Reading the world, one country at a time

JISHOU, HUNAN — Now here’s an idea I wish I had had: choose a book from each of the world’s nations (plus a few extra locations), read it, and write a short review. That’s what Ann Morgan of the UK just finished doing. Since she is literate only in English, French and German, Morgan asked help from readers of her blog to find English translations. One contributor even wrote a book for her blog, to fulfill the mission. I wish I had that kind of time, to just sit and read. Color me green with envy. The Atlantic has an interview with Morgan, and here is a Public Radio International report. I was curious to see which books she read from countries I’ve lived in, or have an interest in. So, here’s what I found. From China, she read Banished!, by Han Dong, rather than a work by Nobel Prizewinner Yan Mo. Han’s novel is about the Tao family, who are forced to leave Nanjing during the Cultural Revolution. As for Yan, I’d recommend Red Sorghum, his first novel, which was also turned into a film. But I have to confess, I have only seen the movie version as yet. ...

Curse of the survey lit course

The last post of 2010 (maybe)* 7

JISHOU, HUNAN — I’ve been busy these last few days getting ready to close up shop for the Winter Holiday. My last exam — for the Western Civ classes — is next Friday, and I’ll have a week to read those exams and hand in grades before I jet to the USA for a three-week stay. My free time, which is not that ample to begin with, has been taken up by giving oral examinations to more than 120 freshmen and sophomores, two at a time for 15 minutes each. This year, I’m using a combination of the Cambridge IELTS and BEC speaking tests: IELTS prompts for two student partners. That way, the students can do the talking while I carefully listen and evaluate pronunciation, intonation, grammar, vocabulary, rhythm and speed. After two years, I’m finally getting a handle on this oral English stuff. I’m calculating those students’ final grades this weekend (I only have a few left to examine), so the remaining Big Tasks are (1) reading the Western Civ students’ last unit test and (2) reading their final exams. I included a short essay on the final, and I gave them the three possible essay questions earlier this ...

Time out to tell some tales 3

JISHOU, HUNAN — I am in the midst of reading the first drafts of about 70 term papers, but I wanted to take time out to write about a couple of cool things that happened today. One of my former students here in China is getting married next week. This was no big surprise, since she told me it was going to happen sometime this year. Today, when we went to lunch, T. threw me a couple of curve balls. First, she’s pregnant — one of those happy little accidents that sometimes proceed marriage. Despite the conservative culture of China, being pregnant just before marriage is no big deal, as long as the husband-to-be is still in the picture. The funny thing was, when I accidentally ran into the two of them downtown yesterday, I thought to myself, “T. looks pregnant.” Now, she’s only three months along, and not showing yet. (T. is very petite, and has not gained weight, so her size was not the reason for my hunch.) But, she was walking a little like a pregnant woman — her shoes were the problem there, she says — and her dress was similar in design to a maternity ...
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