Friday Links #29: Tai-Pan and the Perfect Reading Weather

I don’t normally complain about the Seattle area weather, unless it’s to exaggerate the gloominess of it in a public setting to further dissuade the masses from moving to the region. Yes, yes, it does rain every day. All year round–and traffic is so bad, our cars grow moss during the morning commute. Honestly. Stuff like that. But this year? This year needs no exaggeration.

Seattle has had just 3 sunny days above 40-degrees since October (and got more snow than Minneapolis). Here’s a link in case you don’t believe me. I live east of the city, in the foothills, in a town where annual rainfall averages 62 inches, twice that of the Emerald City. It’s been colder and rainier than I can remember in the thirteen years I’ve lived in this town. And it hasn’t even been close. The country would have shattered the record for hottest February on record last month if not for Washington and Oregon. 99 degrees in Oklahoma in February? That sounds nice right about now.

Though walking the dog has been a bit more of a nuisance and my desire to go mountain biking has taken a hit, I have to say that the incessant dreariness has been quite conducive for reading. After all, it’s harder to sit by the window reading when the sun and birdsong is floating in. I devoured a couple of quick reads earlier this year before finally turning my attention to Tai-Pan, the second book in the late James Clavell’s Asian Saga series. And what a book it is!

Set during the 1840s founding of Hong Kong, Tai-Pan, follows the leader of the most powerful trading company in the Far East, Dirk Struan. Myriad plot twists unfold over the ensuing 600 pages, each of them gradually complicating the dynamic between Struan and his brother, son, his chief rival, his Chinese mistress, the British Navy, the Mandarins, the Triads, the Portuguese Catholics, a Russian Prince, and pirates, smugglers, weather, and disease. The more I read, the more in awe I became of Clavell’s ability to ceaselessly bind additional story strands into such a tight rope.

The book is not without its challenges, however. For starters, the first twenty pages consist of a host of character introductions. It was difficult at first to keep track of who was who, as Clavell shifted point-of-view frequently, introducing each character’s opinions of the others in quick succession. This, combined with the mix of Chinese pidgin English and 19th century slang and Scots dialect, made some of the passages harder to read, especially early on when the reader is still adapting to the style.

Just before finishing Tai-Pan (the second in the series, following the unrelated masterpiece Shogun) I learned that the last of the six books to be published before Clavell’s death in 1994, titled Gai-Jin, is essentially a direct sequel to Tai-Pan, set just 20 years later. In one way, this was a spoiler of sorts, as learning who Gai-Jin starred as a protagonist alerted me to how one of the major plotlines in Tai-Pan was going to resolve. On the other hand, I was glad for this knowledge. As Tai-Pan wound its way to its conclusion, I was beginning to feel let down, that the climax it had been building toward had either taken place off-the-page or was coming to too neat of a conclusion. And the closer I got to the end of the book, the more let down I started to feel by the author’s choice. Right until the final two pages. My disappointment vanished on those final pages as my eyes flicked back and forth across the text. I reached the final sentence seconds later, breathless, my eyes stinging with tears of excitement.

And that’s why we read.

Bookish Links

  1. William Fotheringham’s Top 10 Cycling Novels – An excellent list of suggested reading for those who want to dive into a novel in which the act of cycling is central to the theme of the book. Fotheringham spanned the globe (or at least Europe) to assemble this list and has some interesting summaries on each. I immediately added Bad to the Bone and The Rider to my list of books to read (though the former certainly has its share of bad reviews). Maybe we’ll see my own Tailwinds Past Florence in a list like this one day? I can only hope.
  2. The Most Famous Books Set in Each State – Not the best, mind you, but the most famous. Though I’d cast my vote for Snow Falling on Cedars for Washington, I can at least be happy to see Twilight get the nod over Fifty Shades. This is a fun article to go through, especially if you try to guess each state’s entry before reading it. I tried to guess for my native NJ and figured it’d have to be something by Philip Roth. Nope. A short-story collection by someone I hadn’t heard of. There are plenty of other surprises on the list too.
  3. Why Lena Dunham’s Advance is Not Crazy (The Earn-Out Fallacy) –  This is an older link, but one I’ve been wanting to post for a while. This article by Jason Pinter discusses the math behind large advances and the absurd notion that a book needs to “earn-out” in order for the publisher to make money. That’s not true at all. This isn’t to say that authors early in their career shouldn’t be concerned with earning their advance, as not earning-out on a small advance of, say, less than $20,000, is not a good sign for future success.
  4. Interview with Lisa See – The author of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan has a new book on the way, one revolving around a very expensive, rare variety of Chinese tea called Pu’er. The interview discusses See’s interest in the topic, her historical research, the influences in her life, and even where to get the famed tea. The book, The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, releases March 21st.
  5. How Ten Years Producing “Car Talk” Helped Me Deal with Rejection – NPR fans will no-doubt be familiar with Car Talk, that wonderful radio show in which people from around the country called in with a range of car-related questions for the show’s witty hosts. What we listeners didn’t hear, however, was the behind the scenes screening process that ensured the show was successful. Cronin’s experience with filtering — and rejecting — callers is an excellent analogy to what agents and publishers have to face when reviewing manuscripts. Even the best books still need to land in front of the right person, with the right need, at the right time.

Bonus Link

World-First as Man Crosses Atlantic Ocean Unaided on Paddle Board –  No other explanation needed. Enjoy the story and photos at the link.

Post image by Nam-ho Park, used under Creative Commons.

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