Book Review: The Pleasures of a Non-Conformist
A book by Lin Yutang
The Pleasures of a Non-Conformist is a collection of short essays by the Chinese thinker Lin Yutang.
I bought this book after reading and enjoying The Art of Living by Lin, and found it to be very much in the same style. Funny, interesting, extremely opinionated and candid.
Published in 1962, the book covers everything from the virtues of laziness, to women in hats; Chinese feminist satire, to buying a toothbrush.
Lin is the son of a Chinese christian minister, born in Victorian-era China, and highly educated in China, Europe, and the USA. Thus, he offers insights into the differences and the virtues from these disparate worlds. He’s half Taoist, half Confucianist; Half Christian, half Pagan; Half materialist, half humanist. A living contradiction.
His writing style is very plain and direct. Though clearly educated to the highest level, he doesn’t try to show this off with lofty language and long sentences. In the book, Lin writes about the importance of writing solely as a means of expression, and it would seem this book was written merely for him to express his own thoughts and feelings.
Modern readers may find some elements of his writing unacceptable. In a few instances, he uses terms for other cultures that are inappropriate by modern standards. These are not used as slurs to cause insult, but merely as labels when differentiating one group from another.
Being born in the 1800s, Lin also expresses very dated opinions about women. I believe it would be unfair, though, to mistake this as bigotry. Lin dedicates a whole chapter to praise Chinese feminism, and another to condemn the practice of foot binding. He was clearly a champion for improving the rights and living conditions of women.
As someone who witnessed the soul of his home country be destroyed by communism, Lin is not short of things to say about it. And I was delighted to find several tangents and comments throughout this book criticising that bloody ideology.
To give a full critique of Lin, I would have to complain that he often makes sweeping generalisations about cultures and other groups, and he never provides any evidence of any claim he makes (other than common sense or day to day experience). But in his defence, he is not writing a scientific text. He freely admits these are his own opinions, and the reader is welcome to take them or leave them.
The Pleasures of a Non-Conformist is a fun and educational read for anyone looking for an insight into the mind of someone born in a different world and era.