Thursday, December 30, 2004

The Fifth Book of Peace

The bookshops of Rockhampton are not places to browse in. They're where you go if you want to order something in - though I did find a copy of Bob Dylan's Chronicles on the shelf. The only copy I might add.

Where you go to browse are the newsagents, who bring in remaindered books by weight. "Give me a couple of hundred kilos of popular paperbacks, &, say, fifty kilos of those larger-sized ones. Oh yeah, & a tonne of sports books." Books appear which would otherwise never come within 700 kilometres of Rockhampton.

I picked up Maxine Hong Kingston's The Fifth Book of Peace in such a bin a month or so ago, for a fraction of its original price. She's a writer I've liked ever since I found The Woman Warrior in a similar chance fashion in Sydney, maybe in a second-hand shop. I started reading the new book a couple of days ago, & was struck by an image a couple of pages in where she describes rushing back to find her house burnt down in a firestorm in the Oakland-Berkeley Hills. "Someone once told me about a child who lived at the time of the burning of a great library. He caught pages of burned paper, and read Latin words."

I suppose what made this image so poignant for me was the recent fire at Michael Rothenberg's home in which he lost his books & his archives. When I returned to writing a few years ago Michael was the first editor to encourage me & give me a place to publish. I mourn his lost library.


Kirsten Kaschock said...

Have you read Tripmaster Monkey? (my personal fave)... I like the anger in it, and the conflation of the Eastern/Western canon--if there are still such things. I think people dismiss her work too easily sometimes because they aren't aware of the multiple valences... or criticize her for bastardizing Chinese classics that aren't well known in America (as if those who do the same to Homer are held to a similar standard of accuracy).

mark young said...

Read it, enjoyed it for all sorts of reasons - Monkey, SF in the 60s (one of those romantic destinations) - also enjoyed China Men. But The Woman Warrior will always be clothed in that exultant sense of discovery that you get when you come across something / someone who really moves you, who gets in at those hidden bits inside you. (Sort of like when I first came across Negative Wingspan......