3 Books Weekly #29: feat. Christina Cacioppo
09.00, Friday 30 Sep 2016 Link to this post
The following was first posted on the 3 Books Weekly email newsletter and has since been archived here.
After an Unplanned Hiatus (I was travelling for a couple of weeks…) we’re back, and I am super delighted to have 3 books picked by Christina Cacioppo (Twitter: @christinacaci).
So we’ve got more East Africa this edition, and more China too, which is definitely becoming a theme. Also a hint at a bit of a personal story – Christina, seriously, you read a book and totally upended your life?? Dangerous stuff, reading.
Before we get to the books, a favour: I’m looking for a new host for the vending machine. Somebody who wouldn’t mind having a mini automatic bookshop in their lobby for a couple of months. It’s been at Hachette and at Google. Spread the word, drop me a line.
Happy Friday all!
#1. Open City, by Teju Cole
I read fiction in order to see through someone else’s eyes, if only temporarily, and Teju Cole gives his readers outside lenses better than everyone else. Open City’s narrator, Julius, is a half-Nigerian, half-German immigrant who spends the book wandering New York City, slamming off those he meets like bumper cars. I like this book so much because it introduced me to the concept of ordinary solipsism - the idea that we each play hero roles in our own stories and heroic roles in others’ stories; it’s the best way I’ve found to explain myself and other humans - especially when someone’s frustrated.
#2. I Didn’t Do It For You: How the World Used and Abused a Small African Nation, by Michela Wrong
Michele Wrong has the best sense for place, hands down. She spent her career reporting from East Africa, mostly for news magazines, and I Didn’t Do It For You is the second of her four books. It’s the story of Eritrea: a country cleaved from Ethiopia after a half-century’s struggle and that, to commemorate its independence, erected a statue of a sandal (5m long, in Shida Square) in its capital, Asmara. She tells Eritrea’s story by profiling the people and places that made the country, and it’s absolutely captivating. I found it so enthralling, in fact, that after I finished this book in university, I changed what I was studying, applied for a summer research grant, and booked a flight to Asmara.
#3. River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze, by Peter Hessler
This is the I-spent-two-years-in-the-Peace-Corps-and-here’s-what-I-learned bildungsroman that everyone tries to write and no one pulls off. No one, that is, except Hessler. River Town is a personal profile, ostensibly, about Hessler’s teaching English in rural Sichuan in the 90s, though you learn more about the Sichuan before cars, highways, and the Three Gorges Dam than you do about him. Hessler’s talent, as a journalist, is his minute interest in “the everyman”; by writing about dumpling-shop owners, Party administrators, and his students, he captures what it meant to be Chinese before everything changed. There’s no book better in English about what China was.