Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

Before it was an award-winning sci-fi novel, it was an award-winning sci-fi short story. It’s commonly studied, deep, and poignant. (I’m not really a fan of poignant.)

Flowers for Algernon tells the story of a retarded man named Charlie who undergoes an experimental surgical procedure to increase his intelligence. Algernon is the mouse whose success has convinced scientists that the procedure should be tried on a human test subject. It is clear early in the book, if not from the title of the book itself, that the procedure ultimately fails. Hence the poignancy.

For more on the format, plot and themes, continue reading.

Continue reading Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth

See below for my thoughts on this excellent novel, when and why I read it (twice!), and a list of other books I’ve read that are about India or by Indian authors.

My write-up of the premise, characters, themes and what I liked about the book contains some details about the characters that could be considered spoilers but does not give away the climax or resolution of the tale.

Continue reading A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth

Even more Robin Hoods

This post is part of a series of posts on books and movies about the legend of Robin Hood. It discusses:

  • The Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin McKinley
  • The Adventures of Robin Hood by Roger Lancelyn Green
  • The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood by Howard Pyle

See also:

Continue reading Even more Robin Hoods

Atrium Book Sale

Singapore is not a great place for book bargains. However, I have had some luck with book sales that travel around and set up in shopping mall atriums. (Atria. Happy now, Firefox spellcheck?)

If I were the roadrunner, this would be the perfect trap for the coyote to set up. I would fall right in it.

atrium-book-sale
…and I did!
atrium-book-sale-2
Then I found this…

Now, no doubt I have some books that are pretty useless to me. In fact, you could say that at any given time, all my books except for about three of them are useless to me. Some, like the ones written in Thai, Greek, Korean, Arabic or Burmese, are likely to remain useless to me forever.

Still. Still, I ask you. Of what possible use is a book on ROCKHOUNDING IN IDAHO to anyone in Singapore? I mean, I love rocks—and books, obviously—and I fully understand the notion of armchair travel. And yet. This book. It cannot help me find rocks in Idaho as long as I am physically in Singapore.

Am I right? Seriously, this book is never going to sell…

I mean, for the same money, you’d clearly be better off with Daytrips from Washington, DC.

English as it is Broken… is broken.

The two English as it is Broken books shown above contain photos of signs and responses to people who’ve written in to a weekly column in The Straits Times with questions about English usage.

(For a listing of all four books and then some, see the earlier post, Books on Singapore English.)

The quality of the answers in the two books has been disparaged, but I think most of the explicit explanations are informative even if they are not expressed perfectly.

Below are an example answer I like and one I don’t.

Continue reading English as it is Broken… is broken.

Who says I never read murder mysteries!

I am currently reading what is essentially a murder mystery (set in revolutionary Boston but with magic). I almost never do that. This book was signed by the author and recommended and given to me by the person it was signed for (my brother’s housemate).

Thieftaker by D. B. Jackson
Thieftaker by D. B. Jackson

At some point I realized that by an odd coincidence, the book I read immediately prior to this one was ALSO essentially a murder mystery (actually a contemporary thriller, set in the UK). It is ALSO signed by the author.

Bitter Fruits by Alice Clark-Platts
Bitter Fruits by Alice Clark-Platts

I did not read these two in a row on purpose. And actually, it turns out I didn’t really read them in a row; there was a YA fantasy novel in between that I read in one sitting. It’s just that I’m trying to read books more or less in reverse order as they come into my possession, and these are both books I got recently. And they’re not that much alike—they’re not even the same size!—except that they both revolve around murder cases and they’re both signed.

Strikingly similar…

I just read Little (Grrl) Lost by Charles de Lint. My paperback has a shiny, metallic bluish cover depicting the character Elizabeth, who looks spunky. I went to put the book back on the shelf and look for another to attack next and discovered another Charles de Lint book. Also blue. Also depicting a spunky teenage girl. Titled The Blue Girl. For a moment I thought the publisher had perhaps retitled the work for the paperback edition, and that thus I unknowingly had bought two copies of the same book.

If they had done that, I wouldn’t blame them, or even think them sneaky… it would be my own fault, same as it was when I wound up with two copies of the same book, one orange and one brown, one purchased in 2005 and the other in 2007, about writing.

But no. Apparently Charles de Lint has written two entirely different blue-themed books featuring two entirely different spunky teenage girls. That’s a relief.

Kudos to Scott Fischer for the cover of Little (Grrl) Lost and to Cliff Nielsen for the cover of The Blue Girl. I know Cliff’s name because of some excellent Madeleine L’Engle covers. May your revenue stream never run dry, Cliff.

Lots of Robin Hoods

For a while now, I’ve had two Robin Hood mass-market paperbacks on the same shelf (one by Roger Lancelyn Green and one by Howard Pyle). Just now my spreadsheet told me I also have one by Henry Gilbert that I bought in 2010. My copy of Green is from 2008 and Pyle must have been before July 2004. So I have three versions. Plus Robin McKinley’s Outlaws of Sherwood.

I also have three movie versions: Disney, Elwes and Flynn. And a 2006 TV series from the BBC!

Text illusion

A funny thing happened when I was reading this book.

The Story of My Experiments with Truth
The Story of My Experiments with Truth, the autobiography of Gandhi

What does this heading say?

XVII. COMPANIONS

I somehow read that as EVIL COMPANIONS. Because the ‘X’ looks like an ‘E’ and the period next to the ‘I’ makes the ‘I’ look like an ‘L’.

One reason why I think I was so ready to read ‘I.’ as an ‘L’ is that the print quality of the whole book was not so good, and letters or parts of letters were often missing. My eyes had gotten used to filling in ‘missing’ parts, and filled in an ‘L’ where there actually wasn’t one.

Reminds me of the time I misread ‘China Unicom’ as ‘China Unicorn’ early on when I was working for China Knowledge.

There’s a word for what happens when letters are too close together. Letter spacing is called ‘kerning’. Bad letter spacing is jokingly called ‘keming’.