The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

A more accurate title for this novel might be: The Adventures of the Strangely Wise and Poetical Free Spirit Huckleberry Finn, and the Hapless Runaway Slave Jim, Interrupted by the Heartless Cloudcuckoolander Tom Sawyer.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was required reading in my 10th-grade English class. I didn’t like it. Years later, now that I’ve re-read it, I still don’t like it, but I have more insight into what makes it a good book as well as what annoys me about it.

See below for the strengths of the book and what annoyed me about it, a plot summary (with SPOILERS), and what stood out as well as when and why I read it.

Continue reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

The House of the Mosque by Kader Abdolah, translated by Susan Massotty

The House of the Mosque is a perfectly good literary novel but not my cup of tea. I tend to feel like family sagas are pointless even when they’re interesting.

This one tells the story of a family that lives in the titular house of the mosque in a town in Iran. Over the course of the book, time passes, and times change. Different characters, confronted with modernity, make different choices, or fall victim to changes outside their control. It’s an informative but melancholy book.

On the subject of modern Iran, I have previously read the autobiographical graphic novel Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi, the non-fictional account Taken Hostage, by David Farber, and the lengthy novel Whirlwind, by James Clavell. The House of the Mosque is less dramatic than Whirlwind and has less true-to-life impact than either of the non-fiction books. (I made essentially the same observation about the American family saga Roots, which I think is flawed both as fiction and as non-fiction.)

When and why I read The House of the Mosque

I am reading this for the Singapore Ladies’ Book Group for November.

Genre: fiction (historical, family saga)
Date started / date finished:  01-Nov-18 to 02-Nov-18
Length: 449
ISBN: ASIN B0033TI4BC
Originally published in: 2010
Amazon link: The House of the Mosque

The Home and the World by Rabindranath Tagore, translated by Surendranath Tagore

Not a lot happens in The Home and the World, but a lot is felt and thought and said. The novel explores male and female gender ideals, the changing role of women in the modern world, and approaches to political change. It showcases contrasting character traits: patience and impulsivity, thoughtfulness and recklessness, candor and cunning, generosity and jealousy, conscientiousness and ambition, practicality and idealism.

The main character, Bimala, is an Indian woman caught in a love triangle with her mild, loving husband Nikhil and the charismatic, impetuous nationalist Sandip. She has always had a place in the home, but what is her place in the world?

See my Backlist books post on Asian Books Blog for more on this Bengali novel. See below for what stood out when I read it.

Continue reading The Home and the World by Rabindranath Tagore, translated by Surendranath Tagore

The Ship by Antonia Honeywell

In a world ravaged by ecological disaster and ruled by digital tyranny, a father buys and stocks a ship so that his daughter can live in ease and comfort among 500 specially selected people, out of reach of the collapse of civilized society. Are the girl and her mother really on board with this whole plan, though? Read The Ship to find out what’s in store for those on the ark.

Or don’t. Personally, I can’t recommend it. See below for why.

Continue reading The Ship by Antonia Honeywell

Wish You Were Here by Nick Webb

I don’t always read biographies, but I when I do, I read biographies of modern creative geniuses. Wish You Were Here tells the story of Douglas Adams, author of the comedy/sci-fi Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Trilogy. Biographer Nick Webb gives readers insights into the beloved author’s family background, his personal and professional struggles, and his ultimate phenomenal success.

What I especially appreciated, in addition to peeks into the media industry, was Webb’s characterization of Adams’ unique and thoughtful approach to life, the universe, and everything and the reminder that even those whose works spawn devoted global cults often start out as starving artists perpetually unsure whether the world will ever care what they have to say.

Douglas died suddenly in 2001, but his works continue to inspire.

When and why I read Wish You Were Here

I was prompted to re-read the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series when a friend decided to throw a HHGTTG-themed party for her 42nd birthday. Decided to read this biography too. (Bought it in 2009.)

Genre: non-fiction (biography)
Date started / date finished:  16-Oct-18 to 21-Oct-18
Length: 351 pages
ISBN: 0755311566
Originally published in: 2003/2004
Amazon link: Wish You Were Here

Mostly Harmless by Douglas Adams

Like the third installment of The Matrix, this book goes off the rails—which is maybe what you’d expect for the fifth book in a comedy/sci-fi novel series. It’s longer, darker, and more complicated than the others, and has more narration (less dialog) than its predecessors. The ending gives a sense of tying off loose ends, though there’s a sixth book published after the author’s death.

Still, Mostly Harmless has its bright spots: the idea of Arthur becoming a revered sandwich master on a low-tech planet is one I cherish.

My first edition copy is signed by the inimitable Adams (though sadly not to me).

When and why I read Mostly Harmless

I was prompted to re-read the series when a friend decided to throw a HHGTTG-themed party for her 42nd birthday.

Genre: fiction (comedy/science-fiction)
Date started / date finished:  16-Oct-18 to 16-Oct-18
Length: 277 pages
Originally published in: 1992
Amazon link: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Trilogy

So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish by Douglas Adams

This fourth book in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Trilogy by Douglas Adams is not as fun as the first three. Hapless human protagonist Arthur Dent isn’t roaming the galaxy anymore; he’s back on Earth somehow, even though the Earth was destroyed. Purely by accident, he falls and misses the ground, thus learns to fly. He also falls in love.

When and why I read So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish

I was prompted to re-read the series when a friend decided to throw a HHGTTG-themed party for her 42nd birthday.

Genre: fiction (comedy/science-fiction)
Date started / date finished:  15-Oct-18 to 15-Oct-18
Length: 152 pages
Originally published in: 1984
Amazon link: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Trilogy

 

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Trilogy by Douglas Adams

First a BBC radio show and then a series of painstaking novels, later a BBC miniseries and later still a video game and even a Hollywood movie, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Trilogy offers a multitude of zany insights into the the philosophical conundra of the ages.

If you have not read the original book trilogy, do not stop, do not pass go, do not collect $200, and above all, don’t panic. Just go and read it right now. Dozens of pop-culture references and in-jokes will suddenly make sense, even though the books themselves often don’t, and you’ll be able to join in the annual Towel Day celebrations on May 25th.

The books are available in a wide variety of styles and formats, but I love this cover art by Peter Cross. I bought these fantastic American book club edition hardcovers at a thrift store when I was in college. A friend in high school originally recommended the series and lent me her copy of the Hitchhiker’s Guide omnibus.

When and why I read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Trilogy

I was prompted to re-read the series when a friend decided to throw a HHGTTG-themed party for her 42nd birthday.

Genre: fiction (comedy/science-fiction)
Amazon link: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Trilogy

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
Date started / date finished:  12-Oct-18 to 13-Oct-18
Length: 209 pages
Originally published in: 1979

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe
Date started / date finished:  13-Oct-18 to 14-Oct-18
Length: 217 pages
Originally published in: 1980

Life the Universe and Everything
Date started / date finished:  14-Oct-18 to 15-Oct-18
Length: 182 pages
Originally published in: 1982

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

The cover of Ready Player One says “Enchanting. WILLY WONKA meets THE MATRIX.” —USA Today. I thought it was more like Second Life meets Speed Racer meets Surrogates.

OASIS, the book’s highly advanced and therefore seemingly magical virtual world, in some ways resembles Second Life, an online platform where user avatars can interact with one another in a variety of digital settings for business, education, entertainment, or personal reasons. In both cases, the world is fake but the social and economic relationships inside it are very real.

The book embodies modern liberal values such as the superiority of science over superstition, the urgency of the need for alternative energy sources, the right to online anonymity, the idea that information (and thus education) wants to be free, the equality of all races, genders, and sexual orientations, the importance of inner beauty, the protection of basic human rights, and, of course, the inherent evil of money-grubbing mega-corporations run by villains who, like Speed Racer‘s E.P. Arnold Royalton, will not hesitate to take with deadly force whatever their obscene piles of cash can’t buy.

To the extent that the book has a message, it’s that of the mediocre 2009 Bruce Willis movie Surrogates: the real world should be more important to humans than any substitute. However, the whole of Ready Player One seems to argue the exact opposite: “The digital world is really cool, guys! We can use it to live in our own retro-futuristic fantasy worlds, like, forever!” The moral of the story thus seems not just tacked on but insincere.

What, then, is the point? The novel is an unsubtle homage to the pop culture of several decades set in a technologically superior “dystopia”, though anything with so much baked-in wish-fulfillment can’t possibly be properly dystopian, if you ask me.

But hey. At least there’s a Firefly reference in there.

See below for more thoughts on the novel as well as 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 Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Threelogy Lah by Casey Chen

This box set contains three folk tales told in Singlish style: The Three Little Pigs Lah, The Red Riding Hood Lah, and The Goldilocks Lah.

The plots are not very different from other adaptations of these familiar tales. The characters are not very different, except that the bears in the story of Goldilocks are not bears but wolves, a change presumably made to connect the third book with the first two. The setting for the stories is Singapore. The illustrations are a mix of drawings and photos of objects and places, and each book’s drawings are by a different artist.

The appeal of these books (in general and for me specifically) is that they use and teach Singlish dialect and slang expressions. The target audience includes both those who want to see their own dialect used for humorous effect and those who are unfamiliar with Singlish and interested in increasing their understanding of it.

See below for more details about these books.

Continue reading Threelogy Lah by Casey Chen