I remember what Lin Yutang said about reading in his book “The Importance of Living”. He said something like this: reading, if not for anything else, adds flavour to one’s speech. I think this is quite true, but it also depends on what you read. Trash in, trash out.
Anyways, it is my habit now to read several books at one go, and therefore I always have a few unfinished books at any one time. The most recent book that I have finished reading is Jack Welch’s latest book, “Winning”. Reading books like this one often brings me down to my feet, back to my real world, when I sometimes float too far off into the realm of dreams. I mean, not to say that reading poetry and fiction is not real world, in fact, the world in poetry and literature can be more real than a Jack Welch book, but the straight-forward style, hands-on of books like this is very relevant to what I do for a living. I do not normally admire self-help books, but one other self-help book that really made a difference to my life is Stephen Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”. I can’t really say much about his recent “8th Habit” though.
Nowadays I find myself reading more movie related books. Still on my bedside table are these:
1. Brigitte Lin – Last Star of the East (just received this and I am enjoying it greatly)
2. The Big Picture – The New Logic of Money and Power in Hollywood. This book is a very good book detailing the rise of the major Hollywood studios, and how the movie business has transformed from its very first day.
3. Planet Hong Kong – Popular Cinema and The Art of Entertainment – about the movies and the movie business in Hong Kong. Reading this book helps me re-explore Hong Kong movies.
4. The Great Movies II – This is Roger Ebert’s second volume. As in the first volume which I also own, contained in this book are 100 very good essays on 100 Great Movies. Ebert actually publishes these essays on his website but these volumes are worth buying and keeping, so that we can read and reassure ourselves that great movies do exist although we are bombarded so regularly now by mindless, manufactured movies from you-know-where.
5. Nobody’s Perfect – This is an anthology of Anthony Lane’s writings published in The New Yorker. In his witfull ways, he talks about movies, books and personalities.
6. The Cinema of Tsui Hark – on loan from a well respected colleague. This book talks about Tsui Hark, his work and his influences and his place in Hong Kong cinema.
The last movie book I have finshed from cover to cover is The Movie Business Book. This book discusses topics covering all aspects of the movie business, from pre-production, budgeting, production, post-production, marketing and distribution.
I always keep with me by the bedside a couple of literary works which I enjoy reading. One of them is a series of short stories by Rabindranath Tagore and the other one is a selection of works by Lu Xun.
Well, about this Lu Xun book.
Lu Xun is a great personality and has made important contributions during the early days of the Chinese Republic. I visited his house while I was in Shanghai and was in the room where he died. I also went to his musuem, also in Shanghai and I thoroughly enjoyed knowing more about him.
Just last night, despite aching eyes but being a habit, I read one of his short stories entitled “In The Tavern”. In it, he narrated an incident whereby he returned to a place where he used to teach in hope to see that place and also to meet an old friend. In his usual style, this story narrates how the general population suffered from political mismanagement. What I would like to point out in this story of his is not his satire on politics but the story of the lives that the politics touched.
First, there is this old friend, Weifu, who used to be brilliant and full of ambition during his younger days but is now worn down and rejoice in small things and small accomplishments, and do not insist on things to change. In my life now, I see just so many people like that and this gave me the creeps. Am I going to be like them too? When I watched McDull Prince de la Bun, the scene where Mc. Dull’s father who is supposed to be a prince was worn down by society and gave up all hope of becoming a prince again, affected me so much I almost cried. Maybe I am at the stage in my life when I start to question and try to reconcile my dreams and my achievements.
The second character in the story is a girl by the name of Ashun. She is one of those lovely girls that you can find in Chinese literature, like Yun in the Six Chapters of a Floating Life. Ashun takes care of her family well, is understanding and is always nervous if food that she prepared is good enough. Ashun has dreams too, of wearing a coloured velvet flower but these dreams could not be fulfilled and she died prematurely. According to the story, she knew of her own illness but she hadn’t told her dad “for fear of worrying him”. Chinese girls like this can sometimes be so stupid in their innocence, they become so adorable and well-loved.
There is this passage in the story where Weifu commented on the nature of life, how one almost always end up where they begin. He observes:
“When I was young, I saw the way bees and flies stuck to one spot. If something frightened them they would buzz off, but after flying in a small circle they would come back to stop in the same place; and I thought this really rediculous as well as pathetic. Little did I think I’d be flying back myself too after only describing a small circle”.
Later in the story, when the author asked him about his future plans, he said:
“Future plans? I don’t know. Just think: Has any single thing turned out as we hoped of all we planned in the past? I’m not sure of anything now, not even of what tomorrow will bring, not even of the next minute…..”
Bleak sounding, but a small grain of truth did resonate through such words.
Anyway, the story inspired in me a craving to sit in a quiet place, with a view of the lake, with a pleasant weather with cool winds and birds chirping happily, and have warm wine and fried tofu served with chilly sauce and a good book at hand, or an interesting partner to talk to.
Left picture is Lu Xun’s house in Shanghai where he died. Right picture is the Lu Xun museum.