Books for East/West Living
a highly opinionated wandering through asian literature (and a few others)
The Lady and The Monk
by Pico Iyer
Hands-down, my favorite book about Japan.
This reflects the Japan I know better than any other.
It's funny, touching, and interesting.
by Yasunari Kawabata
Tales of love and obsession, Japan-style.
These will fit your every image of what Japan is (or was).
Also recommended is "The Izu Dancer" or "A Thousand Cranes".
Genji Monogatari (The Tale of Genji)
by Murasaki Shikibu
(translated by Edward Seidensticker)
The worlds first novel.
A fascinating 11th century soap opera that takes place in ancient Kyoto.
by Liz Dalby
A Berkeley anthropologist becomes a geisha in Kyoto.
Newly reprinted and fascinating.
by Jodi Cobb
A table-top photo book that could be considered the companion to Dalby's writings.
by Anchee Min
You don't often see communism and lesbianism in the same sentence, but this book links them in one heated breath.
A book that brilliantly uses some very time and cultural-specific instances to tell a universal tale.
by Mo Yan
I read this novel during a trip to Beijing, and I'm sure that the tale of lust, violence, and agriculture affected the way that I looked at the people of this city. The characters are alive and real.
This puts some very human faces to that mass of people we think of as China and shows people acting the way people act - anywhere, anytime - especially during war.
The Happy Isles of Oceania
by Paul Theroux
Kayaking through the South Pacific. It's on my to-do list, but until then this excellent book by Theroux is worth reading twice.
He also writes excellent fiction. "The Mosquito Coast" is a classic, and "Saint Jack" is a fun, bawdy tale.
The Quiet American
by Graham Greene
A brilliant novel of war, men, women, and the 'rules of engagement' in Vietnam.
It captures the expat dilemma perfectly.
Sex And Zen & A Bullet In The Head
The best book to introduce you to the cinema of Hong Kong.
Shopping for Buddhas
by Jeff Greenwald
Literally about Buddha shopping in Tibet
A funny meditation on traveling, souvenirs, and religion.
by Bruce Chatwin
A lyrical book about Australia's Outback and the Aboriginals that inhabit it.
Essential reading before you head to the red center.
Travelers Tales - Thailand
also in this series - Hong Kong, San Francisco, Food, Love & Romance
I suspect this whole series (which includes Mexico, India, France and more) is excellent. I know these five are.
The Power of Myth
by Joseph Campbell
The most 'human' teacher to ever live? Maybe. His writings on religion, mythology, and human potential ('follow your bliss' was his great phrase) are always educational, rarely dry.
It can be argued that travel is an act of personal myth-making, and this book is a great guide.
The Rough Guide to World Music
The bible of world music.
Disappointingly, however, Japan is not well represented in regards to koto, shakuhachi, and other traditional instruments.
The Serpent and the Rainbow
by Wade Davis
When I grow up, I want to be Wade Davis.
He's an ethno-botanist (basically, studying plants and their use in a specific culture). In this book, he details his search for the source of Zombies in Haiti. Indiana Jones would be proud.
Holidays in Hell
by P.J. O'Rourke
Americas' funniest writer takes on the US Government in Parliament of Whores. Holidays in Hell is a collection of dispatches from the worlds more unpleasant places (at least at the times he was there, usually during war)
by Edward Abbey
Funny, angry, eloquent.
Brilliant writing about the American Desert and more.
You should also read "The Fools Progress" and "The Monkey Wrench Gang".
by John Steinbeck
Despite the fact that you read him in high school, he really was a great writer.
Don't forget "The Sea of Cortez", "Of Mice and Men", or "Travels with Charley".
by Michael Crichton
Far better than his novels, this book explores inner travels, outer travels, and the unexplained.
The World's Most Dangerous Places
by Robert Felton
Literally, a Killer book! Funny, informative. This'll make some people stay home, and inspire others, but all will be more knowledgeable about what they do.
More Great Reading
by Nicholas Bornoff
Everything you wanted to know about the history of sex in Japan. Funny, wild, and interesting. A highlight of my last trip to Thailand was finding a first edition hardcover of this, in a used book store.
Song of the Dodo
by David Quammen
You want to learn about island biogeography, don't you?
Yes, you do, when David Quammen is the writer. Quamman blends adventure with science, turns a spotlight on many hardworking scientists in the far corners of the world, and also finds the time to tell the story of Alfred Wallace (a massively underrated peer of Darwin).
The chapter about the last dodo is inspired writing, in a book full of inspired writing.
The Natural House
by Frank Lloyd Wright
Architecture is the single most important support tool man ever invented.
I would urge every person alive to read ten books on architecture in the next year, and become more sensitive to its' impact on our lives.
Our society is losing its' soul to grey boxes, shelters that are as inappropriate to their environment as Madonna would be at a Japanese Tea Ceremony.
Start your reading with Frank Lloyd Wright.
There may be other architects who have believed that buildings should reflect their environments, but you couldn't tell it by looking at most buildings in the world. Click here for a list of Wright web sites.
The Circle of Innovation
by Tom Peters
Peters' books should be mandatory reading for anyone who pretends to be human. Business, Management, and Life are stirred up and seasoned with 'wow' and 'excellence'.
Peters is now drawing Indian references into his work, as he continues to loosen his tie and try to shake us up.
The 'Duh' quotient is high. This stuff should be obvious (as he repeatedly tells us). Let's hope we live long enough to see it be commonplace.
Photography of Natural Things
by Freeman Patterson
Dissatisfied with your photos? Want more than snapshots? Read Freeman Patterson.
Any of his books are great lessons in photography, or you can visit his site.
The Food Of Malaysia
The Food Of Japan
The Food Of Vietnam
by Periplus Editions
I don't cook a lick, but I collect these books. Why? Because I love to eat, and these books capture my favorite foods like no other. There's a detailed culture section, followed by the best food photography I've ever seen.
My version of hell would be getting trapped in a town that has only a McDonalds and these books.
by Periplus Travel Guides
Don't even think about going to Indonesia or Malaysia without reading these. One of the few guidebooks that I read before, during, and after my journey. Or even if I'm not going at all!
Gateway to Japan
by Kinoshita and Palevsky
The very best guidebook for Japan. No photos, but great reviews and good background information. There is also a Gateway to Tokyo book.
Magazines for East/West Living
The worlds best magazine. Subscribe now. Read it cover to cover every month.
Great photos. Good information. Pretty good writing.
Given that it's aimed too much at the cruise crowd, it's filled with surprisingly good writing. Give it a try!
Evolve or die. Keep up on technology with this.
Proof that there is intelligent life in today's business world.
THE magazine for Japan. Wise-ass foreigners explain the country for you.
Dry, but informative, Japan magazine. Excellent cultural articles.