Sha Li's List - Best of 2015

BEST BOOKS

SHANGHAI REDEMPTION BY QIU XIAOLONG

 

Qiu Xiaolong uses dialogue to explore edgy topics such as the Cultural Revolution, corruption and Mao.  He weaves a son’s filial, Confucian, duty with the Qingming Festival for a setting and premise.  Inspector Chen feels worthless.  He’s let down his deceased father.  The tomb has been neglected and a lateral promotion has broken the prestigious and powerful position he once held as Chief Inspector.  He suspects it’s been engineered by his enemies.

Qiu draws on current events, creating characters based on real life CCP villains. 

A TS Elliot meme drops into the storyline at crucial moments like at the inciting incident, a near miss scandal set up at a book signing of a poetry anthology translated by Chen Cao, the former Inspector.

Qiu is not without a sense of humor.  “Green Jade was reaching for his belt and he hastened to stop her.  His hand deflected hers and brushed up against something throbbing in his pants pocket.  It was his cell phone…”

There is more enjoyment for the reader looking for a Chinese mystery with a contemporary setting.  

NEWS ABOUT QIU

His book The Red Dress has been picked up by BBC for a series of radio programmes and Shanghai Redemption has been named the Wall Street Journal Book of the Year.

LUCIA BERLIN 1936-2004

NOT A WRITER FOR EVERYONE

 

Selected short stories, A Manual for a Cleaning Womanhit the NY Times bestseller list, published posthumously.

Photo: Buddy Berlin (Courtesy Literary Estate of Lucia Berlin LP)

The stories share characters with each other, enabling Dear Reader to know Ms. Berlin’s fictionalized family members—alcoholic mother, mining engineer father, children, husbands and lovers.  Accounts of her three marriages are intercut with horrors of alcoholism, drunk tanks and DTs, and the PTA, told in dry, wry, self-deprecating and ruthless ironic humor.

Berlin’s sporadic and spasmodic career is traced by citations of stories published in magazines since the 60s onward.  She received the Jack London Short Prize in 1985, the American Book Award in 1991 and a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts.

THE THREE-BODY PROBLEM BY LIU XIXIN

CONVERSATIONS WITH EINSTEIN AND COPERNICUS

This Chinese sci-fi story is named for a problem in physics and classical mechanics.  It says, taking initial data specifying position, mass and velocity of three bodies at a particular point in time, predictions of their motion or direction can be made.  The tale is told in familiar neighborhoods around Tsinghua University and Beijing as well as a remote Mongolian observatory called Red Coast. 

It encompasses time from the Cultural Revolution to three hundred years into the future.  A tough cop, Da Shi and scientist, Wang Miao, seek to solve the problem of top scientists committing suicide once they begin playing the Three-Body Game simulation. The game attempts to predict the moment of the destruction of an alien culture, Trisolaris, as an integral philosophy of a cult of the aliens on earth.

Jessica Campbell Jones Cage played by Krysten Ritter

Jessica Campbell Jones Cage played by Krysten Ritter

BEST TELEVISION SERIES

CINEMATIC INNER TURMOIL

Jessica Jones is based on a Marvel Comics superhero, but the comparison is skewed by the alternate realism of Jessica (played by Krysten Ritter) and Luke (played by Mike Colter) not knowing that in their other existence as comic superheros they are married to each other.  The chemistry is there, and the audience is treated to satisfying adult scenes between Jessica and Luke.  The series is dedicated to one story thread, Jessica’s struggle to rid herself and society of super villain Kilgrave, the obsessed, narcissist sociopath who stalks Jessica, PI, and her friends from episode to episode.

Mike Colter as Luke Cage

Mike Colter as Luke Cage

What makes this series different?

The main character is a woman who carries the story with her actions.   There is a psychological quality to the story which is challenging to depict in film.  Whereas novelists can spend pages and pages going over the motivations driving their characters, the film writer and director must convey the inner turmoil with visuals.  What makes this series not different is that it’s set and produced in New York by a creative team of people bringing quality alternative entertainment to adults on Netflix.

BEST TRAVEL STORY

Photo:  Don Christian holds a charred sheep skull, an offering discovered on site at an Ovoo (Native Mongolian shaman religion) religious site outside Ulaan Bataar.    (c) don christian.

Photo:  Don Christian holds a charred sheep skull, an offering discovered on site at an Ovoo (Native Mongolian shaman religion) religious site outside Ulaan Bataar.    (c) don christian.

Don Christian, E-Car engineer and designer and world traveler

Don travels to unusual places for recreation.  Besides being a disruptive electric car engineer, he likes documenting remote waterfalls.  Here is his post:

As they emerged into the subzero air, I greeted them with a threatening sword brandish and a big pirate "arrrrgh".   They were alarmed at first.   There are not many westerners there.   Especially in winter.   But they got into the game big time.     My class quickly mastered the essential skills of hordery.    

So I made it onto the big island in ROK adjacent to the border with DPRK.  Just across a saltwater sound. It helps me interpret the old MacArthur history from 1950.  Stuff that's calcified into memory as legends for that area.  I was looking for the spot where these US Civil War soldiers were photographed, searching for the lost SS General Sherman.  But I couldn't identify the hilltop.     

I had a very good trip.   Lots of new places.  

Photo:  Don Christian instructs a class in savagery to a young Mongol horde (next generation) at the huge Chenggis Khan museum and monument on the steppes outside Ulaan Bataar.   (c) don christian.

Photo:  Don Christian instructs a class in savagery to a young Mongol horde (next generation) at the huge Chenggis Khan museum and monument on the steppes outside Ulaan Bataar.   (c) don christian.

BEST VIDEO

From Inside USS Pueblo is the most popular of the many videos produced by New China TV and BonsaiBabe Productions.  Dear Reader, you can see them now in one place.  A Video Gallery on the CherylPetty.com site displays 26 short films going back to 2009 when I was publishing on Vimeo with John Cummins’ help on Sony Vegas software.    Twelve of the films are about bonsai/penjing with interviews of Bay Area bonsai masters featuring their trees and one interview of Mr. Hu from the Shanghai Botanical Gardens Penjing Collection

A fine drixxle greeted me the day I visited Shanghai Botanical Gardens in March of 2011. I had flown down to Shanghai from Beijing for the weekend, hoping to sight see and do some shopping for which Shanghai is famous, couple that with a visit to see the acclaimed Penjing collection and interview the director Mr HU Yun Hua.

The first video completed in 2009, Horned Dragon, is an arty experiment combining poetry and calligraphy.  You can see A Taste of Dunsmuir from 2010 and a lot of happy, mildly drunk people in the snow.  That same year produced Lights Fog Wind Grass, filmed at the Dunsmuir Botanical Garden’s annual Palo Alto Chamber Orchestra concert, featuring an original composition by Gabriella Smith.  Iris Credo sings and plays acoustic guitar at an art show and Linda Tomoko Mihara folds origami in San Francisco.  2010 produced sixteen films, a major learning curve! 

The year I was in Beijing, 2011, New China TV presents a contemporary ballet based on a Ming dynasty story Peony Pavilion.  The dead people, in striking costumes, dance a sequence with the King of the Underworld.  There’s more to the story.  Read about it here in April 2011 Breakfast Letter. 

In 2015 CWP Publishing produces book trailers for Beijing Abduction and Wounds of Attachment, including an interview with Sha Li at the Dunsmuir Public Library and a launch party with Sha Li reading excerpts from Wounds

Two Korean travel videos in 2015 garner the most views at You Tube where you can see my channel.  Read about it here in Christmas 2013 Pyongyang Breakfast Letter.  The most popular, From Inside USS Pueblo is a screenshot of a video they showed me on a large screen set up in the main mess area like a tiny theater.  If you can get past the very different (to our eyes) graphics and the darling, accented narrator, you will see newsreel footage of the incident which is rarely shown of Captain Bucher, his men and ship, President Johnson and US Army Maj. Gen. Gilbert H. Woodward.  A bit of our history which 'we' stifle.

USS PUEBLO Once the tour gets underway, we walk about a mile past an outdoor exhibit of captured tanks, helicopters, guns and so on, arranged side by side by country. Beyond that, the Pueblo is moored. The shrapnel and bullet holes are clearly marked. I can't see that it had received much shelling.