The Fugitive by Pramoedya Ananta Toer

I enjoyed this short, out-of-print book more than I necessarily expected to. It got off to a slow start, especially for such a short novel, but it gave me lots of food for thought.

The Fugitive was written by a highly regarded Indonesian nationalist. In writing about the book, I learned that the author’s name, though in three parts, is not a first, middle, and last name with the family name last. It’s just a name. He is referred to as “Pramoedya” (which is also spelled “Pramudya”) or just “Pram”.

Read more about the book in my Backlist books post about The Fugitive at Asian Books Blog.

When and Why I Read The Fugitive

I am reading this Indonesian novel for my Backlist books column at Asian Books Blog.

Genre: Fiction (historical)
Date started / date finished: 17-Apr-2018 / 23-Apr-2018
Length: 171
ISBN: 0688086985
Originally published in: 1950/1990
Amazon link: The Fugitive

The Movie Book

Reading The Movie Book, I got the strong impression that, regardless of its genre, every movie I like is basically the same movie: an uplifting story with a conventional structure, an admirable main character, and an upbeat conclusion. This book, in contrast, expresses appreciation of many kinds of movie, seemingly few of them cheerful.

Still, some of my personal favorites are considered great cinema; I am a fan of the quite historic Wizard of Oz, for example. In contrast, although intellectually I understand that Blade Runner is a classic, I found it largely unpleasant to watch. Oldboy was much worse. Those are two hours of my life I really wish I could get back.

Lesson learnt. Watching “good” movies—or even “important” movies—as if movies can be measured on a universal scale is not a recipe for enjoyment. Taste is personal.

Here’s an interactive list of the 116 movies featured in the book. (It doesn’t list the 88 honorable mentions described briefly at the back of the book, but this post does.) Among them are some movies I have not seen that I would like to see—some that I think I would actually enjoy (e.g., Singin’ in the Rain) and others that are not my cup of tea but would be interesting and give me a stronger grounding in the history of film (e.g., King Kong).

When and Why I Read The Movie Book

I like books. I like movies. I like checklists. Surely I will enjoy a book that consists of a checklist of movies.

Genre: non-fiction (reference; film)
Date started / date finished: 02-Apr-2018 / 17-Apr-2018
Length: 343 pages
ISBN: 9780241188026
Originally published in: 2015
Amazon link: The Movie Book

Junior Page book sale at Novena Square atrium

I just recently bought ten books at an atrium sale, but that didn’t stop me from browsing the Junior Page atrium sale and buying these six.

  • The King Arthur Trilogy by Rosemary Sutcliff
  • How We Learn by Benedict Carey
  • Screenwise by Devorah Heitner
  • Head in the Cloud by William Poundstone
  • Born Reading by Jason Boog
  • Peak by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool

The cashier asked me how long it was going to take me to read them, as if either I had a superpower or was biting off more than I could chew. I think most of the people shopping the sale were only buying one, two, or three books at a time. Tough to make back the rental fees at that rate, I would think.

And yet in Square 2, the shopping mall next door, there was ANOTHER atrium book sale running at the same time.

Luckily “Success Shop” didn’t have any books I wanted to buy. (I’d have bought them.)

Not out of Hate by Ma Ma Lay (thoughts on postcolonial literature)

I posted some background information and opinions on Not Out of Hate in a post about the book on Asian Books Blog.

This post explains why I chose this Burmese novel to feature in my Backlist books column, even though I didn’t start out with the intent to study Southeast Asian postcolonial literature.

Continue reading Not out of Hate by Ma Ma Lay (thoughts on postcolonial literature)

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

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

I re-read this familiar classic in preparation for seeing the 2018 movie adaptation.

When and Why I Read A Wrinkle in Time

My site keeps getting 404 hits for an image of this book that I uploaded years ago. It’s because of the movie, I’m sure.

Genre: Fiction (children’s fantasy)
Date started / date finished: 12-Mar-2018 / 15-Mar-2018
Length: 198
ISBN: 0440998050
Originally published in: 1962
Amazon link: A Wrinkle in Time

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

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 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

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