Sunday, March 6, 2011

A History of Violence

A History of Violence
By John Wagner

I didn't see this film last year when it came out, which is odd because I love David Cronenberg and violent films. But then again, it isn't so odd when you think about where I live (the east coast of Taiwan) and the selection of films that makes it to my culture-deprived corner of the planet (Hollywood blockbusters and romantic comedies). So when this graphic novel was passed on to me last week I was keen to give it a read.

Living on the east coast of Taiwan provides the bare minimum of western culture. If you don't actively seek it out via the Internet you can easily miss entire years of music, film, television and books. While many of those mediums are well provided for on the internet (I am a big fan of The Big Bang Theory, I loved True Grit and my favorite semi-current band is The Dead Weather) you learn quickly to make amends by reading and absorbing every book that comes your way. Unless you are hip with the Kindle (I'm not), books are the cultural medium most hard to come by round these parts.

But all is not lost. There is a really voracious local reading population that is constantly bringing in new books via online shopping, trips to Taipei or abroad, packages from home or the vast social network of English-speaking people in Taiwan. So over and above the books I accumulate myself, I am always getting something placed in my hands and I'm never want for a book. A History of Violence was leant to me by a friend and co-worker who picked it up at the Taipei Bookshow. I'd have never read it otherwise.

But beggars can't be choosers. I'm always astounded when I'm back in Canada when I walk into a Chapters or Indigo (or any bookshop for that matter) how easy it is to find exactly what you want to read right now. You want to read about 19th century gravediggers? Sure, right over here. The history of the coffee bean? that's over there next to books about the Franco-Prussian War. A biography of Frances Farmer? You bet! After years of reading what I have rather than what I want, I find that sort of choice overwhelming. In my first week back in Canada I invariably find myself whimpering for hours in the literature M-N section at Chapters, a stack of twenty books scattered on the carpet beneath me.

That's not to say the books I read are bad. A History of Violence was damned good! My books are rarely up to date. I doubt I'll read the Booker Prize nominated books for 2011 until well into 2014. But I read a lot of stuff I wouldn't have read back home, which I think, in the long term, is actually good. I would have never, ever read Peter Pan back home. Nor would I have bothered with anything by Margaret Atwood (I've made my peace with Ms. Atwood), Natsuo Kirino, Robert McCammon or Neil Gaiman all of which i have enjoyed. I find my lack of choice in reading material a satisfying lack.

It was this lack of choice that I began hoarding books. Not to keep to myself, but to develop an English library for the 100 or so English speaking foreigners living in my town. Over the past year I have amassed over 700 books for anyone in town to borrow at their leisure. We still don't have much recent stuff, but it is well represented and there is something there for vitually anyone looking for a book to read. It expands on the charity of those in the community who would like to help see the library grow (and from a few overseas donations that have been very, very well recieved.

So here's to the ongoing community of readers on the east coast of Taiwan. We continue to pass books around and ensure each of us has something to read. In a place like this, if you don't work at it, you lose it, and that would be a shame.


Sunrise said...

As a voracious reader myself. I can relate to the ever so common Taiwan phenomenon of having to read basically anything found in some soon to be leaving foreigners book collection. I have read many things I normally would never have read. Try living on Lanyu for a year and running out of books, rereading old books halfway through just to start another book so that by the end of 10 books you managed to construct a whole new storyline.

Canada, the second hand stores brimming with circa 1950's sci-fi... Aye it is like a dream...

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