Sunday, August 22, 2010

My Favorite Things. . .

. . . are books, probably. Pirated ones, especially. You'd think after all those warnings about not reproducing books without the publisher's consent and reporting books missing a cover, I'd have a guilty conscience about purchasing clearly copied versions. Well, I don't.

Despite being in China, I have managed to acquire upwards of 100 novels in English--not all of them brilliant and some I may possibly never read. Finding books in languages other than Chinese is a challenge, especially if you are seeking anything recent. I am a fan of trading with other foreigners or snapping up any book, no matter how crappy, they leave behind (romance novels aside). I scavenge bookshelves at hostels and hotels. Naturally, I like to check out bookstores, though those usually only turn up reasonably priced classics or ridiculously priced contemporary favorites (20 bucks for Twilight, I'll gladly pass) if anything at all.

The one source I keep going back to is the book cart man in Beijing's Wudaokou neighborhood. I remember when I first found him, back in late 2006. He was hanging out at the corner near the light rail station with his cart, which was piled high with pirated English and Chinese novels. I nearly walked right past him, yet something beckoned me. I decided to take a look at his offerings, though I had assumed they must all be in Chinese. I immediately found an English copy of The Kite Runner and Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything, paying just a couple dollars for each. I almost died of happiness. For awhile there, he was MIA, thanks to pre- and post-Olympic crackdowns on street merchants. These days, however, he is back in action, him and five other booksellers, all with their carts piled high with novels.

While my time recently spent in Beijing was shit, the one ray of light that shined on those three days in hell was probably my book cart finds. I also had my trusty negotiator (Ming) with me. With his help, I managed to purchase 7 novels for around 80 rmb ($12). Not all of them are on my reading list, but I decided to pick them up anyways because I've noticed that some books seem to always be available (The Lord of the Rings and The Alchemist, for example), while others don't. My purchase includes:
1.) Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates (I was quite moved by the film)
2.) Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (On my reading list. Just finished reading it and it was fab.)
3.) Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (reading list)
4.) The Shack by W.M. Paul Young (seems to be hot right now)
5.) Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (reading list)
6.) World without End by Ken Follett (I've wanted this since I read his novel The Pillars of the Earth)
7.) The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough (on the list and evidently the Australian answer to Gone with the Wind, which, by the way, is a great novel)


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