China, Transylvania, and Rome

It does not take much strength to lift a hair, it does not take sharp eyes to see the sun and moon, it does not take sharp ears to hear a thunderclap.

~ Sun Tzu

Two nights ago I read 9 of the 13 sections of The Art of War, and wrote 13 pages of notes. I need hardly explain why my dreams were medieval and confusing. I could explain why I am doing this during exams, with my undergraduate seminar paper hanging over my head, but only if I knew.

Perhaps some of you are also perverse in timing things. I read Sun Tzu’s carefully framed quotations and the commentary offered by those such as Li Quan, Mei Yaochen, and Zhang Yu, and simply didn’t find a stopping place. Reading their reflections on terrain called to mind the varied landscapes of China, and I found myself Googling images of mountain jungles and rice fields.

I did not read the remaining four sections because I thought I should do some math instead. It turns out this was an excuse to pick up another book.

Today I finished Bram Stoker’s Dracula. I discovered a “Reader” app on my super-high-tech-complicated Android phone, and lo and behold, there were classic book inside. Free.

How could I not read a free copy of Dracula, which I had never read before?

So I exchanged the “ground of life and death” for the wilds of Transylvania, and the Count’s great ruined castle on its promontory.

The castle was built on the corner of a great rock, so that on three sides it was quite impregnable, and great windows were placed here where sling, or bow, or culverin could not reach, and consequently light and comfort, impossible to a position which had to be guarded, were secured. To the west was a great valley, and then, rising far away, great jagged mountain fastnesses…

~ Bram Stoker

There were in both of these books descriptions of a more savage way of life, of farther places, and of wider ideas, than I have encountered in reality. Such is literature! The Art of War presented wonderful paradoxes; it almost seemed democratic in spirit when advocating that the will of the leaders and the people should be one, even as Sun Tzu gave an order for five things one ought to burn in war.

…burning people, burning supplies, burning equipment, burning storehouses, and burning weapons.

~ Sun Tzu

The very niceties of the protagonists in Dracula, their manners and their straightforward virtue, contrasted with vile situations. Regular appearances from a madman reminded me that the treatment of the mentally ill back then was less than ideal.

My wanderings from China to Transylvania had two things in common; the usual desire to escape, and the more useful desire to learn. To learn of things tangible and intangible, and to learn about writing itself.

Finally, this brings me to Rome. I have joined the Rome Construction Crew, where bloggers with various goals join to give each other moral support, and my goal is to see if I have the skill and perseverance be a writer at all.

I still think the best way to learn to write is to read, though writing itself is essential. So I want to read as many of the classics – the philosophies, the dramas, the tragedies – as I can. At my desk I want to travel.

What classics, what countries, have made great impressions on you? If I want to read more of China and Japan, and their poetry in particular, what can you recommend?

20 thoughts on “China, Transylvania, and Rome

  1. Yay, welcome to the crew!! Love this post by the way…you have been very wise in your reading of both texts I think. Sun Tzu is full of paradox, which is the heart of his strategy I think (if I remotely understand it!!). And i recall many years ago reading Dracula and finding it far less a horror book and far more a romance (not between Dracula and anybody but between the varied protagonists)…so i understand and agree with your musings on the juxtaposition of savagery and refinement. 🙂

    1. Thank you, I’m glad I’ve joined!

      I think there are even more paradoxes to a 21st century audience, with our “modern” preconceptions of things! Maybe back then it was natural for popular will and lots of fire to go together…?

      I agree that Dracula wasn’t really a horror book. I did find it eye opening on the society of the time, both in Transylvania and back in England.


  2. I have always maintained that my ability to write, (whatever level of ability that may be), came from being a voracious reader my entire life. Through a sort of osmosis, I grasped sentence structure and organization. Reading is a superb writing teacher!

    1. I’m glad to hear another proponent of reading in order to write! A philosophy professor of mine once berated our class, saying that our essays were largely crap and we had better start reading some 18th and 19th century fiction


  3. Hi Lily,
    First, let me get this out of my system – There is no “art” to war !!! Been there and done that (Viet Nam). It’s just a heinous, ugly ritual that civilizations seem to periodically inflict upon themselves. There are no winners in war. One just loses less than the other one. As to being a writer – my dear girl, you certainly have the skills, but the perseverence is up to you. I think that what would help you also would be to study as many different styles of writing as possible. A good starting place is James Michener, Look at both male/female writers and how they each handle things like normalcy, adventure, history, romance, etc. I lean toward Michener’s style, (but then I’m a man). Explore what fits you.

    1. Hi Paul,

      I’m far from disagreeing with that. I read The Art of War because of Orison, because it is a classic, and because I believe that people must be saying that it is good for “management leadership” for a reason. I’m not really into business or managing things so I’m taking that last on faith. It’s a strange and interesting thing, likening the corporate world to something so savage.

      I liked the way Sun Tzu put his words together, and I wanted to get a sense of the style in The Art of War since it would help with Orison.

      It’s reassuring if you think I might have the skills 🙂 I have heard people say that persevering is the real test, so I’m questioning how I should handle that while pursuing all the “necessary” things like school and money.

      I will take you up on that recommendation about Michener. I do need to figure out what fits me!


  4. Lily, your interesting post makes me want to take more time out to read. However, I also need time out to write and to live in order to write – oh dear, so hard to strike a balance. The beauty of blogging is people present ideas to get us started – thanks for that.

    1. I know exactly what you mean, when I think of all I want to accomplish when school is out I am boggled by what algorithm might achieve balance! Good luck on finding your perfect mix

      Thanks for visiting, Julia 🙂


  5. I agree that to be a writer, you need to be a reader.. but you still need to write some of the time. 😉

    I should read Dracula, haven’t read that yet. Have you read Frankenstein? That’s one of my personal favorites and has various locations. 🙂

    And of course, welcome to the crew! 😀

    1. I have not read Frankenstein, I gave a copy to my boyfriend as a present without reading it myself… Ashamed to admit that. I will obtain it 🙂

      Thank you!


  6. Welcome to the RCC 🙂 Loved this post! I honestly, think the only way to be a writer is to first and foremost be a reader. I got bitten by the reading bug at a very early age and it hasn’t waned yet! Looking forward to more of your posts!

    1. Thank you! It’s neat to see that so many people also think that reading is the most important.

      Thanks for visiting, I don’t usually do posts like this but they may pop up more often. The positive atmosphere on your blog is great and I’ll surely visit again 🙂


  7. Elizabeth, I have not been writing back as much lately as I have been just too busy. But I have been reading your posts and they are awesome. Keep it up.

    “…but only if I knew” I freaking loved this!

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