So Much to Read
"A man ought to read just as inclination leads him, for what he reads as a task will do him little good."—Samuel Johnson

27 March 2018
Leftover in China: The Women Shaping the World's Next Superpower
Roseann Lake

China's one-child policy, begun in the 1980s and lasting more than thirty years, resulted in the deaths of millions of female infants. Now that the only-children are of marrying age, the policy is having a different kind of impact. Heterosexual marriage is a non-negotiable Chinese cultural imperative, and while the imbalance of 134 single men for every 100 single women in China would be expected to cause disruption, it actually isn't easy for a single Chinese woman to find a husband. Chinese girls who were only-children were groomed by their parents for higher academic and business success, and generally live urban lives not all that different from single women in other cities of the world. The men of their generation were much more likely to stay in rural areas to provide for their aging parents and inherit their property, and they aren't interested in a wife with her own career and accomplishments. As one demographics expert said, "Men are looking for women who have ceased to exist and women are looking for men who have yet to exist." Lake shares the stories of four of these "leftover" women, interspersed with Chinese history and comparisons to other countries (Singapore, Japan, Korea, and the United States have all dealt with similar education gaps between women and their partners and with falling marriage and birth rates). Lake's writing is lively and informative, and I highly recommend her book. I wish I could say the same about Elizabeth Flock's The Heart Is a Shifting Sea: Love and Marriage in Mumbai, which tells the stories of three different contemporary heterosexual Indian couples. As in China, it's jarring to see advanced technology juxtaposed with antiquated ideas, like the Indian wife who uses a laptop and Gchat but is still basically a domestic slave for her in-laws, or how astrology is used to make major decisions (in China it's numerology). It's not that these stories aren't interesting, and it's not that the writing is bad, it's just that Flock's book is nothing but a straightforward narration of "she did this and then he said that." No bigger picture, no commentary by the author, nothing. The stories were just interesting enough to make me force myself to finish it, and I'm not sorry I did, but it took weeks.

2017 reviews

"There was so much to read, for one thing, and so much fine health to be pulled down out of the young breathgiving air... I was rather literary in college—one year I wrote a series of very solemn and obvious editorials for the Yale News—and now I was going to bring back all such things into my life and become again that most limited of all specialists, the 'well-rounded man.' This isn't just an epigram— life is much more successfully looked at from a single window, after all." —F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby