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 sensibility of this version is different. Totally different. 😉
I like the overall feel of this version better than that of the 1990 movie, but the story is much, much worse. The conflict between the haves and the have-nots doesn’t hold up. The resolution is not one.
I’ve written about Total Recall (2012) before. Here’s what I have to say this time. Beware spoilers.
Continue reading Total Recall (2012) again
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!
Award-winning Singaporean author Catherine Lim has written many books, but this is the first one to find its way into my collection. I don’t think it’s typical; it’s a rather short novel based on a cruise she went on.
I’m not a fan of semi-fictionalized stories (like Roots) that chase two rabbits and catch neither. Memoir-type stories are interesting as accurate representations of unusual situations, whereas novels entertain by telling carefully constructed, dramatic stories. If you’re composing a memoir, you create drama by choosing what to include and what to omit, but you don’t invent things. If you’re writing a novel, you invent pretty much everything. If you switch back and forth from recording to creating, I never know whether you’re relating something that happened, or something you imagined. The result is a feeling of cognitive dissonance.
The genesis of Meet Me was, according to the author’s preface, accidental, and its publication reluctant. When Lim was on the Queen Elizabeth 2, she wanted to write satirically about the people she met. After penning her thoughts, however, she found that the ship had subverted her intentions and made her instead write unflatteringly about herself, at which point she thought maybe she wouldn’t actually publish anything about the cruise. Nevertheless, here we are. And there she is on the cover.
If you’re going to read a navel-gazing book about a female author’s mid-life crisis, read Eat, Pray, Love. There’s a reason Elizabeth Gilbert’s quest to find God or a man or whatever is one that hundreds of thousands of people have read about and/or watched. To the extent that Gilbert rewrote her own experiences by leaving out the messy or unsatisfying bits, her story became stronger as a story. When we read narrative non-fiction, we still look for narrative as well as truth.
When and Why I Read Meet Me on the Queen Elizabeth 2
First book I've read by this well-known Singapore novelist.
Date started / date finished: 10-Oct-20 to 11-Oct-20
Length: 210 pages
Originally published in: 1993
Amazon link: Meet Me on the Queen Elizabeth 2
I tend to like teen novels about dystopias. I do NOT, however, like zombies. I’m really glad I checked out these books from the library rather than buying them (as I was considering doing), because, as it turns out, they’re about—guess what?—zombies.
The book series, kind of like a zombie, refuses to die. It keeps getting more and more volumes tacked on, so there must be people who enjoy this sort of thing. I decided reading the original trilogy was quite sufficient. Oh, and I’ve seen the first movie twice now. The original book trilogy, consisting of The Maze Runner, The Scorch Trials, and The Death Cure contains a complete story arc.
When and Why I Read The Maze Runner
I was underwhelmed by the movie of The Maze Runner, but often novels are better than their movies. Still, I decided to borrow this one from the library before buying, like, the whole set of books, in case I don't actually like them.
Genre: young adult / fantasy
Date started / date finished: 20-Sep-20 to 22-Sep-20
Length: 375 pages
Originally published in: 2009
Amazon link: The Maze Runner
I read the Garnett translation. I was happy with it, to the extent that “happy” is the right word to describe the experience of reading what I found to be a depressing novel.
What is the BEST translation of Crime and Punishment?
I did some research on the available translations, which I have presented in a long, illustrated post on my other website, We Love Translations, called “Which translation of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment should I read?”
That post compares in-print translations. I count seven in-print translations of thirteen total, listed here:
||Princess Alexandra Kropotkin
||Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky
||Nicolas Pasternak Slater
||Michael R. Katz
I recommend the Garnett translation of Crime and Punishment.
Buy Garnett / Wordsworth paperback from Amazon
Buy Garnett / Wordsworth ebook from Amazon
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