Reading plans

Sample Sunday: from China to USA

Covers of the Explosion Chronicles, Empress Dowager Cixi and Ehtan Frome

As I go through by stacks of unread books, it’s the the turn of novels with titles all beginning with the letter E to come in for some close scrutiny.

Explosion Chronicles by Yan Lianke

I’ve seen Lianke’s name often enough in book reviews and interviews but have yet to read anything by him. His most recent novel Explosion Chronicles has been described as a satire on the rapid growth of China as an economic powerhouse. The book follows the transformation of Explosion from an insignificant village in Henan province to megalopolis in less than 50 years.

Some of the events in the novel are based on fact but I’ve seen comments to the effect that in Lianke’s work it isn’t always easy to work out what is fiction and what is reality. So when in this novel, he mentions a policy of compulsory cremations that causes a number of elderly people to take their own lives in order to be buried before the deadline, we’ can’t be sure if this is a figment of Lianke’s imagination.

The Verdict: I’m thinking this is worth keeping. There’s more than a touch of the absurd but I’m intrigued by the fact it shows a not completely fictional world.

Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China by Jung Chung

Staying in China we have a biography of one of the country’s most notable leaders from the pre-Communist era. Jung Chung tries to set the record straight on the Empress, a woman considered to have murdered opponents and squandered the country’s wealth to protect her own interests. In Chung’s version, the Empress was a reformer who laid the foundations for the China to emerge from its medieval past into the modern age.

The Verdict: Keep. Like so many others I loved Wild Swans so I’m hoping Chung will bring the same mix of insight and vividness to this later book. .

Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton

We’re moving countries now to the USA. I’m slowly making my way through Edith Wharton’s novels. I enjoyed The Age of Innocence two years ago and I know I’ve read The House of Mirth though I can’t recall anything about it now so shall have to read it again.

Ethan Frome is a novella published in 1911, and described in various quarters as Wharton’s masterpiece. Set in the US fictional town of Starkfield, Massachusetts, it tells the story of Ethan Frome, married to a sickly wife but in love with her cousin and companion

The Verdict: Keep. I like the sound of a doomed love affair.

If you know these books please give me your opinion on whether you think they deserve space on my shelves?

Sample Sunday is when I take a look at all the unread books on my shelves and decide which to keep and which to let free. The goal isn’t to shrink the TBR as such, but rather it’s about making sure my shelves have only books I do want to read.


What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

17 thoughts on “Sample Sunday: from China to USA

  • I loved Ethan Frome. It packed a lot into relatively few pages. Can’t help with the others. Happy reading!

    • Thanks Margaret. It’s so interesting to see reactions to this book

  • The only one I’ve read is Ethan Frome and it’s definitely worth reading. Not a cheerful book though, so choose your time carefully!

    • The little I know about it does indicate there isn’t much joy in it

  • I loved Ethan Frome. I read it several years ago and have never forgotten it. I’d be interested in knowing how you find it. Quite a quick read.

    • This book seems to be polarising opinion. Love it when that happens

    • Some comments on Twitter were from people who said they found it boring. Interesting how reactions are varying so much

  • piningforthewest

    I didn’t enjoy Ethan Frome.

  • I’ve heard good things about the Jung Chung though I’ve not read it. Ethan Frome was very intense for a novella, and though I’d not want to read it again (not being a huge fan of tragic tales) I’m glad I read it.

    • I read your Ethan Frome review and on that basis I think I could enjoy this book. Novellas really work for me whereas short stories don’t

  • Frome is well written for sure but I couldn’t buy in to the tragic choices. Enjoy!

    • I’m curious now to find out what those tragic choices were

      • Well…I guess it’s really just the one huge one. 😂

  • I too loved Wild Swans so would certainly give her book a go. As for Ethan Frome, I have it but have never managed the courage to read it as I believe it reaches Hardyesque levels of tragedy!!!

    • It’s a long time since I read some Hardy but I do enjoy his tragic figures (apart from Jude who I detest) so if this is half as good I think I’ll be engrossed


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