Confessions of a Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella

Confessions of a Shopaholic
Sophie Kinsella
(Dell Publishing, New York: 2001)

READ: May 2007

I actually have never had any desire to read this book, but I picked it up for $2.00 at a charity sale, so I figured what the heck? It was pretty much the fluff I expected, but once I got into it, it wasn't too bad. The writing was simple, and the story a little contrived (you just know she's gonna get the guy in the end), but it was entertaining and a quick read. I'm not running out to the store to buy any of the other books in the series, however; at least not just yet.

Beauty Tips from Moose Jaw: Travels in Search of Canada by Will Ferguson

Beauty Tips from Moose Jaw: Travels in Search of Canada
Will Ferguson
(Alfred A. Knopf Canada, Toronto: 2004)

This edition includes "bonus" material, including a tongue-in-cheek "cheat sheet" for students, "outtakes", various suggested cover designs, and a list of Canada’s "big objects by the side of the road."

READ: May 2007

I've mentioned this before (twice, actually): Will Ferguson is a funny, funny man. And with the intriguing title of this book, which I'd picked up in Canada before leaving for Japan but had made myself wait many months before allowing myself to read it, I was expecting more belly laughs.

And boy, did it deliver! Ferguson spent a few years traveling back and forth, here and there, across Canada, and the result is a series of short stories about strange happenings while on the road. He peppers these humourous stories with a good dose of history - not enough to choke those who always fell asleep during Canadian history class in high school, and just obscure enough to keep those Canadian history keeners (myself included) listening and curious. He goes everywhere: Victoria, B.C., for a poetry slam; Churchill, Man., looking for polar bears; Saguenay-Lac St. Jean, Que., to find a lost kingdom; and even St. Thomas, Ont., just outside London, in search of "Canada". It's always interesting, often funny, and never pedantic. This is the kind of literature I wish we'd read more of in my Canadian literature classes. For starters, I don't think he mentions the name "Susanna Moodie" even once (though I think he does talk a bit about Catherine Parr Trail) - kudos all around right there.

Japan: Its History and Culture by W. Scott Morton and J. Kenneth Olenik

Japan: Its History and Culture
W. Scott Morton and J. Kenneth Olenik
4th edition
(McGraw-Hill, New York: 2005)

First published 1970; subsequent editions 1984, 1994. The 4th edition is the first to include Olenik as co-author.

READ: April-May 2007

This book is a great overview to anyone who has an interest in Japanese history, but doesn't want to get stuck in thousands of pages detailing the lives, hopes and dreams of the various emperors and shogun. It's concise and informative, always interesting, and really helps one get insight into why Japanese culture has turned out quite the way it has. I found the last few chapters, about contemporary Japanese political and economic developments (since about 1970), a little weaker than the rest of the book; however, I understand that the immediate nature of contemporary events sometimes can make it difficult to figure out what is noteworthy and what is not.

Shortly after finishing this book, I headed down to Kyushu, the southernmost island of "mainland" Japan (ie., other than the Okinawan islands), and found myself recalling the history I had just recently learned. Certain events in Kyushu were at the centre of the Meiji Restoration in the 1860s, which, in turn, had a profound effect in shaping the Japan that was to eventually attempt to steamroll over the rest of East Asia in the first half of the 20th century. All in all, a very, very interesting book.

Confessions of an Economic Hit Man by John Perkins

Confessions of an Economic Hit Man
John Perkins
(Penguin Group, New York: 2006, c2004)

First published 2004.

READ: April-May 2007

John Perkins worked for over three decades at the heart of an international business consulting firm, and claims that the modern American political/economic system is founded on a system which exploits and neutralizes developing nations in ways that force them to remain acquiescent to American economic policies. It's almost a Forrest-Gump-like story - Perkins seems to have been fairly intimately involved with some of the more important political upheavals of contemporary times, including the deaths of Panamanian leader Omar Torrijos and Ecuadorian president Jaime Roldós Aguilera in the early 1980s, and the (as an example of how the "EHM system" occasionally failed) overthrow of the shah in Iran in the late 1970s.

This has been quite a popular book over the last few years, and I don't know how much to believe and how much to disbelieve. The events in this book are either largely and/or entirely true, in which case we should be worried about the sham called democracy in which we participate, or it is the product of a conspiratorial and overly-fertile imagination. While many people, well-educated and otherwise, would argue the latter proposition, I have to admit I tend, most days, toward the former. I think Perkins does have a tendency to dabble in conspiracy theory (especially in other contexts outside this book (just do a Google search for his name)); however, I also think this is definitely a case of "where there's smoke, there's fire."

At the very least, some of the response to this book has at least raised a bit of a debate about global finance and the development of the Third World, bringing these issues beyond the confines of APEC and G8 protests. It's an interesting read, even if you choose to disbelieve most of what he says, and it's well-written, unlike many other books in this genre. It occasionally smacks of conspiracy, but at the very least, it will get you thinking and being more aware.