Review: Foreign Babes in Beijing

When I first saw the title of the book, Foreign Babes in Beijing, I didn’t know what to expect. Its cover was racy but facetious.  I was confused about the title.  Was it implying local Chinese women weren’t babes?

The first few chapters cleared up the confusion.  This non fiction book is about the author, Rachel, and her first few years as an expatriate in China.  Foreign Babes in Beijing is actually the title of a Chinese soap opera she acted in.

I had read and grown tired of the usual books I read about China.  Mostly written by Chinese Americans, the stories they shared were good and usually touching, but after reading so many of them, they soon started melting together in my mind.  Foreign Babes, written by a western hand offered a different perspective of China.  Sometimes I identified with Rachel, since I’ve lived in the US for most of my life, and sometimes I identified with the Chinese locals.

Rachel’s view of China shows Chinese perception of foreigners and their treatment of them.  It’s something that I had an inkling of, but not the full details.  Each chapter contains an excerpt for the script from the soap opera.  Some of them are amusing because of the Chinese stereotype of how foreign women are like.

Foreign Babes in Beijing is an entertaining and eye-opening read and is a nice change of pace from the usual books on China written by Chinese Americans. It made me think about moving back there, but not living the typical expatriate life — I’d rather live like a local.

Let the Right One In (novel)

I started reading Let the Right One In because I was curious about the parts of the story that were left out of the movie. There were issues which were only hinted at in the movie and I wondered if they were more spelled out in the book. They were.

It’s difficult to describe this book. It’s easy to say it’s a vampire book, but the vampire mythos is only part of the story. Isolation and helplessness are main the themes in the story; the author uses the vampire as a way to show a different form of isolation.

In the beginning, the book is hard to follow. Sections jump from one character to another and there isn’t always one consistent, omniscient narrator. As I read more and more of the story and the characters started to develop, it was easier to follow the jump from one character to another. Think of it as looking into a cross-section of a dollhouse; each room has something going on in it distinct from the next room, but they all tie in together in one house. That’s how each character’s story interacts with the others.

One of the quotations in the back of the book has someone calling Let the Right One In a horror story. It might be because I watched the movie first and knew the general plot, but I didn’t read it as a horror story at all. Yes, there is violence, and yes, there were parts that were uncomfortable to read, but I wasn’t ever terrified while I was reading it.

I can see people not liking this book. There are subjects people would rather not think or read about, and the characters all have some negative aspects or depravities to them. It’s hard to relate to any of them but at the same time, I wonder if it’s because we’re scared to relate to any of them.

I don’t really want to spoil the book or the movie for anyone reading this. Let the Right One In was one of my favorite movies this year and the book is also one of my favorites, but I can see it not being for everyone. If you’re in the mood for a different type of vampire book, it’s a good choice. I described the movie as a “coming of age vampire story,” but for some reason, that doesn’t really fit the book. Usually I’m disappointed by movie adaptations of books, but after reading the book, the movie actually followed the story very well, or at least as best it could. The main thing is that the movie had the same mood the book did, if that makes sense.

Stanza — what took me so long?

After a mild case of Kindle envy and rationalizing — I don’t really need another gadget, especially not a Kindle, and I actually like having physical books — I compromised and downloaded an iPhone app called Stanza. It’s basically an e-book reader.

My first misgiving was that it would be too hard to read a book on the iPhone. The text would either be too small to read comfortably, or so big that I’d have to turn the page every two seconds. Or the backlight would hurt my eyes. None of this was true. I finished reading Benjamin Button in a dark room waiting for a show to start and had no problems.

Stanza comes with customizable options such as text color, type face, type size, etc. One option that I wish they had included was a dimmer switch for screen brightness. It’s a pain to go to the iPhone settings menu to adjust screen brightness everytime I want to read something in a different light.

One of the best things about Stanza is the huge library of free books to download. Sure, the latest New York Times bestseller isn’t going to be free, but there are tons of older books released to the public domain that I’ve been meaning to read.

I read my first romance novel on it. Although I guess that’s not something I should be declaring publicly. At least it’s less embarassing then purchasing one from the rack near the supermarket checkout line.

Stanza isn’t going to replace my bookshelf just yet, but it’s a handy app to have for when I forget to bring my book, or if I just want something quick to read while I’m waiting for something. And the price is right: FREE!