125 Ways to Make Money with Your Typewriter by David Seltz

The 126th way one can make money with one’s typewriter is, presumably: Write a book about ways one could make money with one’s typewriter.

I bought this book at a rummage sale in part because it was well made and thus physically pleasing: It’s a cloth-bound hardcover (those are rare these days); it’s in good shape for its age; the typography is charmingly old-fashioned. The book was produced in 1939.

I also bought it because I wondered whether the ideas were still relevant more than 70 years later, in an age when there are more personal computers than there ever were typewriters. What’s changed and what hasn’t? See below for examples, as well as when and why I read the book.

Continue reading 125 Ways to Make Money with Your Typewriter by David Seltz

Things that Suck by Jason Kaplan

Things that Suck is utterly charming, from the visual pun on the front cover to the sarcastic marketing text on the back cover. (A starburst on this Andrews McMeel edition, comparing itself to its self-published predecessor, claims: “We guarantee it sucks 20% more than ever!”)

The list of things that suck and the flip-book illustrations (of a mosquito that ultimately gets squashed by a tomato) are printed only the odd-numbered pages, leaving the pages on the left-hand side blank. If the list were alphabetical, it would be boring, but surprising juxtapositions give the content an entertaining ebb and flow. Some of the items are arranged in little groups; some are given in pairs of opposites; some tell a story that goes from bad to worse to terrible; some are meta (self-referential).

Whether you’re a victim of injustice or dandruff, there’s something here you can identify with, and something even worse. Far from being depressing, this book will cheer you up.

When and Why I Read Things that Suck

This is a short book that consists entirely of a mosquito-themed flipbook illustration and a list of life’s large and small annoyances. I saw it cheap at an atrium remainder sale and snapped it up.

Genre: non-fiction (humor)
Date started / date finished:  30-Dec-16 to 30-Dec-16
Length: 160 pages
ISBN: 9780740797606 (paperback)
Originally published in: 2008
Amazon link: Things that Suck

Popular atrium sale at United Square

I bought the 20 books shown above and listed below for S$2 each at a sale hosted by the United Square branch of the Singapore bookstore chain Popular. Two Singapore dollars is a tough price to beat, even for used books in the US! These books were new but remaindered or noticeably shopworn in some cases.

I think the one I was most excited about finding was China in Ten Words, which was on my Amazon wishlist. If I’d bought it new on Amazon, it would have cost what ten of these books cost me.

Windhaven by George R. R. Martin and Lisa Tuttle
I already have an old mass-market paperback but I wanted a trade paperback version.

Find Your Strongest Life by Marcus Buckingham
I wanted a trade paperback version to replace the bulky hardcover I already have.

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
I wanted this 50th anniversary edition for the cover. I have lots of different editions with different covers.

Blink by Malcolm Gladwell
I have already read it, but I didn’t own a copy.

Literary Singapore by The Literary Arts Team of the National Arts Council
As a member of the Singapore Writers’ Group, I wanted to learn more about other Singapore Writers.

Things That Suck by Jason Kaplan
So funny!

10,000 Extraordinary and Puzzling Words by Robert H. Hill
When I saw the word ‘coelacanth’ on the back cover, I had to have it.

We Love Toa Payoh by Urban Sketchers Singapore
I’ve admired these sketchbooks for a while but been unwilling to fork over the full price.

H Plus by Edward de Bono
As stated previously, this guy is a master of the short-but-expensive book, so I grab cheap copies when I can.

China in Ten Words by Yu Hua
I have wanted to read this for a while!

Stylized by Mark Garvey
This is a book about that much praised and maligned touchstone of writing manuals, Elements of Style by Strunk and White.

Tiger Babies Strike Back by Kim Wong Keltner
This book is an answer to Tiger Mother Amy Chua.

A Good Talk by Daniel Menaker
This is a book on an intriguing pop-psychology self-improvement topic.

How to Talk So Teens Will Listen and Listen So Teens Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish
I have one of their other books.

The One Thing You Need to Know by Marcus Buckingham
This is another strengths-based management book.

The Truth about You by Marcus Buckingham
This is another strengths-based management book.

Sometimes You Win Sometimes You Learn by John C. Maxwell
Learning from mistakes is perhaps not just the best way to learn; maybe it’s really the only way to learn.

Bright Side Up by Amy Spencer
Positive psychology strikes again.

Antifragile by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
I have his other books.

Bounce by Matthew Syed
This is an attractive green hardcover about competition, success, the importance of practice, or the myth of talent. Or something. Could be a rehash of Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers but with even less science.

Six Frames by Edward de Bono

Reading Six Frames feels like reading a set of notecards. There’s a bit of text on each page, and the bits of text are arranged into chapters of related observations, but overall the content is choppy and sparse (see photos below). Since there are few pages and not much text per page, the book feels more like an essay than a book.

More below on what it’s about and photos of how sparse the text is, as well as when and why I read it.

Continue reading Six Frames by Edward de Bono

Born Liars by Ian Leslie

Some books about lying and deception say “lying is generally bad and sometimes very bad, so lie as little as possible,” and I find myself agreeing. Others, like Born Liars, say “lying is ubiquitous, natural, and inevitable, so there’s no need to feel either guilty about your lies or surprised when others lie,” and once again I find myself agreeing.

Surely I’m not just a fickle pushover? Let’s just say I’m approaching the topic of lying via the Hegelian dialectical method: thesis, antithesis, synthesis. Some lies are harmful and should be avoided, while other lies should be considered normal or even healthy, and it’s important to know what strategy to use in various contexts. Ta-da!

For many facts and ideas that stood out as well as information on when and why I read the book, see below.

Continue reading Born Liars by Ian Leslie

Chinese Whispers by Ben Chu

In Chinese Whispers, a Brit with a British/Chinese family background tackles seven commonly believed myths about China:

  • China has an ancient and fixed culture.
  • The Chinese are irredeemably racist.
  • The Chinese don’t want freedom.
  • China has the world’s finest education system.
  • The Chinese live to work.
  • The Chinese have re-invented capitalism.
  • China will rule the world.

Unlike many Western authors who write about China, Ben Chu doesn’t think China necessarily poses an alarming threat to the West. Even if his conclusions turn out to be wrong or based on incomplete data, it’s healthy for someone to be out there countering the fears that spring purely from ignorance. The mob always says, “We don’t like what we don’t understand; in fact it scares us,” not just in Beauty and the Beast. This book can help us understand.

See below for what stood out and when and why I read the book.

Continue reading Chinese Whispers by Ben Chu

Titan A.E. (2000)

Weird music, beautiful drawn—and early CGI—visuals, and one of very, very few sci-fi movies in which the artificial gravity malfunctions and everything starts to float: Titan A.E. in a nutshell.

In movie history, it was the film whose financial failure destroyed Fox Animation Studios, the company responsible for the widely respected film Anastasia, its direct-to-TV sequel, and absolutely nothing else. (Fox’s BlueSky studio—responsible for the Ice Age franchise, among other things—is having better luck.)

Steve Perry and Dal Perry’s novelization of Titan A.E., which I read in 2007, added a lot to the characterization of the aliens by giving us the queen’s perspective.

I love not only the gravity malfunction, but also the hip 90s feel, the shiny bits of Wheedonesque dialog, the alien language and spacecraft, the hydrogen plants, the wake angels, the tense hide-and-seek sequence among the reflections in the ice crystals, and the (admittedly rather too instantaneous) transformation at the conclusion. I even like the prologue and yes, the “scrappy/grand” humans-are-underdogs plot.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/titan-a.e./id270551266

Emma (Paltrow 1996)

Having just read Jane Austen’s Emma, I thought this movie version of Emma with Gwyneth Paltrow felt shallow and rushed. It’s conventional to say, especially with classics, that the book is better than the movie, but let’s go beyond that and attempt to say why.

One reason is that the movie must show where the narration can tell, and in this case, telling is better than showing, because Austen’s conveyance of characters’ feelings and attitudes is masterful. Her storytelling will be remembered when the names on the avenue of stars cease to evoke even the faintest flickers of recognition.

Another reason is that since in the novel there is a lot of narration, and the “action” consists primarily of people having conversations, the moviemakers invented “plausible” activities for the characters so that the actors have something to do in each scene apart from talk. The activities came across as contrived, though. I’d rather have been a bit bored by the characters’ social lives than feel distracted because the characters were acting like puppets on strings pulled this way and that by the needs of modern Hollywood.

The scene in which Emma and Mr. Knightley practice archery was particularly unsubtle, since it showed that her conclusions were, shall we say, totally off the mark, while his were, you guessed it, right on target. If you’re not already groaning from the overbearingness of the metaphor, consider that Emma’s mistakes are matchmaking errors; she’s trying to play cupid (as the text on DVD cover informs us, lest we fail to notice this entire bit of cleverness).

A third reason this version of Emma was slightly disappointing was that it pales in comparison to the just as short but more authentic A&E version of Emma starring Kate Bekinsale (also released in 1996). I remember the raw emotion of the scene at Box Hill vividly, though I watched it almost two years ago.

I must have remembered how the actors in the Beckinsale version looked and behaved, because the characters all seemed off in the Paltrow version. I don’t think it was just that I saw the Beckinsale version first. Can anyone believe a beauty like Gywneth Paltrow could be vulnerable, let alone mistaken? She’s the embodiment of smug confidence. Bekinsale portrays Emma’s characteristic overconfidence without the uncharacteristic hotshot attitude shown in the photo that adorns the cover of the Paltrow DVD.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/emma/id514463001

I had a similar issue with Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Bennet in the 2005 Hollywood version of Pride and Prejudice. She’s just too spunky and exaggerated for the character to be historically believable. As in 2005, Hollywood tried to up the entertainment value, and that spoils it for me.

Give me history or give me death.

Or rather, if you’re going to modernize Emma, go all the way.

No One Understands You and What to Do about It by Heidi Grant Halvorson

The book No One Understands You and What to Do about It should be called Why No One Understands You and What to Do about It. The title sounds off balance because the first half is a clause and the second half is a noun phrase. Or perhaps the title should be something that doesn’t sound as self-obsessed or self-pitying, because the book is not so much a self-help book as it is a collection of fascinating psychological insights presented in a way that is both entertaining and informative.

When and Why I Read No One Understands You and What to Do about It

Reading First, Break All the Rules might make you think that people are so unique that we’re all somehow fundamentally unknowable. But apparently there are ways to mitigate this feeling of isolation.

Genre: non-fiction (management, psychology, self-improvement)
Date started / date finished:  18-Dec-16 to 20-Dec-16
Length: 191 pages
ISBN: 9781625274120 (paperback)
Originally published in: 2015
Amazon link: No One Understands You and What to Do about It