The bit I liked best about Get a life-the diaries of Vivianne Westwood was many references to books she loved, concerts she went to and art she admired. Westwood feels strongly about our need for culture but I must say that I don’t agree with her that art has stagnated and has become all about consumption( to which I say “Marina Abramovic”. Case closed). Undoubtedly there is bad art out there, and there is good art that people don’t take the time to appreciate because the prefer something else.
That said I did make notes about which books Westwood raved about as she early on mentioned The story of the stone by Cao Xueqin.
The story of the stone is a chinese epic which in the Swedish translation is something like 2500 pages(or more :/) and I read them all. I read books from the library and when I found them on sale last year I only bought the three first installments as those were the parts that I would like to reread at some point.
Central to the story is young Baoyu; the heir to the family name of a prestigious Chinese family. In the first book they are among the first rate people; an old family with money and a name, and one of the daughters is the Emperors favorite concubine. In fact she is so loved that the Emperor agrees that the family garden shall be declared a part of the imperial estate so that Yuanchun can go visit her family. The garden is renovated and renamed “The garden of perspectives”; this is the main scene for our drama.
In the garden there is the pavilion that is the home of Bayou; a bit of a playboy still but seen as the one which will bring even more fame and glory to the family, he was born with a jade stone is his mouth(allegedly). He has since childhood been more or less assumed to marry his cousin Baochai. She is the quintessential good girl; loved by mothers and aunts she follows the rules. She is no fool though but a very clever lady and a good poet.
Into the family compound moves Daiyu; the poor relative from the country who has more or less been orphaned. The fragile creature that she is, she catches the eye of Baoyu and so we have us a classic love triangle. And this in the middle of the rise and fall of the house of Xingguo(and also Rongguo,Wang and Jia; it’s one big mess. This is why cousins shouldn’t marry cousins; the family tree ends up indecipherable and you are probably your own aunt in the end. Had I looked closely I probably would have found Byron there somewhere. His fingerprints are all over this*(except he wasn’t born when this was written but still.))
In the introduction they mention that Xueqin’s work, written in the 18th century, is somewhere between Proust and Balzac for the Chinese. More Balzac in tone and storytelling I would say; a lot of time and attention is spent describing what they wear and what they consume as a way of giving life to the characters more then asking philosophical questions about the meaning of life. The Swedish translation is marvelous; Pär Bergman really loves the story and must have poured his life and soul into this work;it is clear it’s a labour of love. As is the reading of it, it’s your only hobby for a while but so so worth it.
Some other books Westwood mention are(not in this order or in any way ranked by preference):
Stoner by John Williams
Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
The adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi
Collapse-How societies choose to fail or succeed by Jared Diamond
1001 Arabian Nights
Dante’s Inferno by Dante Alighieri
Macbeth by Shakespeare
The grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
Siddharta by Herman Hesse
*Spoiler alert! There is a marriage that takes place where the bride is not who the groom thinks it is. Which is also a classic storyline from the work that is called “The Bible”. I prefer to blame Byron; It would make for a story of Byron could time travel; some kind of Steam punk?