Coming Home Crazy: An Alphabet of China Essays

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Coming Home Crazy: An Alphabet of China Essays [Paperback]

Bill Holm
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)

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Book Description

August 14, 2000
Arranged by letter of the alphabet, with at least one entry per letter, these short pieces capture the variety of daily life in contemporary China. Writing about traditions that endure in rural areas as well as the bureaucratic absurdities an American teacher and traveler experiences in the 1980s, Holm covers such topics as dumpling making, bound feet, Chinglish, night soil, and banking. In a new afterword to the second edition, Holm reacts to recent changes. "Holm's view is entertaining, thought-provoking and touching. After reading his book, you won't look at the United States or China the same way." - Philadelphia Inquirer

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 250 pages
  • Publisher: Milkweed Editions (August 14, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1571312501
  • ISBN-13: 978-1571312501
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #526,687 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Witty yet insightful August 29, 2000
By A Customer
China is not a mystery country anymore. Yet it still remains mystical to many ordinary foreigners (or "barbarians"). Well, Holm tells it well in a very down-to-earth fashion. His chronicle of life in China approaches you as real, uproariously hilarious at times, and remains insightful throughout the chapters.
I have studied and worked in China over the past three years. This book has travelled with me on my many train rides over China. I simply could not think of a better companion. And I thoroughly enjoyed it every time I read/revisited a random chapter.
I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in China, and especially those who have their own China experiences and also who are set to commit some time exploring the country themselves.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
If you are looking for the "definitive China book," this is not it. Read something else. But if you are interested in how Americans cope with a year or two's posting as a teacher in a Chinese university -- or if you have been, or will be, on such a posting yourself -- you may well enjoy this book.

It's organized as a series of vignettes which average five to ten pages. The vignettes are kind of like diary entries. They describe daily life, bureaucracy, teaching, food, travel, friends, housing, and so forth. This kind of information can be hard to find. Of course the author went to China in the late 1980s, and a lot has changed since then.

This is not a book that was buffed and polished, edited, re-edited, and beautifully designed by a big publishing house looking to make it into a best seller, like Peter Hessler's "River Town." The up side is that it is very genuine and lacks the slightly annoying preciousness of "River Town." It's more like going to a slide presentation at the house of your neighbor who just came back from China, and being handed a photocopy of the journal they kept.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great, fun, and makes you think! January 9, 2002
Mr. Holm fills this book about China with amazing insight, stories of daily life and blood stirring tales about people trying to keep alive ideas that Americans have allowed to die and rot. What do we know about freedoms? The author shows us a nation where the people are willing to smuggle in books, learn other languages and even take in foreign ideas while living under a government that is more than willing to punish them for doing so. A nation that treat the kids like gems and the adults like resources. A nation that has recycled everything, from people to soil to noodles for thousands of years and will continue to do so forever. A book not only about Chinese culture but also about American thought.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Crazy like a fox. February 22, 2000
For a man who was only in China a year and doesn't speak Chinese, Helms saw a lot, and understood a surprising amount of what he saw. His writing is top-notch, and he comes across as a warm and congenial human being. (Granted, as Atila the Hun might, if he could write.) This poetic series of essays is a nostalgic delight to those of us who get homesick for a China that was never quite our home, and an excellent flow-of-conscious introduction for those who plan to go and want to avoid being shocked or disoriented, or at least be aware it's not just jet-lag when you are a bit shocked and disoriented.
I give the book five stars on the basis of its genre. Helm's ecclectic travelogue should not, of course, be mistaken for an in-depth attempt to understand the subjects he treats. As a missionary, I naturally also don't agree with his jibes against Christian evangelists, and find it ironic that he tells us to "eschew evangelism" in one essay, while in another admits to evangelizing himself, on behalf of his concept of democracy. Also he is a bit simplistic to complain that Chinese walls are "inhuman" and human beings ought to "tear them down." In fact walls are intensely human, the world being what it is, as is Helm's irritation at them. For those who would like to better understand the psychology behind some of the walls China builds against the outside world, after you finish this wonderful book, for desert I recommend Wild Swans. (The book, I mean, not the bird.)
Author, How Jesus Fulfills the Chinese Culture (
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant and very well written June 4, 1999
By A Customer
This book by Holm is excellent and offers many funny accounts of his one year stay in the Middle Kingdom. Holm is a masterful writer who was able to put many aspects of China's complex and often confusing culture into a Western perspective that we can all relate to. After spending a year in China myself, I found Holm's stories refreshing and very true to life. Highly suggest this quick read.
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15 of 20 people found the following review helpful
English professor Bill Holm is a first-rate observer of travelscenes. He brings an incredibly rich artistic and liberal arts background to his season in China, and faithfully records the flying sparks of the encounter. China is not a simple culture, and Holm respectfully writes no more than what he personally learns.
The thing that make this book different is that, instead of the usual slices of life + bigthink one finds in travel writing these days, he has organized his observations into a lexicon of essays. For instance, one essay entitled "Black Hair" relates the Chinese people's fascination with his red hair; another, "Tickets, Please" tells of his frustration at simultaneously having to have a Chinese factotum and being subjected to constant petty price gouges. Whimsy and offbeat insight abound, as his sense of irony and humor and humanity are touched seemingly at every turn. Ten years later, I'm still enjoying this unique little book.
It takes a little bit of effort for a non-liberal to enjoy this book, if that is an issue for you. Prof. Holm is an academic culturatus of the first order, with little that's kind to say about less refined Americans. He seems to have a special contempt for his American students, as they come off the worse in comparison with his rapt Chinese pupils. Maybe if he transferred to a _college_, instead of teaching thirteenth grade at his state institution, he'd find more enthusiastic students.
Most depressingly familiar is how, like so many other academics, he reckons his professional skill and artistic talent as translating into political perspicacity. This leads him into such nauseating statements as one in which he explicitly draws a moral parallel between the election of a Republican president of the U.S.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Great intro to traveling in China
Actually, this sort of travel is not what most tourists currently experience. But, it is what young people traveling alone might have, or may still experience in some places. Read more
Published 11 months ago by careful shopper
4.0 out of 5 stars Nice to Be There With Mr. Holm
A fellow Minnesotan, I was excited to read this book after returning from China myself in 2011. Holm is a good writer, so it's easy getting a feel for how things were in 1980s... Read more
Published 16 months ago by Brandon Ferdig
5.0 out of 5 stars Adventures in Xi'an
As a Minnesotan currently living as an ex-pat in Xi'an, I was obviously interested in reading Bill Holm's travel memoir based on his year as a university teacher there in the... Read more
Published 20 months ago by Christine Frost
5.0 out of 5 stars A Master Piece
This book shows an American who ventured in China by himself in the 1980s. He taught at a top university, when teaching materials were under censorship. Read more
Published on March 20, 2012 by Great Lakes
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting View of 80's China
Mr. Holm is a wonderful writer and I enjoyed his views of 80's China. His essays are very observant and entertaining, but I couldn't shake the idea that perhaps he didn't go home... Read more
Published on October 23, 2008 by Serena
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Fun
As an expat currently living in China, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I find myself hoping to read other books by him as well.
Published on September 26, 2007 by My Girls' Mama
3.0 out of 5 stars An Average read about China
I have three, soon to be four adopted kids from China so I read as many books as I can about China. I was really looking forward to this book as some fellow adoptive parents had... Read more
Published on May 19, 2007 by H. A. Brooke
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting story of a teacher abroad
Travel stories of teaching English in Japan have almost become cliche. This story of a Minnesota native visiting China was an interesting twist on the old tale. Read more
Published on April 30, 2005 by therosen
4.0 out of 5 stars Having Lived In China I Enjoyed This Visit
Bill brings back memories of life in China and the amazing difficulties people deal with daily.
My time in Guangzhou in the south only varied by climate with Bill's Xian... Read more
Published on February 27, 2004 by Ellen O'Donnell
2.0 out of 5 stars Mr Bill, there is NO story.
The book is his memoirs on a 1-year stint teaching American lit in China in the late 80s. As an illiterate, incommunicado, ill-prepared, ethnocentric Minnesota round-eye with... Read more
Published on September 7, 2002 by Phil Lee
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