August Book Club Pick: Tom Scocca’s Beijing Welcomes You

I was so excited about picking Iain Sinclair’s Ghost Milk for our August book club that I preemptively wrote a post explaining my choice at the beginning of July. Sinclair is a prolific writer of fiction and nonfiction, and Ghost Milk is his screed against the top-down, wholesale redevelopment of London’s East End in the interest of the 2012 Olympics. It’s been criticized as too rambling, not cohesive enough and too centered on Sinclair’s personal experiences with the East End.

The two books we’ve read so far, Alexandra Lange’s Writing About Architecture and Taras Grescoe’s Straphanger, have been generally well-received. I wanted to read something that’s made people a bit angrier.

Unfortunately, though Ghost Milk looked as if it was being ordered by public libraries in New York, D.C., Chicago and Los Angeles (its release date was early July), its current availability isn’t widespread enough.

And my second choice of a book that deconstructs London’s Olympic-related growth and development, Mark Perryman’s Why the Olympics Aren’t Good For Us, and How They Can Be, is only available through its publisher’s site. It’s not pricey ($16), and the Kindle version ($8) has unlimited sharing enabled, but I do want to maximize participation in this book club. Given the games’ beginning this Friday, I’d really like to read something London-specific, but I struck out again.

So, I’ve picked Tom Scocca’s Beijing Welcomes You: Unveiling the Capital City of the Future, which came out last year and appears to be widely available (it takes it title from the 2008 Olympic song of the same name). Scocca, who has written for Slate and Deadspin, spent several years in Beijing prior to the 2008 Olympics. His book details the rumblings of a city preparing to radically alter itself to host a world event. I hope we’ll be able to draw comparisons between Scocca’s observations in Beijing and the commentary coming out of London.

Because Scocca is a well-renowned journalist, there’s a slew of commentary out there about Beijing Welcomes You. Though editorial reviews trend positive, most Amazon reviewers (it was the site’s August 2011 book-of-the-month pick) find the book too basic. And Kirkus Reviews calls it “a curiously backward-moving but fun book chronicling the buildup to the Beijing Olympics.”

Beijing Welcomes You should be in stock at your local library or bookstore. It’s also available for Kindle and iBooks.

I still plan on reading Ghost Milk and Why the Olympics Aren’t Good for Us, and I encourage you to join me in that endeavor. (Maybe, too, indulge in this ESPN piece on hookups among athletes in the Olympic Village.) Of course, this is entirely optional, and next month’s discussion will center on Beijing Welcomes You.

I’ll see you back here on August 22 to discuss.

Tags: londonbook clubolympicsbeijingghost milkiain sinclairtom scoccabeijing welcomes you