What I read this week

What are you reading now?

Edge of Empire: Conquest and Collecting in the East, 1750-1850. Another applegnat rec! It’s all right. I mean, it’s interesting and well-written, and should be super useful (weird to be reading it right after Linda Colley’s Captives and being like, oh hey, I know all this stuff about Seringapatam/Srirangapatna already). But Jasanoff wants to talk about cultural intermixings and the lesser-known aspects of Empire and whatnot; she does not want to focus on what jerks all these European collectors are. Whereas the fact that they are huge jerks keeps irresistibly intruding itself upon my attention!

What did you just finish reading?

A Short History of Malaysia by Virginia Matheson Hooker. There’s a bit in the beginning where she discusses how Malaysians are taught their history and how the history is constructed and why, which is quite interesting for somebody who went through that education. Our Sejarah textbooks suck in a lot of ways but one of the ways I am quite indignant about is that they almost completely fail to convey the romance of the history of maritime Southeast Asia. It’s been a site of cultural convergence and intermixing since pretty much forever, and historical maritime SEAsia has everything. (To plagiarise myself, enthusing in an email to colorblue — ) Pirates! Pilgrims! Princesses! Court intrigue! People who live on boats and are ~expert navigators~, and people who live uncompromisingly independent lives in the forest and the highlands, and people who live in palaces trying to figure out how to backstab their brothers.

I also finished Jonathan Spence’s The Death of Woman Wang, which I was really pretty unimpressed by. It’s supposedly a reconstruction of what life was like in 17th century/Ming/Qing dynasty rural China, but it’s just kind of a bunch of anecdotes by some Chinese people translated and strung together loosely. I don’t even know what Pu Songling is doing in there given he doesn’t even live in Tancheng (the area Spence is focusing on). I mean — they are interesting, illuminating anecdotes! I was just expecting something a bit more cohesive, and with more of an overall narrative.

What do you expect to read next?

After Edge of Empire I will finish the book of Jane Austen’s letters I got out of the library. And then some of my other library books, I guess? It depends on whether I decide to take them back to Malaysia with me, or whether I decide to just renew them and read them when I get back.

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