Reading it right

At a reading at Books Actually tonight, I ran into a friend who'd turned up 'cause she thought it was our reading for Singapore: A Biography. "Actually, that's on Tuesday!" I told her. But it was sweet, knowing that even though I don't know her that well, she had shown up on a Saturday night for what she thought was our event.

Tonight's reading was by Suchen Christine Lim, for a new 25th-anniversary edition of her first novel Rice Bowl. I haven't read Rice Bowl but now I will, because the narrative includes an account of an anti-Vietnam War march in Singapore, based on her memory of the actual event.

Lim read bits of the book aloud tonight--- for the first time in public since it was published! --- and one of the extracts was a fierce, climactic exchange between two characters: a civil servant and an idealist, the former insisting on pragmatism and realism, the latter upholding some greater notion of humanism. Lim observed by the by that it was an argument that still resonates today, where modern-day civil servants fall back on the same rhetoric her character did 25 years ago.

Afterwards, my friend (a civil servant, incidentally) and I adjourned to Chinatown for a late dinner, during which we waxed lyrical about Singapore, aspiration, ideals, hope and other big words that are more often associated with Obama than with the PAP-governed society we live in. A "typical" civil servant overhearing us would have probably rolled his eyes or muttered something about "high falutin ideas". I prefer to think of it as us considering paths not (yet) taken --- some of which we might consider now before Singapore devolves into a more calculating, consumptive society than it already is.

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Just call me an old-fashioned girl

I spent some of today working and watching Mad Men (my newest addiction), then after dinner I did something I hadn't done in a very, very long time: I curled up on the couch and read --- a book.

Sure, the TV was on for white noise, the laptop was on and my cell phone occasionally beeped with a text message that I answered. But for over three hours I sat and read that book, getting up only to refill my mug of tea (I'm trying to fight off an incipient sore throat) or go to the bathroom. I'd already read about one-third of the book and I finished the rest of it tonight.

This is not to say that I haven't been reading all year. I read online everyday, heaps and heaps of stuff. But when it comes to books, I usually read them to kill dead time while I'm on public transport, waiting for public transport, waiting in line at the post office or waiting for a friend at a cafe. In other words: as much as I love reading and books and words and ideas, I very rarely choose to read a book, when I could be doing something else.

Tonight I actually caught myself thinking something along the lines of, "Okay, so I've finished that episode of Mad Men and I don't have the next one. But I have the latest episode of Dollhouse. But after that I don't have anything else, so how will I fill up the evening ..."

And I think it was when "how will I fill up the evening" traipsed across my mind, that I knew there was something terribly, terribly amiss.

The book I finished was Jen Lin-Liu's Serve the People, which I stumbled across at the library last week while I was looking for books on Korean food. It's an account of Lin-Liu's journey to learn to cook Chinese food in China, from a cooking school for kitchen workers who need government-approved culinary qualifications to a hole-in-the-wall noodle shop to one of Shanghai's most chi-chi restaurants.

I have to admit that I picked up the book mostly because the friend who recently landed a book deal is going to write a memoir linked to Singapore food (see her spanking new blog, A Tiger in the Kitchen, which shares the title of the book), and there are other food-related ideas that are burbling at the back of my brain. At any rate, it was nice to take a walk through modern-day China through someone else's eyes, and the ease with which most of the Chinese terms and names made sense to me, made me wonder if I shouldn't indeed spend some time wandering around that vast and crazy land. If nothing else, as I told everyone when I got back from Shanghai last year, my spoken Mandarin would improve really quickly.

This book aside, everything else I've been reading has been related to the upcoming Korea trip. I'm still trying to find a good book on Korean food --- not a recipe book, not a glossary of definitions, but a proper look at the culture and the people. Recommendations welcome!

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Travel talk

Serendipity is:
It was my first time sticking my toe into anything meetup-ish, which turned out to be about ten adults sitting around a cafe table and talking mostly about travel. A lovely couple who'd recently been to Bandung, Indonesia did a little show-and-tell about their trip, then people just mingled. That same couple has lived in Seoul, so quite naturally we got to talking about Korea, then Vietnam, then Thailand, and finally Singapore.

Interestingly, the couple asked me if I knew of any particularly canonical Singapore fiction and I was stumped. I'm not a fan of Catherine Lim, Philip Jeyaretnam's writing doesn't quite strike me as being canonical and Alfian Sa'at's Corridor, which I like, feels premature nonetheless. In the end, I suggested they stick to theatre instead.

It's nice to be able to gab with new acquaintances for something on the order of two hours without noticing the time.

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At 9:45 p.m., Deanna pinged me online: "Supper?" It turned out that neither of us had eaten dinner yet, so about half an hour later, we rendezvoused at the Tanjong Katong outlet of Ponggol Nasi Lemak, where a plethora of fried food and oily greens awaited us.

I was working late because I had taken the afternoon off to hang with the best friend. Her schedule had finally let up enough that she could come by to see my place. Like every other guest I've had, she was equal parts appreciative of the view and puzzled by my landlady's decision not to install any ceiling lights in the bedrooms (I have plenty of table and standing lamps to compensate).

Before I go to bed (even though it's only been two hours since I finished my meal of nasi lemak), I leave you with this: are you a Page Turner, a Slow Worm, a Serial Shelver or a Double Booker? I'm a Page Turner, for sure, as well as a reformed Serial Shelver, but I've never been a Double Booker and I can't imagine being a Slow Worm.

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The great (fiction) book giveaway

Remember the piles of books I wanted to give away more than a year ago?

I never managed to give away more than a dozen or so; after that, inertia and procrastination set in. So by the time I had to prematurely move out at the end of last year, the piles of books were summarily packed up again --- now with an added layer of cat fur and dust! --- and schlepped to my current place.

Then I discovered [email protected].

If you don't know what BookCrossing is, Wikipedia defines it as "the practice of leaving a book in a public place to be picked up and read by others, who then do likewise". It doesn't appeal to me, personally, but I found out that the library is collecting book donations for [email protected] Specifically: adult fiction in English in reasonably good condition.

So I've been sorting and bringing some of my books over in small batches --- as much as I can carry in a large Kinokuniya plastic bag, aptly. I'm sure I look like some kind of reformed English literature major, putting out all my Brontes and Eliots to pasture. I would stuff some Chaucer and Shakespeare in there too, if only they hadn't specified that they wanted fiction only.

I've made three trips so far and I think I have another two or three more before I'm done. Then I'll have to puzzle over what to do with the plays, poetry and non-fiction books I'm left with.



Writing vs. getting a book deal

Borders' selection of Salman Rushdie

I did hardly any writing today, so to atone I'm blogging another writing-related link instead. After this morning's "Writers' Rooms", I got home to find a New York Times article from James: "Typing Without a Clue", by Timothy Egan.

Egan's point:
Most of the writers I know work every day, in obscurity and close to poverty, trying to say one thing well and true. Day in, day out, they labor to find their voice, to learn their trade, to understand nuance and pace. And then, facing a sea of rejections, they hear about something like Barbara Bush’s dog getting a book deal.
I was in Kinokuniya today (before I read this article) and marvelling at the number of completely inconsequential books that get not only published but shipped all the way to Singapore. Don't get me wrong, I'm glad the system's hit a point where I can finally get my hands on the full oeuvre of Margaret Atwood or the new paperback edition of The Lost: A Search for Six of the Six Million without having to place a special order. But I wish that didn't also mean that Twilight gets touted all over the place.


Writers' Rooms

The BBC website has a great slideshow of photographs by Eamonn McCabe of writers' rooms --- from Martin Amis to David Lodge to Roald Dahl. I particularly love the skylights that Seamus Heaney and Martin Amis have.

My own writing space at home is much more mundane. Cheap, too.

My el cheapo writing corner

I promise to do better after I move to a new place. I want to have:
  • A whole room, for starters.
  • A chair/table setup that's better for the back --- wish I could afford the new Herman Miller Embody.
  • More artwork around me.
  • More natural light --- I totally fell for an apartment I can't afford in Joo Chiat two weeks ago because it had glorious windows.

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Hamlet (Facebook News Feed edition)

I always means to read more McSweeney's and then I don't, until Cowboy Caleb provides this awesome link to "Hamlet (Facebook News Feed edition)". An excerpt:
Horatio thinks he saw a ghost.

Hamlet thinks it's annoying when your uncle marries your mother right after your dad dies.

The king thinks Hamlet's annoying.


The king poked the queen.

The queen poked the king back.

Hamlet and the queen are no longer friends.
Read the full piece by Sarah Schmelling.

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Good reading fun

I had a work-filled weekend (except for the ROJAK interlude), so it's only today that I can get around to posting some neat reading-related links:
  • Since so many people got a tickle out of "The challenge of problem with office-speak", here's Slate's "Notes on Catch: Which catchphrases should be 'thrown under the bus'?" (via kitschy potemkin). Excerpt:
    It is possible to think of catchphrase use in stages. There's Stage 1, when you first hear a phrase and take pleasure in its imaginative use of language on the literal and metaphorical level. ...

    Then there's Stage 2, when you use it to establish "street cred" (time to throw "street cred" under the catchphrase bus?) or convey a sense of being au courant.

    Then there's Stage 3, when the user acknowledges a phrase's over-ness and tries to extract some final mileage out of it by gently mocking it, usually by using ironic quotes, or adding "as they say" to the end.

    Finally, there's Stage 4: terminal obsolence, dead phrase walking. Take "at the end of the day." It kind of stuns me whenever I find someone still saying "at the end of the day" with a straight face. What are they, stuck on stupid, as they say?
  • Also from Slate (also via kitschy potemkin), ";( Has modern life killed the semicolon?", wonders Portland State University faculty Paul Collins. I have a soft spot for the semicolon, and an even softer one (as I'm sure you can tell from reading my blog) for the dash.

    I also really like the penultimate sentence of this essay:
    When grading undergrad final papers recently, I found a near-absence of semicolons, save for one paper with cadenced pauses and carefully cantilevered clauses that gracefully stacked upon one another, Jenga-like, without ever quite toppling.
  • Alison Bechdel, one of my favourite authors, gives her take on "Compulsory Reading" (via Bitch Ph.D.), about all the guilt we bibliophiles feel about the books we oughta read that we haven't read yet. This one's a comic-strip essay, for those of you that don't feel like dealing with any more prose right now. (If you like it, borrow her graphic-novel autobiography Fun Home from me.)

    My personal list of I-really-oughta-reads includes: War and Peace, London: A Biography, any novels by James Joyce and anything at all by Charles Dickens (I don't think the opening two pages of Hard Times or the adapted-and-illustrated-for-children version of A Tale of Two Cities counts).
After proofreading for an entire week, I'll be glad to get back to a little old-fashioned reading for a change.

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An occupational hazard of being an editor

This week on Facebook, I announced that I was geeky enough to have read The Economist Style Guide, prompting two friends to step forward and say that they, too, had done it. Along with Suzie, who recommended the book in the first place, that makes three people I know who've read it.

What impresses me is that the other two not professional editors. And they're guys --- almost everyone I know who loves quibbling over the placement of a comma or the capitalisation of a word is, like me, female. Make of that what you will.

Speaking of The Economist Style Guide, I was reading it on the bus and an older gentleman (probably in his 60s) sitting beside me keep glancing over my shoulder at the pages. Eventually he asked me what the book was. I showed it to him and he nodded approvingly, then asked where he could buy it.

Even geekier than reading the Style Guide, I realise, is triumphantly spotting typos in it.

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The laziest weekend of them all

Yesterday, I woke up at 11ish, met a friend for lunch at 1ish, came home after and surfed the web desultorily for an hour or so, then passed out for an hour and a half --- before waking up for a carbo-laden birthday dinner that nearly sent me right back to bed again. Thank goodness that the friend whose birthday it was kindly invited us all back to his place for (Irish) coffee afterwards, so sleep was postponed for several hours.

To forestall a repeat of that sort of embarrassing sleep schedule today, and since I was sick of the internet and my laptop, today I betook myself off to a cafe to read for the afternoon.

First stop: the Cedele outlet at Frankel Avenue for decent coffee and lunch to go with the reading. There was chocolate cake too, which is no Lana, but still very good indeed.

A little weekend reading

Then there was Starbucks at Parkway Parade, because the friend who'd joined me for lunch likes working there, and he needed to be working today. Which gave me plenty of time to finish Anansi Boys, and buy breakfast for tomorrow, and window-shop a little, and just daydream the rest of the time away.

I have read only 6 books this year and one-third of the year is already over. Maybe every Sunday should be book-reading day.



It's a curse

So the friend slash co-author for one of my projects recently lent me his copy of Shakespeare: A Biography, which is the first Peter Ackroyd I've read and very, very good. So good, that while I'm reading it, I've been rendered incapable of writing the book I'm supposed to be working on.

Which turns out to be the same curse that afflicted my friend slash co-author while he was reading the book a couple of months ago.

Which made me think last week that I'd better finish reading the book stat, or I'm not going to finish writing the other one that's due, er, stat.

The effect is not quite the same as your garden variety writer's block. When we're thusly afflicted, we have our research, we have our chapter outlines, we know what we're going to say --- we just can't make the words happen.

So it was with grim determination that I finished reading Shakespeare: A Biography today. Now those writing juices better start flowing again ...

Or maybe I should henceforth refer to this as "the Ackroyd book" instead of by its title.


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Talk, talk, talk

I write, and I talk too

Thanks to melch, I had the opportunity today to blather on to impressionable younglings about freelance writing. Talk about being out of practice since my teaching days. I forgot how much of an adrenalin rush it is from the minute one is "on", as in: "Here's the stage --- you're on!" One minute I was introducing myself, ten minutes later I realised I had finished the first part of my talk, which was fine, but was panting for breath because I'd been rattling away so fast, which was nosso fine.

The 400 ml of water in my Nalgene bottle? Nowhere near enough to get me through a 40-minute talk plus Q&A plus the five or six kids who wait to ask the speaker questions at the end.

Some interesting points that came to me extemporaneously:
  • What are important qualities to be a freelancer? "Discipline. Discipline, discipline, discipline. The kind of discipline that gets out of bed and at your desk at 8 am even though you don't have to meet a client. Being comfortable with uncertainty, i.e. not knowing now what I'll be doing in July. Knowing how to sell yourself to clients and potential clients (Asians very shy one). Work hard, do good work."
  • Which writer do you want to be like? "Easy question. [Then I tell a long and pointless story about the book of popular history I'm co-writing.] Answer: Bill Bryson. He's light-hearted but a serious writer. [Naturally, it seemed like most of the audience hadn't heard of him, though melch made a pitch for his books being in the library.] He takes culture, history and all sorts of information about a country --- and puts it in an accessible and entertaining package for the reader, even if you've never been there."
  • Who is your favourite writer? "I have so many favourites. PS: Favourite writer and writer whom I want to be like are two different things. I love Shakespeare, but I could never write like that. PS: I'm reading a biography of Shakespeare right now, that's why I've got Shakespeare on my mind. Okay: [I forgot the first name I mentioned], Jonathan Frantzen, Alice Munro --- hang on, I'm running through my bookshelf --- Salman Rushdie, Philip Roth ... Okay, that's five. You can go and find out more on your own."
The unexpected things I said:
  • "If you do bad work, one day it might come back and bite you in the --- okay, I think I'm not supposed to say that word, but you know what I mean, right?"
  • "I mean, I live alone, so I can work all day, not see anyone except my cats --- oh wait, that makes me sound like a crazy cat lady, right?"
  • "Eh, can you all stop talking? I am the one doing the talking."
The last point was when the audience of fidgety students got too chatterrific. It's kinda scary how teacher mode kicked in instinctively.

Now I just hope I didn't preach the gospel of freelancing too ardently, because it certainly isn't the ideal work situation for everyone.


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Books maketh the (wo)man

Walkabout in Borders bookstore

Not that I've ever made a friendship or relationship decision solely based on the books the other person reads or has read, but the New York Times' Sunday Book Review essay, "It's Not You, It's Books", made me giggle at parts. For instance, during this tidbit:
Jessa Crispin, a blogger at the literary site Bookslut.com, agrees. “Most of my friends and men in my life are nonreaders,” she said, but “now that you mention it, if I went over to a man’s house and there were those books about life’s lessons learned from dogs, I would probably keep my clothes on.”
The essay's about how much reading preferences affect a relationship and essayist Rachel Donadio asserts that "this may be a gender issue", but I don't think so. For those of us living in a society with near-100 per cent literacy rates, everyone reads. It's just a matter of what they read (reading online counts too), and how often.

If you're going to knock it down to just the reading of books, I've noticed that in Singapore, it's mostly men in the bookstores but mostly women who read in public places (where you often don't see anyone reading at all). I'm not sure what might be behind that apparent gender skew.

I realised yesterday after finishing Anne Enright's The Gathering (thanks, sarah!) that I've run out of books to read. I haven't been buying new ones, not after making that new declutterific resolution. In fact, yesterday evening at Kinokuniya, I took two books off their shelves --- Hermione Lee's Essays on Life-writing and Nick Hornby's The Polysyllabic Spree --- and some minutes later restored them to their places, deciding that while I wanted to read them, I certainly didn't need to own them.

Note to self: visit the library, stat. Meanwhile pray and hope that they have some real books available for loan.


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As wiser voices have already pointed out, this is something I should've done before moving. Oh well. To quote The New York Times (via Unclutterer):
There is nothing like being forced to pack up every last thing you own, load it onto a truck, and unload and unpack it on the other end to make you question the true value of all that stuff.
So perhaps it makes sense that it's only after moving house this week, not to mention many moments of "Oh, I didn't know I had this" while I was packing, that made me take a fine tooth comb to my book collection. About one-third of the books that I'm probably never going to reread are now in the "out" pile --- or rather, the 11 such piles that flank the front door and the TV.

Books to go

Also, whereas I used to pretty much buy everything I wanted to read, I will henceforth be more circumspect and buy-to-keep only those titles that I'm fairly certain I will want to read again. This is the rule that's worked well with my DVD collection so far --- I own less than 20 movies and box sets only for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The West Wing and a to-be-completed Battlestar Galactica.

I'm also thinking about getting rid of CDs, but part of me wonders what'll happen if I *touch wood* lose my MP3s in some kind of massive digital calamity that eats up my backups too? So I can't yet be as Zen about it as Nate Mendel, especially since I can't buy music off iTunes in Singapore.

If you might be interested in buying some secondhand books, send me an email (toomanythoughts [at] Gmail) and I'll keep you posted on upcoming book sales. I've got too many books to list at the moment, but you can get an idea of what I read, starting with the 2007 list (caveat: not everything on these lists is for sale).


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I failed to pack the coffee

While the movers were impeccable in hauling furniture and 30-something boxes up to the new place, I failed to give clear instructions to my mother regarding the coffee --- which means it got left behind and I only realised it this morning when I woke up in the new place and couldn't find it.

Fortunately, the only thing I had to do this morning was to make sure the Starhub guy got the broadband and cable access set up alright. By 11 am, I was online and things seemed to be falling into place.

Except for the unpacking.

Unpacked (sorta)

As I've told several people today, the place looks like a cross between a second-hand book store and a furniture leftover storeroom. Or as Ondine suggested --- albeit without seeing the place --- a thrift store. I desperately need to declutter, and a book sale might be in the works (a travesty, I know).

In the meantime, I live amidst boxes and stacks of stuff, and the cat is whining from disorientation. But hey, at least I bought new coffee today.


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Packing: Day One

Ink's idea of packing

The mistake I made today was packing the DVDs first (in order to intersperse them with the books), because that meant that when the TV line-up failed me, I had nothing else to play for white noise. For instance, Veronica Mars would've made a nice antidote to STAR World's obsession with Smallville.

It's amazing how many books I have that I didn't know I had. Most of them went into the boxes; a handful didn't make the cut (chief criterion: is this something I want to pay someone to haul up to a walk-up flat?) and will hopefully find new homes.

Now there are 12 filled boxes (though not yet sealed, I keep tossing small items into the corners), and only the bedroom and kitchen are left to pack. Technically, I also packed away about one-tenth of the bedroom's contents today, so I'm a little ahead of the game.

Which makes me feel somewhat less panicked than I did this afternoon, when I was imagining that between work and packing, I would get no sleep till after I moved (on Thursday).


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A boy after my own heart

Boy likes reading. Boy reads quite a bit. Boy wants to set up a website to tell other kids about the books he reads because "there might be lots of kids out there who are wondering what are some good books to read. I can help with that."

Boy gets interactive-designer dad to build him his own book-review website.

Boy, for the record, is ten years old.


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The year 2007, in books

Wahj and I were recently talking about how we each evaluate the last few years of our lives: he sees distinctly good and bad years, while I recall the past more in terms of individual events rather than in yearly blocks.

What I didn't say was that, obviously, this year's been different.

I still kept reading books, though, and buying far more than I oughta have. I read more non-fiction (occupational hazard, I'm writing such a book myself), chalked up an impressive amount of reading during the third-quarter vacation, and ended the year by caving in to the Borders discount card (I've already had a Kinokuniya discount card for several years).

The final tally: 30 (would've been 31 if I'd been more diligent the last few nights of the year). It's the second highest number since I started keeping this annual record, and only three books were rereads --- yay me!

1. Guns, germs & Steel: A short history of everybody for the last 13,000 years, Jared Diamond (January)

I like books like this: big, bold and compressing heaps of history into several hundred pages (okay, closer to a thousand in this case, but still). Plenty to learn about how agriculture spread from the Fertile Crescent to the rest of the world, how 168 Spanish conquistadors defeated 80,000 Inca warriors in 1532 and what exactly Australian aborigines were doing on their continent for the millennia that preceded European arrival. Whatever the extent of geographical determinism, it's fascinating to know where we might've come from and how we got to this point today.

2. Shalimar the Clown, Salman Rushdie (February)

I'm a big fan of Rushdie and this was a good one. Not too weighed down by talk of terrorism and politics, and always beautiful.

3. A History of God, Karen Armstrong (March)

Heavy-going stuff. I'd be a liar if I said I understood all of it; at some points, I was just flipping the pages to get through it (I find it almost pathologically impossible to give up on reading a book halfway). Nevertheless, I liked seeing how ideas about God have changed through the centuries. I'd need to learn more about Judaism and Islam to really get some of these ideas, though.

4. A Cook's Tour, Anthony Bourdain (March) *

My idea of light reading, after the preceding three tomes. Plus if one can't go on vacation just yet, reading about Bourdain's travels are the next best thing.

5. The Naked Jape: Uncovering the Hidden World of Jokes, Jimmy Carr & Lucy Greeves (April)

More non-fiction: jokesters write about the history of the joke. Entertaining without trying too hard or being over-the-top, even though there are jokes on every page. I wanna write books like this!

6. Down Under, Bill Bryson (April) *

The almost-annual reread. It's a good pick-me-up when nothing else will do.

7. Arthur & George, Julian Barnes, (May)

I'm not usually big on historical fiction, but this was absolutely engrossing. I don't know (or care) if any of it was based on historical fact; the story had its own sense of purpose and life driving it forward. Now that I think it, the character George in this book reminds me of Oscar from Oscar and Lucinda (which I read in 2006).

8. On Beauty, Zadie Smith (May)

Another solid fiction read, this time about a dysfunctional family in a college town setting --- the better to conjure up scenes of academic posturing and college student angst, all in one. Maybe the characters' preoccupations are a little too precious, as a result, but I still liked how it all came together.

9. Old Man's War, John Scalzi (June)
10. The Ghost Brigades, John Scalzi (I forgot what month I read it in)

I've been reading John Scalzi's blog for years; this year, I finally got around to his books. I like the premise well enough, but I've never been big on action-adventure science fiction, so this was entertaining but not entirely my cup of tea.

11. A Short History of Nearly Everything, Bill Bryson (July) *

I keep rereading this in the hope that more of the science he expounds will stick in my head. What I find most engaging, though, is all the drama behind all the dry facts that have come to inhabit our science textbooks. It makes me wonder what really goes on at today's science conferences before they decided whether to delist Pluto as a planet and the like.

12. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, J.K. Rowling (August)

I read it because I had to finish the series. It was too long, too circuitous and tried to mention everyone in the dramatis personae. This is what happens when you wait till the last book to start really killing people off.

Oh, and the epilogue? So self-indulgent. I don't care and it's very confusing to have new characters named after the ones that just got offed.

13. A Home at the End of the World, Michael Cunningham (August)

A great recommendation from a friend. More dysfunctionality, this time with gay men and their, uh, woman. For some reason, it's all the scenes to do with mortality, particularly parental mortality, that come to mind right now.

14. Paris: A Secret History, Andrew Hussey (September)

I finished this on the day after I arrived in Paris, then toted it around for a few days to track down a couple of neat places like Passage Denferth. I had other notes about the place where Abelard used to teach (I think) on Ile de la Cité or less well-known old churches with piquant histories --- but I'm too lazy to go dig up my notes now.

Anyway, as a book it didn't quite rev up as much sordid steam as I'd hoped, but I enjoy these "alternative" histories.

15. Theft: A Love Story, Peter Casey (September)

I suppose it's a strange thing to read a book that's predominantly set in Australia while I was in Paris and London, but the idea of fakery/forgery and the international art shenanigans in the book were quite at home amidst all the museums I visited.

16. How I Live Now, Meg Rosoff (September)

I pulled this off Stellou's shelf and it was such a good read for a "young people" book. Sometimes the narrator got a little too Holden Caulfield on me, but the unexpected turns in the story (I'm trying not to give anything away here) helped to keep things going. I actually think this could be a little too intense for its "young people" label. Surely it belongs on the fiction shelf with A Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time and its ilk.

17. Paris Out Of Hand: A Wayward Guide, Karen Elizabeth Gordon (September)

A very different kind of guidebook, and best read --- as I did --- after one has just visited Paris. One of those whimsical, imagined journeys that always makes me wonder, how did anyone get this green-lighted at the publisher's? Not because it's bad, but because it's the kind of richly imagined (there's that word again) narrative that one hardly expects to be able to pick up anymore.

18. On Chesil Beach, Ian McEwan (September)

Stellou gave me her galleys of this --- it's lovely to have publishing connections --- so I read it with typos and all, none of which impeded my enjoyment of the book. Very internal as McEwan tends to be, and I always wonder how he manages to keep control of everything without making these multi-layered narratives seem like schizophrenic skips through the park. I would like to write a book like this: one man, one woman, one night --- and all that unfolds before and after.

19. Islam: A Short History, Karen Armstrong (September)

I picked this up for a couple of pounds at --- damn, I've forgotten the name of the second-hand bookshop already, but I'm sure Stellou will remember. 200-plus pages of a crash course in Islam that I found very handy. I'm not sure that I'll ever read the Qu'ran cover-to-cover, so I think this might be a handy cheatsheet of sorts for me.

20. Goh Keng Swee: A Portrait, Tan Siok Sun (September)

Oh dear. I was so looking forward to this and then on the very first page of the narrative, the name of the man whose biography this was got truncated in a typically Singaporean fashion to "GKS" --- and that was the end of it for me. I mean, I read the whole book, but it didn't have any of the zest or oomph that one would expect from a biography at once personal and political. Oh, I know, it's hard in Singapore to tell certain stories at all, the moment they show any sign of diverging from the official narrative. But there better be some damn good notes or excised chapters lying around in someone's safe, otherwise I'm not sure what the whole exercise was for.

21. Ender's Game, Orson Scott Card (October)

Wahj loaned me this because it's one of those sci-fi classics that I've been meaning to read forever. I'm glad I read it now because I don't think I would've fully gotten into it at a younger age --- after all, it's mostly about boys learning to fight a war while bouncing around in a scenario room. What surprised me was to see it in Kinokuniya's children's section a few weeks later, with a cover that would suggest it was all action-packed adventure as opposed to one big scorching mindfuck.

22. Fun Home, Alison Bechdel (October)

I'd like to read more graphic novels, but I never know where to begin. This one came recommended by Salon some time ago, and I was thrilled to finally track it down at Kinokuniya (thanks to Wahj figuring out how their apparently-convoluted-but-actually-alphabetical graphic novel section is sorted). The book is a very vivid personal memoir, but mediated through the graphic novel format and so it doesn't read as "heavy" as, say, any number of the abovementioned narratives about dysfunctional families --- but it's still a solid, good read.

23. Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture, Ariel Levy (November)

Another one I finally tracked down. Short and sharp, making a clear and compelling argument about why tarting or slutting it up does not make for women's "liberation". A must-read for all girls and women, alongside Naomi Wolf's The Beauty Myth.

24. The View From Castle Rock, Alice Munro (November)

I bought this because Nardac had highly recommended Munro and I wanted to see how she turned family history into memoir (I'm trying to figure out what to do with my family narrative too). It read like historical fiction, but I suppose with that added quality of the reader wondering what's "real" and what isn't. I was just amazed at the fact that Munro could go back to the village where her great-great-grandfather had come from and find family records, including personal letters and the like (at least, I'm assuming those are actual letters, not fictionalised ones). Those aren't typically the sort of resources one finds in a village in China or Sri Lanka.

25. Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive, Jared Diamond (November)

It took me a few months to get through this, mostly because it was too heavy to lug around so I made it my bedtime reading. More fascinating case studies, and more esoteric ones too. I finally know what might have happened to the Easter Islanders who raised their magnificent statues, and learned a lot about Norse and South Pacific societies as well. The case studies are the best bit, really --- but then I always love a good old-fashioned story.

26. iWoz: From Computer Geek to Cult Icon, Steve Wozniak & Gina Smith (December)

An impulse buy --- I'm not that much of a Machead. It's an interesting narrative: the guy did originate many computer interfaces and accessories that we take for granted today after all, not to mention the universal remote control. But it sounded very much like a guy chatting into a tape recorder and less a structured, studied story with proper context and everything. Then again, if it really is Steve Wozniak's voice we're hearing throughout the story, I guess that's the sort of story he'd tell anyway.

27. Girl Meets Boy, Ali Smith (December)

So beautiful and lyrical --- and I'm fairly certain I didn't completely understand it. I need to go read it again.

28. Starship Troopers, Robert A. Heinlein (December)

Another long overdue read, especially after reading John Scalzi's Old Man's War. I definitely glossed over all the military jargon (repple-depple, anyone?) and tried not to get bogged down in the politics. I must say the protagonist was much more engaging than I thought he would be.

29. Neither Here Nor There: Travels in Europe, Bill Bryson (December)

I was surprised to see this lying on the best friend's bookshelf because I thought I a) knew had heard of all of Bryson's books, b) had read most of the travel ones. Turns out this is one of his early ones, which you can tell because the tone and writing isn't as tight as his later books, not to mention there's quite a bit of unfathomable whining about some aspect of his travels or European culture that seems quite at odds with the more charitable approach I'd gotten used to. I think I'll stick to his more recent titles.

30. Moral Disorder, Margaret Atwood (December)

I bought this off the internet and promptly read it, which makes it two collections of short stories by female Canadian writers that I read within the span of two months. This one's entirely fictional and more introspective, I think, which sorta makes it an appropriate book to end the year on.

For next year, I'm going to start keeping notes throughout the year as I read. As you can tell, my memory of the books I read earlier in the year is sketchy compared to more recent reads. Which is totally unfair to the books, plus I obviously need to supplement my wilting memory.

So: more note-taking and more reading. Also more borrowing of books from the library or friends, I think, because the place I'm moving to is smaller and I just can't keep buying books the way I do. As always, reading recommendations are welcome.


Related posts: The year in books 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003

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Recent happy food discoveries

I haven't been invited to any Xmas parties (yes, I confess, I'm a little distressed about that), but there's been a great deal of dinners out with friends to make up for it. Which has led to some rather delightful discoveries on the local food scene.

Crepe and coffee

Bella Pizza at Riverside View is so new that Googling it will come up with nothing except blogger Ermita's review (sounds like she was there the night before I was). The pizzas are fabulous, the fettucine carbonara was the best I've ever had in Singapore, and I'm glad Olorin and I went for the Nutella banana crepe for dessert, because man, did that hit the spot.

Breakfast at TCC

I don't usually eat fancypants breakfast during the workweek, but I was starving when I got to TCC for a meeting on Wednesday and all they had were elaborate repasts that must've taken at least 20 minutes to assemble on the plate. No such thing as a simple bagel or muffin on their menu.

Surprisingly (because TCC is a coffee chain not exactly known for its culinary finesse), the food looked as good as it had in the menu and then tasted as good too. For a start, the "on the vine tomatoes" were really served on the vine and were nice and corpulent. I'm going to remember the combination of scrambled eggs, sliced parmesan and smoked salmon when I want to make myself a good breakfast at home.

Dinner at 25 Degree Celsius

Tonight, Casey and I went to 25 Degree Celsius, which I've been meaning to check out since w wrote about it last month. Not only was it refreshingly uncrowded (though the packed MRT trains on the way to town damn near did me in), the service was delightful and the food was great: duck confit so tender one barely needs a knife, flavourful un-fishy barramundi fillet and a rice cake whose ingredients we couldn't identify but which we loved.

Plus they sell books! Cookbooks!Books about food! Plenty to browse and salivate over. I'm definitely coming back.


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Where have all the good books gone?

Borders' selection of Salman Rushdie

At Borders last night, my friend was whining that she couldn't find any of the books she was looking for. Given that initially she was looking for books in the philosophy or linguistics sections --- not exactly the best-stocked sections in any Singapore bookstore --- I wasn't too surprised. But when she got to the Ian McEwans and there were only three titles on the shelf (barring the heaps of editions of Atonement with Keira Knightley on the cover), I started to wonder ---

--- and wandered over to the R's, where my favourites Philip Roth and Salman Rushdie reside. Roth was more than adequately represented, with new editions (look for the book covers in primary colours) of just about every one of his major works, and a number of minor ones too. Rushdie, however, was languishing as McEwan had been: only Grimus, The Moor's Last Sigh and Shalimar the Clown (two copies) were wedged onto the shelf, lost amidst the spines of other less weighty but visually more striking books.

"I want to do a test. Give me the name of another famous author," I said to my friend.

"Margaret Atwood," she said, because we had just been talking about the cover of Moral Disorders.

There were also only three Atwoods on the shelf: Moral Disorders (a bunch of copies), The Penelopiad and The Tent (one each); we later stumbled upon Negotiating with the Dead in the literary criticism shelves.

"Is Borders not selling real books anymore?" I wanted to know.

Fortunately, my next litmus test was Milan Kundera, which passed with flying colours. And then we decided to get outta there before we bought up the entire bookstore with those lovely 30% discount vouchers (print as many as you like; they expire today), so I didn't get to do any more tests.

But still: only three Ian McEwans (and my friend bought one of them, Amsterdam), three Rushdies and three Atwoods (fiction, anyway) --- whereas in the past they've carried practically each writer's entire oeuvre?

"Maybe they haven't restocked the books 'cause people have been buying them in the sale," saith my friend.

To which I retorted, "There aren't that many people in Singapore who would read Rushdie."

The other thing I do at bookstores is rearrange books if they're misshelved. So if you went looking for the above-pictured shelf of Rushdie today and if no one tampered with my arrangement after last night, you would find the two copies of Shalimar the Clown side by side (as they should be), with The Moor's Last Sigh shelved to their left.


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Random run-ins today

At Bugis Junction, I was intercepted by a slip of a girl claiming to be from a modelling agency and would I like to ... "I'm not interested," I said, and waved her off. I have no idea what she wanted. I mean, I was wearing a boring button-down office-y shirt I had resurrected from the back of the wardrobe because I needed to look respectable and in case the weather turned cold, paired with skinny jeans and wedges --- the faux successful "creative" look, as one might generously call it. Definitely not one of my better-dressed days.

Also at Bugis Junction, I'd arranged to meet someone off one of my email lists to buy a secondhand Margaret Atwood book off her. Which may not sound that remarkable, but given how all-over-the-place my schedule has been in the last twenty-four hours, I'm amazed no one else beat me to it. Guess there aren't that many prospective purveyors purchasers of Moral Disorders after all.

In other randomness, it looks like both the projects I was rushing to get finish before Xmas are pushing their deadlines back --- due to circumstances that have nothing to do with me, of course --- so maybe I'll get to enjoy a little pre-Xmas jollity next week. Earlier this week, I was in a house that had two real Xmas trees and real Xmas wreaths scattered throughout all the ground-floor rooms. It smelled incredible.

Finally, for my l33t-sp43k1ng fr13nds: who'd've thunk it that "w00t" would make Webster's word of the year?


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How to be a walking Mac cliche

Read Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak's autobiography iWoz on the train while carrying a brand-new Macbook and an Epicentre shopping bag.

I didn't plan it, I swear. I started iWoz a few days ago, before I consulted Wahj on the finer points of buying a Macbook and well before Epicentre sent me an email about its SITEX offers. And I only bought the book at the last Kinokuniya sale because I've recently taken a shine to reading biographies and personal histories.

For the record, I haven't started using the Macbook yet. I'm in the midst of crunching text for a Very Important Deadline on Monday and I only get to open the new laptop when that work is done. Yes, yes, I've received many incredulous reactions to this, but just watch me, truly, I will be that disciplined.


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It's not 19 hours everyday

I thought I'd better blog, because some people think I've been on 19-hour workdays since Friday.

Which I haven't, truly. Just five hours on Saturday (would've been less if I'd been less distracted by the New York Times's weekly book and movie review updates) and about seven hours on Sunday (NYT's Travel Dispatch did not interest me but other sites did). Monday clocked in at about ten hours and today's about 11.

Not that, um, I'm scrupulously keeping track of my work hours or anything.

Besides working, I have also been cooking (very therapeutic, now that --- thanks to Nigella --- I have a clearer idea of what I'm doing) and reading Jared Diamond's Collapse. The Easter Island story I used to read in my Encyclopaedia Brittanica Children's Encyclopaedia makes sense at last.


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At dinner at the Cedele restaurant at Wheelock Place tonight, Suzie's wine tasted like crap while mine tasted perfectly fine for a cheap sauvignon blanc --- even though the waitstaff claimed that both glasses were filled from the same wine bottle. Very mysterious.

To their credit, though, the waitstaff did the right thing by immediately offering us fresh glasses of wine, even though I told them that mine was fine and didn't need to be changed. And the food was impeccable. I have no idea what exactly goes into the oil dressing they drizzle over all their salads, but it was mighty tasty and not just your usual balsamic vinaigrette concoction. The only downside was that my chocolate hazelnut cake turned out to be more of a chocolate-with-no-hazelnut-flavour-and-with-white-chocolate-icing-and-ONE-hazelnut cake. I don't even like white chocolate.

Down in Borders later, I finally landed a paperback copy of John Scalzi's Old Man War. I don't ordinarily pick up novels in which the protagonists are seventy-five year old men unless the novels are written by Philip Roth, but Old Man's War gets an exemption since I've been reading (and loving) Scalzi's blog for so long.


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The year 2006, in books

I was going to start this post with "Another year, another list --- " --- but I already used that line last year. Damn.

If you haven't read my annual lists before and you're curious why I do it, read the first paragraph of the very first list in for the year 2003.

In terms of sheer quantity, this list beats last year's shabby tally of 19, but it's nowhere near 2004's record of 44. (How the hell did I do that? Oh yeah, by rereading a whole bunch of stuff.) This year's count would've been better if not for the total dearth of completing any books between August and November: consider that I finished 19 books by August and then nothing till the 4 I squeezed in before year's end.

In my own defence, August was also the start of my goodbusy period, during which commuting time that I used to spend reading was instead diverted to checking email on the go (correspondingly, my 3G cell phone bill went up). For instance, I definitely started on Spoken Here (#21 on the list) in August, but only finished it a couple of weeks ago.

But enough with the excuses. On to the list.

1. The Jesus Mysteries, Timothy Freke & Peter Gandy (January)

A university alumni pal recommended this after one of our lunch conversations wandered into the realm of "Do you believe in God?" The next time we met, I proudly told him, "You know that book you recommended? I read it and now I really don't believe in God anymore." His response: "Oh dear, I think I'm going to hell for that one."

As I was quick to reassure him, it's not so much that this book entirely transformed my religious worldview, as that it sharpened some of the doubts I already had about Christianity. And I'll admit it was somewhat unsettling as I worked my way through the book and towards the conclusion that God doesn't exist. It doesn't come easily, for someone like me who grew up going to church, to decide that there really is no God. It's a pretty hardcore decision, not merely like being disillusioned with the church while still tossing out the occasional desperate God-can-you-fix-this-please-please-pretty-pretty-please petition.

Anyway, so I don't believe there is a God/god and this book helped me to figure out why. Which may or may not make other people want to read it.

2. 50 Facts That Should Change The World, Jessica Williams (January)

One of those books that I probably wouldn't have bought if I wasn't trying to make up a combo for Borders' 3-for-the-price-of-2 deals. Well done, marketing strategists! Anyhow, it was a good read and elicited about as much middle-class liberal guilt as it was intended to, after which I, er, put it back on my bookshelf. I should pass the copy on to some General Paper student before its information becomes completely outdated.

3. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Haruki Murakami (January)

Ah, Murakami --- always so strange, yet so satisfying.

4. The Lemon Table, Julian Barnes (January)

I don't usually buy hardcovers , but this one was available for a few bucks at some warehouse clearance book sale. I liked the heft it lent to a light (okay, I always refer to short story collections as "light", even though that doesn't do justice to them) and good read. I can only remember one short story offhand, but it was one of the more poignant ones so maybe that's the kind that sticks in my head.

5. Invitation To Treat, Eleanor Wong (January)

I've only seen the staging of the last play in this trilogy, so it was great to pick up the full set and see how the characters got there from the start (even though each play can be appreciated as a stand-alone piece). I can't think of a better way to say it, than to say that Wong writes with great craft yet humanity. To paraphrase what I said about Alan Hollinghurst a few years ago, she's a good writer of drama, not just a good writer of gay drama.

6. The Golden Compass, Philip Pullman (February) *
7. The Subtle Knife, Philip Pullman (February)
8. The Amber Spyglass, Philip Pullman (February)

After years of procrastination (I read The Golden Compass when it was first released in 1995), I finally hijacked the National Library's copies of His Dark Materials trilogy and gave them the attention they deserved. And yes, now I'm fully aware of what I've been missing all these years. Cameron, as usual, writes about it much better than I could, so let me redirect you to her post (spoiler warning), which starts off assessing the audiobooks but also gets to the heart of the philosophical worldview Pullman's created.

9. Talking It Over, Julian Barnes (February)

Familiar characters, dancing a new dance (or maybe just a variation of the old one). The characters are older and bitter-er --- I like!

10. The Media Enthralled: Singapore Revisited, Francis Seow (March)

One of the first books I pulled off the shelf at work when I started work on the National Museum project --- but for leisure reading, of course. Francis Seow provides a not-too-pedantic survey of the Singapore press vs. the Singapore government from the post-World War 2 period, amidst the earliest stirrings of national independence. The book's replete with delicious quotations from Lee Kuan Yew, as uttered at different points of his political career (and of Singapore's relative press freedoms). It should be absolutely required reading for anyone who still thinks the current Singapore media isn't a mouthpiece of the Singapore government. The recounting of the 1971 Singapore Herald saga is reason enough to pick this up.

Now if only we could get an updated edition that assesses the impact (or lack thereof) of the 2000/2001 "opening up" of the local media with new TV stations (the uninspiringly named and short-lived TVWorks) and newspapers respectively, as well as the September 2004 merger of media companies that returned Singapore to, more or less, the status quo.

11. Life Is Not Complete Without Shopping, Chua Beng Huat (April)

Another one snuck off the office shelf. I have to say that the book's title is sexier than its contents. Yeah, it's fun to read about shopping and consumerism, but this isn't the most riveting account of why Singaporeans are absolutely obsessed with both. Nice bits about the elevation of ah beng/ah lian (sub)culture and local food, though.

12. Marry Me, John Updike (April)

In case you didn't know already, marriage is a very strange institution and good fiction writers have spun many an entertaining tale of it. A compact and compelling story of two couples. To say any more would spoil it all.

13. The Accidental, Ali Smith (April)

I might have bought this because it had a sticker saying that it'd won the 2005 Whitbread Novel of the Year award. Talk about unreliable narrators and dysfunctional families, and then some. How is it that writers make dysfunction so beautiful and so heartbreaking at the same time?

14. Oscar & Lucinda, Peter Carey (June)

I attempted to read this a couple of years ago and didn't get more than a quarter of the way through before I gave up, too impatient to wait for the parallel narratives of the eponymous characters to dovetail. This time around, the story engaged me more and the payoff was well worth it. What a peculiar story to weave in a historial setting, though.

15. The Virgin Suicides, Jeffrey Eugenides (June)

After reading Middlesex, this seemed like an oddly light concoction: a bunch of boys, after a bunch of sisters, who then killed themselves. On the other hand, a creepy version of the venerable coming-of-age tale, perhaps?

16. Everyman, Philip Roth (June)

More death, reversed into life. Roth is good at writing about the angst of old(er) men, but I'm glad he kept this to a compact 200-plus page novel. It made the point far more effectively than some of his more belaboured treatises.

17. In the Miso Soup, Ryu Murakami (July)

The other Murakami and, based on my reading of this one book, the infinitely weirder one. I can't remember the name of the antagonist offhand, but just thinking about him creeps me out.

18. Memoirs of My Melancholic Whores, Gabriel Garcia Marquez (July)

More memories of old(er) men. As with the Roth, it offers a taste of what the writer's done with his longer novels, here sharpened into focus.

19. Down Under, Bill Bryson (August) *

I read it every year (okay, except that I missed it last year), whenever I need a break from new reading and want to go back to something familiar and friendly. Just call it my Linus's blanket. If you haven't read it yet, what are you waiting for? Nothing makes me want to revisit Australia like this book. Oh, and this ad.

20. Everything Bad Is Good For You, Steven Johnson (November)

This is exactly the kind of pop culture book I hope to be able to write some day --- with a fluffy title that will make my father wonder why he ever bothered to send me to school, yet packed with insightful observations and accessible ways to understand a potentially bothersome topic. Also, for any gamers and TV-series DVD addicts out there who need to justify your respective obsessions to your loved ones, this is the book you should study, then give to them for Xmas.

21. Spoken Here, Mark Abley (December)

Okay, so if I'm not going to write a pop culture book, this is the other kind of thoroughly researched and absolutely engaging general non-fiction that I would like to be able to write. Mark Abley spends what I can only imagine must have been years and years, all told, with people who work to reclaim various endangered languages all around the world (not just the Third World with its "primitive" languages, as one might assume). But this book is more than about individual languages; it's also about how our ideas and our very understanding of the world we live in is shaped by what our language permits us to express. To a fairly monolingual speaker/thinker like myself, it's a startling reminder of how limited English --- or any one language, for that matter --- is, if that one language is all we know.

22. Media Unlimited, Todd Gitlin (December)

I can't remember how this book wound up on by "books to read" list, but I finally picked up a copy at Borders and got it done. It provided an interesting counterpoint Everything Bad Is Good For You, which deals largely with media content, while this book looked at the sheer volume of the media onslaught instead.

23. Me Talk Pretty One Day, David Sedaris (December)

I kept hearing David Sedaris's name mentioned, and then there were all these glowing blurbs on the front and back cover of this book --- but somehow it didn't quite do it for me. Yeah, it was entertaining, but it wasn't as addictive or wicked as I expected. So it was a bit of a flat note on which to end the year's reading.

And so in 2006, I managed to avoid J.M. Coetzee even though I've vowed to read him for at least two years now. There's something about the author that's intimidates me, though. The closest I've come is to buying one of his books for my cousin off her Amazon wishlist; even when I was at Kinokuniya for the 20% off sale on Tuesday, I sailed right by his shelf.

2007's off to a good start with Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel: A Short History of Everybody for the Last 13,000 Years. Then there's Salman Rushdie's Shalimar the Clown, Julian Barnes's Arthur and George, Zadie Smith's On Beauty, Haruki Murakami's Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman and Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close all waiting in the wings (courtesy of recent book sales). Further reading suggestions are, as always, welcome!


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Just in time for the holidays

Nothing like a boring meeting on Wednesday to make me pick up the threads of something I let slide for months: reading blogs. And nothing like catching up on blogs (which is sorta like catching up with a whole bunch of old friends, all at the same time) to make me realise that I'm way, way, way tardy on a meme that dio tagged me for over a month ago.

For the record, yes, this took me four days to complete. The letter 'H' is harder than it looks.

10 Things I love that begin with ... the letter 'H'

1. Home --- namely, the apartment where Terz and I have been nesting for the past seven and some months. It's not posh, it's not huge, it's not tidy --- but it's got everything where we want it to be (more or less), a great view of the neighbourhood, is in a lovely neighbourhood itself, and it's ours.

2. Hawai'i, where in 1997 I spent a few very touristy days with the family, then spent a few very drunk days with the friends --- wherein I discovered that snorkelling was not that hard to pick up, tourist divers give local divers the evil stink-eye when the latter spear fish (legally!) and the local variety of ice kachang is shave ice.

3. Hollinghurst comma Alan --- wickedly good British writer. I read his books, then despair of ever being able to write.

4. "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" and other carols of its ilk. Blame it on when I used to attend church, which entailed going carolling every Xmas because that's what all the kids were doing. Call 'em schmaltzy if you must, but I like a good rousing "O Holy Night" or "Joy To The World".

5. Har gow, siew mai, lor mai gai (sticky rice with chicken) --- that's what I singsong when people ask if I speak Cantonese. It's actually a line first uttered by ampulets, from some random conversation when I was supposed to "teach" her a smattering of Cantonese or somesuch. (Hey, we've been friends 15 years --- I can't remember all the conversations we've had.)

6. Hugh Grant. But only because I just watched Love Actually again on Friday, and I'm feeling all Xmas-y and googly-eyed.

7. Halley's comet --- well, maybe not so much Halley's in particular, but I was a bit of an astronomy nut as a kid. The interest was only brought up short by the cold hard brick wall of reality when I realised how much actual physics I would need to have in my back pocket if I was going to pursue astronomy seriously.

But I still remember being thrilled to my little toes in 1986 to be outside the Science Centre one late night in March, I think it was, to see the blur spot that was Halley's comet through a telescope. Not only was the comet in our neck of the woods (so to speak), it was even more mind-boggling to think that it wouldn't swing around again till 2061, when I would be, well, much, much older.

On hindsight, coming on the heels of the Challenger explosion, maybe seeing the comet for myself (disappointing faint inkblot though it turned out to be) was important too.

Speaking of astronomy, has anyone else been watching the 2001 BBC documentary Space (with Sam Neill) on our local Discovery channel? Good stuff.

8. Haroun and the Sea of Stories, which I only read after I finished university. Yeah, I was late to the party again. Such a beautiful book, metaphorically and literally, if you happen to own the illustrated version, which, I discovered with great jealousy on Friday night, EH does.

9. Hubby! Which is a term I hardly ever use, actually, but it was the first thing Terz said when I told him that I was struggling with this H-list. Oops.

10. Hershey's and many other brands of chocolate. 'Nuff said.


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A long overdue meme

Alas, poor Terz. He tagged me and then hardly saw me until his birthday yesterday.

Instructions: Below is a Science Fiction Book Club list of the most significant SF novels between 1953-2006. The meme part of this works like so: Bold the ones you have read, strike through the ones you read and hated, italicize those you started but never finished and put a star* next to the ones you love.

Okay, I am going to absolutely suck at this.

1. The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien *
2. The Foundation Trilogy, Isaac Asimov
3. Dune, Frank Herbert
4. Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert A. Heinlein
5. A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula K. Le Guin
6. Neuromancer, William Gibson
7. Childhood’s End, Arthur C. Clarke
8. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Philip K. Dick
9. The Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley
10. Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury (I think I tried reading it)
11. The Book of the New Sun, Gene Wolfe
12. A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter M. Miller, Jr.
13. The Caves of Steel, Isaac Asimov
14. Children of the Atom, Wilmar Shiras
15. Cities in Flight, James Blish
16. The Colour of Magic, Terry Pratchett
17. Dangerous Visions, edited by Harlan Ellison
18. Deathbird Stories, Harlan Ellison
19. The Demolished Man, Alfred Bester
20. Dhalgren, Samuel R. Delany
21. Dragonflight, Anne McCaffrey *
22. Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card
23. The First Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, Stephen R. Donaldson
24. The Forever War, Joe Haldeman
25. Gateway, Frederik Pohl
26. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, J.K. Rowling
27. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
28. I Am Legend, Richard Matheson
29. Interview with the Vampire, Anne Rice
30. The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin
31. Little, Big, John Crowley
32. Lord of Light, Roger Zelazny
33. The Man in the High Castle, Philip K. Dick
34. Mission of Gravity, Hal Clement
35. More Than Human, Theodore Sturgeon
36. The Rediscovery of Man, Cordwainer Smith
37. On the Beach, Nevil Shute
38. Rendezvous with Rama, Arthur C. Clarke
39. Ringworld, Larry Niven
40. Rogue Moon, Algis Budrys
41. The Silmarillion, J.R.R. Tolkien
42. Slaughterhouse-5, Kurt Vonnegut
43. Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson
44. Stand on Zanzibar, John Brunner
45. The Stars My Destination, Alfred Bester
46. Starship Troopers, Robert A. Heinlein
47. Stormbringer, Michael Moorcock
48. The Sword of Shannara, Terry Brooks
49. Timescape, Gregory Benford
50. To Your Scattered Bodies Go, Philip Jose Farmer

Clearly, I have a lot of "classic" science fiction reading to catch up on. Meantime, though, in what scarce free time I have on the train, I've been reading a lot of non-fiction.

No tagging here. I can't think of enough friends who read science fiction whom Terz hasn't already tagged.


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Walkabout in a bookstore

Walkabout in Borders bookstore

I took off my shoes while I was in Borders tonight --- partly because my feet were a little uncomfortable after traipsing around on wedges all day, but more because I was in a browsy sort of mood and there is something about padding around on the carpet that makes a bookstore the size of Borders feel that much more, well, browsy.

I didn't leave my shoes totally unattended, just in case some overzealous employee whisked them off to lost'n'found or something. But it was very nice to flex my bare feet and squish carpet between my toes as I considered my options in the Fiction R-S and W-Z sections. Yes, I know there's germs and dirt and probably other crap on that carpet, particularly since I was at the store at the end of the day, but it felt nice, okay?

James had a voucher for buy-4-or-more-books-at-40%-off, so despite my avowal in the car to save my money for that great Little Black Dress at Project Shop Blood Bros (especially since I have a heap of unread books at home), I ended up with Salman Rushdie's Shalimar the Clown (finally out in paperback), Todd Gitlin's Media Unlimited (which has been on my to-read list for about two years) and Steven Johnson's Everything Bad Is Good For You.

Note to self: get cousin in Paris something good to read in English off her Amazon wishlist for her birthday later this week, or else risk being blamed for causing her fit of apoplexy upon reading blog entries like this.


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The book meme made me do it

I know I said I wasn't going to buy more books, but then a work meeting brought me into the vicinity of Borders today. I picked out three of the four books on my shopping list, then realised that with the volume I was buying, I would be better off taking a short walk to Kinokuniya instead, where I get a 10% discount.

The final haul:
  • The long-awaited Midnight's Children, by Salman Rushdie
  • The Nasty Bits, by Anthony Bourdain
  • A Cook's Tour, by Anthony Bourdain --- because I've read Kitchen Confidential and this is the only one of his food-related books left.
  • New Hart's Rules, by R.M. Ritter--- for work, obviously.
I was tempted to get Neil Humphreys' Final Notes from a Great Island, but decided that I'm not exactly in the mood for a "funny" book about Singapore just now.

First up on the reading list: The Nasty Bits, because I'm more in that sort of mood.


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Because I love books

Obviously, nobody had to tag me for this meme.

Taken off Capitalism Bad, Tree Pretty and two peas, no pod.

1. One book you have read more than once

Bill Bryson's Down Under, which I read every year when I want a break from reading new books, because it reminds me that good writing doesn't need to be florid, overwrought, "literary" or about "important" or "lofty" issues. Pair this with the Australian tourism advertisment featuring Delia Goodrem's "I Can Sing A Rainbow", and I'm sold on the place.

2. One book you would want on a desert island

The Riverside Shakespeare, because then there'd be lots to read --- tragedy, comedy, and all the mishmash between for every mood --- not to mention helpful notes for the really obscure bits. Also enough variety between poetry and drama, and plenty of fodder for (pseudo-)literary analysis scrawled on coconut leaves if I got really bored.

3. One book that made you laugh

Bridget Jones's Diary, by Helen Fielding. Just about anything by Bill Bryson. And any of the Blandings stuff by P.G. Wodehouse --- that's when I first realised as a child that writing could be funny and well-written (okay, the word I'm reaching for is "witty", but I was reverting to a child's vocabulary there).

4. One book that made you cry

The Corrections, by Jonathan Franzen (whose name I always spell with an unnecessary 't' on the first try). The family he describes --- so dysfunctional, yet so real, so depressing. I couldn't get through the book the first time, made it through the second time and then needed a big hug from Terz. I'm not sure I'll ever read it all the way through again.

Honourable mention: A Game of Thrones, by George R.R. Martin, because a character died when I totally didn't expect him to die, which left me not only genuinely aghast and torn up, but also in awe at Martin, because what the hell kind of writer dares to kill off the kind of character that you don't expect to die --- which then made me nervous about reading the subsequent books in the series, which explains why I haven't.

5. One book you wish you had written

The English Patient, by Michael Ondaatje (whose name I can spell impeccably), because it was lyrical yet real, out of this world yet very much of it. Now that's one book I need to buy for keeps.

6. One book you wish had never been written

All the Chicken Soup books, because they elevate rose-tinted optimism to an unworthy art form. Life is hard. In fact, life is frequently shit. Get over it already.

7. One book you are currently reading

Ironically, I am not reading anything right now. I was going to reread Pride and Prejudice because Cristy mentioned it on her book meme blog post, but I think we loaned it to someone. Consider this an official APB: Who has my Pride and Prejudice???

Meanwhile, I need to meet wahj to borrow some books off him. I could go buy some new books, but I really shouldn't (except for the aforementioned Ondaatje). They're all over the floor as it is.

8. One book you have been meaning to read

Midnight's Children, by Salman Rushdie. I attempted it as a teenager, which was a foolish, foolish mistake because I was too young and silly. It's only in the last few years that I've truly appreciated Rushdie's writing. Maybe I should allow myself to buy this one, in addition to the Ondaatje ...

9. One book that changed your life

A Passage to India, by E.M. Forster --- though mainly, I suspect, because it was Mr K who taught it to us.

10. Now tag five people:

Why tag five people when you can tag ten? Also because I like doling out blog homework to former students:

1. yuhui
2. ampulets
3. wahj
4. cour marly
5. sarah
6. leah
7. dio
8. strangemessages
9. Daryl
10. ballsy


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