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Summer Reading: 5 “Lighter Fare” Books

In case you haven’t noticed, we love books at ChinaSource. We read them. We review them. We even write them!

Last week Brent posted his recommendations for summer reading. I hadn’t heard of any of those books, and now I’m ready to run out and buy all of them!

In this post I am offering my suggestions. The books on this list would fall into the “lighter fare” category and are perfect for vacation reading, whether you are sitting on the front porch of a cabin in the mountains or sitting on the beach. At some point, each of these books will make you chuckle, perhaps even guffaw! They are some of my favorites!

Coming Home Crazy: An Alphabet of China Essays, by Bill Holm   

In 1985 an oversized Icelandic-American professor from Minnesota went to Xi’an to spend a year teaching English. When he returned a year later, he published this book of essays on his experience.  This was the first book that I read that caused me to smack my head and say “I wish I’d written that.” What made the book so endearing to me and others who had or were teaching in China at the time was that he was essentially telling our stories and experiences. 

You can read my review of the book on my personal blog here: Still Crazy After All These Years.


Country Driving: A Journey Through China from Farm to Factory, by Peter Hessler

This is Peter Hessler at his best, wandering around the country in search of stories about people coping with a changing China. He rents a jeep in Beijing and, even though he’s not supposed to take it out of the city, drives the length of the Great Wall. He introduces us to an entrepreneur who sets out to make his fortune by manufacturing plastic clasps for brassieres. The common thread of the stories is the highways that bring change to villages and towns.



Dreaming in Chinese: Mandarin Lessons in Life, Love, and Language, by Deborah Fallows

In the run-up to the Beijing 2008 Olympics, Deborah Fallows and her husband spent two years living in Beijing. He filed stories for The Atlantic, and she studied Chinese. This book is a collection of her stories of being a language learner. Anyone who has spent time studying Chinese will love this book, and most likely think to themselves, “I wish I had written that!”



The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food, by Jennifer 8. Lee

Have you ever wondered where General Tsao’s chicken came from? Or chop suey? This book has the answer. Jennifer 8. Lee (yes, that’s her real name) sets out to uncover the history of Chinese food in America. It’s a brilliantly funny story.




Myself a Mandarin: Memoirs of a Special Magistrate, by Austin Coates

What happens when a young British civil servant is sent to the New Territories (Hong Kong) to be a village magistrate in the 1950s? Coates answers that question by telling a few stories, all of them quite funny. I learned so much about traditional Chinese culture from this book. It remains one of my all-time favorites.




Happy Reading!

And if you do read one of these books, we’d love to have you write a review to share with the readers of ChinaSource.

Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman is Vice President of Partnership and China Engagement and editor of ZGBriefs. Prior to joining ChinaSource, Joann spent 28 years working in China, as an English teacher, language student, program director, and cross-cultural trainer for organizations and businesses engaged in China. She has also taught Chinese at the University …View Full Bio

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