I’d like to get something off my chest, but first I would like to tell you about what I read.
I like literature the majority of people consider tedious and boring. I like to gnaw on one volume for a long period of time. I like quiet books without a lot of plot but with each sentence muscular, meaningful and elegant. I like internal, almost claustrophobic books akin to “The Enigma of Arrival,” by V.S. Naipaul. I’ve read “Enigma” twice, once while in Beijing, and then when I returned home.
After my illness eight years ago, my taste changed drastically--from mostly fiction to largely nonfiction. A friend of mine said I’ve lived a “big life.” I have experienced existence in an authoritarian, third world country, a developing country and I've learned English as a third language, all by the age of seven; I’ve known violence on the personal level and societal level in my twenties and I’ve had grand passions and made grander, spectacular mistakes. I’ve met Death walking my way (then he winked and took a detour). I no longer look for thrills of the heart in books but desire facts I can use to puzzle together a vision of the world. I want clarity.
("Clarity" by B.Y., gouache, 16" x 22")
My current endeavor is to read the Fourteenth Century Chinese text of the classic, “The Romance of the Three Kingdom,” about a time of disunity in 2nd Century A.D. It is no romance at all but a book of strategy. I am augmenting this reading with “The Iliad” and John Keegan’s, “A History of Warfare.” I will explore more Greek and Latin writers. A few years ago, with the help of my parents, I translated “the Art of Warfare” to better acquaint myself with classical Chinese. I think my translation is more accurate than any on the market, but I will not gag the world with yet another “Art of Warfare” for the corporate warriors.
Why so much material on warfare? First of all, because I am not a man; I want to know what it means to be a testosterone-driven male of the species. Secondly, because war is almost as old as mankind; I want to understand why we have glorified war. The first poem in Western literature is about war. Thirdly, I want to protect myself because what my father said was true: the world is a dangerous place. Having been brutalized by a stalker for years, I want to know my foe.
Toward the end of my life, I will read only poetry.
What would I like to get off my chest? If you are a writer, you make friends with other writers--the number grows exponentially--and the guilt becomes heavy because you have yet to read their latest books, wrought with so much energy and love.
I won’t be reading many of my friends’ books, not because I think them unworthy—far from it—but because time is no longer boundless, and I have charted a course in my reading life to make the best use of time. I may yet have three generous decades left, but I am going to read what I think is crucial and only what I want to read.
Causes Belle Yang Supports
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