Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Dystopian fiction is supposedly about the future, but it’s always tied in to the fears—and the technologies—of its own time period. Although Brave New World can claim biochemistry more advanced than ours, one of its characters boasts about information stored on “eighty-eight cubic metres of card-index” which I imagine would fit comfortably on a thumb drive.

In his Foreword, written years after the novel was published, Huxley acknowledges faults in the work, but also acknowledges that trying to fix it would be senseless meddling; the novel is and will be the same novel it always was, warts and all. (Are you listening, George Lucas? Senseless meddling!)

I didn’t enjoy it overall. The imagined setting is interesting because of the detail in which it’s described, and Huxley touches on some big ideas about what it means to be human, but it’s hard to create a new and interesting setting and handle big ideas and still have room left for characters to interact and plot events to take place, all in the space of 158 pages! Brave New World felt heavy on exposition.

Still, the worldbuilding, ideas, characters, and plot taken together, are impressive enough to make this a classic.

See below for more on all that, but beware SPOILERS. And British spelling.

Continue reading Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Photographically Speaking by David duChemin

I thought I knew nothing about photography. I was wrong.

True, I have little experience making photographs the way professionals do, and I know very little about cameras, my own cheap point-and-shoot included.

Still, photography is art, and creating photographs is much like creating other kinds of art. Much to my delight, the author of Photographically Speaking often draws explicit parallels with the art of writing, with which I’m somewhat familiar.

Once he establishes the thrust of the book (the importance of making conscious choices to create art), the author goes on to highlight the kinds of choices photographers can and should consciously make. Though he has a lot of specialized equipment and knows a lot about it, he focuses more on principles and concepts that you can observe in the finished image, not on which lens or filter you attach or which buttons you press.

See more below about what made Photographically Speaking such an approachable and informative text.

Continue reading Photographically Speaking by David duChemin

Mots D’Heures: Gousses, Rames

This blue book, Mots D’Heures: Gousses, Rames is a real treasure. I was ecstatic when I found it. When I was browsing in a used book shop in Melbourne, I found it on a shelf labeled “Books on Books”, but I’m not sure that’s where it belongs—or where it possibly could belong, for that matter! The whole volume is an esoteric joke aimed at native speakers of English who have studied French.

The book purports to be the publication of a mysterious manuscript of French poems the author discovered. He has annotated the poems in English with deadpan comments on the meanings of the French words.

In fact, as the author knows full well, the poems are more or less nonsense when translated from French, but if you pronounce them in French, they sound like a French speaker reciting Mother Goose rhymes! Case in point: The title of the volume, if you read it in a French accent, sounds like “Mother Goose Rhymes”.

Intrigued? There is a wonderful rabbit-hole of related phenomena you can happily fall into if you click the Wikipedia page for Mots D’Heures: Gousses, Rames.

If you are a social person and you want to have fun with this kind of language trick using just English, try the game Mad Gab.

Example cards from the game:

sea grit dress up ease = secret recipes
ice mail ask hunk = I smell a skunk
canoe key pace he gret = can you keep a secret
sand tack laws = Santa Claus
thigh sing gone thick ache = the icing on the cake

If you’re an introverted student of French and you want to experience the joy of deciphering Mots D’Heures: Gousses, Rames all by yourself, there are used copies of various editions of the book available through Amazon and Abebooks. You can’t have mine.

My 12th-grade French teacher used to write these “French poems” in a corner of the whiteboard to challenge us. I specifically remember “Little Miss Moffat”. Years later, feeling nostalgic, I looked online for a copy of a book they came from, but buying a copy of the out-of-print volume looked like it was going to be expensive, so I shelved that ambition. In 2009, HarperCollins reissued the work, but—tragically!—it went out of print again before I even noticed. To stumble across it by accident was a fantastic stroke of luck, especially given the price (AU$7) and condition (fantastic).

Maybe you already have the book, and you’ve tried to match the “French poems” to Mother Goose Rhymes, and you’re stumped. After all, the author is quite coy. Though he credits Mother Goose in the bibliography at the end of the book, he never clearly says that the poems are actually English Mother Goose rhymes, so of course he doesn’t list the answers; you are supposed to work them out yourself. If, however, you are fed up with trying to work them out yourself, and you’re here looking for the answers, then you, too have had a stroke of luck. I’ve worked them out for you.

See the answer key below for a list of the names of the 40 nursery rhymes disguised in Mots D’Heures: Gousses Rames.

Continue reading Mots D’Heures: Gousses, Rames

Harry Potter in Russian

This copy of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban in Russian (ISBN 9785389077881) was a gift from Ilya Sergey (a colleague of my husband who does theoretical computery things) and his wife Lilia Anisimova (an illustrator who does computery things of an entirely different kind).

It is the latest addition to my collection of translations of Harry Potter books, which consists mostly of translations of book 3, but also includes some translations of book 1.

The title page of the Russian translation looks like this:

The text inside looks like this:

It’s incomprehensible and unpronounceable yet blessedly phonetic!

The book features a beautiful new cover illustration by Kazu Kibuishi. The spines of the books in the seven-book set form an image of Hogwarts, like so:

New versions in many languages now feature Kibuishi’s illustrations; only buy the Russian edition if you’re a crazy collector like me—or if you can actually read Russian.

Book shopping in Melbourne

I enjoyed visiting four different bookshops in downtown Melbourne.

Hill of Content Bookshop sells new books. I was surprised to see that they had two full-height shelves on the subject of “Critical Thinking”. I was even more surprised when I noticed that the adjacent subject was “Religion”, and had only been allotted one full-height shelf. Ouch.

It isn’t as if there’s less to say on the subject of religion…

The Paperback sells only new books, but the space felt cram-packed with an eclectic mix of books the way a used book shop feels.

They seemed to be doing a thriving business.

Kay Craddock is a longstanding Antiquarian Bookseller with a charming collection of hundreds of owl figurines perched on the shelves alongside the books. The place reminded me somewhat of the venerable Atlanta Vintage Books, where I used to work.

City Basement Books sells used and rare books, and after emerging from a confusing tangle of twists and turns among the shelves, I bought three.

(1) Changing English (2) Mots D’Heures: Gousses, Rames (3) Spreading the Word

 

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!