Strange Stones: Dispatches from East and West

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Overview

An absorbing, original, and ambitious work of reportage from the acclaimed New Yorker correspondent

During the past decade, Peter Hessler has persistently illuminated worlds both foreign and familiar—ranging from China, where he served as The New Yorker's correspondent from 2000 to 2007, to southwestern Colorado, where he lived for four years. Strange Stones is an engaging, thought-provoking collection of Hessler's best pieces, showcasing his range as a storyteller and his gift ...

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Overview

An absorbing, original, and ambitious work of reportage from the acclaimed New Yorker correspondent

During the past decade, Peter Hessler has persistently illuminated worlds both foreign and familiar—ranging from China, where he served as The New Yorker's correspondent from 2000 to 2007, to southwestern Colorado, where he lived for four years. Strange Stones is an engaging, thought-provoking collection of Hessler's best pieces, showcasing his range as a storyteller and his gift for writing as both native and knowledgeable outsider. From a taste test between two rat restaurants in South China to a profile of Yao Ming to the moving story of a small-town pharmacist, these pieces are bound by subtle but meaningful ideas: the strength of local traditions, the surprising overlap between cultures, and the powerful lessons drawn from individuals who straddle different worlds.

Full of unforgettable figures and an unrelenting spirit of adventure, Strange Stones is a dazzling display of the powerful storytelling, shrewd cultural insight, and warm sense of humor that are the trademarks of Peter Hessler's work.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

A few years ago, an observer called New Yorker travel writer Peter Hessler "the rising star of the John McPhee school of reporting." It is true that this McArthur Award winner has often expressed appreciation of his former Princeton University writing mentor, but with titles like Oracle Bones, River Town, and now Strange Stones, his merits stand on their own. This trade paperback and NOOK Book collects pieces on China, Colorado, the Middle East, and elsewhere. Definitely worth a gander.

Publishers Weekly
In 18 elegant and thoughtful essays, almost all previously published in the New Yorker, prize-winning writer Hessler reflects on the foreign and the familiar, offering profiles of people who are often “chameleonlike, while others dreamed of returning home,” as well as a few who were engaged in “creative bumbling.” Although many of the essays focus on China, where he lived for a decade and a half, they range over topics from rat restaurants and life in a Chinese boomtown to life in the uranium town of Uravan, Colo., to the experience of moving from China back the U.S. In a profile of pharmacist Don Colcord, from Nucla, Colo., Hessler provides a brief history of the this small town that grew up over a century ago and was named by idealists that hoped the community would become the “center of Socialistic government for the world.” Drawing upon the experience of one of his former students, Hessler provides a portrait of the Chinese boomtown Shenzen, illustrating how it became divided into two worlds, which were described by the residents as guannei and guanwai—”within the customs” and “outside the customs.” In one of the most hilarious and poignant essays, Hessler reflects on his move back to America after more than a decade away by recalling his victory in a half marathon in Las Vegas: “I had run alone down Frank Sinatra Boulevard, and I had appeared on Las Vegas television… Finally I was home, and I had a story to tell; in America that was all you’d ever need.” (Apr.)
The Wall Street Journal
“Hessler’s signature is an unobtrusive and humorous first-person narrator breezily guiding the reader through places at once exotic and ordinary, a sort of Tracy Kidder in Asia. . . . Hessler has an acute and far-ranging talent for drawing characters.”
The Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Affable, humane and perceptive pieces. . . . This isn’t one of those take-your-medicine books about geopolitics and the world economy. Strange Stones also happens to be great fun to read, at once breezily written and deeply informative.”
Fareed Zakaria
“Read this book. . . . This is long-form journalism at its finest.”
The Atlantic
“Revelatory. . . . Wonderful . . . . Continually showcases Hessler’s gift for telling tales of cultural difference and mutual misunderstanding in a way that is both humorous and deeply empathetic. . . . Hessler is a deeply humane teller of true tales, a keen observer, a graceful stylist.”
Kirkus Reviews
A collection of personal essays and profiles that reveal the wonders and woes of the East. New Yorker staff writer Hessler (Country Driving: A Journey Through China from Farm to Factory, 2010, etc.) bridges the divide between East and West with riveting reportage. In the opening essay, "Wild Flavor," the author chronicles his visit to a restaurant in southern China, where the waitress casually asked, "Do you want a big rat or a small rat?"--a line that embodies the collection's interest in celebrating and questioning cultural differences. In the title essay, Hessler and an old Peace Corps buddy take a road trip across northern China, and the well-seasoned travelers find themselves duped at every turn--further evidence of the slow learning curve between cultures. Yet perhaps the theme running throughout most of these essays is the author's examination of the perils of living in a closed society, in which even the assistant manager of the aforementioned rat restaurant refused to give his name for the book (despite the fact that most of the village shares his name). In "Boomtown Girl," Hessler best elucidates this fear of oversharing with outsiders by introducing readers to Emily, a Chinese teacher-in-training who bucked all traditional gender roles and set out a future of her own making. While much of the book depicts a country consisting of walls, gates and fences--both literally and metaphorically--Emily's idealism reveals a new breed of Chinese woman, one whose intrepid spirit serves her well. A rich, vibrant collection that pries wide the door to the East, welcoming Western readers inside.
Library Journal
This work represents a collection of Hessler's (staff writer, The New Yorker; Country Driving: A Chinese Road Trip) writing from 2000 to 2012. In the title piece, he is curious when he sees sign after sign, "Strange Stones." Soon he learns that the Chinese refer to any rock that is shaped like another recognizable object as a "strange stone." In the essay "Dr. Don," Hessler introduces readers to the only medical man in tiny Nucla, Colorado. Don Colcord owns a local business, the Apothecary Shoppe, where he helps all who come to him, whether they have health insurance or not. Most moving is "When You Grow Up," in which readers meet three boys, ages 10, 12, and 14, who left their village in China to earn money for their families. After feeding them countless hotpots, Hessler asks what they want to be when they grow up. One wants to be a driver, another a security guard, and the third simply wants to go home. VERDICT Anyone who enjoys unique human interest stories will be greatly rewarded by this title.—Susan G. Baird, formerly with Oak Lawn P.L., IL
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780062206237
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 5/7/2013
  • Series: P.S. Series
  • Edition description: Original
  • Pages: 354
  • Sales rank: 349,809
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Peter Hessler

Peter Hessler is a staff writer at The New Yorker, where he served as the Beijing correspondent from 2000 to 2007, and is also a contributing writer for National Geographic. He is the author of River Town, which won the Kiriyama Prize; Oracle Bones, which was a finalist for the National Book Award; and, most recently, Country Driving. He won the 2008 National Magazine Award for excellence in reporting, and he was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2011. He lives in Cairo.

Biography

Peter Hessler, one of four children, was born in 1969, in Pittsburgh, but moved shortly thereafter to Columbia, Missouri. His father is a recently retired professor of sociology at the University of Missouri, and his mother teaches history at Columbia College.

Hessler attended Princeton University, where he majored in English and Creative Writing. The summer before graduation, he worked as a researcher for the Kellogg Foundation in southeastern Missouri, where he wrote a long ethnography about a small town called Sikeston. This became his first significant publication, appearing in the Journal for Applied Anthropology.

In 1992, Hessler entered Oxford University, where he studied English Language and Literature at Mansfield College. After graduating in 1994, he traveled for six month in Europe and Asia. One of the highlights of that trip was taking the trans-Siberian train from Moscow to Beijing. That journey resulted in his first published travel story, an essay that appeared in The New York Times in 1995. And that journey was his first introduction to China.

He spent the following year freelancing and attempting to write a book about his travels. Although the book didn't work out, he was able to publish travel stories in a range of newspapers, including The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Washington Post, and The Newark Star-Ledger, among others. In 1995, he received the Stratton Fellowship, a grant from the Friends of Switzerland and spent two months hiking 650 miles across the Alps. Afterwards he continued to freelance, writing travel stories for American newspapers while teaching freshman composition at the University of Missouri. He also organized volunteer projects for students on campus.

In 1996 he joined the Peace Corps and was sent to China. For two years, he taught English at a small college in Fuling, a city on the Yangtze River. While living in Fuling, he studied Mandarin Chinese and became proficient in the language.

After completing his Peace Corps service in 1998, he traveled to Tibet, where he researched a long article, "Tibet Through Chinese Eyes," which appeared in the Atlantic Monthly in February of 1999. Following that trip, he returned to Missouri and wrote River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze. While working on the book, he continued to write travel stories for The New York Times and other newspapers. In March of 1999, Hessler decided to return to China independently and try to establish himself as a freelance writer.

Over the following years, he traveled widely in China and freelanced for a variety of publications. For a brief spell, he was accredited as the Boston Globe stringer in Beijing. In 2000, The New Yorker began publishing some of his stories; the following year, he became the first New Yorker correspondent to be accredited as a full-time resident correspondent in the People's Republic.

In 2000, Hessler also started researching stories for National Geographic Magazine. The first assignment was a story about Xi'an archaeology, which sparked his interest in researching antiquities. Subsequently he accepted an assignment for a story about China's bronze-age cultures, which led to his interest of the oracle bones of the Anyang excavations.

River Town was published in 2001. It won the Kiriyama Prize for outstanding nonfiction book about the Pacific Rim and South Asia. It was also a finalist for the Barnes & Noble Discover award, and in the United Kingdom it was shortlisted for the Thomas Cook Travel Book Award. The book has been translated into Korean, Thai, and Hungarian. The Hungarian translation won the Elle Literary Prize for nonfiction in 2004.

Peter Hessler's magazine stories have been selected for the Best American Travel Writing anthologies of 2001, 2004 and 2005, and also for the Best American Sports Writing anthology of 2004. "Chasing the Wall," a National Geographic story published in 2003, was nominated for a National Magazine Award.

Hessler first conceived of Oracle Bones at the end of 2001 and spent the next four years researching and writing the book.

He currently lives in Beijing.

Author biography courtesy of HarperCollins.

Good To Know

"The only steady job I ever held in journalism was delivering the Columbia Missourian," Hessler revealed in our interview. "I knew I wanted to be a writer since I was sixteen years old. Mary Racine, who taught sophomore English at Hickman High School, first encouraged me to take writing seriously. Mary Ann Gates taught juniors and Khaki Westerfield taught seniors; they were all remarkable teachers It makes a big difference to be encouraged at such an early stage."
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    1. Hometown:
      Beijing, China
    1. Date of Birth:
      June 14, 1968
    2. Place of Birth:
      Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
    1. Education:
      Princeton University, Creative Writing and English, 1992; Oxford University, English Language and Literature, 1994

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 15, 2013

    Excellent Read!

    After reading Peter Hessler (Oracle Bones, Country Driving, River Town and this collection of essays), I'm so impressed by his craft that I'd read a comic book for toddlers if he'd authored it!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 28, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

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