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.

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)

The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa

The Leopard is the Gone with Wind of Sicily in that it documents the melancholy and ruinous effects on one character of drastic, unstoppable political and cultural changes in the surrounding area, changes that destroy the leisurely life of the landed aristocracy by both war and commerce.

I found the general sweep of the novel hard to appreciate because the author doesn’t describe or explain the historical context so much as suggest it. I did enjoy the style of writing, and greatly appreciated the wry humor, especially a sequence related to the priest Father Pirrone (see below).

I found these analyses useful:

Shmoop: The Leopard
Schmoop notes include plot summary, character descriptions, and explanations of themes, symbols, etc.

New York Times: Lampedusa’s The Leopard, fifty years on
The article notes that some have interpreted the novel as a defense of the aristocracy while others have seen it as a critique of the aristocracy.

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

Continue reading The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa

The Importance of Living by Lin Yutang

The Importance of Living is a strange mix of East and West, good advice and bad. If nothing else, the book prompts readers to examine their priorities. YOLO.

When and Why I Read The Importance of Living

This book was recently given and recommended to me by a Chinese neighbor.

Genre: non-fiction (philosophy, self-improvement)
Date started / date finished:  29-Jun-17 to 14-Aug-17
Length: 449 pages
ISBN: 9780688163525
Originally published in: 1937
Amazon link: The Importance of Living

The Complete Plain Words (2nd edition) by Ernest Gowers

Reading this British book published in 1978 (a revised version of the 1948 original) was like going on an archaeological expedition in a foreign country. The English recommended by the author differs from my own for reasons of both time and place.

In some passages, the author of The Complete Plain Words speaks of the changes in the language that will inevitably take place in the decades to come; it’s almost as if he’s conversing directly with me, forty years in his future, at the same time that he’s conversing with his predecessor, thirty years in his past.

Our national vocabulary is a democratic institution, and what is generally accepted will ultimately be correct. I have no doubt that if anyone should read this book in fifty years’ time he would find current objections to the use of certain words in certain senses as curious as we now find Swift’s denunciation of ‘mob’. (53–54)

See below for what I learned, what stood out, and what I heartily agree with, as well as when and why I read the book.

Continue reading The Complete Plain Words (2nd edition) by Ernest Gowers