Movie: American Factory

The first moive in September I watched, following the trend, is American Factory.

At first I think why factories in socialist countires are sweatshops, while factories in capitalist counties pay more attentions to workers’s safety and welfare even though they are forced to do it.

On second thought, I realize they are not socialist factoires, they are the same as early capitalist factoires in eighteen century. At that time, the factories in Ameirc or in western countries like U.K. were just like these Chinese facotires. If nothing changed, as time goes by, when China becomes a developed and properous country, they’ll probably care about the worker’s safty and welfare, because they are able to and can afford to do it.

But, sadly and ironically, today is never yesterday. No matter how hard Chinese workers work and even they don’t ask for anything, they will still be phased out cruedly, just like American workers, by robots.

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Summer Reading in July

I dedicated my summertime to Alice Munro, Alistair MacLeod, Hemingway and Deborah Levy.

In July, I read four books: Dance of the Happy Shades by Alice Munro, Island by Alistair MacLeod, In Our Times by Hemingway, and The Cost of Living by Deborah levy. I loved them all. It’s hard for me to say which is my favorite.

1. Review of Dance of the Happy Shades was already posted here.

2. Island by Alistair MacLeod 

Alistair MacLeod is a great Canadian writer. It’s bad that many people don’t know him. His stories are mainly about Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, about fishermen, miners or farmers, about staying or leaving, about struggle to survive, about hard physical work.

The 16 short stories were written from 1968 to 1999 and is chronologically arranged in the book.  Obviously, his early works are more classic and tightly constructed while the later ones are more expansive, containing stories within stories, but are even more powerful in spite of that looseness of structure. Being older, he is more preoccupied with the passing of a way of life and the distant past, the Scottish origin of his characters.

MacLeod’s world is a masculine one of complex relationships between sons, fathers and grandfathers, as well as close ties to beloved dogs and horses. Under his pen, the fathers are always kind to his kids, stoicism and fortitude, loving his homeland, having no choice but long-suffering. The mothers appear mostly in the background who are feared, cold, practical, trying to get rid of the now-and-here life without success, although there are still a few fine portraits of individual women who are venerated, or simply loved. In the meanwhile their kids, mainly the eldest son, eager to leave for the future, for the unknown wide world outside.

His prose looks like plain and simple, yet elegant and free flowing with power in it, extremely tight and fluid which moves his narratives forward in a cinematic fashion.When reading, you cannot ignore the landscape, the community in Nova Scotia, in Cape Breton. The people, the animal, the tree, the land, the see, he loved everything there.

“The Boat” is a great piece, full of love for his father. When I re-read it, the impression is stronger. It’s more like an essay rather than a short story, not too much plot, but the narrative, the portrait, his father’s life, his mother’s life, the lives of the fishermen in Cape Breton. You can feel the deep love through his words.

My favorite stories are: “The Boat”, “The Vastness of the Dark”, “The Lost Salt Gift of Blood”, “To Every Thing There Is a Reason”, “As Birds Bring Forth the Sun.” Next will be his novel NO GREAT MISHIEF.

If you want to learn English writing, his works are good choice to learn from. I sure re-read his short stories.

3. In Our Times by Ernest Hemingway

I finished reading Truman Capote in June. Reynolds Price said: “In the twentieth century, only two writers of distinguished fiction managed to become American household names—Ernest Hemingway and Truman Capote.” So, you see, it’s time to read Hemingway thoroughly.

In Our Times is his second book. His first book, Three Stories and Ten Poems, was self-published. The three stories are included in In Our Times too. Reading the juvenilia of a good writer is always enlightening. You get to see what of their voice was congenital, and have the linear relationship between volume of practice and quality of output revealed with vivid clarity.

I think  these stories quite dark; They are a meditation on suffering. The themes of his stories are war and returning from war, bullfighting, hunting, fishing, difficulties of marriage, and disappointments.

Hemingway’s style is again a sparse, simple but efficient prose that works so well, and he has that knack of easily conveying deep emotions within a matter of minutes through the great use of dialogue. His dialogues in the stories are amazing.

“Why did he kill himself, Daddy?” 

“I don’t know, Nick. He couldn’t stand things, I guess.” 

“Do many men kill themselves, Daddy?” 

“Not very many, Nick.” 

“Do many women?” 

“Hardly ever.” 

“Don’t they ever?” 

“Oh, yes. They do sometimes.” 

“Daddy?” 

“Yes.”

“Where did Uncle George go?” 

“He’ll turn up all right.” 

“Is dying hard, Daddy?” 

“No, I think it’s pretty easy, Nick. It all depends.”

In terms of style, his is a kind of tough-minded minimalism that allows for very little commentary, few adverbs. Not flowery or “showing off” as he would have said; straightforward, simple, direct prose, which maybe come from his career—journalist.

The construction of this book is interesting and experimental. Two parts interweaves in this book, one is some sketches about war, bull fighting; the other is main part of Nick Adams short stories about love, friendship, returning home from war, humanity, nature, fishing…I feel both parts subtly connecting interior.

My favorites are: “Indian Camps” and “Cat in the Rain”. Next stop on the Hemingway train for me: Men without Women.

4. The Cost of Living by Deborah Levy

The Cost of Living is a memoir about the period following Levy’s separation from her husband. She moves into a dreary apartment unit with her two daughters, loses her mother, takes every job she is offered, and continues writing, in a rented garden-shed. Everything is entirely new, home, and work.

The book is also about other things, like cycling up and down a hill between the garden shed, home and grocery store; buying a chicken to roast for dinner which tumbles out of the torn shopping bag and is flattened by a car; putting up silk curtains in the bedroom and painting the walls yellow; showing up to a meeting about optioning the film rights to her novel with leaves in her hair; visiting her mother at a hospital. When her mother was too ill to eat or drink, she brought her ice lollies from a Turkish kiosk. Her mother’s favorite flavor was lime which, in the final days of her life, the kiosk did not have.

She is truly, in Henry James’s phrase, someone “upon whom nothing is lost.” She captures the trivial and frivolous incidents in her life and understands the profound implications of them.

I like to read her contemplation to her own life, her viewpoint on many things. I am not feminist, but I agree what she says: “When our father does the things he needs to do in the world, we understand it’s his due. If our mother does the things she needs to do in the world, we feel she has abandoned us.”

Recently, memoir is a very popular genre. It seems every one can write about themselves, a period of their lives. I hope I can write like her, writing down what I am thinking, what I am feeling.

Another Mindfuck Question

Is love enough?

Recently I read two articles in the internet. Both are about having a baby. They make me think about life.

The former writer, finds her baby who is still into her belly has a serious problem: “spina bifida. Right after he was conceived, on some muggy day back in July, the neural tube that would become his spinal column failed to fuse together completely, leaving a hole at the base of his spine. The hole had caused a cascade of other defects in his tiny body, and Hydrocephalus. Bilateral clubbed feet. I can’t even see his cerebellum.” Furthermore, the baby would likely be paralyzed from the waist down.

It goes without saying, she chooses to be a mother, to keep the baby. She thinks that she’s doing right.

The second writer, 35 years old, has a serious disease Rheumatoid arthritis herself. She’s fighting with it. The whole article is full of her pain and struggle, but she still wants a baby and hopes to be a mother in a world full of cruelty and injustice. She believes love is all. She even tells the high-risk obstetrician that she doesn’t want to do the 12-week tests to find out if she’s carrying some sort of mutant baby, or perhaps one with Down Syndrome, or another disability because she doesn’t care. She wants the baby no matter he is healthy or not. She said: “don’t get me wrong… I have chosen this baby. We have chosen each other. No one is going to take this baby away from me by telling me there is something terribly wrong with it and I should terminate. I know that I will love this baby if it lives for one day or a hundred years.”

She further asks: “who am I to say what kind of body is worth living in?”

Both mother think they made a right decision. They love their baby and they respect life.

I am moved by them a little bit, but mostly I have another voice. I can’t get rid of a question from my mind: Have they considered the baby? Have they ever put themselves in the baby’s place? Does the baby want to be paralyzed from the waist down for his whole life since born? Does he want to have genetic disease? If the babies have a chance to choose, do they want to be born to this cruel and injust world? Is love enough? Moms, have you ever imagine what they’ll feel when they grow up, when they are aware of the difference between their friends and them, when they hope to run, to jump, to make love with his loving one, but they can’t? Do you want your baby experience the pain, the envy, the despair and the hopelessness?

I can’t help but call them selfish. They merely think about what they want, but ignore what the baby wants. Maybe I am pessimism, in this situation, I by no means will consider what the baby’s future life would be, not mention the burdens put in the society.

It reminds me the Bible. “And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.” (Matthew 3:10) “…but will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” (Matthew 3: 12)

How cruel is this! This world is cold and cruel that I am confused what is right and what is wrong. Is love enough? Am I too cruel, too cold blood? Why do we bring a life to the world to suffer?

Mindfuck again.

A Mindfuck Question

Five-year-old Jayden asked me abruptly while he was watching Peppa Pig: “Mommy, why people die?”

This was a big question and there was no pat answer to it. I hesitated as I didn’t know how to answer and I didn’t want to dismiss him casually as well. After several seconds I saw he was still waiting for my answer while he seemed to think about it himself too. I had to say: “when people grow too old, they’ll die.”

Obviously he’s not satisfied with my answer; worse than that, he’s confused and unsettled.

I added immediately, “but they will go to another world.”

I don’t really believe something like heaven or hell. When I said “another world” I felt like I was telling a lie. But what could I do? What I wanted was to console the poor little thing, for I saw he’s going to cry, his lips twitched, tears to be shed. He said: “I don’t want you to die.” 

“Oh, silly boy, come here.” I said, hugging him and sitting him on my lap. “Everyone will die. Just think about that we’ll meet in another world one day. We can play together again. I promise, we’ll no longer be apart there.”

He said nothing. I stroked his hair, patted his back to calm him down. In order to distract him, I asked him: “You thirsty? wanna have a freeze?” Freeze is his favorite snack in the summer; he likes freeze more than ice cream or popsicle.

Sure enough, he immediately forgot the serious question and slid off my lap and went to kitchen.

Alert cancelled. The rest of the day, I prepared dinner; we ate. He played, ate, played, brushed teeth, took a shower, and went to sleep around 9: 30 p.m. I lay beside him and said: “Have a good night.” Everything was normal.

Out of blue, he turned over and faced to me: “Mama, how can people get into another person’s tummy if he’s put into grave after he dies?”

God save me! if there were a God. I cried in my head. He hadn’t forgotten that question at all. He’d been thinking of it the whole evening and night.

“Silly,” I said, “why does a person have to go into another person’s tummy after he dies? Remember I told you, he’ll go to another world.”

His expression told me his doubt. His eyes were shinning like the stars in the dark sky.

“When people die, they are buried in the grave, but their soul will leave the body and go to another world.” I kept lying. Please don’t ask what is soul, what is renascence. I crossed my fingers.

“Will you be always my mom?”

“Of course. Do you want me to be your mom forever?”

“Yes.”

“Then go to sleep, sweetie. Night-night. Have a good sleep. Have a good dream…”

Three days past. Nothing happened. The question finally stopped haunting him and died down. 

This morning, before he went to summer camp, he asked me: “Mommy, which city do you want to live in another world, Paris or London or New York?”

What a mindfuck!

A Happy Chime

The older I grow, the more nostalgia I am. Even the music I am listening to is 60’s or 70’s, like the Credence, Bob Dylan, and Tom Petty, which I seldom listened to when I was young.
Have you ever read the comment in Youtube when you listen to music on it? I have, actually l like to read, for I find it interesting to know what other people think. Look at this comment regarding Bob Dylan: “Don’t ever trust anyone that doesn’t listen to Bob Dylan.” 
It really reminds me a Chinese saying: 人无癖不可以与之交也。Such a happy chime!

Dance of the Happy Shades

Back in 2005 or 2006, I read “Runaway” (a story) in The New Yorker, but, maybe I had been in China at that time, or maybe my English was not good enough to grasp the whole story, somehow I found it’s too lengthy to be impressive. But I remembered her name since then. In 2013, she won Nobel Prize. Big surprise! For she only writes short stories, who ever thought about that she would win? She’s dubbed Canada’s Chekhov, huge credit and honor. Anyway, I thought Munro might be worth reading. Last year, in Tianya Forum, a netizen compared Munro’s “The Time of Death” to “Death” of James Joyce; I couldn’t agree with it and I argued for that fiercely. Joyce’s a great writer and his Dubliner is a masterpiece in my mind. But you see, step by step, Munro’s share in my mind is strengthened so much that I cannot ignore her. I decided to read her works seriously. And now, it almost took me a year to collect her works. I’m still looking for three books, Dance of the Happy Shades, Something I’ve been Meaning to Tell You, and Open Secrets. Finally I picked up Alice Munro in July. It was a long journey and it will be a long journey.

Dance of the Happy Shades is her first collection of short stories and is the winner of the Governor General’s Award (1968) which is a big deal in Canada. This collection includes 15 stories which mostly take place in rural southern Ontario on depression era. In her book, I can read lots of familiar places, like Georgian Bay, Bratford, Windsor, London, and St. Joseph’s Hospital. I am an immigrant from outside of Canada, but after living in Ontario for ten years, I felt very hearty when I read them.

Among them, my favorites are “Walker Brothers Cowboy”, “Thanks for the Ride”, “The Time of Death”, “A Trip to the Coast”, and “The Peace of Utrecht”. Some readers would say they are never able to really identify with any of the characters or feel something for them. They felt a little bit remote and these stories are boring, but the stories are pretty much what I like, for they are about life, real life, I think, through words – that we readers breathe, feel and know at the bottom of us. 

Hugh Garner in the forward to this book said: “The second-rate writers, the writers manques, the professional-commerical writers, find it impossible to write about ordinary people in ordinary situations, living ordinary lives… Hence their reliance on the grotesque, the far-out theme, the “different” or snob character, and the exotic or non-existent locale. The literary artist, on the other hand, uses people we all know, situations which are familiar to us and places we know or remember.”

That’s true. You cannot find murder, sex, grotesque or exotic characters in her stories, just ordinary people’s ordinary life in ordinary situation, the struggle and pressure to live, the desire to speak up, and the longing to independence. Munro did an amazing job of telling stories of those fine and delicate feelings. Your heart will be touched after reading them.

In “Walker Brothers Cowboy” a father, a traveling salesman, took his daughter on a surprise tour of the countryside.  They met a woman Nora whom the little girl slowly understood to be her father’s former sweetheart. They had a good talk about their old friends. We don’t know what happened between them and why they didn’t get married, but obviously Nora still loved the father. However, the father restrained himself and mastered of his passion, when Nora invited him to dance and stay for supper. He declined and said the kids’ mother would worry. What an excuse. Bitterly, Nora said: “I can drink alone but I can’t dance alone.” How sad was Nora. The excursion offered the girl a break from her routine of chores and acquainted her with a sense of possibility and danger previously unavailable to her.

I like the finishing touch of the story: “So my father drives and my brother watches the road for rabbits and I feel my father’s life flowing back from our car in the last of afternoon, darkening and turning strange, like a landscape that has an enchantment on it, making it kindly, ordinary and familiar while you are looking at it, but changing it, once your back is turned, into something you will never know, with all kinds of weathers, and distances you cannot imagine.

“Thanks for the Ride” tells a bitter story. It’s about a girl’s dignity. Two boys felt bored when they were in a strange little town. They’d like to find two girls to hang around to kill time. So they met Lois, a girl who was just dumped by her boyfriend. Lois knew the boys had asked her out just for fun. Still, for her dignity, Lois purposely put on her best dress; she wanted the boy to meet her mother. Sadly, the mother was a snob. In the end, when George rudely asked the girls getting out of the car, Lois called aloud: “ ‘Thanks for the ride,’ the loud, crude, female voice, abusive and forlorn,” but with dignity.

“The Time of Death” is a sad sad story. A poor family loses their youngest child due to an unfortunate accident. The mother blamed the nine-year-old daughter, who was responsible for this accident. The girl’s reaction was strange and weird. She’s calm and quiet; she didn’t cry after her young brother died, but actually she’s really frightened and guilty especially her mother cursed her “don’t let me see her, don’t let her come near me!” In the end, the little girl could not bear it and bursted out.  Now I’ve read two stories (Munro’s and Joyce’s). I still hold the opinion that “The Death” is much better than this story. The depth and width in Joyce’s “The Death” is not comparable. The snow reminds me that Maybe Munro dedicated the story to James Joyce, who knows?

“A Trip to The Coast” is full of smell of death, but I like it very much. The old grandmother, the little girl, and the hypnotist, are very vivid.  

“The Peace of Utrecht” is none of business with Spanish Succession, but about some women’s life, the life and history of the mother, two daughters and their aunts. The story is kind of gothic and creepy. Munro weaves the reality together with the flashbacks from the past. Helen, a mother of two returned to hometown to visit her elder sister Maddy, who remained in their childhood house and continued to look after their long-ailing mother. Their “gothic” mom was deceased; she had left her daughters uncomfortable with each other and defensive about their life choices. In the end, “I couldn’t go on. I wanted my life.” Maddy said. “Oh hell, oh hell, oh Hel-len.”

Helen understood her sister. She merely said: “Take your life, Maddy, take it.”

But it’s unclear if Maddy will start her own life as she said to Helen, also asked herself: “Why can’t I, Helen? Why can’t I?”

……

I really enjoyed these stories with their acute observation, dark humor and brilliant evocation of time and place. Dance of the Happy Shades is the first book of hers I’ve read, and showcases her early prowess at writing so well that I am looking forward to her next book Lives of Girls and Women.

Reading in June: Truman Capote

My reading focused on Truman Capote in June. I read his novella Breakfast at Tiffany’s, The Complete Stories of Truman Capote, Music Chameleon, his most famous work In Cold Blood, and his letters Too Brief a Treat. Further, as supplements, I read Paris Review: Truman Capote and watched two movies: Capote (2005) and Infamous (2006).

My reading habit is reading an author, not a book, which means I read by author instead by book. If I like an author, I’ll read his/her main works; if he/she is my favorite author, I’ll read all works of his or hers. I have read Flannery O’Connor, Salinger, Faulkner, Angela Carter, Dostoevsky, Ryūnosuke Akutagawa etc.

I remembered I’d read an article that Truman Capote got the beautiful craft of writing skill. Every word in Breakfast at Tiffany’s is just right and perfect. Not a single word could be added or deleted. Wow, I was really impressed. For I am going to learn English writing right now, I decide to read his works. I read most of his works in June. I have to say, he deserved his reputation. Take In Cold Blood, how can he organize so many materials and put them in a book and as a reader I cannot stop turning the pages.

It’s bad that he didn’t write any good works after In Cold Blood. Some rumors say after he had seen Dick and Perry hung he was too scared to write. Actually he did have a plan to write a long novel which he announced it would be a masterpiece, just like Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. He named it Answered Prayers that was from a sayings of St. Theresa of Avila – More tears are shed over answered prayers than unanswered ones. He tried to portray the society of rich America, however he found himself abandoned overnight by all his rich friends after publish just some excerpts from his novel. Since then, he collapsed to drink and drug till death; no more good works came out under his pen. So sad. I think he really had a masterful delivery in his works. From those Christmas stories about his childhood, you can see “the sheer clarity of his prose, a brilliant economy of ongoing narrative rhythm”; he had such watchful and skillful hands! He also started a new genre: Non-fiction novel. Today In Cold Blood is still the second-best-selling true crime book in publishing history, behind Vincent Bugliosi’s book Helter Skelter (1974), about the Charles Manson murders.

I don’t like the introduction by Reynolds Price. He’s so mean to Capote. According to Price, Capote seemed to die from drinks and drugs due to that he was abandoned by the celebrity circle. To me, he was destroyed by himself as In Cold Blood brought him literary acclaim so much that he could not bear it.

Capote was from the Southern U.S., but I kind of think he didn’t feel like a southern writer. He knew Ann Porter, Eudora Welty, Carson McCullers. Nelle Harper Lee was his best friend and they were neighbors when Capote was young. However, he seemed not to know Flannery O’Connor. In fact, both went to Yaddo and he’s only one year older than O’Connor.

The other books I read in June are: Ernest Hemingway on Writing and The Elements of Style by E.B. White, some short stories or essay in the internet.