Old Books Reading Project: Life and Death in Shanghai by Nien Cheng

Imagine you spent six and half years in solitary confinement. Over the course of your imprisonment you were beaten, tortured, verbally abused, denied decent medical and dental care and what little food you were fed was so bad it frequently made you ill. Falsely accused of being a traitor or spy for various foreign powers you were repeatedly ordered to confess your crimes. However, not once were you formally charged, let alone tried in court. During that time you were allowed no visitors, or for that matter any communication whatsoever with the outside world. But thanks to your indomitable spirit not once did you surrender and utter a false confession. After more than a half decade of torment you were released.

Right after you were freed someone tells you why you were imprisoned. You didn’t spend years in a hellish prison because of some bureaucratic mix-up or an official’s personal vendetta. No, it was all because of a power struggle between two rival factions within the government. You were one of thousands maybe even millions of others who were casualties of China’s Cultural Revolution.

Hoping to outflank his younger and more competent rivals in 1996 Chairman Mao Zedong urged the nation’s young people to attack what Mao and his cronies declared “capitalist”, “bourgeois” or “traditionalist” elements ruling China. For 10 years the nation was paralyzed by purges, political instability and factional violence. (Looking back later, Nien thought, “perhaps the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution should be more aptly renamed Cultural Annihilation.”)  Only after Mao’s death and his inner circle deposed could saner heads prevail and thus bring an end to the madness known as the Cultural Revolution.

I picked up a paperback copy of Nien Cheng’s 1986 memoir Life and Death in Shanghai years ago at used book sale only to let sit ignored in my personal library.  I might have kept ignoring it had not Paul French’s City of Devils: The Two Men Who Ruled the Underworld of Old Shanghai put me in the mood to read more about Shanghai. So last week I dusted off my vintage copy of Life and Death in Shanghai and finally cracked it open. Like many good books in my personal library I should not have waited so long to read it.

College educated in the West and fluent in English, Nien, a widow, worked for Shell Oil until the company was expelled from China in 1966. After being questioned repeatedly by the authorities about her ties to not just Shell but also the United Kingdom, United States and Taiwan-based Republic of China she soon faced baseless accusations of espionage and class betrayal. Despite passionately and intelligently proclaiming her innocence she was thrown in prison. Much like Eugenia Semyonovna Ginzburg, author of the previously reviewed Journey into the Whirlwind, she figured once the authorities realized they’d made a mistake and wrongfully imprisoned her she’d quickly be released. Since the Communists took power there’d been arrests and purges off and on. Confirming Tolstoy’s dictum “there are no conditions to which a man may not become accustomed, particularly if he sees that they are accepted by those about him” while imprisonment was terrible, it happened from time to time in Communist China.

Mao had once declared that 3-5 per cent of the population were enemies of socialism. To prove him correct, during the periodically launched political movements, 3-5 per cent of the members of every organization, whether it was a government department, a factory, a school or a university, must be found guilty of political crimes or heretical thoughts against socialism or Mao Tze-tung Thought. Among those found guilty, a number would be sent either to labour camps or prison.

Hopefully, Nien thought, soon it would all be rectified. But only after endearing six and half years of sheer hell, followed by a change in the political winds was Chien released. Allowed to return to her former residence she was placed under close government surveillance and left with the threat of re-arrest and re-imprisonment dangling over her head. Only with a more pragmatic regime in control of China that lead to friendlier relations with nations like the United States was she allowed to immigrate to the West where she could truly at last be free.

Soviet Spotlight: Journey into the Whirlwind by Eugenia Semyonovna Ginzburg

I’m guessing it was my love of both prison memoirs and Soviet history that inspired me grab a copy of Eugenia Semyonovna Ginzburg’s memoir Journey into the Whirlwind I found lying in the street, quite possibly while walking to the bus stop after enjoying a few pints of beer with friends at a local pub. After letting it sit on my bookshelf ignored and unread for the last five or so years last week I finally I began reading it. Like other good books from my personal library I’d been reluctant to touch I wish I’d read it sooner.

In 1934 Eugenia Semyonovna Ginzburg was a college instructor and newspaper editor in Kazan, Russia where both her and her husband were loyal Communists and true believers in the Soviet dream. The same year, that Soviet dream would become a nightmare for millions afterJoseph Stalin used the murder of Politburo member Sergei Kirov as an excuse to launch his infamous purges. Within a few years Ginzburg was arrested, interrogated, stripped of her Party membership, tried on trumped-up charges of belonging to a “counter-revolutionary Trotskyist group”, and sentenced to 10 years of imprisonment. After spending several years in solitary confinement she was shipped to the wilds of the Soviet Far East to labor in the forests of the Kolyma Valley where she would have died of malnutrition and overwork had a camp doctor not took pity on her and made her one his nurses.

Like the French Revolution preceding it, or the Iranian one that followed, the new Soviet state, now under Stalin’s despotic control began devouring the children of the revolution. At first her fellow convicts were devoted Party members like her, along with a few members of rival revolutionary groups who’d lost out to the Bolsheviks. Later, as Stalin’s paranoia intensified it drove up arrest quotas and combined with the widespread use of torture causing more and more of the accused to wrongly implicate their friends, colleagues and even family members the camps swelled with not just elite members of society like former military officers, Party leaders, and ironically, defrocked members of the dreaded secret police but also everyday working people and simple peasants. Foreigners from Italy and Germany who’d moved to Russia in hopes of building a worker’s paradise also found themselves slaving away in the Gulag along with tons of common criminals. At first, Ginzburg and true believers like her thought it had all been some sort of mistake, figuring they’d soon be released. Later, as time went by and the horror of incarceration took their toll they stopped believing in the goodness and infallibility of the Communist Party and cared only for their individual survival.

As grim as things get in Journey into the Whirlwind, it’s still a vivid, well-written and fast-paced account of one of humanity’s darkest periods. Not only does it make great follow-up reading to Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn’s epic The Gulag Archipelago Volume 2: An Experiment in Literary Investigation but also Anne Applebaum’s outstanding Gulag: A History. Journey into the Whirlwind is a great book and I definitely should have read it sooner.

Immigrant Stories: Undocumented by Dan-el Padilla Peralta

For weeks I kept noticing Dan-el Padilla Peralta’s 2015 memoir Undocumented: A Dominican Boy’s Odyssey from a Homeless Shelter to the Ivy League when I passed through the memoirs, biographies and autobiographies section at my public library but I never felt the urge to borrow it. Then one Saturday, right before they closed all the public libraries I strolled past it but this time thought otherwise.  I finally realized this is a book I needed to read. Any guy who goes from a homeless shelter to an Ivy League university is smart as hell and full of ambition. And people like that can always teach you a thing or two. Inspired by my revelation I grabbed Padilla Peralta’s memoir and went to work reading it. Finding it damn near impossible to put down I’m pleased to say Undocumented did not disappoint me.

Dan-el Padilla Peralta’s life story bares little resemblance to the unflattering stereotype many Americans have of immigrants. He didn’t brazenly enter the US in a spirit of lawlessness seeking employment and public assistance. He was brought to America legally by his parents from the Dominican Republic, because his mother needed advanced medical care for her high-risk pregnancy. Not long after the birth of his brother Yando his father returned home, sick of trying to support his family working low-paying jobs. Over time Padilla Peralta’s parents grew estranged and even though Padilla Peralta and his mother’s visas expired they continued living in the US. Fearing deportation if their applications for legal residency was denied and seeing how well her oldest son was faring in school she opted to keep the family in the US, putting them in legal limbo and thus ineligible for most, if not all public assistance. (Fortunately, being born in America Yando was eligible for aid since he was a citizen.)

Forced to live in a New York City homeless shelter after losing their apartment, a young volunteer took the young Dan-el and his brother under his wing. Recognizing  Dan-el’s was a voracious reader with a budding intellect, he encouraged the boy to apply to Collegiate, the same prestigious prep school where JFK attended. At Collegiate he flourished where his hard work, ambition and smarts paved the way for his entrance to Princeton. After majoring in the classics of Greece and Rome he graduated with high honors, earning a scholarship to study at Oxford. But his undocumented status was always there, like a hidden stigma he fought to conceal.

This a great follow-up book to Tara Westover’s Educated, as well as other memoirs by first-generation college graduates like Carlene Cross’ Fleeing Fundamentalism: A Minister’s Wife Examines Faith, J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis and Steve Pemberton’s  A Chance in the World: An Orphan Boy, a Mysterious Past, and How He Found a Place Called Home.  It also deserves to be read alongside other Ivy League memoirs like Walter Kirn’s Lost in the Meritocracy: The Undereducation of an Overachiever and Andrea Raynor’s Incognito: Lost and Found at Harvard Divinity School.

This memoir should be mandatory reading for any American with strong opinions about immigration, pro or con. It’s also a wonderful memoir and easily one of the best books I’ve read this year.

About Time I Read It: Masquerade by Tivadar Soros

Over the years I’ve read books translated from a variety of languages including Russian, Arabic, Italian, Albanian and Greek but I’ve never read anything translated from Esperanto. Esperanto, for those who don’t know is an international auxiliary language created in the late 19th century by Polish ophthalmologist L. L. Zamenhof. Using the Latin alphabet with vocabulary borrowed from Romance and Germanic languages, combined with Slavic grammar Zamenhof hoped Esperanto would be so easy to learn and use it would become a universal second language, helping promote world peace and international understanding. While Esperanto might not have made the world a peaceful place it soon developed a kind of cult following among linguists, intellectuals and internationalists around the globe.

Thoughts of Esperanto were the furthest thing from my mind that day at the public library when I spotted Masquerade: Dancing Around Death in Nazi Occupied Hungary on the shelf. What caught my eye was the book’s author Tivadar Soros. Wondering if Tivadar was somehow related to billionaire philanthropist and human rights advocate George Soros I took a closer look at Masquerade and learned from its jacket blurb Tivadar was George’s father. I also learned Tivadar Soros’s 2001 memoir recalls the year he spent hiding under a false identity in Nazi occupied Hungary. Needing something set in Hungary something for Rose City Reader’s European Reading Challenge I grabbed Masquerade along with a few other books and headed to the automated check-out kiosk mere hours before my public library locked the doors in hopes of slowing the spread of COVID19.

I was pleasantly surprised by Masquerade. Initially I feared something translated from Esperanto might come across as wooden or clunky but kudos to Humphrey Tonkin for  crafting a translation that expertly captures the memoirist’s voice, one heavily ladened with Mitteleuropa charm, sophistication and, believe or not considering the circumstances, optimism. Tivadar comes across as a confident, urbane and intelligent man of the world, even if that world is crashing down around him.

Using the skills and connections he’d acquired over the years as a successful and respected Budapest attorney, he’s able to secure false identities and secret hiding places for himself as well as his wife and two sons. Wisely, the Soros family opts to live underground instead of registering with the local Jewish council, thus avoiding deportation to Auschwitz. Throughout his ordeal, Tivadar retains not only his humanity but also his refinement and sense of purpose. Perhaps for that reason alone Masquerade is a memoir worth reading.

About Time I Read It: Only in Naples by Katherine Wilson

Another book I’d see on the shelf at my public library and was always temped to borrow is Katherine Wilson’s 2016 memoir Only in Naples: Lessons in Food and Famiglia from My Italian Mother-in-Law. While I’m not a big fan of food memoirs or travel stuff I do however have a slight to moderate fascination with Italy. After spending the last two years wondering if I should read this book last week I finally borrowed it. I’m happy to report Only in Naples is not only light, entertaining and charming but also an insightful outsider’s look at life in Southern Italy.

After graduating from Princeton with honors, Katherine Wilson felt she needed a little time overseas before starting graduate school. She secured an unpaid temporary internship at the US consulate in Naples and almost immediately upon her arrival was taken in by a loving Neapolitan family whose mother Raffaella was the best cook she’s ever encountered. Seeing she’s young and by herself in a foreign country they took Katherine under their wings without a second thought. Slowly but surely during her time in Naples she also began to fall in love with their son Salvatore, a handsome law student. Romance blossomed which lead to marriage which eventually lead to Katherine living the life of an American expat in Italy with a Italian husband and two children.

Soccer might be Italy’s national pastime but the country’s national treasure is its food. I learned from reading Only in Naples the Italians take immense pride in their cuisine. We Americans might be content with the microwaveable frozen individuals entries found in supermarkets and greasy take-out but the Italians prefer their meals lovingly made from scratch using only the best available ingredients. Sandwiches are best consider snacks, not meals and on the rare occasions when appropriate (like in a brown bagged lunch for a construction worker or soccer fan attending a match) they’re top-notch creations far exceeding anything available in America. During a hospital visit the author saw patients and their loved ones complaining about the food served. Every meal she saw looked absolutely mouth-watering to the point she could barely restrain herself from inhaling the food laden plates before they were cast aside by the disgruntled Italians. Arriving in Naples a bit overweight and plagued with an eating disorder, in her first five weeks living in Naples she lost 20 pounds, completely lost her urge to binge eat, and for the first time in her life thoroughly enjoyed what she ate.

Only in Naples is one of those wonderful books that exceeds your modest expectations. If you like to travel, cook or above all eat, it’s the book for you.

About Time I Read It: Prisoner of Tehran by Marina Nemat

Frustrated your state-appointed math teacher refuses to teach math and instead spends the entire time dispensing propaganda you walk out of class. Afterwards security forces, fearing your’re a dangerous student radical throw you in prison and the guards beat you to a pulp. Before you know it a kangaroo court convicts you of treason and sentences you to death. Minutes before you’re about to be shot by a firing squad one of the prison guards rushes over with news your sentence has been commuted to life imprisonment. Relieved you won’t be shot, nevertheless you’re still facing a lifetime behind bars. Later you learn your life was spared because the guard has fallen in love with you and used his political connections to call off your execution. He also wants you to marry him, and if you don’t he’ll harm your family.

By the way, you’re only 16 years old.

Marina Nemat’s 2007 memoir Prisoner of Tehran is one of those books I’ve known about for a decade but never got around to reading. Despite my longtime fascination with Iran I could never bring myself to read Prisoner of Tehran, preferring to walk right by it whenever I spotted a copy on the shelf at the public library. Then during one of my weekend library visits I finally grabbed it. Prisoner of Tehran isn’t  a bad book, but a sad one because nobody, least of all a 16 year old should ever go through what the author did.

In 1982 when Nemat was imprisoned Iran’s theocratic regime ruled the country with an iron hand by stifling dissent, jailing enemies of the state – perceived or otherwise  – and executing thousands regardless of age or gender.  In most civilized countries Nemat’s walkout would earned her a trip to the principal’s office. In Iran under the Ayatollah such treasonous acts were punishable by death. Saved from the firing squad but still a prisoner and left with little choice but to marry the guard who rescued her, the 16 year old’s future looked grim.

Like I said, Prisoner of Tehran isn’t a bad book, just a sad one. And like many sad books at times it’s not easy to read. But it’s a well-written account of a story that needs to be told. So don’t be afraid to read it.

About Time I Read It: An Appetite for Wonder by Richard Dawkins

Some staff member at my favorite local library must be a fan of Richard Dawkins because for weeks a copy of the esteemed scientist’s  2013 memoir An Appetite for Wonder: The Making of a Scientist had been prominently displayed in the memoirs, biographies and autobiographies section. One Saturday my curiosity finally got the better of me and I decided to borrow it. Once the memoir was in my possession I slowly made my way through it, finishing mere days before it was due back at the library. Perhaps like most books, there as things about it I liked and things I didn’t.

This is the second book I’ve read by the renowned British evolutionary biologist, science writer and “New Atheist.” Over a decade ago I read his much talked about 2006 book The God Delusion. (Not long afterwards I followed it up with Alister McGrath and Joanna McGrath’s Christian response,The Dawkins Delusion?: Atheist Fundamentalism and the Denial of the Divine.) Written as the first volume of a two volume set, the book covers the lives of his parents, his childhood and his early career as a scientist, ending with the publication of his first book The Selfish Gene.

Before reading Appetite for Wonder I would have assumed even though I wasn’t an expert on Dawkins I probably knew more about him than the average person. After reading this book I learned quite quickly how ignorant I really was. For instance, I had no idea he was born in Africa. (His father had been working as an agricultural civil servant in what is now Malawi when he was drafted into the military. A few years later, after his father was posted to nearby Kenya Dawkins was born.) Likewise, I had no idea one of the world’s most prominent atheists was a devout Anglican in his youth, albeit for a short period. I also wasn’t aware he spent time at UC Berkeley as an assistant professor of zoology during the tumultuous late 60s and took part in anti-war protests. Lastly, I had no idea he was a pioneer in the field of computer programing.

My least favorite passages of the book are the ones where Dawkins goes on and on about early computer programming. I also didn’t enjoy some of the science-related stuff, but his thoughts on evolution towards the end of the book were pretty good. Overall, it’s a decent book and it’s left me thinking I might read more of his stuff down the road.

2019 European Reading Challenge Wrap-Up

Well, another year of Rose City Reader’s European Reading Challenge has come to a close. In my perennial quest to win the coveted “Jet Setter” award I try to read as many books as possible set in, or about different European countries, or by different European authors. With one country per book and each book by a different author, each year I find myself moving from book to book across Europe, like some post-modern armchair version of a Bella Époque grand tour of the Continent.

2018 was a down year for me since I read and reviewed just 15 books. I’m happy to report this year I rebounded nicely with a final tally of 23. Just like in past years, there’s a variety of countries represented, ranging from large counties like Russia and Germany, to smaller ones like Belgium, Iceland and even the micro-state of Vatican City. This year I even read a book about Moldova.

  1. Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets by Svetlana Alexievich (Russia)
  2. A Frozen Hell: The Russo-Finnish Winter War of 1939–1940 by William R. Trotter (Finland)
  3. Island on Fire: The Extraordinary Story of a Forgotten Volcano That Changed the World by Alexandra Witze and Jeff Kanipe (Iceland)
  4. The Fourth Figure by Pieter Aspe (Belgium)
  5. Pogrom: Kishinev and the Tilt of History by Steven J. Zipperstein (Moldova)
  6. A Journey to the Edge of Europe by Kapka Kassabova (Bulgaria)
  7. The Man Who Went Up in Smoke by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö’ (Hungary)
  8. Amsterdam: A History of the World’s Most Liberal City by Russell Shorto (The Netherlands)
  9. The Swede by Robert Karjel (Sweden)
  10. Smilla’s Sense of Snow by Peter Høeg (Denmark)
  11. The Prince’s Boy by Paul Bailey (Romania)
  12. Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier (United Kingdom)
  13. The Abyssinian Proof by Jenny White (Turkey)
  14. 1924: The Year That Made Hitler by Peter Ross Range (Germany)
  15. The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo by Tom Reiss (France)
  16. Hell and Good Company: The Spanish Civil War and the World it Made by Richard Rhodes (Spain)
  17. The Volunteer: One Man’s Mission to Lead an Underground Army Inside Auschwitz and Stop the Holocaust by Jack Fairweather (Poland)
  18. Angels and Demons by Dan Brown (Vatican City)
  19. The Italians by John Hooper (Italy)
  20. The Exiles Return by Elisabeth de Waal (Austria)
  21. A Child of Christian Blood: Murder and Conspiracy in Tsarist Russia: The Beilis Blood Libel by Edmund Levin (Ukraine)
  22. Prague Fatale by Philip Kerr (Czech Republic)
  23. North of Ithaka: A Granddaughter Returns to Greece and Discovers Her Roots by Eleni N. Gage (Greece)

 

As you might guess, I’m a huge fan of this challenge. I encourage all you book bloggers to sign up and read your way across Europe. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.

Educated by Tara Westover

Tara Westover’s memoir Educated won, or was short-listed for just about every award and honor on the planet, but that’s not why I read it. I did so because two friends of mine, who’ve known me for years and are all well acquainted with my reading tastes highly recommended it to me. I’m happy to report they were right. Not only did I enjoy Educated, it easily made my year-end Favorite Nonfiction List.

Since many of you have read Educated or are familiar with Westover’s life story I’ll try not to rehash too much. (I’ll probably do so anyway since it’s such an amazing story.) Growing up in rural Idaho and attending the LDS (Mormon) church, Westover and her family were dominated by her extreme anti-government religious zealot father like it was his own personal religious sect. Because he saw human institutions as evil, corrupt and on the verge of collapse he forbid Westover and the rest of her family from seeking medical care, attending school, possessing a driver’s license, having insurance or taking part in any meaningful social activities outside her immediate family.

After an older brother told her BYU accepted home-schooled students, she made it her goal to do well enough on her college placement exam to attend  the Utah-based university even though she’d never set foot in a classroom in her life. Westover tested well, got it and after an understandably rough start flourished, growing leaps and bounds intellectually and socially. Encouraged and guided by mentors as wise as they were kind, her hard work and perseverance paid off, earning her admission to both Harvard and Cambridge.

I’m a huge fan of memoirs by women who’ve left oppressive religious communities as well as those by people who successfully overcame poverty or extreme hardship. No wonder I loved this book because on top of that, it’s wonderfully written. Trust me, it’s worthy of all those awards and honors.

Why Religion?: A Personal Story by Elaine Pagels

I’m no stranger to Elaine Pagels. Years ago I was so intrigued by what she had to say in a New Yorker article about early Christianity I borrowed a friend’s copy of Pagels’ breakout book The Gnostic Gospels and followed it up a few years later with The Origin of Satan: How Christians Demonized Jews, Pagans, and Heretics. (One morning before work I happened to be reading it at the neighboring Starbucks when one of our vice presidents, a practicing Catholic, wandered by and asked me what I was reading. After telling him I could tell he regretted asking because he quickly excused himself and hurried back across the street to our office. Poor guy probably thought I was a member of Anton LaVey’s Church of Satan.) Happy to see another of her books hit the stands, not long after that I read Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of ThomasLastly, almost seven years ago I read Revelations: Visions, Prophecy, and Politics in the Book of Revelation after spotting a copy on the New Books shelf at my public library.

You might remember from an earlier post I’ve been spending time in the memoirs, biographies and autobiographies section at the public library. While grabbing memoirs by Trevor Noah and Maxine Kumin one Saturday afternoon I stumbled across Elaine Pagels’ 2018 memoir Why Religion?: A Personal Story. Figuring this was as good a time as any to read a memoir by one of my favorite religion writers I added Why Religion to my small stack of library books and headed to the check-out desk.

Like I said at the beginning, I’m no stranger to Pagels. Over the years I’ve enjoyed her books and heard her interviewed more than once on NPR. Based on that, I guessed I knew everything there was to know about one of America’s premier experts on early Christianity. But perhaps like you can be married to someone for years and not know everything about them, Why Religion? showed me there’s a whole lot to Elaine Pagels I didn’t know.

For instance, I shouldn’t have assumed just because she teaches at Princeton she’s originally from the East Coast. I was surprised to learn she was born in Palo Alto, CA, home to Stanford University where her dad taught botany. After getting “saved” at a Billy Graham crusade at 13 she began joined a local evangelical congregation but left a few years later when she was told a Jewish friend of hers who had been killed in a car crash had gone to hell because he wasn’t a “born again” Christian. While attending Stanford and hanging out at Kepler’s Books and Coffee in nearby Menlo Park she made friends with a scruffy former Army private turned musician by the name of Jerry Garcia. Not long after that Jerry started his new band The Grateful Dead and Elaine was a guest at his wedding.

Sadly, like too many young women pursuing graduate degrees she was sexually assaulted by a professor from her department. (Without revealing too much his actions were premeditated and predatory and couldn’t be blamed on alcohol, social ineptitude and/or “mixed signals.”) Also sadly, like too many young women in academia her bold, ground breaking work in her discipline was initially rejected by the old guard. Eventually, her novel work began getting noticed and as it did she racked up awards and lucrative grants. This paved the way for her to produce intelligent yet accessible books for a mainstream audience, as opposed to a solely academic one. (I also didn’t know before she began her Ph.D. she briefly studied dance at Martha Graham’s famous dance studio.) In a brave move as a memoirist, or just being an honest and inclusive person Pagels also admits experiencing a same-sex attraction to one of her female friends.

I’d forgotten Pagels suffered two horrible tragedies, both within a year of each other. First, her young son died of an incredibly rare pulmonary disorder and then her husband, a physicist died in a freak mountaineering accident. (Adding insult to injury, suddenly bereft of her husband’s income she was forced to vacate her condo in NYC.) Pagels was devastated. Her recovery took years and drove her to seek comfort and understanding in the religious texts and traditions she’d devoted her life studying and teaching.

While I enjoyed Why Religion? for the excellent writing perhaps it taught me a bigger lesson. There’s nothing better than learning there’s more to one of your favorite writers than you ever imagined.