I’m having trouble coming up with an adjective that accurately describes the level of anticipation that I have for an upcoming book by my favorite author, Peter Hessler. It is fair to say that my expectation of this book surpasses that which I held before the release of most of the Harry Potter series. The best part is that I don’t believe there is any risk that it will be sold out!
Early in my study of China, Hessler was one of the first authors that I really latched on to, and his style of writing has had a great impact on the way that I try to formulate my own thoughts. I cannot by any means come close to matching his abilities, nor his capacities for observation. Travel writing has a dangerous tendency to be sneakily vapid. Authors manage to turn out pages of material that is inviting, but doesn’t actually say anything about the culture they observe or the people that they meet. A good writer can make you feel like you have read something extremely profound without saying much of anything. Politicians do it all the time. I have never felt this to be the case with Hessler, who’s work as an independent author as well as a long time correspondent for New Yorker has never failed to be entertaining and incredibly insightful. If you get a chance, I would strongly recommend reading either of his books, “River Town” and “Oracle Bones”. The first is my favorite, documenting the two years that he spent as a teacher in a city within Sichuan. It is an amazing portrayal of a part of Chinese life, and a great read even for those who’s interests do not lie directly in China. Do it.
Hessler’s new book, entitled “Country Driving: A Journey Through China From Farm to Factory”, focuses on the particular driving culture that has developed within China, tying it into aspects of change that are reshaping the nation. This should prove to be a very interesting topic, and I am very curious to see how he manages to frame the subject. The manner and methodology behind driving in China is completely different from that within the United States, and though it would seem that the Chinese take a rather holistic approach to navigating the roads, there is much more at play. If Hessler is able to make good connections between the Chinese driving style and the culture itself, I will be utterly impressed and continue to spread his name as that of a legend. February 9th, I suspect a trip to the book store will be in order.