of academic lives devoted to the study of beauty. This is, in all senses, a mature work by an author who has loved words, stories, books, and ideas and wants to make sense of all such love.
Check the BPL catalog for this title: Possession
‘Tears are very close to my eyes,’ says Bhonco, son of Ximiya. ‘Not for pain…no…I do not cry because of pain. I cry only because of beautiful things.’
Set in a South African village, this story is about two ideologically warring factions, the Believers and the Unbelievers. This division among the Xhosa people came about after a failed prophecy in the nineteenth century, and remains stubbornly strong to the present day. Both sides envision what would be best for the community. The Unbelievers welcome the opening of a casino, saying that it will bring about prosperity in the form of new jobs and opportunities. The Believers fear the impact of economic development on the village way of life. At the center of the story is Camagu, an outsider, a city person who follows a woman back to the village and subsequently becomes embroiled in the ongoing feud. Mda’s prose is beautiful and tinged with magical realism and folklore. It is a thought-provoking argument both for and against economic development, preserving tradition versus embracing new ways. It is also a love story between two people, between a woman and the land, and a story about the consequences of stubbornness.
Check the BPL catalog for this title: The Heart of Redness
Spock, a dolphin at Marine World, approached the head trainer, Jim Mullen, with a piece of paper and was promptly given a treat. Then he kept showing up with piece of paper, which he would exchange for treats. In essence Spock had discovered the use of paper money.
Everybody loves a good escape artist and that’s why the octopus and the orangutan get title billing in this book. If you didn’t know that an octopus can wander around out of water (so long as it’s careful not to dry out), you will be surprised to learn that an octopus at the aquarium may happily climb out of its tank at night when no one is around, curl across the linoleum to the tank across the way, grab a tasty crab, and sneak back, leaving the aquarium keepers to wonder who has been stealing the displays. The octopus may do this even if its tank has a latch, as octopuses have been known to figure out how do undo those. Then there’s the orangutan who used a piece of wire to pick the lock on his cage. Where did he get the wire? From a neighboring cage where the resident orang had dismantled a light fixture. She traded the wire to the escape artist, it seems, for a few nice biscuits as she was quite stout and the keepers had (no doubt unjustly) put her on a diet. In an earlier book on nonhuman intelligence, The Parrot’s Lament, Eugene Linden reviewed the experimental literature. Here he focuses on telling stories and on pondering what, in fact, “intelligence” is. Whatever intelligence means, exactly, being smart enough to get one’s needs met and take care of one’s offspring and not walk off a cliff, looks like greater intelligence than I can muster some mornings.
Check the BPL catalog for this title: The Octopus and the Orangutan
Properly trained a man can be a dog’s best friend.
This is the story of Fiona Bristow and her three dogs. She lives in a little cottage on an island off the coast of Washington state. Her dogs are trained to be rescue dogs and she runs a dog training business. This sounds like a good life. But Fiona is the only survivor of a serial killer called “The Red Scarf Killer”. That man is still in prison but he has trained another man to copy his style and this man is coming after Fiona because she was the one that got away. To complicate matters, there is also a man named Simon who has recently moved onto the island and his young dog, Jaws, needs training. Could Simon be the one to share the rest of Fiona’s life? This book is especially good for how it weaves together a murder mystery with a romance in a very interesting way.
Check the BPL catalog for this title: The Search
“If there is hope… it lies in the proles.”
This is the story of the life of Winston Smith, a middle class intellectual worker living in Oceania, one of the world’s three superpowers at war. As it turns out, there has always been war everlasting between these superpowers. Winston’s job is to do the work of revising history, as ordered by his superiors in the “Inner Party.” People and events are fabricated and can vanish from history, and even the names of the enemy changes. Discovering the true purpose of everlasting war and manipulation of history leads Winston and the reader to the climax of this gripping and profoundly disturbing touchstone of a novel.
It is very tempting to draw comparisons to the social conditions of the current world. Themes of nationalism, class warfare, ubiquitous surveillance, and an overworked, distracted lower class ring true today. Orwell’s sensational writing is juicy and compelling reading and, like other works of great fiction, contains a seed of truth and a warning for all peoples of civilization.
Check the BPL catalog for this title: 1984
I am not a glutton.
I am an explorer of food.
- Erma Bombeck
Sometimes a book is riveting despite one’s initial reaction of distaste. This was true for me in reading Freeman’s New York City-centric “round the world via restaurant” guide. “What a know-it-all! How pretentious! She’s never eating dinner at my house!” I said. And yet, I kept reading, as Freeman discussed British, Chinese, Cuban, French, Greek, Indian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Mexican, Middle Eastern, Spanish, Thai and Vietnamese cuisines, with descriptions of the cuisine overall, highlights of popular and “don’t miss” items and short reviews of NYC restaurants serving that cuisine. It made me hungry. It made me want to cook. It made me want to explore cuisines I didn’t know that well, or try unusual dishes within cuisines I thought I did know well. Although there are no recipes, the library has an excellent selection of cookbooks for all the cuisines mentioned- so read Freeman first, grab a cookbook and try it at home, if you can’t afford a trip to New York.
Check the BPL catalog for this title: Try This
Shamas stands in the open door and watches the earth, the magnet that it is, pulling snowflakes out of the sky towards itself.
I want to call this a story about star-crossed lovers, a contemporary Romeo and Juliet where the couple dies at the beginning instead of the end. But really the lovers in this story aren’t star-crossed as much as society-crossed. And it’s not just the dead lovers that have this problem either. Throughout the book we encounter couples who for one reason or another are not permitted to love openly or undisturbed. These couples’ stories weave in and out of each other creating layers of desire, fear and loss. But this is not just a love story. It is also an inter-generational family drama and mystery. Set in an English neighborhood of predominantly South Asian immigrants, themes of assimilation, religion versus state and immigrant family and community dynamics are prominent. And since the neighborhood has a lake and hills and woods there is ample imagery from the natural world including flowers, birds, animals and butterflies, butterflies, butterflies. The result is a rich and satisfying novel – a beautiful tapestry of a book.
Check the BPL catalog for this title: Maps for Lost Lovers