Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Simon In The Land Of The Yangtze

There are two reasons why I'm usually not found at book readings. The first is that the books I tend to read are by authors that are long dead. Therefore, seeing them read from their most recent tomes would be an unnerving sight, indeed. The remainder of the books I read (and the second reason I don't go to book readings) are of such low critical acclaim that to actually have a reading for said works would be an embarrassment for all involved - especially the fans who would have to own up to liking them. (See this post, and yes I recant my earlier statements. I'm fickle like that.)

However, as luck would have it, I happened to catch a quick glance in the local hippie rag events section about a reading being given at the Brookline Booksmith by one Simon Winchester. Many of you will know him as the man responsible for The Professor and The Madman - an excellent read about two critical figures central to the making of the Oxford English Dictionary. (Incidentally, Winchester has written an even more comprehensive work about the dictionary's creation called The Meaning of Everything - also an outstanding read.) As it turns out, Mr. Winchester has a new book out entitled The Man Who Loved China, and it's recent release was the reason for his appearance at the Booksmith.

Now, I haven't actually read the book yet (although Goof was kind enough to pick up a copy of it for me at the reading) and, truth be told, at first glance the subject matter seems a little blah. Who wants to read a book about some fruitcake who loves China and wants to write about it ad nauseum?

But, then again, who wants to read a book about dictionary making either? Or an earthquake that occurred 100 years ago? Or the last remnants of the British empire? Winchester has written about all of these things, and done so in a style that keeps you (or at least me) turning the pages. The man, it must be said, is an exemplary storyteller.

And, that was on display last night as well. He's not that imposing a figure (rather nondescript, although he does sport a very distinguished British accent) and he didn't read a lick from his book. Instead, he provided details about the book's central character while juxtaposing it with his own personal and strangely relevant stories about his experiences with China and it's culture. Oh, and he's good with a quip as well.

So, call me a sucker for a sales pitch, but I (and Goof) now own an autographed copy of a book (he gave both of us 'Best Wishes!') that, were it not for the author, I wouldn't have looked twice at at the bookstore. And despite this, I'm really looking forward to getting through my other books so I can read it. Sometimes open-mindedness has to force it's way in with a crowbar, after all. So, as soon as the hunt for Moby Dick is over, Nick Hornby decides to stop by, and I can step away from my Wii (another post - coming soon) long enough to actually read, I'll give China and those obsessed with it a shot. After that, maybe I'll hit the book reading circuit again. I hear Dan Brown has something in the works.



Blogger Melinda said...

I am going to send you Thunderstruck...about a murder and Marconi!

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