Friday, February 27, 2009

Reading Guns, Germs and Steel

I'm still reading Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel. It is due back in the library next Thursday and about... oh...2/3 through. It's been slow-going, and I find myself reading a few pages, mulling them over and then moving onto something else, like emailing, reading blogs on Google Reader, or picking up an entirely different book. But don't get me wrong, this is a brilliant book. There is definite genius. It is, to put it simply, full of 'aha' moments. It is well-researched, there is no denying that. And it is quite something to be able to condense "the fates of human societities" into 425 pages (if you don't include the afterword written in 2003, which runs another ten or so pages).

But how to put one's thoughts on this book to the web? I'm not yet done with the book, so this is an entirely premature blog post. But as I read, I can't help thinking that I am in no way up to writing about this book. Even an academic, in his review, said: "This is an ambitious project, and no reviewer can comment on all of it with equal authority." So I will chicken out and leave it to the pros, but I will, however, offer you some interesting passages, such as these on killer almonds and why zebras can't be tamed:

"Most wild almond seeds contain an intensely bitter chemical called amygdalin, which breaks down to yield the poison cyanide. A snack of wild almonds can kill a person foolish enough to ignore the warning of the bitter taste."

"zebras are also virtually impossible to lasso with a rope - even for cowboys who win rodeo championships by lassoing horses- because of their unfailing ability to watch the rope noose fly towards them and then to duck their head out of the way."

And in an interesting section about Australia and New Guinea, something about languages and something else about dogs and blankets:
"New Guinea has by far the highest concentration of languages in the world: 1,000 out of the world's 6,000 languages, crammed into an area only slightly larger than that of Texas, and divided into dozens of language families and isolated languages as different from each other as English is from Chinese. Nearly half of all new Guinea languages have fewer than 500 speakers, and even the largest language groups (still with a mere 100,000 speakers) were politically fragmented into hundreds of villages, fighting as fiercely with each other as with speakers of other languages".

"During the Ice Ages Australia had supported even more big marsupials than New Guinea, including diprotodonts (the marsupial equivalent of cows and rhinoceroses), giant kangaroos, and giant wombats. But all those marsupial candidates for animal husbandry disappeared in the waves of extinctions (or exterminations) that accompanied human colonization of Australia. That left Australia, like New Guinea, with no domesticable native mammals. The sole foreign domesticated mammal adopted in Australia was the dog, which arrived from Asia (presumably in Austronesian canoes) around 1500 BC, and established itself in the wild in Australia to become the dingo. Native Australians kept captive dingos as companions, watchdogs, and even as living blankets, giving rise to the expression 'five-dog night' to mean a very cold night."
That's right people, "living blankets". If that doesn't get you running off to the library to get hold of your own copy, I don't know what will.

Reviews from several different perspectives
The New York Times (professional)
Curled Up (more of a layperson's POV)
A historian from the University of Strathclyde reviews the book (obviously academic)

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Library Loot (26 Feb 2009)

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Eva and Alessandra that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library.

This week's Library Loot is brought to you by:

Aleksandar Hemon's The Lazarus Project
"Hemon can't write a boring sentence, and the English language (which he adopted at a late age) is the richer for it." Gary Shteyngart, The New York Times Book Review

Steve Dublanica aka The Waiter's Waiter Rant
"A heartfelt, irreverent look at the underbelly of fine dining." Kirkus Reviews

Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited
"Brideshead Revisted is Mr. Waugh' finest achievement." John K. Hutchens, New York Times review, December 1945

Reading and eating

Some links for a gloomy Thursday morning.

- The Millions compares UK and US book covers.

- A soup swap!

- On Serious Eats, a seriously Italian recipe - Pasta alla Gricia

- The 2009 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize longlist. I've only read the Swimming Pool and Beijing Coma, and erm, haven't heard of the rest.

- Over at Running with Tweezers, a challenge to live for a week on $30

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

This week in music

I love The Bird and The Bee, and their new album, Ray Guns Are Not Just The Future, is great!
(Check out their myspace)

And one of my favourite songs - Polite Dance Song - is also on this album (it was previously on their EP Please Clap Your Hands).

The Autobiography of Malcolm X and The Given Day

I was wandering around the library's non-fiction shelves a few weeks ago when I noticed several copies of The Autobiography of Malcolm X, one of Time magazine's 10 most important non-fiction books of the century, and on the new arrivals shelves, Dennis Lehane's The Given Day, and as I've been wanting to read Lehane's work, thought that I would give this a try. I'm writing about these two books together, as I happened to read them at the same time, and felt that both books (although one is non-fiction, and the other, historical fiction) were great illustrations of the struggles of a United States emerging from war (in The Given Day, a post-WWI US; for Malcolm X, it was WWII). And as it is the country in which I'm currently residing in, I'm interested in reading more about it, as there is so much I do not know.

"In its searing pages, Malcolm X the Muslim leader, firebrand, and anti-integrationist, tells the extraordinary story of his life and the growth of the Black Muslim movement to veteran writer and journalist Alex Haley. In a unique collaboration, Alex Haley worked with Malcolm X for nearly two years, interviewing, listening to, and understanding the most controversial leader of his time. Raised in Lansing, Michigan, Malcolm Little's road to world fame was as astonishing as it was unpredictable. After drifting from childhood poverty to petty crime, Malcolm found himself in jail. It was there that he came into contact with the teachings of a little-known Black Muslim leader named Elijah Muhammed. The newly renamed Malcolm X devoted himself body and soul to the teachings of Elijah Muhammed and the world of Islam, and became the Nation's foremost spokesman. When his own conscience forced him to break with Elijah Muhammed, Malcolm founded the Organization of Afro-American Unity, to reach African Americans across the country with an inspiring message of pride, power, and self-determination. The Autobiography of Malcolm X defines American culture and the African-American struggle for social and economic equality that has now become a battle for survival. His fascinating perspective on the lies and limitations of the American Dream, and the inherent racism in a society that denies its non-white citizens the opportunity to dream, gives extraordinary insight into the most urgent issue of our day. The Autobiography of Malcolm X stands as the definitive statement of a movement and a man whose work was never completed, but whose message is timeless. It is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand America."

One cannot help but be in awe at Malcolm X's life story. The book's an easy read and at the same time, not an easy one. It's written in a casual way, much like hearing it from his own lips. But it is hard to read of such troubled times, what he had to struggle with. And after reading Alex Haley's epilogue, I have to admire Haley's ability to translate his conversations with Malcolm X - two to three hours at a time, usually late at night, usually interrupted by phone calls - into such a readable book.

While there is much to admire about Malcolm X, I think what I found the most moving was his constant thirst for knowledge:

"Every time I catch a plane, I have with me a book that I want to read - and that's a lot of books these days. If I weren't out here every day battling the white man, I could spend the rest of my life reading, just satisfying my curiosity - because you can hardly mention anything I'm not curious about. I don't think anybody ever got more out of going to prison than I did. In fact, prison enabled me to study far more intensively than I would have if my life had gone differently and I had attended some college."

From The Given Day's blurb:

Filled with a cast of unforgettable characters more richly drawn than any Lehane has ever created, The Given Day tells the story of two families — one black, one white — swept up in a maelstrom of revolutionaries and anarchists, immigrants and ward bosses, Brahmins and ordinary citizens, all engaged in a battle for survival and power. Beat cop Danny Coughlin, the son of one of the city's most beloved and powerful police captains, joins a burgeoning union movement and the hunt for violent radicals. Luther Laurence, on the run after a deadly confrontation with a crime boss in Tulsa, works for the Coughlin family and tries desperately to find his way home to his pregnant wife.

Here, too, are some of the most influential figures of the era — Babe Ruth; Eugene O'Neill; leftist activist Jack Reed; NAACP founder W. E. B. DuBois; Mitchell Palmer, Woodrow Wilson's ruthless Red-chasing attorney general; cunning Massachusetts governor Calvin Coolidge; and an ambitious young Department of Justice lawyer named John Hoover.

Coursing through some of the pivotal events of the time — including the Spanish Influenza pandemic — and culminating in the Boston Police Strike of 1919, The Given Day explores the crippling violence and irrepressible exuberance of a country at war with, and in the thrall of, itself. As Danny, Luther, and those around them struggle to define themselves in increasingly turbulent times, they gradually find family in one another and, together, ride a rising storm of hardship, deprivation, and hope that will change all their lives.

Lehane's book, on the other hand, is quite ambitious. My copy has a whopping 702 pages. It is long. It spans many historic events. It brings in many influential figures. But it was quite exciting and well-paced, and, boy, can Lehane write dialogue. However, I have to agree with Jonathan Yardley's review, that the bits with Babe Ruth were quite redundant. It opens with a baseball game with Babe Ruth and some black men, among them is Luther Laurence, one of the main characters. Babe Ruth pops up again in a few other parts of the book but his appearances don't add much to the story, instead it's more like a cameo in a movie (which this book probably will be soon, as its rights have been sold).

Monday, February 23, 2009

Dinner at Isabella's

I've never had Peruvian food, as there is little in the South American cuisine department in Singapore. Even the 'Mexican' restaurants are really more Tex-Mex than Mex. So I was definitely looking forward to Saturday's dinner at Isabella's in San Jose. It's a colourful little restaurant, with friendly waitstaff, and a big screen TV plays latin music videos. Unfortunately, I was too busy eating (and taking photos) to take down the names of the dishes....

We start out with some ceviche

and loads of fried seafood and corn nuts (these corn nuts are great for snacking on!)

It's a kind of paella, although far more buttery and creamy. Very rich but oh so tasty.

Seafood cooked in a white wine sauce.

For dessert, a kind of donut with a sweet, alcohol-infused sauce.

Birthday cake

Other stuff ordered but not photographed: lomo saltado (steak) and a version of fried rice (both of which I was too full to try. But of course, there's always a separate compartment for dessert)

Sunday Night Dinner

It was a day for clearing out the fridge. So I got out the half-portion of minced beef I had frozen earlier in the week (the other portion had gone into a pasta sauce) and with a bit of mozzarella and another bit of cheddar, the best thing I could come up with was taco rice, which I first had with DSD at Nirai Kanai, an Okinawan restaurant in Singapore. I found a recipe online and decided to adapt it, partly because the pantry was lacking in onions (used a shallot) and I substituted some other herbs (dried oregano, cumin powder and chilli flakes) for the ones in the recipe. We decided to use up the cheese so it was far more than a cup (but I must say, extra cheese is always a plus).

Then there was the soup - in it went two carrots, the remainder of my celery (about 3 ribs I guess), the leftover broccoli, a garlic clove, a shallot. Chopped them up, tossed it in the pot with some oil, let it soften, threw in some water and tomato paste, seasoned it up with salt, pepper, Italian herbs, dried oregano, Worcester sauce, simmered the whole concoction before using the immersion blender, then threw in a bit of milk, brought it back up to a boil.

As for the guacamole, also another first attempt, and I had a peek at this recipe before realising that I didnt need to pop out for sour cream (as I always thought guacamole required). I didn't have any chilis and I used a shallot instead. R thinks I overdosed on the cilantro but I am a cilantro-lover, so to me it was heaven.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Library Loot (19 Feb 2009)

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Eva and Alessandra that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library.

There were many books I picked up, and which I quickly set down on the shelves again. The reading this week is a little slow, especially since Guns, Germs and Steel is taking me a while to get through.

So this week's library loot contains:
1 DVD (Seven Brides For Seven Brothers)
1 cookbook (Baking: From My Home To Yours by Dorie Greenspan)
2 books (Memories of My Melancholy Whores by Gabriel Garcia Marquez; The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro)

Happy reading!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Chocolate Lava Muffins

While googling a recipe for chocolate muffins, I came across this one for Chocolate Lava Muffins by Alton Brown. And it looked easy enough, plus I had all the ingredients (and a new silicone 6-muffin pan) at hand. So I gave it a shot and boy, was it a good one.

However, I failed to notice the part which said "Beat at high until batter is creamy and lightens in color, approximately 4 minutes." And without a mixer, it is quite a chore to beat the batter by hand. The recipe also didn't say how long to chill it for, but I guess the point of it is to cool the batter so it results in that molten centre. (The batter actually keeps for a couple of days in the fridge perfectly fine, which I did as 12 muffins are way too much for 2 people - we waited till 2 more guinea pigs came to the apartment for dinner on Presidents Day, where we started off with a chunky vegetable soup, garlic bread, and a tomato, mozzarella, cilantro salad. And ended with six chocolate lava muffins with vanilla ice-cream).

I also found that (at least for my oven) it required longer than the stated 10-11 minutes. At 11 minutes, the top of the muffin was still quite liquid, and I left it for another minute or so before removing it. However, removal was also not easy, especially with the second batch, which I had taken out after an extra minute (the first batch had two extra minutes and had a not-so-oozy centre). Looks like there needs to be some in-between time here - enough to get you a cake-like exterior and an oozy centre. Perhaps an extra 1 min 30 secs would do it?

I'll have to give it a try another day.

PS. Although Alton Brown says to use a semi-sweet chocolate chip, I used bittersweet, 60% cocoa chocolate chips from Ghiradelli.

Austerlitz by W.G. Sebald

I started and I stopped. I went on to another book, finished that, and picked up another. Then I noticed Austerlitz sitting there, always at the back of my little to-read pile, always waiting for its time. And with the return date steadily approaching, it was inevitable. But I just wish I could appreciate it more. Isn't it after all on many of the "best of" lists? Critics raved about it. Shouldn't I too be following along with my streamers and party hat?

As Austerlitz recollects his childhood in Wales, he tells the unnamed narrator that "I never shook off the feeling that something very obvious, very manifest in itself was hidden from me. Sometimes it was as if I were in a dream and trying to perceive reality..."

And that's how I felt while reading this book - like I was floating in a dream, trying my best to peer through those clouds and failing, just not seeing as clearly as other people have.

On reading this archived Salon review of Austerlitz, I wonder if I were too hasty in putting the book aside. According to the review, the "turning point" of the book is about halfway through, "and while much of the novel leading up to it at first seems meandering and perhaps even random, it is all in fact woven into Austerlitz's breakthrough and the past he has spent a lifetime evading".

But with the book due back tomorrow (and the library requiring payment for renewal), I think Austerlitz will be returned for, hopefully, a more enthusiastic reader.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

every day is a weekend

How did you spend your weekend? Mine involved:

Helping move boxes and tying down mattresses onto a truck.
Chowing down on the always yummy bread rolls with cinnamon butter and fall-off-the-bone ribs at Texas Roadhouse in Union City.
Marvelling at the long queue at King Eggroll.
Helping make dumplings.
Playing with two very lovable dogs.
Brown rice, chicken curry, kung pao shrimp, boiled and fried dumplings, and of course eggrolls. Then almond jelly with longan.
UNO Attack and Star Wars trivia.

And on Friday, the day before, R and I popped over to the local cinema to see Coraline in 3D. It was a magical but somewhat creepy film, the 3D glasses bringing an added depth and vibrance to the film. Catch it in 3D if you can!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Esther's Inheritance by Sandor Marai

Sandor Marai understands economy. In less than 150 pages, he takes the reader of Esther's Inheritance into the strange relationship between Esther and Lajos. Esther was, and still is, in love with Lajos, he with the glib tongue and good with the cons. But he married her sister. And now, some 20 years later, she receives notice that he is coming to see her. There is some worrying, there is definitely excitement. Friends are rounded up as a form of protection for Esther. For despite the many years and the many wrongs, she still feels for him:

"I was already defending him. What could I do? He was the only man I ever loved."

While Esther is no longer young and foolish, Lajos still manages to charm and weasel his way into their hearts and lives.

"...we stared at each other amazed, as if we has fallen under the spell of an Indian fakir at work; the fakir he thrown a rope into the air, climbed the rope, and disappeared among the clouds before our very eyes. We were looking at the sky, seeking him there, and were astonished to see that he was taking a bow among us, here on earth, his begging bowl in front of him. "

As I sit at my computer to recollect this book, I can't help but think of the movie we watched last night - The Day The Earth Stood Still. Characterisation? None. Emotions? Hardly. Storyline? Eh. And all in two hours, which is roughly the amount of time needed to read Esther's Inheritance. And yet in those two hours spent reading, the characters, the writing spun me into this little world with no special effects, but just by reading some brilliantly written words. I could have spent another two, ten, twenty hours reading, whereas the movie was just two hours too long.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Beijing Coma by Ma Jian

The plot sounded interesting enough -man in a coma, hospital doesn't want to treat him after they discover that he was a pro-democracy protester in Tiananmen Square. Then there's the fact that I've not read much of the literature emerging from Chinese writers. The back of the book had Michael Dirda and Francine Prose applauding the author's previous works. All good reasons to pick up Ma Jian's Beijing Coma.

We meet Dai Wei while he is in his 10th year of his coma, where despite his vegetative state, he is aware of what is happening around him, and in which he relives his past - his childhood during the Cultural Revolution, his days as a student activist, his relationships.

"Since i've been in a vegetative state, I have been able to re-experience smells and sound from my past. These are the tiny details people generally store in the back of their minds and never get a chance to savour again."

And it's these tiny details that keep me reading. Ma brings in the sights, sounds and smells of China. And I especially enjoyed the bits that involve food.

"I glanced at the chestnuts roasting in the wok of a street stall outside the entrance, and breathed in their sweet fragrance. Just as I was about to enter the bathhouse, I caught a whiff of the mutton skewers cooking on the stall's charcoal grill. The smell was so mouth-watering that I turned round and went to buy myself one. I sprinkled cumin powder and sat down to eat it on a wooden stool under the street lamp."

"My stomach has grown accustomed to hunger,but this morning I suddenly started fantasising about wantons - that delicious combination of flavours: rice vinegar, coriander, shrimp and preserved cabbage. Whenever I had a bowl, I'd always start by wolfing down a few of the tiny dumplings along with the broth they float in. Then I'd spoon out an individual dumpling, take a bite from it, pop a clove of garlic into my mouth and chew slowly, letting the pork and shrimp filling and paper-thin skin blend with the raw garlic and coriander leaves. I'd grind them into a fine pulp that would slip softly down my throat. After each mouthful, I'd pause to inhale the fragrant steam wafting from the bowl."

However, this chunkster of a book (my copy has 586 pages) isn't easy to get through. It could've done with tighter editing and it was hard to keep track of the characters - the demonstrations involve a lot of students, and their number seems to increase with the pro-democracy activities. But I persevered, as the students in the Square persevered, as Dai Wei's mother persevered, bringing him to doctors and qigong masters around the country.

Beijing Coma is full of life - quite a bit of it is shocking and disturbing but through all the struggles and difficulties that these fictional student protestors faced as they camped out in the square, there is the reminder that this is something that actually happened, that this was an actual event that took place.

"Tiananmen Square was the heart of our nation, a vast open space where millions of tiny cells could gather together and forget themselves and, more important, forget the hick, oppressive walls that enclosed them..."

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Library Loot (12 Feb 2008)

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Eva and Alessandra that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library.

The Autobiography of Malcolm X - Malcolm X
City of Thieves - David Benioff (here's one rave )
Guns, Germs and Steel - Jared Diamond
The Given Day - Dennis Lehane

(I've been wanting to read anything by Jared Diamond for the longest time, but never managed to get my hands on a copy until today, when I happened to wander down one of the shelves, and tada... there it was.)

The Impostor by Damon Galgut

Adam Napier is at a dead end. He's lost his job, he's lost his house. And has ended up staying in his brother's rundown country house. One day, he meets an old schoolmate, Canning, who has inherited a large family estate and fortune. Although Napier hasn't an inkling of a memory of ever being schoolmates with him, he goes along with the reunion and gets absorbed into Canning's world and its dishonest dealings.

This book isn't for everyone. It's rather bleak and the plot isn't all that exciting. I wasn't quite sure if I wanted to keep going myself. But there was something about Adam Napier, who isn't an easy character to like, but does grow on you, and about this landscape of post-apartheid South Africa, that kept the pages turning. And then there was the question that one can't help asking: who is The Impostor that the title tells of?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

This Boy's Life

It's taking me quite a while to figure out what to write about Tobias Wolff's This Boy's Life. Perhaps it's because I kept feeling that nothing more could be said about it, because it's been praised up and down, left and right.

And it's hard to put a finger on exactly what I liked about it. Perhaps it was the simple writing, its honesty, his way of telling things as they are. Perhaps it was the surprising events of Wolff's childhood, which made me want to read more of his work.

Perhaps it was the genius of lines such as these:
"When we are green, still half-created, we believe that our dreams are rights, that the world is disposed to act in our best interests, and that falling and dying are for quitters. We live on the innocent and monstrous assurance that we alone, of all the people ever born, have a special arrangement whereby we will be allowed to stay green forever."

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


I'm quite a latecomer to this, but thoroughly enjoying every minute of listening.

New Yorker Fiction Podcast
Writers reading other writers' short stories and then talking about it? Brilliant. However, some of the writers are better readers than others - for eg, Gary Shteyngart vs Mary Gaitskill? Shteyngart wins hands down. I'm afraid Gaitskill's reading of Vladimir Nabokov’s 'Symbols and Signs' made me very sleepy.

Selected Shorts Podcast

In these podcasts, actors such as Robert Sean Leonard and Cynthia Nixon read the short stories in front of a live audience.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

The Suspicions of Mr Whicher

One of my reading goals this year is to read more non-fiction (another is to read more of the classics). And if all the non-fiction books I pick up are like Kate Summerscale's The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, I would gladly and eagerly read them all.

For this is an exciting book. It is full of intriguing details of a 1860 murder of a child in an English country house. Summerscale dug up this information from archived government and police files, newspaper articles and books written on the crime.

"The family story that Whicher pieced together at Road Hill House suggested that Saville's death was part of a mesh of deception and concealment. The detective stories that the case engendered, beginning with The Moonstone in 1868, took this lesson. All the suspects in a classic murder mystery have secrets, and to keep them they lie, disassemble, evade the interrogations of the investigator. Everyone seems guilty because everyone has something to hide. For most of them, though, the secret is not murder. This is the trick on which detective fiction turns.

The danger, in a real murder case, was that the detective might fail to solve the crime he had been sent to investigate. He might instead get lost in the tangle of the past, mired in the mess he had dug up."

The book is thoroughly engaging, and not just because it was an interesting case. Summerscale brings that period to life, describing similar cases that took place around the time as well as cases that Whicher had previously handled. She also often quotes from the fiction of the period, such as that of Collins and Charles Dickens, which reflected - and sometimes incited - current affairs and public interest. But the most fascinating aspect of this book is how this new field of detection reveals so much about Victorian life.

"The mid-Victorians were transfixed by the idea that faces and bodies could be 'read', that the inner life was imprinted on the shapes of the features and the flutter of the fingers. Perhaps the fascination stemmed from the premium placed on privacy. It was terrifying and thrilling that thoughts were visible, that the inner life, so jealously guarded, could be instantly exposed. People's bodies might betray them, like the heartbeats of the killer in Poe's 'The Tell-Tale Heart' (1843), which seemed to pound out his guilt."

Equally fascinating is the public's interest in the case - letters poured in from all over with theories and suspicions. Even the press had their suspects pinpointed. So did Dickens.

I hardly read any crime fiction or detective novels, but had noticed this book on the 'new' shelves at the library and remembered reading about it in a positive light. A quick flip through some pages... looks interesting enough, why not toss it in the pile. It was a good pick, and an interesting shift away from the fiction that I usually lean towards. I'll definitely be browsing the non-fiction shelves during my next library visit. All in good time.

Friday, February 06, 2009

The other night

Beef stew, corn muffins and Full Moon Winter Ale.

In the mood for baking

On a day like this, where the sun has been tucked away in its bed of clouds, not to be seen the whole day, it is perfect for baking. Because there's nothing like the smell of some yummy baked goods to brighten up the kitchen - and the rest of the apartment.

I've never been that big a fan of the fruity baked goods. I am addicted to dark chocolate and it tends to feature in a lot of the things that emerge from my oven. So this here is one that lacks that specific ingredient, yet it tastes pretty damn good (if I may say so myself). It's my first try at making a banana walnut bread and the recipe came from R's mom. Afternoon tea with a slice of banana walnut bread - what could be better?

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Library Loot (4 Feb 2009)

I went to the library for the sole purpose of returning the DVD I borrowed last week - I swear! But of course I had to head towards the new books shelves and linger for a little too long, ending up with:

Esther's Inheritance by Sandor Marai (The Guardian's review here)
The Secret Scripture by Sebastien Barry (the author talks to The Guardian about his Costa win)

Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures by Vincent Lam

From the blurb:
"Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures welcomes readers into a world where the most mundane events can quickly become life or death. By following four young medical students and physicians – Ming, Fitz, Sri and Chen – this debut collection from 2006 Scotiabank Giller Prize winner Vincent Lam is a riveting, eye-opening account of what it means to be a doctor. Deftly navigating his way through 12 interwoven short stories, the author explores the characters’ relationships with each other, their patients, and their careers. Lam draws on his own experience as an emergency room physician and shares an insider’s perspective on the fears, frustrations, and responsibilities linked with one of society’s most highly regarded occupations."

The story that hit me the most in this collection of shorts was the one about Sars - 'Contact Tracing'. It reminded me of the times in Singapore when we had to take and record our temperatures twice a day (or was that thrice?) at work. Our team of web content producers were split in two and made to work out of different locations on the island. I remember watching on TV, the tents set up outside the hospitals, where people waited to be tested. Masks were out in full force. Temperature-taking everywhere. People were wary, people were scared.
"The windows of this ward looked over the back of the hospital where there was now a tent, and a line of hospital staff waiting to be screened for entry. As if the hospital was worth lining up for."
Overall, Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures was a good read. I liked that it was presented as a collection of shorts involving the four characters - it kept me interested, kept me reading on to figure out if I could learn more about these characters in later stories. There are a lot of medical terms used, so the glossary at the back might come in handy. Then again, if you, like me, are a fan of House MD, then these terms are probably ones you've heard of before (although not necessarily understanding them!)

Monday, February 02, 2009

Purely coincidental

I've been reading (very slowly) Wilkie Collins' The Moonstone on my iPod Touch and today I open up the library copy of The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, a book that recreates a 1860 murder in an English country house, to read this in the introduction:

"...[the case] helped shape the fiction of the 1860s and beyond, most obviously Wilkie Collins' The Moonstone, which was described by TS Eliot as the finest an best of all English detective novels. Whicher was the inspiration for that story's cryptic Serveant Cuff, who has influenced nearly every detective hero since."