Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke

Previously, I read Childhood’s End in 1999. I vaguely remembered some sort of mystical transformation of humankind at the end. In fact, I remember a book cover (which maybe doesn’t exist) that was black and asymmetrical with a looming red/orange/yellow embryo symbolizing humanity’s next phase of existence. I think I was confusing it with a bluish cover for Clarke’s 2010: Odyssey Two.

I saw a cheap used paperback with a spaceship on the cover on my trip to the US in December and decided to buy it and read it again. I had the vague idea that maybe the book would have some relevant things to say about the transformation of society that some are predicting will occur as a result of the development of artificial intelligence.

I was disappointed.

See below to find out why.

Continue reading Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke

When and Why I Read Childhood's End

Read it once before. Got a cheap copy in Atlanta December 2023. Wanted to read it because it's about the future of humanity, and the AI people keep talking about the future of humanity. This had nothing relevant to say though.

Genre: science-fiction
Date started / date finished: 30-Mar-24 to 31-Mar-24
Length: 218 pages
ISBN: 0345347951
Originally published in: 1953/1974
Amazon link: Childhood's End

Poster Girl by Veronica Roth

A 27-year-old woman who as a teenager posed for a propaganda poster under the previous government is released from imprisonment on condition that she locate a missing girl who was snatched from her family a decade earlier. Her luminescent ocular device, no longer connected to the system that conditioned every citizen via instant monetary rewards and punishments, can nevertheless still be used to spy on her.

The story, told in present tense, explores themes of community and making the best of what you have, like City of Ember. But the world of Roth’s Poster Girl is not a world where anyone emerges triumphant. Mostly, it’s about loss and evil and culpability; not just looking evil in the face, but casting aside self-deception and admitting you carry it inside yourself.

In addition, we’re warned that technology can be misused; specifically that we’re infinitely better off if our data is siloed on scattered devices than if it’s in the cloud, because someday the government will likely get it all, and whoever controls the government will use it however they see fit… and so will the next government.

I read in a review of Childhood’s End that it’s dull because its only plot device is “the slow reveal.” While that’s not the only plot device of Poster Girl, it might partly explain the deflated feeling I had, sunshiny epilogue notwithstanding, when I finished reading it. The 288-page novel hinges on the dark secret at its heart. About which, no more.

When and Why I Read Poster Girl

Got an email alert that a Veronica Roth ebook was on sale and bought it. Apparently she wrote it during the pandemic.

Genre: science-fiction/fantasy
Date started / date finished: 29-Mar-24 to 30-Mar-24
Length: 279 pages
Originally published in: 2022
Amazon link: Poster Girl

Passionate Persistence by Eve Sprunt

Two things stood out when I read Passionate PersistenceThe Life of My Mother, Ruth Chew by Eve Sprunt.

One is that all the dollar amounts mentioned for individual purchases, cars, salaries, etc. were really low compared to now, many decades later. I mean, of course I know about inflation, but appreciating these amounts, even with present-day equivalents given in the narration, is like having to think in another currency entirely. The past really is a foreign country, and reading a biography of anyone born in a previous generation is like traveling in time.

The other is that children’s authors aren’t necessarily good with their own kids. I would have assumed someone apparently full of entertaining stories for children would have been fully engaged with her own. It seems the truth is that Ruth’s offspring were expected to be as emotionally self-sufficient as the characters in her stories, who wander around having adventures with little if any interference from their parents.

The second-oldest of five, Eve has written a detailed account of her mother’s personal, professional, and family life, based on Ruth’s diaries and her own memories. She acknowledges Ruth’s challenges and successes, but also points out behavior that was negligent, self-indulgent, or biased and reminds us that we ought to pay attention to our impact on those around us.

When and Why I Read Passionate Persistence

This is a biography of children's author Ruth Chew, written by her daughter.

Genre: biography
Date started / date finished: 21-Mar-24 to 29-Mar-24
Length: 375 pages
Originally published in: 2024
Amazon link: Passionate Persistence

Syntax of Scientific English by Lee Kok Cheong

I hereby declare: It is not necessary for me to finish reading every book I start.

In other words, next time a book bores me as much as this one did, I am going to stop reading it.

I admire what the author set out to do: analyze English-language textbooks to help university teachers guide non-native speakers of English in understanding science.

But this book-length research paper is basically just a bunch of lists. It’s about as dry a piece of writing as one could imagine. In fact, I never imagined it would be this dry, or I wouldn’t have bought the book in the first place.

Continue reading Syntax of Scientific English by Lee Kok Cheong

When and Why I Read Syntax of Scientific English

I bought this at the National University of Singapore "EResource Discovery Day" book sale. It was published by Singapore University Press. The topic is interesting and relevant to my work, but I'm not sure the analysis will be.

Genre: Linguistics/English
Date started / date finished: 02-Aug-23 to 27-Aug-23
Length: 290 pages
ISBN: na
Originally published in: 1978

Journey to the West by Wu Cheng’en, translation by WJF Jenner

After spending over 2,000 pages with a trickster god, I find myself wondering what the appeal of the trickster god is. I don’t think I like tricksters.

Clever underdogs, yes. Arrogant tricksters? Not so much.

This post talks about my impressions after reading a complete translation (and a modern retelling) of the classic Chinese story of the Monkey King and his companions.

Visit We Love Translations: World Literature in English for a complete list of translations:

» What’s the best translation of Journey to the West?

Continue reading Journey to the West by Wu Cheng’en, translation by WJF Jenner

The Brain Makers by HP Newquist

I work for a science journal on the campus of Zhejiang Lab, a research institute dedicated to developing a variety of kinds of “intelligent computing” (artificial intelligence). I have a bachelor’s in computer science, but I have little knowledge of the development of artificial intelligence (something something… subsumption architecture… Eliza…). This book promised to remedy that.

Continue reading The Brain Makers by HP Newquist

When and Why I Read The Brain Makers: The History of Artificial Intelligence

The author posted a link to the Kindle book (which was free) on Facebook in the AI group.

Genre: history of science
Date started / date finished: 31-May-23 to 28-Jul-23
Length: 696 pages
Originally published in: 2020
Amazon link: The Brain Makers: The History of Artificial Intelligence

Books I read in 2021

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

Which translation of Les Miserables should I read?

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
ISBN: 9781853260858
Originally published in: 1862/1994/2002
Amazon link: Les Miserables (Vol 1)

The Sense of Style by Steven Pinker

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.

Genre: writing
Date started / date finished: 22-Nov-20 to 01-Dec-20
Length: 368 pages
ISBN: 9780143127796
Originally published in: 2015
Amazon link: The Sense of Style

The Golden Chersonese by Isabella Bird

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 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
ISBN: 9789810844844
Originally published in: 1883/2010
Amazon link: The Golden Chersonese