This year I finished 52 books, about a book a week on average. That’s less than previous years, but there were some REALLY long ones: Les Miserables, not one but two translations of The Tale of Genji… and a fat amateurish non-fiction book about the experiences of Singapore educators that felt even longer than it was.
I might finish Atlas Shrugged, another really long one… Still a few hours left! XD
This year, 60% of the books I read were non-fiction. All my favorites were non-fiction (in bold below). Classic fiction titles were mostly chosen by the leader of the local book club I’m in in Singapore, The Hungry Hundred Book Club.
I’ve posted about the foreign classics on my other website, We Love Translations: World Literature in English.
Many books (both fiction and non-fiction) were about Singapore and/or written by Singapore authors; some were not Singaporean but were Southeast-Asian or Asian.
Well, my reading is following the book group selections and also the “last in, first out” rule that whatever I buy, I have to read it next, not ‘eventually’. I thought of this rule several years ago as a strategy for reining in book purchases, and I’m finally starting to follow it. There’s still a huge backlog, but the backlog has stopped growing. Yay.
See below for a sorted list of the books I read in 2021.
Continue reading Books I read in 2021
What’s the best translation of Les Miserables by Victor Hugo?
I researched the different translations of Les Miserables and posted on my other website, We Love Translations. That was, however, after I had already bought the two-volume Wordsworth Classics paperback edition of the Wilbour translation.
You know, the one with Zombie Cosette on the cover. = \
Anyway… Wordsworth is what I had, so Wordsworth is what I read!
I posted my review of Les Miserables at We Love Translations too. Check it out!
When and Why I Read Les Miserables (Vol 1)
I might have read it in high school, but if I did it was probably an abridged version. Time to attack the real thing! My copy is the Wordsworth Classics two-volume edition, translated by Charles E. Wilbour.
Genre: French literature
Date started / date finished: 27-Sep-21 to 19-Oct-21
Length: 494 pages
Originally published in: 1862/1994/2002
Amazon link: Les Miserables (Vol 1)
The book was originally published in 1947 under the French title La Peste. There are three English translations:
What is the BEST translation of The Plague by Camus?
I know some French—but not, like, a lot—and I haven’t read both the existing English translations. Still, you asked, so here’s my answer.
I recommend the Buss / Penguin translation of The Plague:
It’s got a nice afterword by Tony Judt. See below for other reasons.
Buy paperback from Amazon
Continue reading Which translation of The Plague by Camus should I read?
If you have never read The Tale of Genji, my advice is, DON’T START WITH TYLER. That’s what I did: I started with Tyler. That was a mistake.
Continue reading Which translation of the Tale of Genji should I read?
I am pleased to present the new home of whichever of my posts are dedicated to English translations of books originally written in other languages. Posts on the site also focus on a couple of collections of translations of books across several languages, whatever language they were originally written in, and books about translation, language, and culture in general.
I cannot wholeheartedly recommend Steven Pinker’s style-guide / usage manual, but it does have a couple of important things to say about written English.
Respect Your Tools
Language has its own internal logic. Good writing respects that logic. Writers should study grammar explicitly rather than rely on intuition in order to communicate clearly, show respect for their readers, and inspire confidence in their work. Good writers are those who read widely enough to absorb good practices from a longstanding written English tradition. They know the rules but also when to break them.
Break the Rules
The Ancient and Venerable English Teachers’ Code—beloved by Grammar Nazis, Prescriptivists, Fussbudgets and Curmudgeons—is more what you’d call guidelines than actual rules, and some of the guidelines will lead you astray because (a) Some were written by people who didn’t understand English and (b) Thanks to natural and inevitable language change, the English we use today differs from the English of the past.
See below for more details about what I liked and what I didn’t like about Steven Pinker’s The Sense of Style.
Continue reading The Sense of Style by Steven Pinker
When and Why I Read The Sense of Style
I bought this a while back. Finally getting around to it.
Date started / date finished: 22-Nov-20 to 01-Dec-20
Length: 368 pages
Originally published in: 2015
Amazon link: The Sense of Style
I wrote a post about The Golden Chersonese for Asian Books Blog.
A paperback edition of The Golden Chersonese was published in 2010 by Monsoon Books. The text is also available free from Gutenberg.org along with various other works by Isabella Bird.
Bird traveled around the world in the late 1800s, largely unaccompanied. This volume of hers, one among a dozen published works, contains letters describing her experiences in the Malaysian Peninsula, where she traveled after stopping briefly in China, Hong Kong, Vietnam and Singapore.
Reading the letters without much in the way of added historical context left me feeling somewhat adrift, but the book was worth reading for the strange feeling it gave me of traveling not just in space but in time.
See below for some notes on what makes this travelogue very much of its time and not ours.
Continue reading The Golden Chersonese by Isabella Bird
When and Why I Read The Golden Chersonese
"A nineteenth-century Englishwoman's travels in Singapore and the Malay peninsula."
Genre: travel / Southeast Asia
Date started / date finished: 09-Nov-20 to 23-Nov-20
Length: 352 pages
Originally published in: 1883/2010
Amazon link: The Golden Chersonese
Both servings of Singapore Siu Dai offer comics and brief comedy sketches that exaggerate the ironies of life on the island and lovingly poke fun at aptly named fictional characters meant to caricature the island’s people.
Though I can’t help but feel that the target audience consists of people who are familiar with acronyms like MOE (Ministry of Education) and the ubiquitous Singlish speech particle ‘lah’, there’s a glossary that explains these and other potentially opaque terms, noting whether they are Malay, Cantonese, Hokkien, Mandarin or Singlish.
Luckily for foreign readers, one of the entries explains the phrase ‘siu dai’, which means ‘less sugar’, the idea being that these sketches depict Singapore, warts and all.
There’s a third Siu Dai book that I haven’t yet managed to snag.
When I Read Singapore Siu Dai 1 and 2
Singapore Siu Dai 1
Date started / date finished: 17-Nov-20 to 17-Nov-20
Length: 129 pages
Originally published in: 2014
Singapore Siu Dai 2
Date started / date finished: 19-Nov-20 to 23-Nov-20
Length: 139 pages
Originally published in: 2014
This is the grandaddy of all the other books on Singlish. This paperback, containing reprints of two originally separate volumes from 1982 and 1986, contains a wealth of acronyms, onomatopoeias, words, phrases, and chants in or derived from English, Malay, and the locally spoken Chinese dialects Hokkien, Cantonese, and Teochew.
Continue reading The Complete Eh, Goondu! by Sylvia Toh Paik Choo
When and Why I Read The Complete Eh, Goondu!
This is a list of Singlish words and phrases with explanations, grouped into chapters.
Genre: Reference (English, Singapore)
Date started / date finished: 26-Oct-20 to 19-Nov-20
Length: 221 pages
Originally published in: 2011
Amazon link: The Complete Eh, Goondu!