Times book sale at the Centrepoint atrium

It’s a trap!

I do not need more books, but I love looking through the random collection of not-quite-current titles whenever I see an atrium sale. The serendipity of it is what appeals. I can’t not buy discounted books on topics I find interesting!

I bought:

  • How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell
  • The Eighty-Minute MBA by Richard Reeves and John Knell
  • Simplicity by Edward de Bono
  • Neurotribes by Steve Silberman
  • A Field Guide to Lies and Statistics by Daniel Levitin
  • Happiness by Design by Paul Dolan
  • Malaysa Singapore: Fifty Years of Contentions 1965 – 2015 by Kadir Mohamad
  • Passage of Time: Singapore Bookstore Stories 1881 – 2016 by Chou Sing Chu Foundation
  • 101 Books to Read Before You Grow Up by Bianca Schulze
  • The Movie Book by DK

Beloved by Toni Morrison

Beloved is a masterful, discomfiting tale of slavery. I didn’t like it.

It’s literary. The writing and careful arrangement of plot elements makes the reader work hard (and keep turning pages) to piece together the sequence of events. The non-linear storytelling and ambiguously psychotic or supernatural elements may strike some as pretentious, but the novel has a powerful message effectively conveyed with consummate skill.

It’s tragic. You may think the book has a hopeful ending; interpretations vary. The ending didn’t seem hopeful to me. Regardless, the pain the characters suffered is—well—painful to contemplate. Thus, reading this story was for me more of a duty than a relaxing way to pass the time.

I didn’t like it, but I’m glad I read it. Institutionalized slavery of Africans in America is over, but it left a lasting legacy. I can trace my ancestry back to one of the founding fathers of the country, but some Americans can’t trace their ancestry at all. Their desire to connect with a past free of pain and punishment—even a fictional one—accounts for the success of the Roots the book and Roots the television series, and has contributed substantially to the success of Marvel’s Black Panther.

Toni Morrison explains the need for and the difficulty in writing such a book:

The terrain, slavery, was formidable and pathless. To invite readers (and myself) into the repellant landscape (hidden, but not completely; deliberately buried, but not forgotten) was to pitch a tent in a cemetery inhabited by highly vocal ghosts.

The idea for the book came from a newspaper headline.

A newspaper clipping in The Black Book summarized the story of Margaret Garner, a young mother who, having escaped slavery, was arrested for killing one of her children (and trying to kill the others) rather than let them be returned to the owner’s plantation.

All the other details were Morrison’s own invention.

More on what I liked and didn’t like about Beloved below. Beware spoilers.

No, seriously, beware spoilers. I think the book is really better if you read it from start to finish without knowing where it’s going and where the characters have been.

Continue reading Beloved by Toni Morrison

Evita (2018 musical in Singapore)

It is a night of sparkles and shining lights.

A crystal cascade hanging in Marina Bay Sands mall over what used to be a plastic ice-skating rink delivers a magical sound and light show for the benefit of diners at the food court.

The performance itself is less magical than we hoped: the music is cacophonous, we strain to hear the words, and while we don’t much admire the social climber Lloyd Webber depicts, neither do we much like the narrator who mocks her. Nevertheless, arrayed in flashing white jewels, Eva Peron captivates when she sings…

Seen from the rooftop of the Marina Bay Sands Hotel, the domes and supertrees in Gardens by the Bay glow below in the darkness: don’t drop your phone.

If you look the other way, skyscrapers downtown shout the names of their tenants in lights the colors of bank logos. Save your pennies! they seem to say. See the 1996 film version instead. Too late now.

The Third Eye by Mahtab Narsimhan

The Third Eye was written by an Indian-born Canadian woman and published by a Canadian publisher (Dundurn Books). It was supported by the Canada Council for the Arts and the Ontario Arts Council and won the 2009 Silver Birch Award from the Ontario Library Association.

Holding at this book, I immediately doubted it would be any good. You probably can’t tell from looking at images of the book online, but the cover image (and the author photo on the back cover) are pixelated. In other words, the publisher screwed up. The writing is similarly only okay. There’s much better stuff out there.

I would recommend, for example, the Indian fantasy children’s series by Indian-American author Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni that starts with The Conch Bearer.

When and Why I Read The Third Eye

Passed to me by a friend.

Genre: Fiction (children’s fantasy)
Date started / date finished: 04-Mar-2018 / 07-Mar-2018
Length: 240
ISBN: 9781550027501
Originally published in: 2007
Amazon link: The Third Eye

He Named Me Malala (2015)

He Named Me Malala is the emotional story of how one Pakistani girl embarked on a mission to insist on education for girls. Politics is a minefield I try to stay away from, but literacy is a cause that appeals to me if ever there was one.

A strong theme in the film (indeed, in the title!) is Malala’s relationship with her father. There will always be people who say that by giving his daughter the name “Malala” and involving her in his intellectual life, Malala’s father created the champion who is now beloved by the international media…. and that he is also, thus, responsible for making her the victim of a shot to the head by a Taliban gunman. Malala refuses to blame her father, describe herself as a special victim of the Taliban, or even admit to any personal feelings of anger or suffering related to the shooting. Moreover, she states clearly that whatever she has done has been her own choice. Of course we are nevertheless free to imagine her anger and suffering, and to reflect on the many reasons any of us follow the paths we do: nature, nurture, chance, and choice all have roles to play.

The film runs the gamut of emotions: we feel shock, anger, sadness, and awe, but interviews with Malala’s brothers provide comic relief, and some of the things Malala says about herself are pretty funny, too. The segments that present Malala’s “normal” family and student life remind us that she is not just a survivor, a heroine, and a champion of the oppressed: she’s a human girl, in some ways no different from you and me, yet she has accomplished more than most of us would ever dare attempt, and perhaps for good reason: most of us have a stronger sense of self-preservation, and most of us have not been shot in the head.

Though it seems to try to transcend politics, the film can’t entirely avoid being political. One of its messages is that the Taliban’s teachings are not Islam; it is a perversion of Islam, a radical, poisonous ideology subscribed to by power-hungry extremists. The film does not document their crimes in detail; unlike the shorter 2009 NYT documentary, it is not graphically violent and its tone is generally hopeful; the bad guys are not its focus. Malala’s father says it wasn’t a person who shot her; it was an ideology. Who pulled the trigger doesn’t matter.

This film included beautiful animated segments and features the voices of Malala and her father, who speak in admirable English that has some charming idiosyncrasies.

I was curious whether He Named Me Malala, being fact rather than fiction, would have the same structure as other movies I’ve watched and analyzed. Although it had a kind of collage aspect to it, its underlying structure was the same as that of any narrative. I was not surprised. Just because a documentary starts with facts doesn’t mean it’s not also a story. Even if it a story that in real life is far from over, or one that isn’t told in chronological order, every story has to have a recognizable beginning, middle, and end.

I didn’t know much, if anything, about Malala before seeing the film. Now, having seen it, I am at least somewhat curious to read the book I Am Malala, a copy of which, hilariously, Malala signed and inscribed to herself before shelving it alongside others in her bedroom.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/he-named-me-malala/id1037547331

See below for some links to reviews as well as a summary with SPOILERS in the form of a beat sheet in the style described in Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat.

Continue reading He Named Me Malala (2015)

Galaxy Quest (1999)

I keep thinking this movie is the one where a robot says “Danger, Will Robinson!” but no, that’s Lost in Space, a movie that came out around the same time and was reportedly terrible, though it was based on a beloved classic television show.

Galaxy Quest is decidedly not terrible. It’s an award-winning sci-fi comedy beloved by sci-fi and comedy fans alike. It’s got big-name actors (Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman), and top-notch special effects (from Industrial Light and Magic and others) that still look good almost twenty years later. And it was the film debut of Justin “I’m a Mac” Long, who subsequently starred in Live Free or Die Hard, Herbie: Fully Loaded, and Accepted.

The premise is that, years after the end of a long-running television show called Galaxy Quest (obviously a parody of Star Trek), the show’s washed up actors (those who played the commander, the attractive woman who talks to the computer, the rubber-headed alien doctor, the young pilot, the tech expert and a one-episode redshirt) are approached at a fan convention by actual aliens who mistakenly believe they are the “never give up, never surrender” heroes they used to portray. Can these human fish out of water pull together to meet this unexpected challenge?

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/galaxy-quest/id286147467

See below for a plot summary with SPOILERS in the form of a beat sheet in the style described in Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat.

Continue reading Galaxy Quest (1999)

Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve

Years ago (in 2011) I read Larklight by Philip Reeve. I’d opportunistically bought Mothstorm too (but maybe not the second one, Starcross), thinking I would read the whole series. I didn’t. Larklight was as dull as an old cast-iron skillet and despite its thickness not nearly as effective as a weapon.

Months ago a friend described the predator cities series to me, and although it was written by this same Reeve, it sounded interesting. When I heard that Mortal Engines is coming to theaters this year, I was excited that yet another young adult fantasy book has been adapted for film, and, with guarded optimism, I arranged to borrow the series of four books. (Turns out, I jumped the gun… the movie isn’t out until December!)

Hours ago, I finished reading Mortal Engines. Much as not finishing the series feels like quitting, I think reading the other books would be a chore for me, so I’m not going to do it.

Did Mortal Engines win awards? Was it imaginative? Was it thrillingly action-packed? Did the characters make important decisions and change as a result of their experiences? Yes. Did I enjoy it? Not particularly.

I think my issue is one of style. The premise is that centuries from now people live in mobile cities that prey on one another in accordance with “Municipal Darwinism”. That’s an interesting premise, but the writing made the characters seem like cartoony caricatures even when serious stuff was happening. There was a lot of action, not so much reflection. The inventive details seemed like so many cheap fireworks thrown out to dazzle momentarily and then fade into nothing.

See below for more comments about the writing style in addition to a plot summary with SPOILERS in the form of a beat sheet in the style described in Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat.

Continue reading Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve