Karavansara

East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai


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Cheap without cheapening would be nice…

1017348610-500x500… and as I am on the subject of doing research for my new story, I think I’ll plug another fine book.

The Shambhala Guide to Taoism*, by Eva Wong, is a wonderful one-stop resource on the history and structure of Taoist thinking. Miss Wong’s guide is a perfect reference to keep handy as I write.

This, in its Italian edition, was the suggested “textbook” for my course, in the days of old, together with Cleary’s Vitality, Energy, Spirit: The Taoist Sourcebook*.

Now, I used to suggest this book because it’s complete, clear and, in its Italian edition, it was rather cheap (less than ten bucks) – perfect for my students.
On the other hand, as I found out while writing this short post (but as I had been suspecting for quite a while), the original edition features about fifty sketches and tables, while the Italian edition only has fourteen.
The quality of the paper is also dismal for the Italian book – but that’s sort of ok.
I can take the cheap paper, but not the elimination of part of the contents as intended by the author – be it text, or figures.

61CJME6HxyL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_This is the sort of thing I find really irritating.
The same happened with Luce Boulnois Silk Road: Monks, Warriors and Merchants, a wonderful illustrated book I can’t recommend enough, that was published without illustrations and printed on cheap throwaway paper in Italy.
I understand the need to provide high-quality texts at low prices, and I fully support any viable strategy to bring more good books to those that can’t afford high-end editions (heck, I can’t afford them!)
But butchering the books to make them cheaper is not the way to go.

OK, end of pet peeve.
Sorry for the brief rant.

Looks like I’ll have to get me an English-language copy of Eva Wong’s Guide… I’m curious about the missing images.

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* Hmmmm… that’s a lot of Shambhala Publishing books in one day… If it’s any consolation, they are not paying me to plug their excellent books.


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Again on the joys of research…

1744332216-500x500I said it in the past and I’ll keep saying it – the best part of writing historical adventure is often doing research.

A few years back I taught a course on Taoist Culture for the Italian-Chinese association in Turin.
It was a short introductory course, based on my somewhat non-systematic study of Taoism and Zen – something I started as an “interest” in the mid-80s.

The course was well received – and with the money I got from it I decided to buy me something I had desired for a long time: the four volumes of Thomas Cleary‘s translations of the Taoist Classics, published by Shambhala Publications. Continue reading


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John Blofeld

His father was the inspiration for the James Bond villain.

6273610-MI discovered John Blofeld‘s The Secret and the Sublime when I was sixteen.
The book, in its gaudy, cheap Italian paperback edition, was interesting for two reasons.
First, because it connected with my growing interest for zen and taoism.
Second, because it promised to reveal Taoist Mysteries and Magic – which was extremely good, because I was tired of the standard, psaeudo-celtic, or D&D-derived magic in fantasy stories, and was looking for some off-beat inspiration*.

In the end, the book was useless in developing my own magic system – but in retrospect, it was probably instrumental in convincing me that “magic system” is the wrong idea when writing fantasy.
Magic should be magic – and sure as hell it feels that way in Blofeld’s book.
On the other hand, Blofeld’s book fueled my interest in the East, which is one of the reasons I’m writing this blog, and I still feel a strong affection for this small book. Continue reading