What are you reading?

Books that I’m reading at the moment:

1. Leo Africanus by Amin Maalouf. Originally in French; translated by Peter Sluglett.

The story follows the footsteps of a Granada-born Muslim Moor who lived at the intersection of the Ottoman, Isabella-Ferdinand and Roman empires, travelling through the greater Mediterranean world, the Sahara and Timbuktu, converting to Christianity – and then back to Islam again. Guest stars in the story include a Sicilian pirate, Pope Leo X, and apparently the artist Raphael (I haven’t reached Italy yet). The opening of the book was enough to set me started:

I, Hasan the son of Muhammad the weigh-master, I, Jean-Leon de Medici, circumcised at the hand of a barber and baptized at the hand of a pope, I am now called the African, but I am not from Africa, nor from Europe, nor from Arabia. I am also called the Granadan, the Fassi, the Zayyati, but I come from no country, from no city, no tribe. I am the son of the road, my country is the caravan, my life the most unexpected of voyages.

2. After the Golden Age: Romantic Pianism and Modern Performance by Kenneth Hamilton.

A book about the history of piano performance, and how supposed “traditions” weren’t always part of history. Was inspired to read this book after reading the illuminating programme notes written by Hamilton himself for his recitals in Singapore some months back, and his witty introductions to the pieces he performed.

3. The Independence of Miss Bennet by Colleen McCullough

Yup it’s the Bennet from Pride & Prejudice. Mary Bennet to be precise, and 20 years after where Jane Austen left off P & P. So far this book is a romping hilarious read. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of P & P. But readers with an idealistic view of Elizabeth and Mr Darcy shouldn’t try to touch the book.

Am also reading a technical book for work purposes. Which makes me wonder what category do the books above fall under. Leisurely reads? The Reasons Why I Still Have to Get Prescription Glasses?

Enough rambling from me. What are you reading?


2 thoughts on “What are you reading?

  1. Feet on fire

    Amin Maalouf is great. I have Samarkand and Gardens of Light on my shelf.

    Being Singaporean and prone to excesses, I dedicated July 2011 – August 2012 to books. I bought (approximately) 1000 books, picked to represent the best of the major periods (ie, French Enlightenment, post-colonial) and themes (travel, politics, fishing, archeology, anthropology) that interested me most. And over 12 months, did my best to read or at least skim through many of my purchases.

    Originally, I had conceived of it as the definitive, comprehensive exercise of my own personal book addiction. The final book binge to end all binges. What I realise now is that it was only a survey, albeit an extensive one. To be truly comprehensive on the same topics, I need to read 10 times or 20 times more and forget about traveling or doing anything practical with my life.

    Anyway, out of those 1000 books, many, many were great. But in the interests of sharing, pretend I am a sommelier of texts and allow me to recommend the following.

    1. To you, the traveller, I recommend The Great Chinese Chinese Travelers, edited by Jeanette Mirsky. Like Marco Polo, only Chinese. May not be easily available in Singapore libraries or bookstores. The chapters on the real 7th century Xuan Zhang, the travels of the Chinese Uighur Sauma to Rome, of the Taoist Chang Chun to Afghanistan, each chapter alone is worth the price-tag.

    2. To you, fresh from your Indian trip and also stressed in your normal life (and thus in need of a laugh), I recommend JG Farrell’s The Seige of Krishnapur. I don’t believe I have ever (Maalouf included) read another novel that combined historical rigour, entertainment and humour in the same potency. If you like it, the only slightly less excellent The Singapore Grip by the same author is also worth reading.

    3. To you, who works and plays with words, I recommend Hunger by Knut Hamsun and Time Will Darken It by William Maxwell and Candide by Voltaire. My problem with most writers nowadays is that they tend to address small issues with convoluted vocabularies. These three show how it is to address big issues with simple words, and they do it so right


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