What are you reading?

Recent reads:

A couple of novels set around colonial times in Malaya:

The Garden of Evening Mists, by Tan Twan Eng. A story of tragedy and loss reminisced by a retired judge who returned to the lush greenery of Cameron Highlands long after the second world war. Although the plot seems to move at still pace, there is actually a rather intriguing story. For once I can read a novel and understand all the colloquial terms without looking them up. On the other hand, I did have to look up some of the references to Japanese culture (which coincided with my preparation at that time for a short trip to Japan).

The Singapore Grip, by JG Farrell. This author was recommended by a new friend and I was on a Malayan modern history binge (alright, the story was largely set in a time when Singapore was part of the Straits Settlement and not Malaya per se, but the fall of Singapore is pretty much the fall of Malaya). Again, there is an added sense of affinity to read a novel and get most of the references. Interesting bits on rubber price-fixing and supply manipulation for commerce junkies.

To Kill a Mocking Bird, by Harper Lee. Re-read this to much delight. So much humour and warmth. Scout was forced to wear a dress: “I felt the starched walls of a pink cotton penitentiary closing in on me, and for the second time in my life I thought of running away. Immediately“. In another chapter, Jem asked Atticus bleakly: “How could they do it, how could they?” to which Atticus repliedI don’t know, but they did it. They’ve done it before and they did it tonight and they’ll do it again and when they do it — seems that only children weep.”

Wolf Totem, by Jiang Rong (in Chinese). Life in Inner Mongolia with the wolves. Book consists of chapters of the protagonist’s life as a young cadre sent to the great grasslands during the Cultural Revolution. The book is said to be a projection of the author’s own owe of the nomadic people. But that doesn’t mean the book is not informative in its depiction of the life of nomads even if as a biased contrast to the Han chinese settlers. In case you are interested, there’s an English translation of this book.

The Little Book of Plagiarism, by Richard A. Posner. It really is a little book. A short and concise explanation on the difference between plagiarism and copyright infringement, and why good art doesn’t necessarily have to be original (in the author’s opinion). Written by a U.S. judge.

Now reading/soon-to-read:

The Last Lingua Franca, by Nicolas Ostler. This is the second book I have on the history of languages by the same author. Glad to have this book on my shelf to flip through before my trip to Uzbekistan (where so many people are multi-linguals but seldom one in common with me! If there is one super power I want to have, it is the ability to understand 10 languages. Or 10 lingua francas. I’m not greedy. Just 10 will do.)

Europe and the people without history, by Eric R. Wolf. Just into the first chapters: so far this book is fascinating.

The Rock of Tanios, by Amin Maalouf

Law and Literature, by Richard A. Posner

The Railway, by Hamid Ismailov

A collection of plays by a Malaysian playwright.

I’d like to know what interests you. So tell me, what have you been reading?


7 thoughts on “What are you reading?

  1. ShimonZ

    sounds like some very interesting reading. I am very tempted to try the book on Singapore, but right now I have a long list of books, after I expressed a desire to get to know new authors and books of today. Right now I’m reading Remnants of the Day, and am enjoying it very much.

  2. Jacqueline Choo

    I will definitely check out that Nicholas Ostler book.

    Am currently about 10 books into Asimov’s Robots-Empire-Foundation Universe and loving it.

    So far, it been very interesting to see how his perspectives on relationships and his female characters changed over the course of 3 decades (1950s – 1980s). He also often presents scenarios which we might find odd but are built into the norms or culture of that fictitious society. So it is nice to wonder about how right/neutral/wrong such an alternative existence is, and how much of what is ‘normal’ in our own society is right/neutral/wrong too. It is also very nice to see how he has improved as a writer (esp. depth of characters, humour) in that time. Looking forward to finishing the series and would highly recommend it.

    1. jem

      Never been a sci-fi fan…can barely differentiate between Star Wars and Star Trek. Also not an Asimov fan but I finally read the Foundation trilogy last year and thought it was extremely well done and deserving of its classic status
      think it was in part based on the history of the Roman Empire. The most memorable part to me was when they traveled back to the great imperial library of the decayed capital where one of the last emperors (senile no less) still nominally ruled. It reminded me of the time I went to a museum of Byzantine Roman art….several centuries after Rome collapsed, the satellites were still surviving and making copies based on copies of the original Roman art. But the transmission of craftsmanship grew progressively weaker with each generation and by 300 years after the fall of Rome, the surviving satellites could only turn out very shoddy pieces of the original.

  3. jem

    I’ll check out the Tan Twan Eng book. It will join my to read pile which includes
    Endgame – Frank Brady. A book about Bobby Fischer – who was rightly known as the ‘pride and sorrow of chess’.
    Mergers and Acquisitions For Dummies. Because I am a dummy.
    Prince Bandar bin Sultan: The Secret Story of the Most Intriguing Saudi Royal – William Simpson. Because I am doing some work in the Middle East and its useful to know who’s who.
    On Ancient Central Asian Tracks – Aurel Stein. Because I like to sometimes plan my travels around visiting collections of silk road art.
    Trips to the Paris Guimet and the Berlin Dahlem this winter just encouraged to go deeper. Tempted to buy my first piece of Gandharan art but wife says they don’t fit in with the general decor (ie, 50 shades of Ikea)
    Obviously not the quality I can afford but give you an idea. Should check out one of the major collections if you have the chance.
    The last week has been a nightmare as I was ambushed by XBox.
    I bought an XBox as a prize/bribe for my 10 year old as she aced her exams and may be off to boarding school soon. But I got sucked into the world of Oblivion and Skyrim as I picked up where I left off in RPG gameplay after my O’s in the 90s.
    Thankfully, the spell broke after a week.
    Before XBox stole my wits, the most recent reads were last month when I did
    Foreign Devils on the Silk Road by Peter Hopkirk (what a cracker, if there is a better book involving multiple real life Indiana Joneses, formidable mountains and deserts, and more millenia old art treasures than you wave a stick at….I havent seen it yet)
    Leo the African by Amin Maalouf. Might have been a reread but reading it while I was actually in Morocco.
    Collection of short stories by Somerset Maugham. Can the most highly paid writer between the world wars be also one of the most unjustly forgotten writers of today? I think so. I present as evidence the short story ‘Appearance and Reality’
    PS. TKAM – Harper Lee shows how to do it. Just write one perfect book and then forever hold your peace. Methinks the writer of the blog is capable of pulling off the same

      1. plumerainbow Post author

        That short piece by Maugham actually reminds me of the short stories of Guy de Maupassant who is a master of interesting plots and light but acute character studies. Other writers that I like in this category include O’Henry and Roald Dahl.

      2. jem

        yes, I read it for the first time many years ago but could never find it again because I had erroneously thought it was Maupassant. I went back and dug through every French master who ever wrote or dabbled in short stories, even the unlikely ones, but could never find it again.

        Then I came across it by accident on my shelf. What threw me off was the writing style which was in his case, was very versatile and adaptable.Maugham lived into his 90s and by virtue of his sheer longevity, straddled an incredible period of change. He was born in a time when gaslights and horse carriages were the norm, Queen Vic was a spring chicken and Lincoln had just freed the slaves, and lived to see the Vietnam War, the Beatles and space exploration.

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