The Black Cat Bookshop, Queenstown

Okay, so Queenstown has some pretty interesting things to do.

For example, you can strap on a device that uses pressurized water to propel you into the air.

“Flyboard. Fly like a superhero.”

Alternatively, you can splash around in one of the lakes in a strange submarine jet thingy that is painted to look like a shark.

“Hydro Attack. The ultimate blend of shark and machine.”

I did not sign up for either of those activities. I don’t like water.

If you ask me, the most exciting thing to do in Queenstown, New Zealand (apart from skydive) is browse among the used books at Black Cat Bookshop.

When I arrived at the shop and saw these paperbacks out front, I wasn’t sure whether I would find anything to my taste, but looking through the books on the shelves was sure to be an *interesting* experience.
I haven’t read any books by Murakami, and I don’t think I’d necessarily like them if I did, but I heartily approve of this quote: “If you only read [the] books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.”
In the end, I bought three books as to give as gifts plus this one for myself.
After exiting the mall I noticed this second-floor sign.
For those who might overlook the second-floor sign, there’s a sign on the sidewalk that says: “Help! Booksellers trapped inside on a beautiful day! Come buy all the books so we can escape.” Why would anyone want to escape from a room full of books, though?

Calvin and Hobbes in Translation

This collection of translations of Bill Watterson’s The Revenge of the Baby- Sat probably got started when I went to Italy in 2002 and chanced upon a copy of the Italian translation.

Undoubtedly I bought the Portuguese one in Portugal in 2004 and the German one in Germany in 2008. My husband fetched me the French one from France at some point or other, having somehow determined that the contents were the same even though the cover was different. A neighbor kindly brought back the Chinese version for me when she went to visit family in Beijing recently.

Seeing Calvin’s words in other languages that use the Roman alphabet is one thing; seeing them in Chinese characters is quite strange.

Below are images of the six different book covers: French, Italian, Portuguese, German, English, and Chinese.

There are translations available in other languages, including Spanish (ISBN 9786075271170), Dutch (ISBN 97890542562), and Czech (ISBN 9788074490798), as well…

Continue reading Calvin and Hobbes in Translation

Popular at Clementi is no longer a bookstore

This bookshop in Clementi does not sell ANY books.

None. Zero. Not even the bestsellingest of the bestsellers, like you’d find in an airport.

What does it sell? A third of the shop is electronics, another third is stationery, and the last third is full of rectangular objects that are made from paper, ink, and glue and resemble books but are actually test-preparation materials, created for the sole purpose of keeping up with the Joneses—or rather, getting ahead of the Lees and the Tans.

I scowl but I feel like wailing.

THIS is what a bookstore should look like.

(A bookstore should have books in it. Duh.)

That’s the Barnes & Noble near where my parents live. It’s not the biggest bookstore in the city. It’s just a bookstore. One of many—a couple dozen, at the very least.

Okay, so probably all those retail bookstores are struggling, and maybe someday, possibly even soon, Barnes & Noble will die. Certainly many companies have fallen and will fall before the might of the mighty Amazon.

What Barnes & Noble will certainly never do, however, is turn into some sort of awkward amalgamation of Best Buy, Staples, and Kumon.

Hopefully other Popular stores in Singapore will continue to sell books as well as electronics, stationery, and test prep stuff. The one at Marine Parade still does.

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin

What if, instead of men and women, people were all just, you know, people? That’s the idea Ursula K. Le Guin explores in The Left Hand of Darkness. The people living on the bitter-cold planet Gethen (aka Winter) can only procreate when they are “in heat”, and during such periods may become physiologically either male or female. When not in heat or pregnant, they are neither male nor female (though they are referred to as “he” throughout the book because English lacks a neutral third-person singular pronoun).

This award-winning novel challenges us to think about genders, gender roles, sexuality, and their impact on culture, but much of the plot is not actually person-against-person or even person-against-society, it’s person-against-nature. The harsh climate has shaped the Gethens, culturally and perhaps biologically as well…

Genly Ai has been sent on a solo mission to Gethen to extend the locals an invitation to join the Ekumen, a kind of intergalactic knowledge-sharing alliance built primarily on technology for simultaneous communication (rather than, say, faster-than-light travel). Genly is male in the commonly understood sense, and struggles against the tendency to assign gender to the Gethens. He also struggles with the cold. Will he complete his mission? Will he even survive the political intrigues and the climate? Who can he trust? He is terrifyingly alone.

I was surprised at the proportion of the book that consisted of a trek across an icy wasteland. I felt I’d been lifted out of the sci-fi universe Le Guin had so painstakingly created and plunged back into the dangerous world of high-altitude mountaineering, which I read about nearly 20 years ago in The Climb and Into Thin Air after watching the IMAX film about the 1996 Everest disaster. I was somewhat reminded of the depressing Jack London short story To Build a Fire, a classic man vs. nature struggle that I read in a literature anthology just last year but that I remember having to read in some long-ago English class.

When and Why I Read The Left Hand of Darkness

This book was chosen by Rachel of the Hungry Hundred Book Club for November 2017. Previously, I read it in 2001.

Genre: fiction (science-fiction)
Date started / date finished:  24-Oct-17 to 26-Oct-17
Length: 304 pages
ISBN: 0044147805
Originally published in: 1969/1976
Amazon link: The Left Hand of Darkness

Book launch for All the Little Children by Jo Furniss

Jo Furniss, a fellow member of the Singapore Writers’ Group, has published her first novel, All the Little Children, with Amazon imprint Lake Union.

Here she is launching her book at Kinokuniya, Singapore’s best-known downtown bookstore. She answered questions posed by another writer friend, Elaine Chiew, read an excerpt aloud, answered audience questions, and signed and sold all the copies she brought with her. It went great!

On the way into the store, I noticed Jo’s book on one of the tables in the aisle. She’s in good company, wouldn’t you say?

Danielle Steel, Stephen King, Lee Child, Brandon Sanderson, Douglas Adams, Anthony Horowitz, Liu Cixin… and Jo Furniss!
My copy.
Can’t wait to read it!

English Is Not Easy by Luci Gutierrez

If you are looking for an illustrated, sexually explicit, New York–themed guide to learning English as a second language, look no further than English Is Not Easy.

The pages include generous amounts of whitespace, the lettering is varied and attractive, and the examples and red-and-black illustrations are… memorable.

When and Why I Read English Is Not Easy

This book was a gift.

Genre: non-fiction (language/reference)
Date started / date finished:  29-Aug-17 to 30-Aug-17
Length: 335 pages
ISBN: 9788494140945
Originally published in: 2013/2017
Amazon link: English Is Not Easy

Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy

Though the work could easily be seen as depressing, it didn’t frustrate me because the author doesn’t make readers stand by and watch as oblivious characters miscommunicate, misunderstand, lie, and betray their dreams time and time again. To be sure, the characters make all sorts of mistakes, but they also think about, talk about, and learn from them, which seems like a reasonable thing to expect characters (and people) to do.

If ultimately the characters fail, it is not because they kept doing the same thing again and again. The novel is also not a story of a series of lessons learned over the course of a wandering life, each new theory overthrowing the last, as in the novel Siddhartha, which I was momentarily worried Jude the Obscure would resemble. Jude moves from place to place, but the story doesn’t start over every time he does; he keeps running into the same people and returning to the same places.

I enjoyed reading the book because there’s no substitute for a good old 19th-century novel when it comes to the variety and precision of words used (epicene, suasion, quondam, bifurcation, adventitious, ashlaring, lambent).

The content of the novel was (and remains) controversial for its treatment of sensitive social themes (social class class, education, marriage, and religion). Jude says, “Our ideas were fifty years too soon to be any good to us”, but he might as well have said a hundred and fifty.

When and why I read Jude the Obscure

This book was chosen by Rachel of the Hungry Hundred Book Club for September 2017.

Genre: fiction (literature & classics)
Date started / date finished: 20-Aug-17 to 29-Aug-17
Length: 323 pages
Originally published in: 1895
Amazon link: Jude the Obscure
Gutenberg link: Jude the Obscure 

Related books

Last year I read the Mayor of Casterbridge. In 1999 I read Far from the Madding Crowd. I still haven’t read the other two famous ones.

Also related?

The Pagemaster by Jordan Horowitz

Not having seen the movie recently, I can’t say whether, as an adult, I think the novelization is better or worse than the movie itself.

The Pagemaster—that is, both the book and the movie whose story it recapitulates—has a beginning, a series of events, and an ending, but it’s too slight to really feel like a proper narrative. Yes, the main character learns a lesson in the course of the adventure, but the beginning is so unsubtle that you already know exactly what the ending is going to be like. Watching the character get there is just tedious because he has no goal other than getting home safely; he only learns his lesson because the plot requires him to.

Maybe I’d be nostalgic for the story if I’d seen the movie as a kid, when the lack of subtlety would perhaps not have bothered me, and the whole adventure would perhaps have seemed more exciting.

As it is, I am willing to forgive much because the movie glorifies reading, but there are other movies that do that better! The one that comes to mind is The Neverending Story, in which a frightened boy gets himself into a magic adventure by means of a book. The characters and their story are much more dramatic, much more memorable.

The movie The Pagemaster is like The Phantom Tollbooth in that a boy who desperately needs fixing goes on a magical adventure as a cartoon and then returns, fixed, to the real world. It is unlike the Phantom Tollbooth in that it lacks any kind of charm.

You see a pattern, right? The Phantom Tollbooth and the Neverending Story were both successful novels before they were screenplays. The movie tie-in book of The Pagemaster is not a novel, it’s a novelization. I guess I’m disappointed, but not surprised.

When and Why I Read The Pagemaster

Sometimes I buy movie-tie-in books for movies I have.

Genre: fiction (fantasy)
Date started / date finished:  25-Aug-17 to 26-Aug-17
Length: 75 pages
ISBN: 0590202448
Originally published in: 1994
Amazon link: The Pagemaster

NUS E-Resource Discovery Day Book Sale 2017

I bought 16 books at the annual NUS E-Resource Discovery Day Book Sale today. The paperbacks were SG$1 and the hardcovers were SG$2. There were eight or ten tables, including some Chinese books and Japanese manga.

The book I’m most excited about in this batch is the one about Singlish (top left), called New Englishes: The Case of Singapore, published by NUS Press in 1988.

The runner up is the vintage hardcover titled An Introduction to the Study of Education, published in the US in 1951. The binding, the weight of the paper and the oddly familiar, comforting typography make it a distinctly pleasing physical object regardless of whatever it happens to say.

  • New Englishes, by Joseph Foley
  • An Introduction to the Study of Education, by George Willard Frasier
  • A Parent’s Guide to Children’s Reading, by Nancy Larrick
  • Tell Me Why?, by Octopus Publishing Group
  • Organization Development (6th Edition), by Wendell L. French and Cecil H. Bell, Jr.
  • Talking with Kids, by Alison Mulvaney
  • Megacreativity, by Andrei G. Aleinikov
  • The Chinese, by David Bonavia
  • The Pagemaster, by Jordan Horowitz
  • Arthurian Romances, by Chretien de Troyes
  • The Language Web, by Jean Aitchison
  • Vocabulary: Description, Acquisition and Pedagogy, by Edited by Norbert Schmitt and Michael McCarthy
  • Getting the Best from People, by Martha I. Finney
  • Hiring the Best, by Cathy Fyock
  • Syntax of Scientific English, by Lee Kok Cheong
  • Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (5th Edition)