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

Tiananmen: 25th Anniversary Edition by Morgan Chua

Caricatures don’t make much sense if you don’t know what’s being exaggerated or why….. There was some background information included in the front of the book, but mostly this is a collection of political cartoons that I don’t have enough context to appreciate.

The author is a Singapore-born cartoonist, and the cartoons were originally published in book form in 1989.

The events that took place at Tiananmen Square in Beijing on 4 June 1989 attracted international attention and sparked outrage at the Chinese government’s military advance on student demonstrators. Since then, a new generation of Chinese has grown up in a country that continues to grapple with issues of political liberalisation, democracy and censorship.

When and Why I Read Tiananmen

I bought it on sale at localbooks.sg.

Genre: non-fiction (graphic novels, politics and history)
Date started / date finished:  28-Aug-18 to 30-Aug-18
Length: 128 pages
ISBN: 9789810779276
Originally published in: 2014
Amazon link: Tiananmen: 25th Anniversary Edition

Magician (Master/Apprentice) by Raymond E. Feist

I struggled to get through these. I’m not sure what made them seem so boring. Dwarves, elves, wizards, kings, princesses, armies, a dragon, an interdimensional portal… yawn.

Maybe the story felt plot-driven? Maybe it followed too many characters? Maybe it covered too much time? Maybe the author’s preferred version is appreciably worse than the bestselling version the publisher released in 1982? Maybe what feels like a cookie-cutter fantasy epic now would have sounded fresh in 1982? Maybe George R. R. Martin’s ridiculously successful Ice and Fire books now outshine all previous fantasy works?

It’s not that I’ve read so much non-fiction that I don’t enjoy fantasy anymore. I loved Brandon Mull’s Five Kingdoms. I think the reason I didn’t like Magician is probably something to do with style changes that have taken place in the fantasy fiction market.

When and Why I Read Magician

Recently, I have tended to read non-fiction and serious fiction. I am using a friend’s recommendation as an excuse to read Magician, a genre fantasy novel split into two mass-market paperbacks. I bought them for $1 each in 2007.

Genre: fantasy
Originally published in: 1982/1994

Date started / date finished:  21-Jul-18 to 27-Jul-18
Length: 485 pages
ISBN: 0553564943
Amazon link: Magician: Apprentice

Date started / date finished:  27-Jun-18 to 11-Aug-18
Length: 499 pages
ISBN: 0553564935
Amazon link: Magician: Master

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce

Being neither a young male Irish Catholic nor an English major and at least one even slightly acclaimed novel short of an artist, I felt lost slogging through this “more approachable” work of Joyce’s.

In praise of what I find to be an impenetrable text, Shmoop says:

This novel, the first in Joyce’s whopping hat-trick of great novels, is both shorter and more approachable than either of Joyce’s later masterpieces (for which we humbly thank him). Portrait of the Artist really unleashed the massive power of Joyce’s innovation and unconventionality upon the literary world.

Why I found A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man hard to read

Fiction has character, setting, plot, and style. When any one of these four elements is developed at the expense of the other three, you get strange fiction. Sometimes it’s good strange and sometime it’s bad strange. Joyce’s fiction is primarily characterized by style—innovative and unconventional style. The literary world considers Joyce’s fiction good strange. For me, A Portrait of the Artist was bad strange.

I’m more of a nineteenth-century Realist than a twentieth-century Modernist or Post-modernist. I don’t like unreliable narrators, stream-of-consciousness narration, or magical realism. Joyce is known for free indirect speech, which is a kind of stream-of-consciousness narration.

The edition I read in high school had an introduction and notes built in, but many free and “thrift” editions, like the one I just finished reading, do not. It would have been better (though slower) to read the novel alongside some kind of notes (e.g., CliffsNotes or SparkNotes).

See below for what stuck out as well as when and why I read it.

Continue reading A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce

Exit West by Moshin Hamid

Exit West reminds me of Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter’s The Long Earth in that people suddenly discover a game-changing method of moving from place to place. It also reminds me of Christopher Manson’s puzzle book Maze because of the mysterious doors.

Rumors had begun to circulate of doors that could take you elsewhere, often to places far away, well removed from this death trap of a country. Some people claimed to know people who knew people who had been through such doors. A normal door, they said, could become a special door, and it could happen without warning, to any door at all. Most people thought these rumors to be nonsense, the superstitions of the feeble-minded. But most people began to gaze at their own doors a little differently nonetheless.

I love the premise, the penetrating insight, and the deadpan style. See below for what stood out as well as when and why I read it.

Continue reading Exit West by Moshin Hamid

1984 by George Orwell

I re-read the dystopia 1984 in preparation for a talk I gave on language.

The main ideas I remembered from having read the novel at least twenty years ago were:

  • the government reduced the size of the English vocabulary (to control thought)
  • the government was constantly destroying and rewriting the nation’s news articles (to control facts)

I found those ideas so compelling that I forgot all about the main character’s love interest and the secret horror that proved to be his undoing.

Of course, the novel is also famous because it says that:

  • totalitarian dictators like the novel’s “Big Brother” typically keep tabs on their citizens by means of ubiquitous surveillance
  • you can (eventually) make anybody believe that two and two are five

See below for what stood out in the novel when I re-read it.

Continue reading 1984 by George Orwell

We Love Bedok by Urban Sketchers Singapore

Want to see inside? There’s a link to a PDF sample on the publisher’s page for We Love Bedok.

Thus far, Urban Sketchers Singapore and Epigram Books have produced books of sketches of:

  1. Toa Payoh (November 2012)
  2. Tiong Bahru (February 2013)
  3. Bedok (April 2013)
  4. Queenstown (September 2013)
  5. Katong (April 2014)
  6. Little India (Sept 2014)
  7. Chinatown (May 2015)
  8. Geylang Serai (January 2016)
  9. Serangoon Gardens (January 2017)

The first two are sold out at the publisher.

When and Why I Read We Love Bedok

This is an attractive locally-produced book.

Genre: non-fiction (art)
Date started / date finished:  20-Jun-18 to 21-Jun-18
Length: 96 pages
ISBN: 9789810754327 (paperback)
Originally published in: 2013

Lu Xun and Evolution by James Reeve Pusey

How often does one read a book whose genre is roughly equal parts philosophy, biology, Chinese history and literature? Not very.

Caveat lector. This book is not an ordinary monograph in Chinese intellectual history. It is not just about China. It is not just about Lu Xun. It is certainly not an introduction to Lu Xun, or to his works. It is not an intellectual biography. It is not “an appreciation.” It is not a study of Lu Xun’s genius or his art (although both will shine through). It is a philosophical critique of Lu Xun’s thought and a philosophical and political critique of what Chinese in the People’s Republic have done, and may yet do, with Lu Xun’s thought, and it is a reflection on philosophy and biology.

Some non-fiction books barely scratch the surface of a whole discipline, explaining the same terms and repeating the same well-trodden foundational anecdotes. It’s refreshing, once in a while, to read something truly niche.

Also refreshing is the author’s use of language play. For a serious book, it sure has a lot of jokes. Frequently, the same word is used in two senses in the same sentence. It’s self-indulgent and self-referential, but I find it charming. Any stupid old book could be distant, detached, and dry; this one feels like it was written by a real live human being who really, really likes to write, and who cares deeply about the topic at hand.

The topic at hand is an analysis of Lu Xun’s understanding of the implications of evolutionary theory for his country. Do ideas about evolution suggest that the Chinese have an inevitable destiny, good or bad? Do those ideas suggest that they are the makers of their own destiny, and should strive to evolve, individually or as a whole country? What ideas about evolution did people have in Lu Xun’s time, and which did he encounter, and how did he interpret them and incorporate them into his work throughout his writing career? How have his writings since been used, reused, and reinterpreted?

See below for scattered notes on the content and style of this treatise.

Continue reading Lu Xun and Evolution by James Reeve Pusey

We Love Tiong Bahru by Urban Sketchers Singapore

Want to see inside? There’s a link to a PDF sample on the publisher’s page for We Love Tiong Bahru.

Thus far, Urban Sketchers Singapore and Epigram Books have produced books of sketches of:

  1. Toa Payoh (November 2012)
  2. Tiong Bahru (February 2013)
  3. Bedok (April 2013)
  4. Queenstown (September 2013)
  5. Katong (April 2014)
  6. Little India (Sept 2014)
  7. Chinatown (May 2015)
  8. Geylang Serai (January 2016)
  9. Serangoon Gardens (January 2017)

The first two are sold out at the publisher.

When and Why I Read We Love Tiong Bahru

This is an attractive locally-produced book.

Genre: non-fiction (art)
Date started / date finished:  12-Jun-18 to 12-Jun-18
Length: 96 pages
ISBN: 9789810736255 (paperback)
Originally published in: 2013

Burmese Days by George Orwell

In Burmese Days, a novel inspired by the author’s own stint in the steaming jungles of upper British Burma, plot-related tensions seem on the verge of boiling over. The conflict between local crime boss U Po Kyin and the civil surgeon, Dr. Veraswami, threatens to interfere not only with Flory’s plan to get his friend elected to the local European club, but also with his plan to marry Elizabeth, in whom he somehow manages to see a worthy companion for himself—worthier, certainly than his Burmese mistress Ma Hla May! Elizabeth, meanwhile, seems to have fallen for a young horseman temporarily stationed in Kyauktada. Whose plans will succeed and whose fail, and what lessons does Orwell want us to learn from all this?

For more on where and when the novel is set, a list of the members of the Kyauktada European Club, and some interesting quotes from the novel, see my Backlist books post on Asian Books Blog.

When and Why I Read Burmese Days

Reading this as a follow up to Not Out of Hate.

Genre: fiction (historical)
Date started / date finished: 03-Jun-2018 / 08-Jun-2018
Length: 461
ISBN: ASIN B003WJQ6RW
Originally published in: 1934/1974
Amazon link: Burmese Days