Like a Virgin: an A-Z of concept literature

Want to explore a concept, literary style or period? Not sure where to start? Here are books to touch you for the very first time.

A - Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. Laissez-faire capitalism is the answer to everything.

B - Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. Alienating effects of a society in which humans are treated as mere resources.

C - The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx. What is this socialism of which they speak? This pamphlet explains.

D - Dubliners by James Joyce. Modernist short story collection on the human condition.

E - The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. How to write reel purty.

F - The Female Eunuch by Germaine Greer. 70s identity politics classic given to odd rants and wobbly logic. Bring a mirror.

G - Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon. Almost nobody’s read it, and nobody likes the people who have.

H - The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. Gender divides and fundamentalism are bad for everyone.

I - I Capture The Castle by Dodie Smith. Life with an eccentric 1930s English family isn’t a bowl of cherries.

J - Jeeves and Wooster by PG Wodehouse. Why so serious? Fun, fast-paced and hilarious adventures of a toff and his butler.

K - Kiss of the Spider Woman by Manuel Puig. Two people in a cell in 1970s Argentina fight to stay sane and alive. Postmodern, but in a good way.

L - The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula LeGuin. Intrigue and adventure on a world in which almost no one has a fixed gender.

M - Monkey (or Journey to the West) by Wu Cheng'en. The comic adventures of a monk and his folkloric companions as they travel west to retrieve the sutras which will save China from immorality.

N - Northern Lights by Phillip Pullman. The anti-Narnia trilogy on why religion is bad.

O - Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. Human nature meets loneliness and depression-era capitalism.

P - The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. The life of a libertine, to be read on the surface and between the lines.

Q - The Qur'an (or Koran). Take the first step in understanding the cultural influence of this 7th century contribution to the Abrahamic faiths by reading the original.

R - A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf. Short treatise on how the burden of unpaid domestic labour impacts the artist.

S - Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut. Why war is stupid, from someone who knows.

T - Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake. This baroque fantasy, with its lush prose and weird cast makes David Lynch seem vanilla.

U - Utopia by Thomas More. 16th century sci-fi set on an island and examining what a progressive society might look like.

V - A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan. This won the Pulitzer. Why? No one knows. Read this to learn how out-of-touch the establishment truly is.

W - Watership Down by Richard Adams. If you’ve never wept over the fate of rabbits, start now.

X - Sonnet XXV by Bill Shakespeare. A modest, cheerful sonnet reminding us love is better than glory.

Y - The Yellow Wall-paper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Novella featuring a woman driven mad by a rest cure, a decorative scheme, and the patriarchy.

Z - Thus Spake Zarathustra by Nietzsche. Just kidding. Don’t read Nietzsche.


The Monkey King 2 三打白骨精

is an upcoming Hong Kong action fantasy film based on the classic novel Journey to the West by Wu Cheng'en. It is a sequel to the 2014 box office hit The Monkey King with Cheang Pou-soi returning as director and Sammo Hung as action director, whom replaces Donnie Yen’s duty from the previous installment. Film stars Aaron Kwok, who portrayed the main antagonist in the previous installment, as the film’s titular protagonist, whom also replaces Yen from the previous installment. The film will be shot in 3D and will be released on 8 February 2016, the first day of the Chinese New Year holiday period.  

Aaron Kwok as Sun Wukong, the Monkey King    Gong Li as Baigujing    Feng Shaofeng as Tang Sanzang    Xiaoshenyang as Zhu Bajie    Him Law as Sha Wujing

The All-star fantasy epic “The Monkey King” is likely to dominate the Chinese film market and beyond during the Spring Festival season. “The Monkey King,” the newest adaption of the Chinese classic ancient novel “Journey to the West,” written by Wu Cheng'en in the Ming Dynasty, will be screened all over China from Jan. 31, the first day of the Chinese lunar New Year. The film is directed by Hong Kong director Cheang Pou-Soi and stars Chinese movie stars Donnie Yen, Chow Yun-fat, Aaron Kwok, Joe Chen, Peter Ho, Kelly Chen, Zhang Zilin and Gigi Leung. “It is not just a film, it is like a big engineering project,” said Wang Haifeng, chairman of the film’s production company, the Filmko Entertainment Group. “I totally agree. We have spent years making it happen and we should be thankful to the thousands of people who worked on the film.” According to Wang, the film is the true blockbuster and cost a total of 500 million yuan (US$82.6 million) to make and promote. About 250 million yuan (US$41.3 million) was spent on the filming and the rest was spent on post-production, distribution and promotion. “Actually, we only spent 70 million yuan (US$11.5 million) on the all-star cast,” he said, “The major expenditure was on the special effects.” The “Monkey King” production team asked Hollywood top-class special effects veterans and companies for help. The film’s 3D design was done by Daniel L. Symmes, who worked on “The Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” and “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” while the make-up effects were done by Shaun Smith and his team, who worked on “300” and “I Am Legend." The visual effects advisor is David Ebner, who worked on "Alice in Wonderland” and “Spider-Man 3” while the visual effects supervisor Kevin Rafferty, who worked on “Men in Black II” and “Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace.” “We lavished more than 200 million yuan on special effects. While Chinese visual effects companies worked on hundreds of scenes, nearly 2,000 scenes were done by international teams in North America, South Korea, India, Thailand and Australia,” Wang said.

The “Monkey King” project was begun in 2008, and the filming started in 2010, when the producers felt that film technology had developed enough to depict the fantasy scenes from “Journey to the West,” after watching “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy. At this time, the Chinese film market also started to expand rapidly.

The Monkey King 2 三打白骨精

is an upcoming Hong Kong action fantasy film based on the classic novel Journey to the West by Wu Cheng'en. It is a sequel to the 2014 box office hit The Monkey King with Cheang Pou-soi returning as director and Sammo Hung as action director, whom replaces Donnie Yen’s duty from the previous installment. Film stars Aaron Kwok, who portrayed the main antagonist in the previous installment, as the film’s titular protagonist, whom also replaces Yen from the previous installment. The film will be shot in 3D and will be released on 8 February 2016, the first day of the Chinese New Year holiday period.  

  Aaron Kwok as Sun Wukong, the Monkey King    Gong Li as Baigujing    Feng Shaofeng as Tang Sanzang    Xiaoshenyang as Zhu Bajie    Him Law as Sha Wujing

This is an abridged translation of Journey to the West, one of China’s four classic novels, formerly immortalised in a Japanese martial arts TV show and an opera by Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett. The book is extremely entertaining. It’s episodic and fantastical; Monkey himself is utterly irreverent and always just on the edge of learning his lesson. I’d love to read the whole thing one day (it’s very long). This is highly recommended – it’s a very fluid 20th century translation. Chinese friends have explained to me that as well as a fun fable it’s a smart satire on the structure of the government at the time, reflected in the foibles of the gods in the story.

Journey to the West

I recently started reading a book entitled Journey to the West. Journey to the West is a classical Chinese novel written during the Ming Dynasty. Thus far I have thoroughly enjoyed this book, and so have decided to share with you a brief summary of the first seven chapters of this story.

Okay. The story starts with a stone egg on a mountain. This stone egg hatches into a stone monkey, we’ll call him Monkey. So, Monkey kicks around his mountain for a little while and eventually creates a large troop with a bunch of other monkeys and becomes their king.

So, these monkeys fuck around for a while under the rule of Monkey until one day, Monkey says to his subjects, “Hey, you know what would be bitchin’? being immortal!” and immediately sets out to learn the secret to eternal youth.

Monkey eventually finds a master to teach him “the Way” and he not only becomes immortal, but a powerful warrior and sorcerer as well.

Monkey returns home to his monkey kingdom and their monkey parties resume as usual. However, Monkey’s new abilities go to his head. It’s like Spiderman’s uncle once said; “With great power comes great douche-bag (or something like that)”. Monkey uses his immense magical powers to terrorize his neighbors. First he forces the sea dragons to make him a weapon and some armor, then he beats the shit out of the judges of the dead.

After this, the sea dragons and the judges of the dead head on up to Heaven and complain to the Jade Emperor, the king of Heaven.

The Jade Emperor wants to put Monkey in his place but the planet Venus steps up with a different idea. Venus brings Monkey up to Heaven and puts him in charge of the “Heaven Horses”

Monkey takes care of the “Heaven Horses” for a while, but soon realizes “Wait a second, this fucking sucks!” and runs back to his monkey kingdom on Earth saying; “Hey Jade Emperor, go suck a dick!”

Now, you may not know this, but telling the king of Heaven to “go suck a dick” is a really bad idea. The Jade Emperor sends an army down to Earth to capture Monkey. Unfortunately Monkey beats the shit out of the Heaven army. So the Jade Emperor makes a deal with Monkey, Monkey returns to Heaven and is given a better job, watching over the peaches of immortality..

Everything goes well for a little while, but eventually Monkey gets bored. He starts to eat the peaches of immortality. He eats all of them.Then Monkey finds out about a Heaven party that he was not invited to. Monkey crashes the party and drinks all their booze before stumbling away.

Monkey tries to find his way home, and seeing as he’s piss drunk, it’s really no surprise that he goes to the wrong house.

Now, the house that Monkey breaks into belongs to the god that makes the immortality pills. Basically, this guy is the gods’ drug dealer and Monkey just found the meth lab in his kitchen. So, Monkey steals all the meth and once again runs back to his monkey kingdom on Earth to share the meth with his subjects.

The next morning the Jade Emperor flips a shit. There’s no more peaches, there’s no more booze, and there’s no more meth. So, he decides, “Let’s fuck his shit up.”

The Jade Emperor calls in Erlang. Erlang is a Bad Ass Mother Fucker. He’s the Samuel L. Jackson of the gods. So, Erlang arrives and repeatedly shoves his dick up Monkey’s butt.

Monkey, utterly defeated, and with a very sore tushie, is dragged back to Heaven and thrown into Meth God’s furnace for 49 days.

After 49 days, Monkey manages to escape the meth furnace. In a butt-hurt rage, Monkey storms the Jade Emperor’s palace, intent on taking over Heaven.

Now the Buddha shows up. The Buddha is a real nifty guy. He says to Monkey; “Hey, get in my hand. If you can jump out of my hand then you can rule Heaven. But if you can’t, then Erlang’s dick is going back up your butt.

It turns out that Monkey can’t jump out of the Buddha’s hand and he once again has his ass invaded by Erlang’s giant cock. Actually he gets a mountain thrown on top of him, but that’s beside the point.

That brings us to the end of chapter seven. Now you know what I know.

I can tell you in all truthfulness, master, that not just tigers but even dragons have to be on their best behavior when they meet me. I know a few tricks for putting them in their place and have the power to make rivers run backwards and stir up the seas. I can tell what things are really like from appearances alone, and sort out the truth behind what is said. When I want to make myself big I measure myself against the universe, and when I shrink I can be held on a downy hair. There’s no limit to the transformations I can perform, and nobody can tell when I’m going to vanish or when I’m going to reappear. There was nothing wonderful about skinning that tiger. Wait till I show you a thing or two.
—  Sun Wukong (Journey to the West)
Tripitaka: Monkey, how far is it to the Western Heaven, the abode of Buddha?
Wu-kong: You can walk from the time of your youth till the time you grow old, and after that, till you become young again; and even after going through such a cycle a thousand times, you may still find it difficult to reach the place where you want to go. But when you perceive, by the resoluteness of your will, the Buddha-nature in all things, and when every one of your thoughts goes back to that fountain in your memory, that will be the time you arrive at Spirit Mountain.
—  The Journey to the West by Wu Cheng'en
10 Influential Texts That Inspire Me

1. Journey to the West by Wú Chéng'ēn

2. Romance of the Three Kingdoms by Luó Guànzhōng

3. The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan

4. The Adventures of Tintin by Hergé

5. Dracula by Bram Stoker

6. In a Glass Darkly by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

7. The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Andersen

8. The Adventures of Asterix by René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo

9. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

10. Legend of the Condor Heroes by Jin Yong